Believability is a hard thing for fantasy writers to achieve. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read a review that said the plot was good, but the world-building wasn’t believable. If you are like me, this seems like a nail in a coffin lid. Most readers want a world they can escape into and understand, not one where they get lost along the way. So I have come up with four major categories that can aid in creating a believable world.
One of the main features in fantasy novels is geography. Whether the story takes place in a medieval England sort of world or the vast wilderness of Siberia, geography gives the readers an understanding of place. Studying pictures of the places you are basing your fantasy off of could greatly improve your understand of how people would move across your land. Geography should also be studied in any sort of story where you hope to explore several different kingdoms. There should be a natural progression from snow and ice to a desert. If you place a kingdom such as Russian next to the Sahara desert, you run the risk of readers being drawn from your story.
This is a point many people overlook when first starting out. Architecture of a place is a huge deal in the real world. Most people can identify Greco/Roman, Gothic, or Eastern European architecture, even if they don’t realize they are doing it. Study the buildings of the style you like the most so you can recreate it in your story and make the world come alive. Attention to this will automatically give a sense that your world was around long before the reader entered it, architecture will give your world a sense of history.
This may seem like a no brainer to most, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve picked up a fantasy novel and there seems to be no difference between people from one kingdom to the next. This is especially important if your main character travels through several different kingdoms. Most all should have their own culture and their own people. Even if it is based off of a medieval England, there are still slight changes from English to Scottish. Attention to this detail will make your world seem more diverse and interesting.
Creatures and plants are just about everywhere we look. Even squirrels manage to wiggle their way into urban cities. Adding plants, animals, or both can really improve the believability of your world. You can make up creatures all day long, perhaps birds don’t have feathers in your world (which would be ever so slightly terrifying), but you have to make sure you mention this fact and a little bit about why birds don’t have feathers or the reader will never believe it is true. You also can have trees, flowers, and grass throughout your story, but make sure it aligns with your geography. A birch tree shouldn’t be growing in an icy wasteland unless it has magical properties of some sort. Attention to this detail will keep the reader from being pulled out of your world by under explained animals or awkward plant placement.
Creating a believable world is hard and keeping all of these ideas in mind while writing can get tiresome. I personally like to keep a secret Pinterest board full of geography, plants/animals, and architecture I think fits into my world. By doing this, I relieve the stress of trying to remember everything I want to put into the story to create a believable world.
Paying attention to these four categories can expand your world, in your mind and in the readers. Are there any categories you pay special attention to when you are creating your world?