Science fiction writers are praised for imagining the future with great foresight. Understanding the long-term cause and effect of events in your fantasy world will help you also give readers a more complex and vivid mental picture. Your novel will be grounded in a vivid, complex history. This breadth of vision has implications for your fantasy story characters. If you’re writing a fantasy novel (or any other novel where larger social forces and conflicts feature), ask yourself how the future will mobilize your characters and their choices. Here are some thoughts on creating a fantasy world that conveys a strong sense of time and its passage:
How advanced is technology and how will technological innovation affect your characters’ lives?
Many fantasy novels are set in a more or less medieval time period. Kings and queens might feature, along with knights, mages and wizards. Novels such as the Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin have the right semi-historical settings for bloody conflict and political intrigue. Yet not all novels sharing similar settings create a sense of an immersive world where some things change while others remain the same.
If your fantasy involves a perilous conflict between armies (as in The Lord of the Rings series), consider how different groups might be at different stages of technological development. Does one side have an advantage? How does this affect the other? Do they make up for their relative military weakness with superior tactics?
These elements have implications for your characters, their fears and their choices. A character who has to be creative in the face of a technologically advancing foe is also more interesting than one whose challenges never feel too threatening.
There are more aspects of technological development that may impact the future in your fictional world and how your characters’ lives change in the course of your novel:
- Transportation: Will this stay the same or will there be new modes of transport that emerge in the course of the story? Will your characters embrace or be mistrustful of these developments? How will greater mobility affect their social relations and ways of life?
- Communication: Do your fantasy story characters discover new ways to share information? Does communication become easier or harder as the story progresses (or stay the same)? Think about what new developments could mean – what challenges do they bring? Think of how utilities such as social media have changed how we connect with loved ones (and strangers) today, and what changes might be possible in your own fictional world.
- Industrialization: Think of some of the social implications of industrialization (the development of different classes, for example, or owners of the means of production increasingly looking for sources of cheap labour). What aspects of technological advances affect your characters’ lives, their opportunities and trials?
Think about environmental change: Conservation or destruction?
Another human-wrought development in your fictional world that will affect your fantasy story characters is environmental change. Consider the effects of climate change in our own world, how they threaten the habitats of wildlife, create greater extremes of weather conditions and more. Will your character live in a world committed to solving these issues or not? How will she or he feel about the circumstances? What is your fantasy world’s response to environmental pressures? Is there greater competition over resources and are your characters thus hardy and resourceful or struggling against mounting odds?
How will population growth affect future living conditions?
In the future of your imaginary world, overcrowding may lead to a different sense of space. This can already be seen to some degree in a country such as Japan where a large population inhabits a relatively small island. Homes and rooms tend to be small and ‘capsule hotels’ where people sleep in tiny containers can be rented for the night. How might your future world respond in its own way to changes in how and where your characters live? Are there mass migrations? What might they lead to?
What large-scale results will your characters’ progress bring about?
Often when we think about fantasy story characters, we focus on their environs and their lot in society: We think ‘how do circumstances beyond their control affect them?’ To truly get a sense of your characters acting in a world with a history and a future, think about how their actions and reaching for their goals might affect their world in turn.If writing a series, for example, what are potential unforeseen effects of your character overthrowing a dangerous tyrant? Does a worse tyrant rise in his place in a subsequent novel?
Characters’ actions shouldn’t happen in a vacuum where they only affect the immediately following plot point at every turn. Building in long-ranging cause and effect too will create a sense of your characters both acting within and being acted on by their world.
What are some ways that your fantasy story characters’ future will change over your novel or series?