A Lesson by M.R. Smith

A brief examination of topics. An introduction to what will be covered.


"The House of Fantasy is built of stone and wood and furnished in High Medieval. Its people travel by horse and galley, fight with sword and spell and battle-axe, communicate by palantir or raven, and break bread with elves and dragons.
The House of Science Fiction is built of duralloy and plastic and furnished in Faux Future. Its people travel by starship and aircar, fight with nukes and tailored germs, communicate by ansible and laser, and break protein bars with aliens.
The House of Horror is built of bone and cobwebs and furnished in Ghastly Gothick. Its people travel only by night, fight with anything that will kill messily, communicate in screams and shrieks and gibbers, and sip blood with vampires and werewolves.
-- George R.R. Martin

The process of building a fictional world is something all speculative fiction writers should acclimate themselves with.  They should learn as much as possible, as fast as possible, getting as much of the aforementioned learned material as jumbled as possible, and then, only then can they spit it back out to make something "unique".

Yes, yes, it's true.  No writer is unique.  No writer in all of human history is completely original--just like the average passerby, the writer's writing is made up of little pieces of personal history and memories, mixed with a bit of what the writer heard about someone else, salted with remembered learning, peppered by experience, and saturated by professional, multifaceted lies.  A dog-slop shop of patchwork rip-offs.  Keep this in mind.

Do not take that as permission to go and borrow the ideas of "One Ring, Dark Lord, Fellowship, Save The World" for your world---that's plagiarism.  That's illegal and it's very unprofessional--shameful, even. 

That's right.

He who writes fanfiction denies his nature for creative thieving.


While all forms of speculative fiction can benefit from world-building, these lessons will deal primarily with the Fantasy genre.  Don't let that stop you from reading this, though.  It isn't necessarily genre-exclusive--you may even walk away with something.  Of course, that depends on you.

Topics will include:

Religion - The gods and goddesses of your world

Good and Evil - Where to draw a line.

Politics - The kingdoms, empires, and realms of your world

History - Does this need to be clarified?

Military - A big topic--one of the more important

Magic? - A topic any fantasy writer must deal with

Geography - The clever use of mountains can save you a hassle

Characters - Where do they fit?

Examples - The who's who of world-building and examples of their work

Personal Tips - My personal tips on the subject, some tried, some tested, none worth your time

*Some may be added later

There is no denying that building a (hypothetically) living, breathing setting can be daunting, tiring, and just freaking boring (unless you enjoy it--like me).  It is a requirement, though, and any fantasy writer who skips out on the details will probably flounder and fail.  I'm not saying you, dear reader, will flounder and fail--it's just a big possibility.  Who knows?

But don't shoot the messenger.  I'm just here to help.

What I like to call the "Up-down" method is pretty straightforward--start at the top and work your way down.  Pretty simple, right?

No, not really. 

This method is my preferred way of working out a world.  Many other writers I've met prefer the exact opposite, the Down-Up.  Really, the difference is just the work someone is willing to put into their world.

Many of the lessons in this course will deal with the idea of the Up-Down--that is, it'll deal with the creation of the setting.  It's thorough, tedious work.

So, dear reader, you might ask:  "Where the Hell do I start?"  The answer:  wherever you please.  If you want a set-cosmology, a creation theory of your world that is (in the writing) for sure, a sure thing, then start there.  If not that, then start on your kingdom, empire, or whatever.

The "Down-Up" Method is the exact opposite.  You start with your characters, the central factors of your story, and work your way up from there.  You can build as you go, running with the story head-long.  I can't do this--maybe you can, and, if so, good for you.  Many Down-Up fantasy writers lack depth in their worlds, however.  If you're not willing to go the whole nine yards in your creation, at least take a little bit from these lessons and add more depth to your fictional world.  It always helps.

Any lesson in this course would qualify as "Up-Down", that is, starting above and around the characters.  To you, the characters will tend to be minor players in the scheme of things.

Hold on to your teeth.  This is going to be a real snooze-fest.

I hope you enjoy--or not.

*images created by my brother, Andrew Smith

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Posted 3 Years Ago

Thank you - this is a very useful resource.

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Posted 3 Years Ago

Thanks for the course. It's given me idead and help in sticky spots.

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Posted 3 Years Ago

i like it. usually i think of my characters first and then have to figure out a world where they would fit, but then they usually would really fit anywhere. :) but i am bad at making worlds and this really helps. so i thank the many gods of all the worlds, real and not, that something like this has come to my vastly inexperienced rescue.

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Posted 4 Years Ago

I'm terrible at thinking up something as vast as a world, and here you are, streamlined my difficulty into an easily manageable check list of world elements that I can follow. Huge thanks for your sharing and I will be using this for reference many times to come.

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Posted 5 Years Ago

Yes, yes, it's true. No writer is unique. No writer in all of human history is completely original--just like the average passerby, the writer's writing is made up of little pieces of personal history and memories, mixed with a bit of what the writer heard about someone else, salted with remembered learning, peppered by experience, and saturated by professional, multifaceted lies. A dog-slop shop of patchwork rip-offs. Keep this in mind.
I love this part. I was talking with a friend the other day about plagiarism and this is basically what he said. He is a musician but it is still the same when we talk about creativity and original work but the inspiration of others work.

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Posted 5 Years Ago

you greatly have designed this course

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Posted 6 Years Ago

I'm normally not bad at making my own worlds for my stories but sometimes they become a pain, but learning this helps a lot.

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Posted 6 Years Ago

I'm looking forward to learning. I really want to learn how to create a realistic world for my novels

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Posted 7 Years Ago

Guilty of being an abuser of the "Down-up" method but looking to learn more about his evil step brother, "Up-down". So far my hands not hovering over the snooze button. I'm intrigued. I shall mush on then.

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Posted 7 Years Ago

I was hoping this wouldn't be a very informational course with all sorts of intelligent words and boring information distributed in a eye clawing way.

And it wasn't.

This was really funny to a point of seriousness. I liked how you gave us the straight-up facts instead of being too scared to give us the actual truth.

And for that reason, I will read on. This is a good course and it grabbed my attention right from the name. Maybe its because I'm currently writing fantasy now...who knows. xD

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Added on April 14, 2011
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M.R. Smith
M.R. Smith

Thereabouts, OH

Hello, I'm Matthew. I write. I read. I work. I eat. My main-stay genres are fantasy, science fiction, horror. I enjoy a good existential crisis every now and then, and, true to myself, I prese..