Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

This post is the twenty-eighth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

I am a fantasy author. Over the years, I have written numerous posts about writing a fantasy novel. Today, I wanted to highlight a few things that a fantasy author might want to consider before they begin writing their story. At the end of this post, I will list links to two of my fantasy post recaps.

World building

Fantasy novels can be set anywhere. While there is nothing wrong with setting your story here on Earth, you can always create your own world. In this case, you would be in control of everything – the names of cities, geography, culture, religion, systems of magic, history, creatures and more.

If you are going to create your own world. It is best you do so BEFORE you begin writing. You need to be familiar with your world so that the details remain consistent and logical throughout your novel.

Now don’t take designing your own world lightly. It is a lot of work – more work than your reader will ever see. But this work will pay off. You will create a world that your characters live in and have your readers believing it.

Dragons & other creatures

Many fantasy novels contain mythical creatures. I love dragons, so they have appeared in every one of my novels. Since these are imaginary beasts, you have the creativity to do whatever you want. They can be small, large, friendly, menacing, have magical powers or even the ability to speak. You can portray them as a snake-like creature like a Chinese dragon or a lizard-like beast with huge bat-like wings. They can be evil and hinder your protagonist’s moves or they can be a friend. Feel free to go against the norm. After all, you are only limited by your own imagination.

In addition to dragons, you can populate your world with any sort of creature you want. And why stick to unicorns, fairies, elves, griffins or vampires when you can create your own unique creation. One way to create a new creature would be to combine attributes from other mythical creatures. Or you can just decide what the creature needs to do in the story and let your imagination run wild.

But a word of warning – don’t go around creating creatures or throwing mythical creatures into your story just to do that. As with everything, the creatures need to serve a purpose whether it is to delay your protagonist or help your antagonist.

Creating believable magic

Image provided by freedigitalphotos.net

Magic can show up in any genre – not just fantasy. And while magic can certainly enhance a story, you need to make sure it is believable. You need to clearly define what can and cannot be done with magic. There must be limits on magic otherwise the person using magic would always win and there would be no conflict in your story.

You as the writer get to decide what the limits will be. If the magic is an innate talent, the amount of magic one can perform can be based on the physical or mental strength of the user. It could be restricted by the person’s knowledge or imagination. Or perhaps energy is taken from the spell-caster to power the spell itself so performing magic drains the user. Or maybe the person draws on magical fields, and once those fields are depleted no magic can be performed in that area. Along the same lines, maybe there are magical lines running through the ground and magic is strongest when you are standing on or near one of the magical focal points.

If the magic is acquired through studying incantations and spells, then magic might be limited to what spells that person has learned or the wizard’s access to those rare and exotic books. Perhaps each magic user has a certain allotment of spells that they are allowed to use and when they have used them up, no more magic. Or perhaps the use of magic creates a “sound” that other sorcerers can hear, so your character has to be selective of when and where they perform their magic.

The possibilities of how you limit magic in your novel are endless. But you do need to establish your rules of magic BEFORE you begin writing so that your story builds off the character interaction and not the easy use of magic to solve the problems.

Be as detailed as you want and work with the idea that your reader may never know all these “rules” but know that by establishing your magical system you are creating a more believable magic and a more believable plot.

If you want to read more about writing a fantasy novel, check out my Fantasy Novel Recap (covers fight scenes, magical battles, poisons as well as naming places) or Fantasy Novel Recap, part 2 (covers food, travel, weapons, myths, Gods, and fantasy without cliché).

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

World Building: The Rules of Magic

When I was a child, I always thought it would be interesting to have magical powers. You could levitate a snack to you or close the door without even getting up. You could keep someone from grabbing you or perhaps start a fire with just a thought. But not once when I was thinking of these magical powers did I consider that there would be a limit to what could be done.

However, if you are writing a story, whether it is a fantasy, romance or horror, with magic in it, you need to spend some time developing a believable system of magic. Magic needs limits or consequences. Without these, whoever wields magic would win. There would be no conflict to your story or in other words, no story. And without a story, you have no readers.

Since magic is often a big part of a fantasy novel (the genre I write), I have written about it numerous times – Creating Believable Magic, Innate versus Learned Magic, Magical Duels, and Gods & Magic. But looking back over what I have written, I realize there was more to address so I have written a 2-part post about Magic.

Part One – The Rules of Magic

rules-of-magicBefore you begin writing, you should know everything about your magical system. You need to know the ins and outs of what type of magic your characters use or will run into. You need to know what they can’t do and what happens when they use magic. But as you develop that magical system, you need to remember the Rules of Magic.

Rules of Magic

1.) Limit Magic/Give Magic a Cost

2.) Keep to the Rules

Limit Magic/Give Magic a Cost

Magic needs limits. If magic is all-powerful, then a wave of a wand or a simple incantation would solve every problem. Your story would have no conflict. How do you have magic and conflict? It is simple – give a limit to what magic can accomplish or give it a cost so that it isn’t used freely.

Limiting magic is easy. The possibilities are endless – magic could require a specific set of actions/knowledge, magic only works for those with access to certain items, the strength of the magic is based upon the location of the source, or magic can only be used for certain purposes.

Now there is nothing to say that magic can’t be commonplace and everyone in your story can wield some form of magic. But there still needs to be rules to what they can and cannot do or the magic has no real purpose in the story and could be left out.

You also may want your characters to have to pay a price when they use magic. If magic is effortless, it doesn’t feel real. When you run away from a bear, you use energy. When you drive your car, you use fuel. Everything comes at cost and so should magic. Maybe they have to make a deal to give up something (first born) or offer a blood sacrifice. Or perhaps using magic makes them age or takes away days/years of their lives or at the very least drains them temporarily of power. Again, the possibilities are endless.

Keep to the Rules

Once you design the rules of magic in your world, you need to stay true to them. You cannot decide to change the rules just because you want to. You cannot create surprise magic out of the blue to save your characters. Yes, that might mean difficult choices have to be made and consequences accepted. But keeping to the rules will make your story believable and increase your credibility with the reader.

Now nothing says you can’t have a “chosen” one who is extra special or more gifted than others. But even he should not be able to break every rule. If you want them to stand out from the masses, allow them to break only one rule of your magic system. And you should make absolutely certain that the exceptional case is declared early and perhaps repeated several times. (Such as the prophecy of the chosen’s one’s coming.)

And this wraps up my two rules for creating a magical system. Of course, there is so much more to be decided – where magic comes from, how your characters access it, how to explain the magic to your readers and whether you even need magic in your story. I will cover all of that next week.

Starting over…beginning a new novel

HeirAlexandria_ebookcoverIn January, I released my latest fantasy novel, The Heir to Alexandria. The months of February through April were packed with some non-writing projects so it is only now in May that I am finding time to work on my next new novel.

Sigh. It isn’t that I don’t want to start a new novel, but starting a fantasy novel is a lot of work. It goes beyond just deciding on a plot and building characters. I have a whole world to create. And that takes time.

And while I do enjoy developing a believable setting for my story, sometimes I would love to be able to skip the planning part and just begin writing. But I know that without some planning that I would be doing a lot of rewriting.

So first comes plot…I need a compelling story with a well-defined conflict before I can even worry about the world building. And I think I have the compelling story, but I still need to fine tune the exact nature of the conflict.

Once that is done, it will be time to develop the characters (and at least one from this new book will be a dragon).dragon This can be fun. You get to explore their backgrounds and discover their flaws as well as their strengths. Over the next few weeks, I will develop histories, descriptions, and motivations for all my characters. Knowing these details makes the characters more vivid and real.

But because once again I have been busy with travel and doctor’s appointments (see Monday’s post for details regarding the medical issue), I haven’t had as much time to anything. But with character building in mind, I have used my spare time to collect a list of names for some minor characters.

wizardAnd there is still a lot of world building to do. I need to decide on the political and religious beliefs as well as define how magic will be used and what limits there are to it. And yes, you do need to add limits or consequences to your use of magic so that it is believable and can add to the conflict of the story rather than be the supreme answer to all problems.

As part of my world building, I also usually create a map of my world so that I can refer to it as I am writing. This step is quite useful in knowing where your characters are, and how long it will take them to get to other locations. Readers might catch that it took two weeks to reach the seaside village but only two days to return home. Knowing where your characters are and what type of environment they are in will help create that believable world.

So here I am again…starting over. So much planning to do before I even begin writing. It sometimes feels overwhelming, but I know it is will be worth it.

World building: Don’t rename ordinary items and other tips

I have written before about the fun of building your own world. It is one of the reasons that I enjoy writing fantasy. But building a new world with religions, governments, cultures and history can be a daunting task.

Developing your world BEFORE you begin writing is essential if you want to keep the details of your fictitious world consistent and logical throughout your novel. You want your characters to LIVE in this world so make it real and believable.

Now there is a whole bunch of world building details that you will develop that will never enter your novel. Don’t get hung up on the small details of your world. For as much as you want to make everything your own, you don’t need to spend your time recreating the wheel so to speak.

Here are some world building tips:

  • Language – You don’t necessarily need to create your own. I know Tolkien did but he was a trained professional in the art of linguistics. You throw in too many words from a made-up language, and you could easily confuse and possibly lose your readers.
  • Spelling – Avoid too many obscure spellings. Just because your story takes place in a different world doesn’t mean you need to name all the people and places with obscure, hard to pronounce (or remember) names.
  • Apostrophes – Another common mistake when creating a new world is to have lots of words with apostrophes in an effort to make the words look different or unique. Remember that in most languages, an apostrophe is merely a sign that something has been omitted. Use them with caution.
  • baby bunny 17Animals – If you are creating a whole other creature that does not exist on Earth that is fine but too many authors simply rename animals. If you are writing about small, big-eared, short-tailed, fluffy animals, then go ahead and refer to them as rabbits instead of some made-up name. The same goes for horses. If your characters travel by horse-back, you don’t need to rename the horse unless it perhaps has razor-sharp fangs and two heads. Reinventing the entire animal kingdom would be annoying especially if the animals exist for no other purpose than to be described in passing. If they are important to your story, then by all means create your own creatures.
  • Units of Measure – You don’t have to necessarily worry about creating new ways of measuring things. Yes, meters and kilograms maybe be more recent inventions but there is nothing wrong with using “steps” or “feet” as measurement. In ancient times, using steps or the length of a forearm were common practices.

It is easier on you and your readers if you don’t recreate everything. If you are not careful, it will seem like your book is written in a foreign language and leave your reader struggling to understand what is going on. And not recreating everything will save you as a writer time too.

Creating your own fictitious town, island or world #atozchallenge

Many authors write about fictional places. They create their own towns or even whole islands as a place to set their stories. And for some fantasy or science fiction writers, you have to create your own world or universe.

CToday is the letter C on the A to Z challenge, and I wanted to write a little about creating your own fictional setting. Please note that I am a fantasy author so many of my references will be for a fantasy novel, but you can easily adapt them for creating your own town or island in your romance or mystery novel (or really whatever genre you are writing).

Creating my own world is one of the reasons I love being a fantasy writer. I am in control of everything – names of cities, geography, culture, religion, systems of magic, history, creatures, you name it.

My advice is to make sure you have your world (island, town or whatever) fully developed BEFORE you begin writing. It helps to create a map if for no other reason than for your visual reference as you write. This way if you can’t remember if the jewelry shop is three or four streets from the inn, all you have to do is refer to your map. Knowing these little details helps your reader believe that this is a real place in which your characters live.

This one has notes on it from when I wrote DESTINY.

This one has notes on it from when I wrote DESTINY.

The maps I draw are for my writing reference only. They will not be included in my book, so I don’t need to worry about making them perfect. And since they are just for me, I can make them as elaborate or as simple as I wish. You may also need to do more than one map – perhaps one of your country and one for the major city (or cities) where the action takes place.

I think it also helps to have a map so you can figure out travel time (or distance) from one location on another. You don’t want to make the mistake of having someone travel a week to the capital of your fictitious land and then spend only two days to return home. (Or for you non-fantasy writers, you don’t want someone to stop at the gym on the way home if it is all the way on the other side of the island/town and not something they would pass on their way to their house.)

Of course if you are building a world or an island, you need to consider the terrain – are you in the mountains, the forest or the hot open desert. Knowing this will also give you an idea what type of weather may happen in your story.

If creating a whole world may also need to develop a religion and populate your world with people and creatures. And don’t forget some form of government.

It can be a fun but daunting task to build a world (town/island) from scratch. Just remember to completely develop your world BEFORE you write your story. It will be better for you – and for your readers.

 

Building your fantasy world

One of the things I like best about writing fantasy is the ability to create my own world. I am in control of everything – names of cities, geography, culture, religion, systems of magic, history, creatures, everything. I believe one of the most important things is to develop your world BEFORE you begin writing. You need to be familiar with your world so that the details remain consistent and logical throughout your novel.

Your world is the backbone of your story. It needs to be believable and the only way to accomplish this is to spend some time designing it. You will put a whole lot more work into it than your reader will ever see. But this work will pay off. Your characters will really LIVE in this world, and your readers will believe it.

But creating your own world is a daunting task. Where do you even begin? There are numerous books and websites that can help you with creating your own world. They walk you through anything from creating your own language (something I have never done) to creating creatures (which I did in my trilogy).

I started creating the world for Summoned: Book One of The Elemental by drawing a map of the world – or at least the areas that are in my novel. Of course, every country (or Land, as they are referred to in my trilogy) must be named and of course, a few cities. In my case, I only named the capitals of each Land and left smaller villages without a name.

I also figured out the time it would take my characters to travel to different places first by horse and then on the back of a dragon which is a much faster way to travel. You don’t want it to take them a week to get to the capital but only two days to return home. Your readers will notice. Everything has to do with being consistent. Small details do matter. They can make or break your fantasy world.

I don’t plan to go into everything you need to create a fantasy world, but I will be writing posts on dragons, magic, creating creatures and a few other world building topics. If you are looking to create your own world for either a fantasy or science fiction novel, I would recommend checking out the following websites for help.

A great site that links to other sites to help with world building: http://www.squidoo.com/fantasyworldbuilding

A site with steps to follow to create a fantasy universe: http://www.web-writer.net/fantasy/