Lesson 1: World TypesA Lesson by Mila
A deeper look into the different types of worlds.
Before we even get into what we want from our world, we have to start with how we want it to look, the layout. Ever opened a fantasy novel, especially a High Fantasy one, and the first thing that was there was a map? And you know if there's a map, then there is a whole new world this book is ready to plunge you into! And sometimes it won't even be a map, but a family tree. If you've read Amelia Atwater-Rhodes's Keisha'ra series, you know what I'm talking about. If you've read Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series or Brent Week's Night Angels Trilogy or, really, anything in the fantasy-High Fantasy genre, you know exactly what I'm getting to here.
If ever an author feels the need to take the time to draw up a reference guide and place it into the beginning of every book they write, then you can already infer that a lot of world building was put into it.
But how many worlds can one possibly think up when brainstorming how to make theirs? You'd be surprised, there are many ways you could go with this! World building, though it sounds like it only makes a reference to something large, can even be something small with depth. Interestingly, sometimes you see aspects of this even in novels that aren't fantasy at all! If you've read Darren Shan's Cirque du Freak or Demonata series, then you know what I'm talking about.
But enough of that drivel. How many worlds can you think up? I'm going to break them down for you!
You see this with Middle Earth or Robert Jordan's world, where most everything occurs in one set location. Sometimes its exceedingly vast, like Middle Earth or Westeros from A Song of Ice and Fire, and sometimes its small like The Night Angels Trilogy, which takes place on just one continent. A world such as this can consist of different cities instead of countries, but there is still a diversity in culture and politics between these cities that makes them seem like a different country entirely. Perhaps each city has its own ruler and its own language even. Laws could be different, and sometimes you'll find people even looking physically different between these locations.
The key thing to keep in mind is to not confuse a realm with an actual world. This is only one part of a bigger world.
Take Wheel of Time for example. Most of the series takes place between different realms, the main setting being Andor. Each city within Andor has its own ruler and law system but Andor itself has a Queen that rules everyone from a 'capital city' of sorts. What Jordan did was take one realm in a sea of many and break it down for us, and that is what you must do if you want to write up a world that takes the form of a realm.
This could be a more precise version of a realm. I have read many fantasy stories that just focus on one country and that country only, rarely ever drawing from other 'countries' around it. Anything and everything that happens happens in that country. With a realm, sometimes you'll catch a reference from other places around it. Again, with Wheel of Time, with Andor being a main setting, for most of the fifth book in the series they spent wandering through the Aiel Waste, which could be perceived as a realm beyond the main one of the book. That is what separates a realm from a country.
A country won't likely have variations in law. It won't have variations in ruler. Yes, you'll have your dukes and mayors and barons, but there won't be a separate monarch for every city. Culture diversity will probably be very light because you are focusing on one country. If it varies, it will probably do so between regions.
The good thing about writing a country as your world is that you can focus everything on just that one location and really make it flourish. Whenever I come across this in fantasy books, it really does show the amount of time the author put into making just this one country seem like an entire world all on its own.
Here is where it gets a tad more specific. With realms and countries, there can be variation by region and, to an extent, a kingdom can find variation in that same aspect, but the main one you tend to notice when it comes to differences between a group of people is social class. Very likely you'll have a king and/or a queen ruling, with dukes and barons and princes and princesses also up there. You'll have your working class, maybe serfs as the lowest. Social hierarchy is a VERY important aspect in fantasy world building in general and ESPECIALLY if you're going with a kingdom.
But that doesn't mean that you can't have a cultural melting pot. Throw in those different skin tones and traditions. Have people with blue eyes walking down the same street as someone with brown eyes. In fantasy, there is so much room for variety that you can basically do whatever you want with your kingdom AS LONG AS you have a reason for it. If you can explain why a certain culture of people live in a specific kingdom (i.e., refugees, natives, POW's etc.) then there should be no reason to not it them there.
Perhaps the book I have seen focus on powerful Houses the most is A Song of Ice and Fire and, a little bit, Wheel of Time. Though George R.R. Martin's books take place in a realm called Westeros (and even extend farther than that as the series moves forward), one of the main focuses, if not THE main focus in the books is the clash of the powerful families in that realm. You have your House Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, Greyjoy and, even, The Night's Watch, which I consider to be a family, even if they aren't a powerful House.
With a family, you can explore deeper into the history and politics. Sometimes that sort of thing is lost when you are writing country until you get deeper into your story, but you will find quite often that, with a House, there is a LOT more room to manipulate and pull strings.
Your story should not focus 100% on just one House, or two or more Houses but if their existence is the centerpiece of your stories and all the events occur around it, you will find it very easy, and even fun, to really get into building it from the ground up.
Variation can come in the juxtaposition between those who run the Houses. You have to consider the fact that it may be extended, there may be illegitimate children, and there may be a LOT of scandal that can have lasting consequences. There is always friction in a powerful family and how you build on that will be key if you want to build your fantasy world on a powerful House.
This one is fairly straight forward, and not as rare in High Fantasy as you would think. There are many aspects of empires in the fantasy genre, but they use different names. If you want to take the concept of an empire and make it your own, it will be quite similar to a realm, but you have to remember that an Empire has only one ruler whom everyone answers to, even those he leaves in charge.
Think about the Roman Empire. Now, you don't have to make it exactly the same way. Remember, empires are formed and built on the ground of those who started it, and not every one is like the Romans. Perhaps, if you want to broaden your research, you can think on the Aztec Empire or the Persian Empire. All three of these are great examples to follow, but remember that this is High Fantasy and it is ok to put your own spin on it.
So you have an empire. The first question to ask yourself is this: what do I want my empire to stand for? What sort of power does it hold? It is small or large? Who are the rulers and how are they chosen? Is there a senate or a council of advisers? What is the social hierarchy? So on so forth.
The best way for me to tell you to go into making an empire for your fantasy world, after you have asked yourself these questions and come up with good enough answers, is to dive right into as much research on empires as you can, but make sure to remember that you are researching for fantasy. You may have to stick to some basic ground rules (like there HAS to be SOME sort of SINGULAR ruler) but after that? Just have fun with making it your own!
Yes, I know what you're thinking. "Isn't that the whole point of this lesson?" Yes, it is, but now we are going to focus what entails putting together an entire world, as in what can you do if you decide that a realm or a house or a country isn't enough and you want to actually build a whole new world? (sort of pulling an Aladdin...)
For starters, you have to be VERY DETAILED when it comes to differentiation between realms or countries. Cultures, traditions, looks, language, religions...all of these have a part to play. With an entire world, your story chart needs to have an individual breakdown of the country and ALL of its aspects. Comparing and contrasting those aspects between countries is key to adding depth in your world.
Most of this stems from the history you put together for it, and that will be a different lesson entirely.
Make sure to add variety between realms and countries. For this, you can easily reference our own world. People from different countries don't all look the same, right? In that same regard, you have to add variety in looks, culture, language, attitude so on so forth between all your countries. When they contrast, then your creative spark can show. An example would be how the world stereotypes Canadians as being nice and the French as being snobs. Now, we all know that that is not always entirely true, people ARE different, but that is how they are viewed. If you put that concept into your word and add in explanations, then it will be easy to distinguish one country or realm from another when you actually get into your story.
Next lesson will be History! I hope this one was helpful! Message me with any questions!
Added on September 26, 2014
Last Updated on November 11, 2014
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