As with many who read fantasy books, I have always wanted to create my own secondary world. I’ve read books by J. R. R. Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson, George R. R. Martin, Trudi Canavan, Ursula K. Le Guin… (the list goes on) and those books have shaped the periods of my life in which they dominated. Canavan and Tolkien were my first forays into the fantasy genre, and I was taken away by the colossal creativity of these authors. I’m not comparing them – as they are very different – but they both created fantasy worlds which I became obsessed with as a child and a young teenager, and inspired me not only to continue to read fantasy books but also to think that I might one day create my own fantasy world.
Alongside my studies, I have been slowly designing a fantasy world of my own design. It’s been just over four years of slow-but-steady progress, and I now feel like I’ve had enough experience in writing and reading to be able to redraft this world so it can be a place to set my future stories.
I’ve written two books – two terrible books! – set in this world, and I had a lot of fun doing it. The experience gained from practicing not only writing full novels but also in planning a series and crafting a world within the pages has been exponentially valuable in improving my skills as a writer. I am by no means at the quality I think could be seen as professional, but after maybe another few books, I might be close.
I just wanted to share what I think makes creating a fantasy world of my own such a joy to experience, so I’ve made a short list.
Crafting the World
First and foremost, the crafting of the world itself is so much fun. I can see why Tolkien spent his life creating his own, and why Brandon Sanderson says to beware of “worldbuilder’s disease”. I’m not spending all of my time crafting the world – I think I’ve balanced my writing and outlining quite well – so I’m not afraid of being bogged down by my worldbuilding, but I’ve had the odd week where I’ve sacrificed writing time for worldbuilding time!
First comes the map, for me, but quickly I begin to design new cultures, people, histories, lore, and taboos. I figure out the hierarchy, gender roles, and political system/s. It’s an exciting process, and I find drawing from periods of our own history can really help in developing the complexity of the fantasy world.
The Freedom and Escape
Right now, with everything that’s going on, it’s wonderful to be able to dive into a world that is not our own. I’m always reading something, so that takes me out of our world for a bit, but when creating my own world, it’s like there’s nothing holding you back. There is a freedom that comes from crafting your own secondary world that could consume you if you’re not careful!
And finally, I mentioned before that drawing from our own history can add a lot to the world I’m creating. I find it fascinating when designing the timeline to slip in the odd “plotline” that mirrors an idea or theme that affects us in the real world. For example, (and this is not one I have used) when designing the gender roles within a particular culture, what happens when everyone is equal, or a certain portion of the population is seen as inferior? Discovering the effects this has, and how it can relate to our own multitude of cultures, is fascinating to me – In Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, for example, men and women are seen as equal and no individual even comments on it because they don’t think about those roles in the same way we do. It’s an interesting aspect of the series which really adds to the story.
Crafting a fantasy world, for me, is more of a hobby than anything else. I want to write more books and maybe one day one will be good enough to get published, but for now I am just enjoying the craft of it and learning as I go along. It’s a fun process and something I don’t think I can every get bored of – the only barrier is my own imagination.