In this series of articles I’m going to start with the ‘top-down’ approach to worldbuilding. That’s means I am going to consider the big picture first.
The first thing to consider when working on worldbuilding is what kind of fantasy book you are writing.
What settings and landscapes will your book need? Do you have battles planned that need large tracts of land? Will you be looking at relationships between kingdoms, or are you focusing on a more personal character-based level? Are you dealing with urban or country settings?
What time period do you have in mind? A fantasy world will have its own time period, but many fantasy books are based on an equivalent period in Earth history. Worlds that are fully magical often have a medieval setting. Urban fantasies may have a Victorian feel, or may be equivalent to 21st Century technology.
What beings will inhabit your world and how do they live? You will need to ensure all your beings have the correct habitat. For example, the introduction of dwarves may necessitate mountains, or elves may need a forest. People can live in cities or villages and may be in tribes, or ruled by kings. They may or may not communicate with neighbouring countries.
Do you plan to have your characters travel far? If you have a quest in your novel you may need to develop many countries and many different towns and other types of landscape for your creations to pass through. If all the action is set in one town, you may only need to describe that town and the immediate surroundings.
Will your fantasy world interact with the ‘real’ world? Fantasy books can take place within the real world. A classic example is Harry Potter, who lives in a magical world contained within the real world. Another type of interaction with the real world involves the use of portals to move between worlds. An example of this is His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman).
So, now to put this into practice. I want to build a fantasy world that will allow me to create short stories about many characters, so that means I need a variety of landscapes.
I would also like to go down the traditional fantasy route and create a magical world with a medieval setting. I like the idea of putting my own twist on standard fantasy elements, so I want to involve witches and wizards, fairies, dragons, and plenty of magic.
There will be a need for a population of regular people, too. Given the scope of these requirements I need to have towns and villages, woods and plains, castles and kings.
My technology level will be low so I need to ensure towns are near to sources of water, food and fuel. This means I need access to rivers and forests. It also means there must be plenty of farmland outside the cities.
Now I have an overall idea of the kind of world I want to develop further, based on the type of fantasy stories I am planning to write.