Middle Earth
Middle Earth
Setting is as much a part of a story as each character is. Whereas a dynamic character can draw a reader in, a well-formed landscape can lend realism to an otherwise foreign story. I've never been much for fantasy, but I've read The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narniaas a matter of fact, I took a Tolkien/Lewis college course, which allowed me to geek out completely and included Lewis' lesser-known Space Trilogy, which I'll discuss in another post. I've read a few other stories that were set in mystical placessome worked well and some seemed to be trying too hard to ride the coattails of Tolkien's success. I mean, who hasn't wanted to live in a cozy Hobbit-hole for a day?

The Hero's Journey

Campbellian Monomyth:

Fantasy authors are usually intimately familiar with the Campbellian Monomyth (as illustrated) and implement the elements to varying degrees. They tend to fall back on the favorite mystical characterselves, dwarves, trolls and dragons. And there's a map. There always seems to be a damn map.


Most of us remember the map of Middle Earth created for Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit and the scripture behind the story, The Silmarillian. And if you weren't a Tolkien nerdling before, you're almost certainly one after the release of the epic movies.

Tolkien contemporary, C.S. Lewis created a map for The Chronicles of Narnia to help us bring all seven stories together. Following in the great cartographic tradition, Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is mapparific. Terry Prachett's Discworld has a map complete with a giant turtle,and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is all mapped up.  I know there are more great fantasy maps, but you can only fit so many in one blog. Never fear, there are tools that allow you to make your own fantasy world map if you so choose.


But it takes more than the map to help readers and viewers decode a strange new place. It's about making that strange place seem familiarhomey even. Oftentimes, authors are so hell-bent on making their mythical place different from any other mythical place that's ever been invented since the dawn of time, that the names are unpronounceable and the characters are unbelievable. We just can't quite identify with Drychnark the half hellhound, half earthworm from Yrting as he swings through the canopy of his Ulrgark-ridden world searching for the golden naaayk, which will banish the unwanted Ulgark scourge and restore his ravaged home. To help us feel something for Drychnark, put him in a believable setting and give him and his surroundings pronounceable names

The Land
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

Rule #1:

The first and most important thing you need to keep in mind if you're creating a fantasy world is that you can't be lazy and create something believable and unique at the same time. Creating a world takes time, patience and intelligence. Just ask God. You have to do your researchread what's been written already and know your new world inside and out before you start. Inconsistency is annoying and it alienates readers and viewers. Oftentimes, writers choose a real place and plunk their fantasy world on top of it. This helps give them a frame of reference. Then they set about renaming things like a giant army conquering a small country. That's right. It makes you kind of a bastard.

Rule #2:

The second thing you need to keep in mind is that readers and viewers don't want you to barf this new place out at them all at once. They want to be introduced to it slowlyto allow them time to acclimate before you introduce another oddity. This is a lot like undressing. Throwing off your clothes in the middle of the street screaming "look at my body! It's glorious!" is called flashing, and even if your body is glorious, you can get arrested for that. Letting your clothes fall off piece by piece in an intimate setting is either called foreplay or stripping, but both are usually better received than flashing. Think of introducing your new world as a striptease. Strip away the layers slowly to build interest and stimulate readers and viewers. Are you with me?

Rule #3:

The Wheel of Time
The Wheel of Time
The third thing you need to keep in mind is that if you decide to defy the laws of physics for any reason--although that propels us dangerously close to sci-fi--you need to be able to explain it. Again, laziness is no good here. If you take shortcuts, readers and viewers get annoyed and they won't connect with your story. Have explanations for things even if you don't spell them out in your story.

Map on:

Once your world is built, you can start spinning your story. And you can make a map to place in the front of the book if you feel so inclined.

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