When I was in kindergarten, I once wore the Princess Jasmine wedding outfit to school every day for a week and a half. I even brought my mom's faux white calla lily bouquet from her bathroom. So, yes, we will be using this cliched title up top. Deal with it.
This week, my first post ever, is one that I genuinely excited to create. Selfishly, I wanted to create one single place for my world building template for a while, so even if no one reads this, at the very least future me will be thankful.
One of my favorite genres is fantasy. I think outside of contemporary YA, it's where my heart lives. I've always binged fantasy shows late at night when I needed to get in the writing zone--no matter what I was drafting. I notice myself writing more detailed when I do, because I keep in mind rules I have to not only abide by, but firstly create. From watching and reading new and fantastic worlds, I've created a sort of outline for questions I need to answer and rules I must create for continuity, complexity, and for well developed social and political worlds.
But I do want to preface all of this by saying, if you create a world with too many rules, you'll trap yourself. Allow yourself freedom and explore some speculative elements. This guide is mainly to help establish the basic structure, but sometimes I just say, "ah fuck it" and throw in a bunch of random things. It's just how we do.
Creating a Political System:
Your world has to exist within some sort of structure and even if you are only bringing up kings, queens, warriors, or courts for plot, we should understand how the systems actually work.
Anarchy: the social conscience maintains order, but there are no laws
Athenian Democracy: Every citizen can vote on every new law
Representative Democracy: Elected representatives form a congress or government
Clan: Pretty much whoever is older is in charge, traditions are strongly adhered to, and society as a whole is split cross many tribes that are generally similar (and usually allied) but with their own quirks and traditions
Caste: A lot like a Clan structure, but each clan has a set role in society that usually renders them co-dependent. These Castes usually follow a social hierarchy
Dictatorship: One person controls everything, and they will later pass the right to rule to someone else, whether by inheritance, election, dueling, or some other method. Not all dictatorships are bad, especially if they are formed in times of crisis or rebellion, but even those started with the best intentions may quickly corrupt.
Plutocracy: Whoever has money is in charge.
Technocracy: A group of scientists and engineers have complete control and do everything they can to run the country at maximum efficiency. The more competent they are, the more likely this is to be viewed as a good thing.
Thaumocracy: Like a technocracy, but run by a science-like form of magic (like wizards and arcanists rather than shamans and witches)
Theocracy: The Church controls everything, and their religious law is civil law. Whether this religion is real, is fake but knows it, or believes its own lies is up to you.
Corporate State: Powerful mercantile organizations have taken control of entire regions. This is a lot like a Technocracy, but with a corporate structure and a focus on maximum profitability (and no-one else is going to set them a minimum wage)
Feudal: A lot like a dictatorship, but subsidiary lords are assigned their own local power and can enforce their own law without notifying the larger state.
Bureaucracy: Government runs very slowly and the public has effectively no control. There is a lot of red tape and taxation is high.
Colony: Government is dependent on a mother society
Cybercracy: A computer system is the state administrator.
Matriarchy: Positions of authority are female-exclusive.
Meritocracy: Positions of authority require rigorous testing to qualify for.
Military Government: The Military control everything, usually but not always totalitarian
Monarchy: The person in charge may call themselves king or queen, but fundamentally this is either a dictatorship or a feudal society.
Oligarchy: A small organization is in control, and it elects its own members.
Patriarchy: like a matriarchy, but for guys. what a novel idea
Sanctuary: A society that protects the people other societies hunt (that may be considered criminals or terrorists by other nations)
Socialist: The government directly manages the economy, education is easy to get, the government intervenes to get everyone possible a job. This is likely to collapse quickly without good technology or magic to assist it.
Subjugated: The society as a whole is completely controlled by an outside force.
Utopia: A perfect society where everyone is satisfied and nothing sinister is happening behind the scenes we swear.
Health and Resources:
Within your fantasy story, odds are your characters will succumb to some kind of injury or illness, people will need to find supplies to survive, or villages and towns will need be shown functioning regularly. So, here are some questions to consider:
How does healthcare function? Is there a healer, actual medical practitioners, magical cures, midwives, religious figures, or magical herbs and artifacts?
Does everyone have access to healthcare? Is there are rich/poor dichotomy? Does it cost money, favors, lands, or IOUs?
Do people consider healing as a right? Are people cursed with untreatable illness? Are there people with chronic illnesses and how does magic affect them? What are the limits and constraints of healing (I.e. won't touch newborns, cannot heal broken bones, cannot resurrect the dead, etc.)?
How do people get food? If there are farmers, is agriculture divided into lands? Are farmers wealthy or does the ruling class take it forcefully?
How do people get water and does it need to be boiled?
Are there actual taverns or markets for characters to purchase pre-made food at?
Are there luxury goods versus common goods? Is meat easy to purchase? Are certain creatures or beasts more expansive and rare than others? Or is this a plant-based land with magical foods?
Money and Economy:
So many times when I am writing out a fantasy story, I realize I just give them endless amounts of money because it's easy. My main characters either steal what they need OR simply pull coins out of their pocket and never seemingly have financial woes. I'm lazy when it comes to explaining money, I guess. But it is important to create realistic rules.
Is there a tax system the ruling class benefits off of? Is it abused?
Is the currency traditional (gold, silver, diamonds)? Are there jewels that can be traded?
Is magic a currency? If so, how is it distributed and how do non-magical beings afford to live?
Are there banks or systems that allow for loans? Where do people keep and/or hide their money?
Are craftspeople/laborers/servants treated well? Is there room for social and career growth or are you stuck within one trade?
Who can own property? Animals? Transportation?
So you'll have to decide early on what transportation is like in this world. If you opt to go for something fairly epic, like dragon riders, than you need to also account for supply and demand and how easily accessible they are. Do you have any sort of technology or is magic the primary feature? Below are some possible options:
Horse: Which is pretty easy to not have to explain and characters can steal horses when you need to move them around more frequently. BUT they cannot move as quickly as magical creatures, so keep in mind the pacing needs to make sense. They also have to be accounted for rest, food, and water.
Teleportation/portals: If you opt for more magical modes of movement, consider who can do this, if it requires training, how to focus on where to travel, and if you can take more than just yourself.
Magical creatures: You will have to 1. establish which creatures allow for that kind of ownership versus which are independent of human service 2. explain if there is a kind of training or price for ownership 3. establish if there is any sort of tension or budding uprising from mistreatment.
Carriages, wagons, or carts: Who can own these? Who makes these? Do you need operators?
Walking: Because that's a thing people do too, I guess.
Typically, fantasy stories are direct social and cultural commentaries about religion. I actually wrote a whole article about What Game of Thrones Taught Me About Religion in which I broke down how the religious figures and practices in the show correlate to religions in our own world. Whether you want to acknowledge religious practices you are familiar with or come up with your own, you'll need to establish faith's role in your book.
Is there a religious figure "on earth" that people make sacrifices to? What is their active role and who is allowed to interact with them?
Are there separate faiths divided by land and region? Does climate, population, species change them?
Is everything simply theoretical or will your characters ever tangibly see an act of god/goddess/savior/lord/etc.?
If you have a Chosen One, what's the reason for it? What's their higher role and purpose and even if used as a pawn, why select them?
Where and how to people pray or practice their faith? Are temples or sacred spaces reserved for particular classes? Are they safe from magic? Does there have to be a religious figure who runs these places exclusively or can anyone practice freely(The good ol' Catholic vs Protestant debate)?
Are there people discriminated against based on the religion of your world? Who? What are the origins and who is directly responsible/who is harmed the most?
Are there consequences for not abiding by religious laws?
What legends, stories, myths, or tales exist to establish the way it is viewed in your present story?
Species and Longevity:
Within fantasy, there are always those few characters, creatures, and legends that seemingly are immortal. Some live for hundreds if not thousands of years before death. Others, like humans, kick the bucket super quickly and are essentially little rushed bags of flesh. So what is the average lifespan for fantasy characters?
Humans: The average human lifespan is about 72.6 years. However, you probably know you can kill off a human character with a whole lot of ease, or allow them to live into their early 100s if you really wanted to push it.
Elves: Here, this is a bit trickier. Most texts with elves differ depending on the author's reasoning for them to be there. Take for instance, popular elves like in Santa myths--immortal. In Lord of the Rings you have the regular men who avergae about 80 years, Nmenoreans at about 200 and the Nmenoreans of royal blood close to 400 years. So, it's safe to say you can probably go between 0-1000 years with elves.
Vampires: Immortal. Pretty simple. However, what about half vampires? Some texts have them grow and age like normal humans, but keep their vampiric abilities. So books like Vampire Academy show young vampires born from vampire parents and growing with age, alongside half-lings. Texts like The Vampire Diaries and their spin-off The Originals claim once you're bitten, you're frozen at an age forever, which is pretty common, but also suggests you can be a hybrid of other magical creatures, but the vampire genes are the most dominant.
Witches, warlocks, mages: Again, this one is trickier. For instance, in Shadowhunters, warlocks are immortal, as they stop aging at one point in their lives and depend on their demon parent's life source to keep them going. Other famous accounts of witches and wizards simply has them growing like regular humans, eventually dying of natural old age. Other examples, like the many adaptations of Merlin suggests wizards and warlocks have some internal ability to slow down the aging process, allowing them to go for a few hundred years. You also have the flexibility of them "creating" some sort of life elixir or healing source.
Dragons: Dragons are still mortal. So, Draconian estimates dragons live an average of 1,200 years. This tracks, because Tolkien wrote in the Hobbit, ". . . they guard their plunder as long as they live, a thousand years, maybe, unless they are killed . . ."
Sirens: In Greek mythology, sirens were handmaidens to the goddess Persephone, so it's safe to assume they were also immortal. In later Greek texts, they are portrayed as vicious creatures cast off to lure men, like dumb old Odysseus, to their deaths, which again suggests that their curse is endless, as are their lives. In these tales, they would die if a mortal listener would pass by them without falling for their song. In more modern texts, sirens are interchanged with mermaids are have seemingly average lifespans as they are birthed and grow at a similar rate to their human counterparts. So, it's sort of up to the author here.
Phoenixes: In classic mythology, a Phoenix lives to about 500-1000 years, with the end of its life the Phoenix builds a nest, ignites itself and the nest in flames, and then essentially is reborn from the ashes. They are immortal.
Fae: If you're a Disney fan, faeries can live as long as you believe. In classic mythology, fae are just simply immortal, like true true immortal. Some fae will age in physical appearance after producing offspring to emulate their new role and responsibility, but that has nothing to do with the wearing down of their bodies.
Here are some other super rad resources for fantasy writers in terms of world building!