fantasy worldbuilding questions

Questions for your developing magic system


  • What is the source of the magic? How is it accessed?
  • Who has access to the magic? Everyone? A select few (chosen, trained, holy)?
  • What is the relationship between magic/non-magic people? Why?
  • How are magic spells performed? Does one have to do something specific to access it? Why?
  • What are the limits?
  • (If relevant) Why haven’t magic users taken over the world?
  • How does magic interact with the world?
  • Can it realistically be used in combat? Can it be defended against?
  • What are the effects of use over time?
  • Do you want to focus on using familiar terms or original terms in association with your magic? Why?


  • How did it evolve from the world as we know it?
  • Is it as practical as it is fun?
  • Why was it needed?
  • Does it accomplish its task in the most efficient way? If not, why?
  • How available is this tech for the common person?
  • How much training does using/repairing/creating/improving this tech require?
  • Does this tech require an element or advancement that doesn’t exist?
  • Has this technology truly improved quality-of-life for the people?

Check out the rest of the Brainstorming Series!
Magic Systems, Part One
New Species
New Worlds
Map Making
Politics and Government

45 Questions About Magic
  1. Who has it?
  2. Who can use it?
  3. Where does it come from?
  4. What does it go through?
  5. Is it active? Passive? Both?
  6. Is it tangible? Visible?
  7. Can magic people sense magic?
  8. Can non-magic people sense magic?
  9. Can non-humans be or have magic?
  10. Can objects be or have magic?
  11. Can it be used by accident?
  12. What are the consequences of using magic? Of not using it?
  13. Do some things (eg causing injury, death, etc.) have greater consequences?
  14. Does level/degree of use correlate to degree of consequences?
  15. Does magic require a bargain (eg service to a god)?
  16. Can someone lose their magic?
  17. Can someone gain magic?
  18. Can magic be transferred or stolen?
  19. Is magic something to be turned on and off or is it always there?
  20. Does a person have a limited amount of magic? Can it be replenished?
  21. Does everyone’s magic manifest the same way?
  22. Does everyone call upon their magic the same way?
  23. Does magic require physical aids? Meditation?
  24. Is strength innate or based on training? Can it change?
  25. How is strength indicated?
  26. Are there physical indicators of magic use?
  27. Is there some sort of test to be allowed to use magic?
  28. To show competency?
  29. To show mastery?
  30. To certify teaching?
  31. Is magic tied to or antithetical to religion?
  32. Must magic obey science?
  33. Does magic operate the same way everywhere?
  34. Does magic operate the same way on everyone/everything?
  35. Is healing possible? Is it telekinetic? Time-based? Done by switching physical health?
  36. Does magic require a sacrifice? Before or after? User’s or others’?
  37. Is magic something a person is? Does? Uses?
  38. How is magic conceptualized? Is that correct?
  39. What can someone do with magic?
  40. What can’t someone do with magic? Why?
  41. What are ethical/moral lines that have been drawn regarding magic? How are they enforced?
  42. Is belief necessary?
  43. Can magic only be done at certain times or in certain places?
  44. How do powerful magic users face consequences from the law?
  45. Is magic something that people want to be?

So… there are wildlife rescue centers in the urban fantasy settings, right?

“You said, ‘You could still do something.’ Your exact words.”
“I meant talk your queen into surrendering, not destroy our navy in its own harbor!” the magus shouted.
—  Megan Whalen Turner, The Queen of Attolia, making me wonder why these books are classified as children’s fiction when this level of intrigue would fit into any adult fantasy
Cushing Library Event

I gave a lecture on worldbuilding in SF/F and did a question and answer session on the TAMU campus last night, as part of Cushing Library And Archives Hal Hall Lecture Series. It was a great audience of students and faculty, and I had a lot of fun.

Here’s the talk I gave about worldbuilding:

What is worldbuilding? Briefly, it’s the setting you create for a fictional work, including the type of landscape, the environment, the climate, as well as the people who live there and their cultures. It’s the physical and mental space that your story occupies.

Worldbuilding is all about choices. Even if the setting is a real world place, (like the way The Avengers was set in New York) you will be making choices. Where do the characters live, what things do they need there, what is their income level, what is the weather, what is their community. That’s all worldbuilding.

There are also settings that are fictional but are meant to be understood by the reader as real. One older example is in the book Raintree County by Ross Lockridge, Jr. It’s a fictional setting inserted into a real world place, so seamlessly that readers can’t tell if it’s based on a real town or not. You can find the spot on the map where it’s supposed to be, it’s just not there.

But the kind of worldbuilding that most people think of when they hear the word, is in secondary world fantasy. That’s fantasy that does not take place on earth, but in its own invented world. Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, are secondary world fantasy. It’s sometimes called created world fantasy. Or just fantasy.

Worldbuilding is an element of a fantasy novel, but like all the other elements, plot, story, characterization, it can’t exist in a vacuum. Who your characters are and what their goals and problems and agendas are is going to be wrapped up and inseparable with the world they live in. Worldbuilding can and should help drive your plot and be essential to your story. The best fantasy stories can only take place in the world that was created for them, they can’t be removed from that context without changing things that are essential to the story and the characters.

For example: My current fantasy series is the Books of the Raksura. The main character is an orphaned shapeshifter who can transform into a flying creature who looks like what we would think of as a demon. He has no idea what species he is, but has to hide his ability to shapeshift because the species he most resembles are the predators that everyone is terrified of. He finds his own people by accident, and then has to try to fit in to a complex matriarchal culture that he has a very important biological role in.

The themes of that story are about identity, about finding your place in the world, finding a place where you belong when it’s maybe a little too late for you to adapt your behavior to fit in. There are themes about gender roles, about sexual roles, and there’s a lot of fighting and chasing and adventure. Those individual themes can be removed from that setting and put into a real world context, but the specific way this story uses them really can’t.

Worldbuilding for fantasy can be realistic, which is where you think about things like how your magical floating city in the clouds gets its food, water, and the other necessities of its infrastructure, and how it deals with its sewers and garbage. The solutions to those problems can of course be magical. And you don’t have to tell them all to the reader, unless they’re important to the story. But knowing how the nuts and bolts of your magical city work can inform your worldbuilding with a sense of verisimilitude.

Some people believe that fantasy by definition has to take place in a kind of world that’s basically a caricature of medieval England. It has certain inalienable characteristics. Everyone wears hooded cloaks, because it’s always cold and rainy or snowy. Everyone’s white. Women have limited employment choices. In fact they have two employment choices: princess or whore. Or sometimes nuns, if they’re lucky. The government is a monarchy. Everyone eats stew and there are a lot of taverns to sit around in and meet the rest of your party.

It used to be called “derivative” because the assumption was that the author didn’t do research on the real Europe, the real England of the medieval, or any other, time period. They read other people’s fantasy books and copied them. Derivative fantasy tends to be about as much like the real middle ages in Europe as New Orleans square in Disneyland is like New Orleans. Except everyone knows Disney New Orleans isn’t real, isn’t supposed to be real, and a lot of people think the faux medieval world of these novels is “historically accurate.” (air quotes) That’s an excuse, and it’s the kind of excuse that’s a lie.

That standard faux medieval setting is not real, it is not even close to the historic reality. It’s a choice. It’s a secondary world, a created world, made up of the author’s choices. Making all the characters white, erasing the rest of humanity, and taking any kind of agency away from women characters are choices the author made. It doesn’t have to be that way. But people who don’t read fantasy assume, and will tell you, that those derivative worlds are all fantasy is, and they are wrong.

The not so secret key to fantasy is that your secondary world can be anything you want, and there are an inspiring and astonishing variety of worlds out there.

I’m going to talk briefly about three of them.

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

All three are secondary world fantasy novels with magic, all three were published last year, all are critically acclaimed and have been on various genre award lists. All three are examples of stories that would not be the same if they were removed from the context of their created worlds.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin takes place in a world where catastrophic seismic disturbances are commonplace. These disturbances literally destroy and remake the large portions of the landscape periodically, and it’s a struggle for the various peoples who live on this planet to survive, and retain some grasp of the history of their world. There are people who are born with a kind of magic who can control these seismic disturbances. You’d think that would solve everything, but people being people, that is not what happens. As the book goes on we see more and more evidence that parts of their history have been deliberately concealed to manipulate their society.

The worldbuilding is told in what I would call a very spare style. We don’t learn a lot about what people are wearing or what they eat. There isn’t the abundance of lush material culture detail we see in other fantasy novels. The pace is fast, and we learn what this society is like by the way various characters are treated, what happens to them when they conform, and what happens to them when they resist. We’re getting a glimpse of the history of this world, and it’s that history and the radical changes that the world has undergone that help drive the plot. Through the worldbuilding we begin realize that there is a mystery at the heart of this world and the characters are just beginning to uncover it.

It’s an example of the fact that fantasy secondary worlds don’t have to be static, don’t have to be pre-technological. All worldbuilding should drive the plot and the story, and this is a great example of that idea in action.

Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson is a short novel that was published as a novella, but which packs a huge amount of worldbuilding into a high concept, intense story. It’s set in a place somewhat based on medieval Africa, with huge trading cities like Axum in Ethiopia or Benin City, but it’s entirely original. As the story goes on, we realize the main character’s magic is based on real science, in that he’s magically manipulating his environment based on scientific principles. It’s a short book, but the descriptions, the language, is intense and vivid. The author uses the main character’s memories of his past to fill in detail as the characters travel to their destination. You have this world in your head in full color, and it’s fascinating.

It’s an example of how you can have all the swords and fighting and adventure and magic you want, without having to set it in the same boring rain-soaked taverns of white male faux-England.

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard is set in an alternate world version of late twentieth century Paris, except the world has been all but destroyed by a magical war. Parts of the city are controlled by Great Houses, using magic to protect their dependents and maneuver for power. The magical war has been just as devastating for the environment as it has been for the people, and we see a world where the Seine is black with debris and dangerous to even approach the bank. Dying angels occasionally fall to earth from heaven, and their bodies are broken up and sold as part of the magical economy.

It’s an example of a fantasy setting that uses a real world place. You can follow the actions of the characters on a map of our Paris, but it’s a Paris with magic and a different history. One of the main characters is Vietnamese, brought to Paris to fight in the war, and through his perspective and memories we get some idea of how different the rest of the world is.

This is an example of how to make a real world setting fantastical, and how adding magic and changing history can transform a real world setting.

So in conclusion, your worldbuilding will say as much about you as a person and as an author as any other part of your story. There’s very little in the fantasy genre that hasn’t already been done, but what makes it unique is you. There are no rules, no guidelines, just choices, made by you.

guardioes-dos-sonhos  asked:

Hi, how are you? I'm doing a story, but I need to create an imaginary city. Do you know anything that would help me create a name and characteristics of the city? By the way, thank you for all the tips that you give for us every day, they are really helpful :)

A masterlist of categorised links on creating a city including names, maps, and world building guides!

Keep reading

anonymous asked:

Can u please talk about how you became such a wonderful writer?

Oh god. So I basically wrote an essay-length response to your ask and then tumblr ate it, but I will do my best to answer your question as thoroughly as the first time. Here we go.

I should preface this by saying I think all writers can always improve their writing, and that you should never stop trying to do so. This will also end up being more of a “general tips for writing” thing, because I improved my own writing through a number of different factors:


I really can’t emphasize enough how important this one is, and that “work 10,000 hours to get good at something” statistic you always hear about is true. When you’re a young writer, or a new writer, your ideas are stellar, but your ability to execute them, not so much. Writing creatively is extremely difficult, and at that point in the game you don’t have enough built up experience needed to create an engaging narrative. That’s what the practice is for.

You need it to get used to the process of writing. You need to write every day so you get fast at putting your ideas down on paper, and it becomes easier to translate what’s in your head into something that can be viewed by others. It helps you get over the learning curve.

Basically I’ve been writing almost every day for 2-3 hours per day (and sometimes more) since I was in high school. Its greatly improved my skill level.


If you’re serious about your writing, there are some core tenants that are absolutely necessary, and if you don’t have them, you’re fucked:

  • Characters/Characterization: Literally your characters are what drive the story. Not the plot, not the setting, nor the theme. Those are all super important factors, to be sure, but if your characters do not come off as believable, fully-realized individuals – if they’re boring to read about – readers can and will drop your story. And you need to treat all your characters with equal love and importance – even the secondary ones.

  • Setting/World-building: This is the second most important element of your story, imo, and along with characterization and dialogue, one of the hardest to pull off. The world your characters exist in – and how you describe it – is what gives your story weight, and makes it seem believable to the readers. It’s also what allows them to put themselves into the scene, to imagine the events as you describe them. This is especially important in genre fiction (i.e. SF and fantasy). The way you describe setting/world-building is through the senses: touch, taste, sight (both small and large details), smell, hearing and time. Never forget time. It’s very important for grounding your scenes. Some helpful links for world-building (that I can remember right off the top of my head):
  • Dialogue: One of the dreaded top three in terms of difficulty, but also very important. Good dialogue – natural dialogue – is a crucial part of making your story believable. Avoid stock lines, and study how people talk to each other irl.

  • Goal: Your characters need a goal to work towards, and you need a goal, as the author. What is it you’re trying to get across with this story? What are you trying to say to your audience? You need to think about these things.

  • Theme: A bit more abstract, but pretty important, imo. Examples of themes are self vs. collective identity, cosmic nihilism, etc. They’re not explicitly stated in your story – not usually – but a philosophical underpinning is what gives weight to the subtext of your narrative.


This one is also really important, and one of the big reasons why I won’t edit the work of beginner authors. When you first start off writing, unfortunately your ego is pretty fragile. Writing is an intensive, time-consuming process, and despite what we like to tell others, often deeply personal. When someone tells us this labor of love is shit, it hurts. Really hurts, and when you’re a beginner you don’t have the thick skin needed to deal with that sort of criticism.

Some new authors, if they’re exposed to this too soon, they just quit – they stop writing altogether, and this is very dangerous, because there are literally whole libraries of stories out there that have been lost because people like making other people feel like shit. When I was a beginner, I was never exposed to this. I was told how to improve my stories, to be sure, but I was never told that I suck. My parents encouraged me, and my extended family encouraged me; my friends and my teachers and everyone I knew encouraged me, so by the time I got to a place where the criticism can be absolutely soul-crushing (i.e. university), I had developed a thick enough skin to deal with it. I was more concerned with getting better than with being accepted, and I was eager to get critique from others.


I know a lot of writers will disagree with me on this one, but basically I’m of the mind that there are (almost) no bad ideas when it comes to writing. It’s not the idea itself that is bad – it’s how you execute it that matters. This is why I have no problem with most tropes. The ideas are good – there’s something valuable to them, otherwise we wouldn’t keep reading – but the reason why people say they’re overdone is because generations of successive authors have repeated the same trope ad nauseum with zero deviations. When they do this, they lose the element of surprise, which is crucial for keeping your audience engaged.

There are a couple reasons why people do this: one is lack of experience (which is where practice comes in), and the other is fear: you know this particular idea works, and you don’t want to be rejected, so you do that, sticking to the formula. But you need to be bold with your writing. Writing is all about building upon the ideas that have come before you, and then improving them – it’s about combining ideas together to create something new.


I know it is always recommended to read books to help with the writing process, and I agree, but I would go further than that. I would say look at all sorts of media. On a personal level, I study history and space (and everything to do with it), and I watch movies. Lots and lots of movies. I like thinking about how to make a novel work in a visual format. This might be why I’m very comfortable with writing action.


Have a system for writing. Every writer I know has a different one, and there is no wrong way to go about it, but having a system makes the process of creating a novel much less daunting, and it allows you to execute complex plot-lines that would otherwise be impossible to keep straight in your head. My own process generally goes something like this:

  • Get an idea: Mine usually come instantaneously, and are triggered by something I’ve seen.
  • Let that idea ferment: All my ideas seem brilliant in the moment (to me), but sometimes I’ll get bored with an idea, and if you’re bored with something, you don’t want to spend months or even years writing about it. I’ll think about an idea for a month to a year(s), and if I still like it, I’ll write about it.
  • Research/Planning: Before I start writing, I map out my plot, plot arcs, major events, setting/world, overall themes, characters, create the structure for new languages (if need be), and do any research that may be required. This will be continuously revised and added to over the course of writing, but you need to have the bulk of it done beforehand.
  • Create 2 Documents: One for brainstorming, the other for the first chapter. Sometimes I write in chronological order, which is what the chapter documents are for. Sometimes I get an idea for a scene much further down the road, and don’t want to forget it - I write those in the brainstorming document, and when I need to, I stitch those scenes together to create a chapter.
  • Write a Raw/Rough Draft: I’m not too concerned about spelling or coherency here. I just need to get my ideas out on paper.
  • Revise Raw Drafts: As many times as need be. This is the editing process. It’s long and arduous but I actually don’t mind it too much. For my original fiction, I have editors to look over my stories. For fanfiction, I usually don’t - that’s just something I do for fun.
  • Publish: Unfortunately I’m still working on this one. Putting up fanfics is easy enough to do, but I’m still in the process of trying to get a publisher to pick up one of my original stories. Once I figure it out, I’ll let you guys know.


Not everyone does this, but I do. Sometimes I get overwhelmed or bored with a particular story, so to keep myself from hating it I switch projects. It keeps my mind fresh, and allows me to recharge.


I don’t really like this one, but everyone says it plays a factor, so I would be remiss not to talk about it. My own personal opinion on it is this: you have to like writing and reading in order to be a good author. If you don’t like it, that lack of interest will show up in your work. People who naturally love writing will always have an advantage over you.

The opinion other people have of me (in person): I’ve literally been writing since I was 4. My first story was a picture book I drew in nursery school about a family of grizzly bears getting shot by a hunter on Christmas. My first novel was about sentient dinosaurs trying to escape flash flooding, and I wrote that when I was 10. I have been writing all my life, almost every day of my life, without prompting, and I’ve been told repeatedly that this is not a thing that normal people do. So I guess this is where natural talent comes in. But again, I really hate that term. Imo, writing is predominantly a learned thing.

anonymous asked:

@mewitti: any tip about worldbuilding? your world is so cool, but I have problems coming up with great ideas for my nuzlocke story :(

Ah, I’m honored that you think Alterity’s world is cool.

95% of the things that make Alterity’s worldbuilding different than ‘vanilla Pokemon’ are just things I’ve aped from real world ecology, behavioral science, animal science, psychology, and world history. That’s seriously it. So… read! Learn about the real world works. Learn about different cultures and how people and animals perceive the world around them. Get excited about how fantastic and varied existence can be!

Here are some resources on worldbuilding (I don’t have very many bookmarked oops):

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions By Patricia C. Wrede (you should answer all of these even if you don’t plan to explain them all in-story. The worldbuilding you do show will be much stronger if you do.)
7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding
Grounding Fantasy
Fuck Yeah Character Development - Worldbuilding posts
Writeworld’s Setting Tools

(Writers: the last two blogs are fantastic and you should follow them)

claireezra  asked:

Hello! I really appreciated your Character Chart and I'd like to know if you had some kind of chart, but for world building or mythology oriented. Also, your blog is pretty awesome and I love all the help you're providing! Thanks and keep up the good work ! =D - Ezra

Thank you! That is very kind :)

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions - SFWA

This isn’t a chart per se, but it is a comprehensive, extremely detailed guide to world building. Also check out our tags.