One of the most challenging parts of writing in the fantasy genre is creating the universe. You could spend years designing the cultures and backgrounds to your novel before putting pen to paper, but you need to monitor the world constantly to keep it as consistent, full, and detailed as possible while keeping it grounded and believable. It’s a lot of work.
No matter where you are in the writing, editing or polishing of your fantasy novel, here are some things you can decide instantly that will give your story definition and dimension, as well as give you credibility as a unique and talented fantasy writer.
1. Currency. Do your characters trade? What are their units? I’m not talking so much about copper pieces, silver pieces and gold pieces. Don’t those pieces have names? Do they have words or faces etched in them? Holes to string them together? Are they round coins or do they have another shape–and if so, why?
2. Months. Lunar or solar–or maybe something else? What are their names, and why? What do people associate with them? When is harvest time and winter? How many are in a year? And what about weeks–ten days or seven? Something else?
3. Mythology and superstition. Not just stereotypical legends that are vital to your own story, or prophecies. What bedtime stories to children know? What are the local legends and superstitions? Is there a certain gesture people use for good luck?
4. Languages. One of my pet peeves in fantasy and science fiction is how languages are confined to species. Elves don’t speak the common human tongue, they speak–well, Elvish. And all elves speak it. Obviously. Dwarves don’t speak Elvish. Dwarves speak Dwarvish and common. All humans speak the common language. I hate to break it to you, but the tiny country of Switzerland in the middle of Europe has four different national languages, and they are all spoken by humans living closely among each other. Languages aren’t neat and they don’t confine themselves to our boundaries.
5. Architecture. What kind of houses do people live in. Thatch cottages? Mud bricks? Sticks tied together? Logs or stone? Wigwams? The architecture in your story could say a lot about the people who live in it.
6. Food. Most people stick with their ideas of a medieval European palate, but what about other options? Many cultures at the same time were eating potatoes, rice, or even manioc roots cooked and ground into a mashed potato-like substance. And then there are always tacos or primitive pizzas. If your novel involves a long journey, variations in local dishes could go a long way for bringing your reader fully into your world.
7. Holidays and sports. What kinds of things does your fantasy world celebrate, and how? What would a traditional festival include? Many cultures have had organized sports for thousands of years. Do any of yours?
8. Transportation. The ancient Egyptians invented the steamboat, but then abandoned the idea because the technology would cause a labor shortage. Do your characters stick with foot and horse travel, or is there more? Hot air balloons, chariots or wagons could fit well in with a fantasy story if handled right.
9. Board games. Why bore your readers with lengthy political discussions when your characters could play a simple board game while they talk? Look at the most basic games, like Go and Mancala. You could easily infuse your world with small details like this to make your writing more engaging, realistic and action-based.
10. Sickness. People get sick, and sometimes it isn’t all that dire or dramatic. As I’m writing this, I personally have a lingering cough from a cold I got a couple weeks ago. Usually, in fiction, writers use illnesses as major plot points and dramatic turning events. However, sickness can also be a great way to color in the background of your novel and to show your characters in a new life.
What details do you like to use to fill in your novel? Please share your thoughts in the comments section. I’d love to read them!