Fantasy writing Novel writing tips Writing advice

How to create a fantasy world that everyone will believe

Learning how to create a fantasy world that feels real to readers is easy when you follow these five steps:

Learning how to create a fantasy world that feels real to readers is easy when you follow these five steps:

5 steps to build your fantasy world:

  1. Plan the lie of the land
  2. Give your fantasy world concrete rules
  3. Think about the tone of your fantasy world
  4. Plan magic, religious, social and political systems
  5. Learn how to create a believable world via plot

Plan the lie of the land

Creating a solid, believable physical world is the first step.

The reason some fantasy novelists use maps is because the act of physically mapping the world grounds or anchors it.

You don’t have to draw maps; you can make notes instead, but the point is that you need to have a sense of your world as a physical place that has boundaries.

Learn how to make an outline for a book and develop story elements such as setting and plot points.

Give your fantasy world concrete rules

Just because this is fantasy and not science fiction does not mean that your world can lack rules or simply have arbitrary conditions imposed upon it.

Maintaining consistency throughout your world building and writing is crucial.

This adherence to rules will permeate every aspect of your fictional world, but to start with, be sure you are consistent. Whether you base your fantasy world on legend or real history such as medieval Europe, feudal Japan or another culture, or invent it entirely out of your own head, every aspect must be consistent with the world you’ve created.

If your fantasy world possesses a technology that seems out of step with its background, you need to have a good explanation for this, for example.

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Think about the tone of your fantasy world

Another thing to keep in mind is the tone of your novel.

For example, if you’re writing a novel of high fantasy steeped in Celtic legend, you might write in a way that recalls the language of fairy tales and legends.

Your readers do not necessarily want to begin in a world with its roots in ancient sagas and suddenly find themselves slogging through the bleak and murderous darkness of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. Maintaining a consistent tone is critical for believability throughout your fantasy novel.

This consistency of tone will be reflected in your characters as well. The values of the world will motivate your characters. In a world where honour and loyalty are considered of highest importance, for example, this will affect the choices characters make and social hierarchy. In a world that has other primary values, society might be organised differently.

Of course, you can create characters whose values differ significantly from that of their world, but that difference is likely to be a source of conflict.

Plan magic, religious, social and political systems

Most fantasy involves magic, and rules are important here as well. You can create any kind of magical system that you like, but the key here is that it does need to be some kind of system. Whether it is based on numbers, plants, words or something else, whether characters study for years to become proficient in it or are born with the ability, it needs to be consistent. Characters cannot suddenly develop new abilities or go outside that system.

Learn how to create a believable world via plot

The key to creating a believable fantasy world is keeping in mind that ‘fantasy’ does not mean ‘anything goes’.

In addition to keeping rules and consistency in mind as mentioned above, the story also usually cannot rely upon a deus ex machina to resolve its conflicts just because it’s fantasy. ‘Deus ex machina’ is the phrase for a plot device that seemingly comes out of nowhere. This can be clumsily or more effectively done. Some have argued that the eagles’ rescue of Sam and Frodo at Mount Doom in Tolkien’s Return of the King is a deus ex machina.

Another example would be the frequent intervention of the gods in Greek myth. Contemporary readers may accept the former but would be frustrated by the latter. Use of a deus ex machina is always risky as it might stretch suspension of disbelief which can turn readers off.

The ‘setting’ section of Now Novel’s story builder will help you to come up with detail for your fictional world, making it easier to flesh out a fantasy world that feels believable and alluring. Find quick story ideas and see your fantasy world come to life.

By Bridget McNulty

Bridget McNulty is a published author, content strategist, writer, editor and speaker. She is the co-founder of two non-profits: Sweet Life Diabetes Community, South Africa's largest online diabetes community, and the Diabetes Alliance, a coalition of all the organisations working in diabetes in South Africa. She is also the co-founder of Now Novel: an online novel-writing course where she coaches aspiring writers to start - and finish! - their novels. Bridget believes in the power of storytelling to create meaningful change.

22 replies on “How to create a fantasy world that everyone will believe”

(Sorry about my profile pic, I don’t use this account often)

This article, and this site in general, has been a massive help to my writing and is a great resource! Keep up the good work πŸ™‚

This was very helpful to me. Thank you! I was wondering thou, in the world I am creating I am trying to figure out distance from one place to another. I have had little success on where to look for ideas. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thank You.

It’s a pleasure, Robert. My apologies for the slower response, comments on our older posts don’t always trigger notifications for some reason.

Have you tried creating a rough sketch of a map of your world? You could create it to a specific scale (e.g. 1 centimeter in your drawing = X number of miles). That way you’d have something to refer back to showing the lay of the land in your invented world. I hope that helps!

Glad I discovered this site as of right now! I’ve had an idea i’ve admittedly been slacking on. I have the overarching plot (though it might need expanding), vague character ideas, vague society development, and the magic in the world is what i feel needs most development. It’s the entire lynchpin/key of the entire setting, and i’d rather figure it out first rather than start early and then have to backtrack and reedit everything if something later contradicts something written earlier.

(Sorry for my profile I’m to lazy to change it–)
Thanks so much for this, even tho it’s a few years old, seems like the thing I’ve been looking for to get started! πŸ˜€

Hello! I really like this article, and it really helps me with my writing, but it doesn’t solve my problem. Are there any articles you’d recommend for building a fantasy world with magic, etc. (With shops and familiars)

Hi there, thank you for your feedback. I’m sorry it didn’t solve all your current worldbuilding challenges. We don’t have anything specifically on shops and familiars, but you can find other worldbuilding articles here.

What about writing shops and familiars (by familiars I imagine you mean animal/other companions?) are you struggling with? Thanks for reading our articles.

Hi Air, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Minecraft would perhaps take a very long time to build a fantasy world for a story block by block πŸ™‚ It’s amazing what people have built in it, though.

Your English seems excellent already! Thank you for reading our blog, good luck with your homework, too.

I have a book coming up. It’s my debut to writing and this blog was pretty helpful in giving me the proper base for world-building.

Thank you, blogger.

Hi Aaron, that’s great to hear! I hope you’ve enjoyed writing it and that it’s a success. Thanks for reading our blog.

This has helped get a straight forward plan built up in developing my world. I have been struggling for three years as I am a self taught writer. I will be using this site for years to come. Thank you for this resource.

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