It’s your story so why not create your own world.
Personally, the thing I especially like about writing fantasy novels is the opportunity to create my own world. The people and the place can be exactly how I want them to be because it is a fantasy world, I don’t have to follow rules. The world, as we know it, is shoved in a dark corner somewhere and a brilliant new world is built from scratch.
Some people hardly think about the world in which their story is set and just make it up as they go along. This, however, leave room for major errors unless detailed notes are taken along the way. Others have a wishy washy idea about what they want but nothing set in concrete. Then there are those that believe that this is one area of your writing that you should invest a lot of time and effort into. I fall into the last catagory and I really do believe that you will get a lot of personal satisfaction from doing it right before you start writing your novel.
During this process, you may discover that you develop something much bigger than you’ll ever use in your novel but that doesn’t matter. The more solid your world is in your own mind, the more you will be able to portray that world to your readers and the more believable it will become.
How to Get Started
First, ask yourself the obvious questions like:
Where will the story take place?
How much ground will the story cover?
What are the most striking features of landscape, climate, animals, etc. in this area?
How will these features affect travel time, communication, etc.?
Are there are non-human inhabitants and are there any areas they particularly claim as their own?
Is magic used by the people in general or by a select few? Maybe it won’t be used at all.
This is important, you need a map. If your story stays in the boundaries of one house, you need to draw a floor plan showing each and every room, show windows, doors, hallways, staircases.
If your novel is built around a town. Draw a map of the whole town. Name the streets, show parks, shops, houses, alleys, local hang outs, schools and all other areas of importance to your story.
If your novel is based in a fantasy world. Draw a map of the entire world. Show lakes, rivers, towns, mountain ranges, you can mark explored and unexplored territories and any other areas relating to your story. Think about things like how many suns/moons circle your world, the fauna and flora, the animals and the seasons.
Preparing a detailed map before you start working on your novel makes it easier when you need to know where your characters are heading, or what you’ve said is at the end of the street, or what will be found in a particular room. Basically, it takes the guess work out of the writing and leaves you to concentrate on more important things.
Who or what live in your world? Are they three eyed monsters who only eat green leaves? Dragons who breath deadly vapours? Wizards who cast many a spell or just ordinary humans?
Make detailed lists describing each inhabitant and what their role in your story is. If you have non-human characters you will need to know what form they take. You could even draw pictures of what they look like but this is entirely up to you (and your ability to draw!)
You also need to think about basic things like how time passes and how distance is measured. Do the inhabitants think in terms of days and weeks, miles and kilometres or is their world governed by the passing phases of the moon and distances counted in leagues?
There are many different people in our world and just as many different cultures so in your fantasy world it would be reasonable to say that the same thing would apply.
Referring to your list of inhabitants, define their individual cultures. Think about everyday clashes within the inhabitants as well as clashes amongst all of the inhabitants.
For example, if you have people that use magic but only a selected few have this ability – will there be conflict between the people who do use it and the people who don’t? Will the users feel they are superior? Will the other people (the non users) feel resentful? Now think about another race in your world, perhaps they live underground. They have their own social hangups with each other but they also want to enslave the magicians for their own reasons. Would this dilemma force the community who use magic to stand together or would the non-users turn their backs on their own kind?
Once you have decided these types of things, you will be providing yourself with a solid foundation for when you start building your character’s personalities.
You have a world and the final step you have to take is to populate that world with characters. You’ve already provided the basis of these characters by the conflicts you’ve decided on. Now you can start to build on their individual personalities.