Now that the chaos of the holidays is officially over, we must all now start to face our day to day realities again. As writers, a lot of times this means the fictional realities and worlds we create. But the question with world-building seems to always lean toward: Where do I start?
We all want to create a perfect and fresh new world for our fantasy stories with creatures or races or places never thought of before. The reality tends to be a bit harsh when it comes to this. I learned this early on in creating my fantasy world. I would gush to my friend who is an avid reader about some new aspect of my world I had created and she would almost always respond with a comparison to another fantasy series where the same thing or something similar had been done. I’ve learned to develop a new philosophy with world-building because of this: Embrace inspiration as it comes. So I thought I would share with you some of my favorite world-building resources.
- I’ll start with the obvious and lump them together: The internet, other books, and TV/movies. The internet is always your friend. Googling can take you to places you never imagined it would go which might lead to inspiration just about anything. As for other forms of entertainment like books and TV, tread carefully. There’s a difference between inspiration and outright plagiarism. Obviously you don’t want your vampires to sparkle or your swords to glow red when the wielder is angry because a leather-clad woman is torturing him. But if those ideas lead to other ideas, I say go for it.
- RESEARCH. Believe it or not, your best world-building inspiration can come from simply picking up a book on mythology, history, or anything to do with magic or creatures. To get you started, I’ve listed some of my go-to world-building resource books below.
- Geography/Geographical Pictures. This could include geographies of different worlds. Take a gander at the maps on video games like Dragon Age. Think about the layout of your world. Is it set in a desert? Rolling fields of green? Try to find places in the world that might match (even partially) the world you are trying to build and start searching for landscape pictures of them. As cliche as it might be, Ireland is a big source of inspiration for me. I have folders upon folders of pictures of really cool places that inspire me or that are similar to something I am trying to describe. Sometimes it helps to have a visual.
My World-Building Book List:
Dictionary of Superstitions by David Pickering. This is a great way to set up some mythology and culture for your world. Check out superstitions and legends from other cultures. This is a great way to help build your society and the traditions the peoples of your world follow.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to follow the superstitions and legends to the T. You can pick and choose what works for you, melt some of them together, or change them almost entirely. The point is to inspire, not to write an essay!
The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures carries a whole host of knowledge concerning the origins, descriptions, and locations of beings of myth and magic. John and Caitlin Matthews really did their research with this book, which you will most definitely benefit from. You can find everything from the well-known Banshees and Basilisks to less popular mythological creatures such as the Bunyip. If you are looking to go way outside the box of average fantasy creatures pickins’, this book is definitely for you.
Monsters: An Investigators Guide to Magical Beings by John Michael Greer is yet another great resource to get the creature-feature part of your brain rolling. Whereas the Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures reads more like a bit of a zoological text, this book deals with first-hand accounts of the “monsters” you might be investigating. There is a historical element to the mythology, which can often tie into the time period and the issues of the people of that time. You might find a creature that fits the context of your society perfectly! One that maybe a hero could battle?
How about you? What resources do you use for world-building beyond your own imagination? Let us know in the comments below!