A Lesson by M.R. Smith

So. What are your realms like? These questions will help you decide where you might want to go.


Sometimes you'll see a hero-king warrior-poet striving for the good of his embattled people.  Sometimes you'll see multitudes kneeling before a tyrannical emperor.  Legions, lords, and ladies--they'll all boil down to the same thing.

Realize, dear reader, that this section could've been named more appropriately "factions" or "realms", but really it'll all come down to the same thing.

So, right.  Let's start!

Here are a few questions our warrior-poet reader might want to ask when detailing the nations of his/her world:

1.  Where is the story based?  In what country does your story take place?  Is there a single location?  In what nations?
2.  Is it a kingdom, empire, caliphate, city-state--what is the structure of the country?  Be careful, be careful!  Real world rip-offs may not be noticeable to the layman, but to the historically well-taught, like myself (pfft, yeah right), it's a total bummer.  Are there satraps?  Duchies?  Counties?  How is a realm organized, from the top to the bottom?
3.  Are there others?  There should be.  Detail them as well as possible, too.
4.  If so, who are the neighbors?  Are they allied or enemies?  If they're allied, how long have they been so?  How long have they been at war?  Why are they at war?
5.  Who is the ruler of this place your story is based in?  Detail the ruler, develop his or her history.  Is the king related to the king of a neighboring realm?  Does he/she have any siblings?  Do they want power?  Develop the rulers of each nation.  No Caesars, tsars, or kaisers.  Keep it simple and generic--really, anything that'll fall simply into your mother tongue (more than likely English).  Consider kings and emperors--even the generic term "prince".
6.  How did each nation come into being?  A theme I integrated into one of my fictional worlds is very similar to the Wars of the Diadochi--the wars between the remnants of Alexander the Great's empire.  Many similar situations can be found throughout history.  Get creative.  Was there an apocalyptic fall to an ancient society?  Perhaps the realms you see sprung up in the wake?
7.  Is the ruler true evil or true good (if you want this included)?   Is there a ruler somewhere that's tied to the religion of his nation?
8.  What is the military of a nation like?  Does it follow the typical feudal-system of levies, a core of heavily armored knights?  Is there a standing army?  What about a legion?  Never skip the most minor of details--you never know when that little mote will turn into an avalanche and rain a clusterfuck on your story.  What about an emphasis on cavalry?  The typical medieval setting would always consider this, as the horse-riding Medieval knight is the epitome of that era's warfare.  The vast majority of fantasy I've read has dealt with warfare--acclimate yourself to this.  Read up on weapons and armor.  Do you know what a halberd is?  A mail coif?  What about a cuirass?  Scimitar?  B*****d sword?  Look s**t up, it'll help.
9.  How is life for the lower class?  For the higher?
10.  Are they happy?  Might they revolt?  Do they look favorably upon their rulers?
11.  Where do you characters fit in the pyramid scheme of the country?

Okay, here's what I do:

Maps.  I draw maps.  The mountains, the oceans, the rivers, the borders of nations--forests, cities, sites of ancient battles, places of note (like temples).  Even if you're just shooting in the dark with a map, once stuff is on the paper...your creative spark may light, gears will start turning, and a history will begin to develop.  Countries will form.  You'll discover kings, queens, emperors--and in the midst of it all, your characters.  If it isn't as simple as that, watch films like Alexander, Gladiator, or Kingdom of Heaven.  These should help getting you into an appropriate mindset.

History is the ultimate tool for this.  You're reading this, dear reader, so I'm assuming you have the Internet.  Open your browser.  See that little search bar?  Type in:  "Wikipedia".  Get used to it.  Wikipedia is easily the best resource for these lessons, especially if you flunked your history classes.

Become acquainted with the forms of government.  Obviously, some are better suited for the fantasy genre than others.  Read into oligarchies, monarchies, aristocracies--one could even try a democracy, though I don't believe I've ever seen that work in fantasy.  If your world is high-magic, consider the idea of a magocracy.  Check out theocracies, too, if your nation isn't secular. 

Tedious, like I said.  It's out of the way, I know, but you literally have no idea how much this helps.  And if you do happen to have such an idea, then you'll know exactly where I'm coming from.

Good luck!

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Posted 6 Years Ago

Thank you for putting these lessons on here. They are helping me out. I've tried to create worlds more properly but I always get kind of worried its to plain and stuff. Thank you so much

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Posted 7 Years Ago

Never thought about drawing a map but suddenly I'm slapping my forehead with a 'duh' expression. That would be a great idea. will try and Wikipedia is my trusted friend and source to info.
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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..