The difference between writing fantasy and writing realistic fiction is straightforward in essence and a lot of work in practice.
Fantasy writers start with a blank slate. You’re in sandbox mode. You have no context, no rules, no world, and no people.
The process of world building can be overwhelming if you want to write a fantasy novel, but you will find that it’s necessary. Of course, you don’t have to go to the extent that JRR Tolkien did with Middle-Earth. You can start small and build as you go along, if that suits your creative process.
Some people build their worlds starting with the big picture: planets, continents or countries. Others may prefer to start small: characters, villages, and towns. You need to find what works for you.
It’s an opportunity to let your imagination go wild. Your characters don’t have to behave or dress in a certain way because of who or what they are. You can mould them as you please.
However you must define constraints to work within. For your new world, city or village to function, you must have boundaries and rules. Actions and reactions must be consistent. If you introduce magic it must have laws, restrictions and consequences. A world where anyone can do anything is boring. Your characters need challenges to create conflict and tension.
So how do you get get a balance between allowing your imagination to flow freely, and creating a world with the restrictions and conflict needed for a good story? This is something I plan to explore in detail in future blog posts. I intend to go through the process of creating a fantasy world and writing short stories about its inhabitants. You will see the thought process behind the scenes together with the end result–which I hope will inspire your own fantasy writing.
I have created two fantasy worlds, and both are being used in novels I have in progress. So, I have some practice at this process but I’m definitely still in the learning stages. It may be that I revise my world building as I create stories, and I hope this transparent process from someone who is learning as they go along, will prove an interesting exercise and an insight into the mind of a writer.