Advice for writing a fantasy world


#1

I’ve had an idea for a fantasy world bouncing around in my head for a couple of months now, and ChoiceScript seems like a really interesting way to put it on paper. Before I really get into the worldbuilding or the plot, I was hoping to get some advice.

As a writer of Fantasy IF, what advice would you give to someone who is just starting out? I’m mostly focusing on he worldbuilding right now, but I’d be happy to hear anything you have to say regarding plot, characters, and such.

As a reader of Fantasy IF, what do you want to see more of? Less of? What aspects (magic, politics, mythology, etc.) most interest you? What is some of your favorite IF?

I would be extremely appreciative of any feedback and advice you are willing to give.


#2

To me it’s all good as long as it’s internally consistent. If there’s dragons in your world, why are they there, what do they do and what’s the impact of their presence?

There’s too many fantasy worlds where in theory everyone should be starved to death cause the fields get constantly burned down by dragons, trampled by ogres or just eaten up by Orcs.


#3

Long of the short:
Don’t neglect the world-building. You don’t need to do it down to the most tiny detail, but you should not half-a*s it.
As Spire said, internal consistency can make or break a story. That thing is the basis for Suspension of Disbelief.
It’s usually a lot of work, but usually worth it.


#4

While it mainly deals with populating a fantasy world, this video is a good summary of the pitfalls one can fall into in the Fantasy genre, High Fantasy in particular.


#5

Kitchen Sink Elves!
Must add 'em to my collection!


#6

Well, the process of worldbuilding shouldn’t be dependent on the medium of the story. Whether you are writing a work of IF, a novel, the background for a board game, a webcomic, a movie script, etc. you should go about worldbuilding in the same way. So all the standard worldbuilding processes apply. One important thing, as @Spire mentioned, is to be internally consistent. For instance, if you decide that magic requires a heavy cost from its practitioners, then be sure all uses of magic fit with that. Otherwise, as @MeltingPenguins pointed out, you will start to erode the willing suspension of disbelief of your readers and pull them out of the world of the story.

The presentation of the worldbuilding you’ve done, on the other hand, will vary depending on medium. For prose that means writing out descriptions in line with the narrator’s point of view. However, the 2nd person point of view favored by IF complicates things because of the reader’s identification with the viewpoint character. Your diction and the available options work toward building the character, but not all readers may envision the character they are playing in the way that you are building that character, thus leading to a disconnect between character and player. For instance, consider how the description of a city in your fantasy world would change if told from the perspective of an architect, a poet, a soldier, a laborer, an urchin, a noble, etc. and use that to be aware of how diction affects our perceptions of a character.

Also keep in mind that you should do more worldbuilding than you reveal to the readers. You should have at least a general sense of the world’s history, geography, cosmology, cultures, flora and fauna, and so on even if some of the things you come up with never get revealed or explored in the course of the work. For instance, if you have a map of the world/region (which for the style of IF on this site would likely only be a worldbuilding tool) be sure to have places that are only mentioned in passing and not visited and others that are neither mentioned nor visited. I’ve read too many fantasy stories with maps where every place named on the map shows up in the story, which to me constrains my imagination and slightly breaks immersion.

With plot you have to keep in mind that you will have to balance your readers’ ability to direct where the story goes and how their character can react with your need to keep things manageable. For example, suppose you have a story in which your protagonist starts off at a caravan rest enclosure at the foot of a mountain pass and during the night helps fend off an attack. Whether or not they go investigate the source of the attack branches the story while whether or not they sign on to protect one of the merchant caravans heading over the pass might not branch the story immediately but would have repercussions later in the story (such as if they abandon the caravan in the middle of the pass to investigate the caves from which the attack came). Of course, if all your options take them across the pass, then your readers are constrained to that path and not able to, say, head north to join the call for soldiers to defend against raiding hordes or head southeast to the kingdom that quietly encourages its sailors to engage in piracy while officially denouncing the practice. Each of those alternate paths would essentially be an entirely different story and if incorporated into an IF story would be major branches that might not come back together.

And so when you plot out your story you need to do what you can to account for different approaches the character could take along intertwined paths and avoid too many widely divergent paths. It’s one thing to have one branch where they travel through the pass and have to fight off a young dragon and another branch where they enter the caves and discover the attackers from earlier are minions of a young dragon with subbranches for whether or not they learn of the curse the queen of the fey has put on the inhabitants of the caves for disturbing the sanctity of one of the gateways to her realm deep in one part of the caverns and subbranches for whether or not they tried the diplomatic, combative, or stealthy approach to dealing with this threat to the caravans in the pass and it’s another thing to have one branch being going through the pass with all its subbranches and one branch being going to become a pirate with all its subbranches. The first is manageable, while the second, like my sentence, will grow quite out of hand.


#7

Making a world just to revolve around one plot or one character is annoying and cheap. Don’t do that.

If your races are just human reskins then maybe you should just have more humans instead. Make your nonhumans truly nonhuman with different hormones or anatomies or something.

Even magic needs to have some kind of logistics or laws instead of being there for the sake of being there.

No escalations for the sake of drama unless you really know where that’s going. Don’t repeat the mistake of so many anime.

Oh and don’t info dump.


#8

Oh, ho ho, so many interesting points :eyeglasses:
Make me want to point out some of the most interesting.


Curiosity is a powerful tool, and thus try to hold back from revealing everything from the start.
Besides, unexplored areas are good materials if you plan on making a series.

Yep, if you can replace your elves with normal humans, might as well replace it.
Consider the aspects of culture, history, civilization, and the others like @Adam_VanCleave_Perro mentioned.

To me, the complication comes more from the consistency itself. And sometimes, less detailed description is more. Let the reader/player view their own world.


#9

Just something else to bear in mind, if you make a decision about one thing, be aware that it may turns others away from playing it This doesn’t necessarily make either side right or wrong, but be ready to stand by your choices.

As an example:

This is a good bit of advice, but it also depends on what you intend for your game. I can say if you follow it, it might also limit your future potential audience. There is a reason elves, dwarves, etc. became staples, after all and even with all its permutations, Dungeons and Dragons didn’t eliminate them, even if they are just ‘humans’ with ‘funny ears/size differences’ and ‘cultural quirks’ (elves loving the forests, dwarves live underground etc.)

The last part ties into my opening that you won’t be able to please everyone depending on your focus.


#10

And even if a race is just reskinned humans:

Ask yourself why are they like that. What led the, eg stormelves to be akin to norse/vikings? What exists in their countries to form a mythology akin to the edda? What impact did they have on other countries. Etc


#12

I wasn’t saying to go all black and white with it. They just need something more than cultural allegory and aesthetics is what I’m saying.


#13

In a phrase, unlock your inner child. Question everything. If you question something like “Why does this happen?” Or “How does that work?” and you can’t come up with a competent answer, then you need to fix it. Also, don’t neglect filling your readers/players in on the world. Use sensory details to allow your readers to be able to discern general things about the world.

Example: "Turning the page of the dusty ancient tome, he strained his eyes to read the wispy handwritten script on the delicate pages. The light of the oil lamp bathed the aged book in an orange tint just bright enough to be able to distinguish the ink from the stains."
This allows the player to know that 1) The technology that is available at that time is pretty old (the oil lamp) 2) the “ancient tome” and “handwritten script” also point to outdated tech 3) there is most likely magic in this world on account of referring to the book as a “tome” which is normally associated with magic.

Essentially: “show, don’t tell”


#14

One of the things I like to do most with creating fantasy races and such is stereotypes. When I create a race, I ask myself, “Ok, what stereotype is this race associated with?” If a member of this race is always assumed to be a male warrior, then why does that happen? Are females prized and kept away for safety, or is there a lower birth rate for females? Are they tribal and leadership is won through acts of strength, or is their land barren of food and so they have to hire out their people as mercenaries to survive? Stereotyping gives a good starting point because then you have to question why that particular stereotype and how that will affect that character’s interactions with others.


#15

Awesome advice. Very sociological :smile: