Step #1: Before you do anything, decide what genre you’re writing. I know this guide is specifically for fantasy, but this is still an important step. VERY important. You don’t want to start out with historical fiction and end up with a bunch of space alien zombies. (…that was random)
Step #2: Create your solar system. I know this might not seem important at all, because who pays attention to stars and planets in a fantasy book? ME! To give you an example, I decided that my fantasy world is going to have two moons and a bunch of cool constellations. Just for the heck of it. It may possibly turn into something very significant later—who knows? But why not create a little universe for yourself while you’re creating a world?
Step #3: Figure out what kind of technology/magic you want in your world. Is your world high-tech but magical? Is there any magic at all? All good fantasy stories have at least one of these: wizard, mage, magician (not the kind with the top hat and cape), sorcerer, sorceress, crazy inventor genius dude, master of the dark arts of some ancient and forgotten order that no one cares about until he rises to power, or immortal beings. Think on that for a while.
Step #4: Decide what kinds of creatures/people you want in your world. Are there elves and dwarves? Humans? Which races are mortal/immortal, if any? Don’t forget to make up some crazy animals to live there as well. You can’t have a fantasy world without (at least) one animal of your own creation. Mythological animals are given freebies. (looking at mythological creatures from any kind of mythology is always helpful for creating or getting inspiration)
Step #5: Figure out the relationships between the races (i.e. elves, dwarves, humans, etc) of your land. Are they hostile to one another, or at peace? Who is at war and who isn’t (whoever is at war, how long have they been fighting? 1, 5, 10, 100 years?)? Is there dissension between certain races? Are there any rulers who are siblings? Politics are very important when dealing with kings, queens, etc.
Step #6: Create your protagonist. Is he/she magical? Royal or a peasant? Warrior or peace-maker? Your character is not perfect, so don’t write them to be perfect. Flaws are something people will relate to as they’re reading, making your story even more meaningful. What I did (for two of my characters so far) was write out a list of everything they were. So far, it contains more flaws than anything. But that shows they’re human! (…you can rephrase that if your protag isn’t human) Your main character is the most IMPORTANT part of your world, so spend as much time as possible creating them.
Step #7: Create your other characters. This means your antagonist (villain), kings, queens, peasants, etc. This also means your protag’s besties (unless he/she is a complete loner and doesn’t make friends withanyone). They (BFFs of the protaganist) are what I like to call minor-major characters. They’re somewhere in between minor and major character groups. All the other characters need flaws as well, but having a one character (usually minor works best) seem perfect, but has a dark secret is a good subplot. Just remember—too many characters means lots of names and possible confusion for your readers (especially if the names are complicated). I struggle with this, since having unnamed characters seems like such a waste of page space to me….
Step #8: Spend some time working on your villain/villainess. You’ll probably come to love your villain, but I honestly still dislike mine. He’s just so awful. Decide whether or not he lives or dies, or if he decides to change his ways and become good. My villain wants to die evil. But that’s just him. Can your antag do magic or sorcery? What about amazing kung-fu ninja moves? Are they insane or driven mad by their conquest for dominance? And don’t forget the most important thing……..BACKSTORY!! You need to know why your antag is so evil.
Step #9: GIVE YOUR LAND A NAME! The characters need a place to live, and a nameless meadow just won’t cut it.
Step #10: Draw a map of your land. It doesn’t matter if you are good at drawing or not, because I’m terrible. Sometimes, all you need to do is throw some rivers, cities, and mountains together, and voilá! For my map, I just drew a big, shapeless blob, and added little peninsulas and coves around the edges. Then I filled it with three or four mountain ranges, twenty-something cities, and a few rivers. Don’t be afraid to think out of the box for your world. You can control everything that happens. Thinking about the geography of your land does matter though, because you don’t want your characters to have mountains to cross in every city they visit.
Step #10.5: Yes, I just had to throw another half-step in here. You can always create adjoining countries too. I have more than one country in my world, and that makes the political stuff kind of fun to write. Not that the politics are super exciting…..every country is a monarchy so far… But what are your governments of your country(s)?
Step #11: Name your cities, towns, rivers, lakes, regions, deserts, oasises, oceans, forests, islands, and mountains ranges. Make some cities/rivers/etc out-of-the-box names that you came up with all by yourself, and some names variations of regular names/words. Naming things is when it gets fun. And creative. And you suddenly have cravings for lembas bread and butterbeer and you feel the need to watch a movie marathon. Hang in there, we’re almost done.
Step #12: Create a language. This is optional, but it’s kind of fun (yet hard) to come up with a bunch of random words that somehow all make sense together. Or even mentioning other languages. Variety draws in readers like flies. Consider languages the “honey” of your story. For now at least. If your character speaks no tongue besides his/her own, which you should name ANYTHING except English (JRR Tolkein called it the Common Tongue), then have mention of the other languages in your land, especially in situations where your character is kept in the dark because of his/her lack of understanding.
Step #13: Create genealogies, myths, legends, and stories for your land. Genealogies for the lines of your kings and queens and other various rulers. Your legends can be myths to explain things about your world (like Greek mythology), or they can be legendary heroes. For instance, Mazer Rackham was a hero who became a legend in Ender’s Game (this doesn’t spoil the book). Hercules and Achilles are legends today. Personal history of your land makes all the difference—it gives your characters some identity, something they can always go back to. And what about how your land was populated/founded? Who got there first? What was the first war? How has technology/magic changed since then?
Step #14: Survey your newly-created kingdom from your throne in the castle at the top of that mountain over there. No, not that one. The one with two peaks right over– There. You found it. Smile and pump your fist in triumph. You’ve created a whole new world!