Fantasy Writing Tips for Fantasy Fiction Writers 

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Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy
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Fantasy Writer's Companion


World Building for Science Fiction or

by Tina Morgan


Creating settings for a science fiction or fantasy world can be an exhilarating or daunting task. Unlike other genres, there are few limitations on where the imagination can go. This is the ultimate opportunity for a writer to stretch her/his creative muscles.

However, there is one catch you need to be aware of before you start writing. Many science fiction and fantasy readers are well educated and well read. Do not make the mistake of condescending to them or you will greatly reduce your odds of publication.

Like any other genre, you will find readers from a variety of occupations but in science fiction you will find many readers who know the science. Often their love for technology or space came from reading a science fiction of fantasy novel as a young child and they transferred that passion into a career in the technology or science industry. For this reason I say the most important aspect of creating your setting with be research.

Learn your material before you start writing.

Where do you start researching? Do you need to know quantum physics to write science fiction? Of course not. But you do need to have a rough understanding of what life is like under different situations. Start first by determining where your story will take place.

Earth or earth based? On a space ship? On a radically different planet that calls for sealed environments?

What is the physical world like? What raw materials are available for fuel or building? What type of ecology inhabits your world?

Part of determining location is also dictated by time. 'When' your world exists will determine the level of technology available to your characters. Are you using a prehistoric, medieval, present day or futuristic time frame? The possibilities are endless. Don't allow what you've read in the past to dictate your decision on when in time to place your story.

All aspects of world building can benefit from research. Don't think that because you've invented planet Jo-Jo that the rules no longer apply. If your world strays too far from earth then you need to consider the viable options for supporting life. Many of the science fiction stories I read as a young adult featured the moons of Jupiter as viable habitations for humans. Enjoyable fantasy when I was much younger but now it would fall quite flat. Jupiter is a gas giant and in order for the gases that comprise its physical form to exist the planet has to be hundreds of degrees below zero (Celsius or Fahrenheit). Jupiter's temperature is this low due to its distance from the sun. So by extrapolation, that means that its moons must be far too cold to support any life form currently living on earth that we have discovered to date.

Inhabitants are another vital component of your world building. Will they be human or non-human? Animals: real, earth-based, mythological or something totally new? Take care with creating a new ecology and don't put in too many predators. Many new writers make the mistake of creating a world full of teeth, fangs, claws and other lethal natural weapons but they forget to give their predators enough prey animals. If predators don't/can't find prey, they will eat each other and possibly to extinction.

Creatures big and small need to be able to function in the world you've created. This doesn't mean that goo-dripping aliens are out but it does mean that I'm not going to believe that they pilot spaceships with controls suited to human hands.

Once you determine your inhabitants and your characters' species, you need to consider their society. Where your characters fit into that society will greatly affect their ability to function and react.

What type of government and laws rule your world? Arts & recreation, education, religion, vocation, economy- money based or barter are all vital elements of a society and will add richly to your setting if you incorporate these aspects. There's no need to spend a lot of time explaining every element of your world but showing how your characters live can help bring the story to life. A group of soldiers could play a game of chance involving rune stones or carved dice, the butler opening the door can pay the cabbie with gold coins, the priestess can marry a couple at the county fair by waving a branch of oak leaves over their heads. Simple things that can be mentioned in passing.

Where do you find the inspiration for these societies? Research. Look at the forms of society developed in our own world. Find a battle that intrigues you and use the tactics that won or lost it in your own war.

The Internet offers a wide source of research material but don't forget to spend time at your local library either. You'll find a wealth of information just waiting for you to make your own.

Copyright 2003 Tina Morgan

For a more detailed look at world building check out Tina Morgan's World Building chapter in The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy. Available at and through Dragon Moon Press.


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