Fantasy fiction is huge right now, and it happens to be my favorite genre. And one of my favorite elements of fantasy fiction is worldbuilding–the creation and detailing of a fictional and invented world. This may be an entire universe of fictional planetary civilizations, or an epic fantasy nation, or a secret society of magic within our own, or a single species–but for every fantastic element of your story, you need to know and understand its rules and workings. That is what worldbuilding is for.
And, for me, the best way to begin is to think about the general shape of the world and what it looks like as a big picture. The following list of questions form a general ‘world shape,’ that might be a good place to start thinking about your fantasy elements (and science fantasy, such as superheroes).
I. Basic world shape: Individual/unique, group/multiple (species), sub-world, or world (separate from ours)?
II. Speculative type: Fantasy or ‘science’ origin/explanation?
III. Speculative idea source: Familiar/real/folklore, obscure, or invented?
IV. Source of speculative element (where does the fantasy come from): Person, place, or thing?
V. (If) Person physiology (lifespan, appearance, abilities): ‘Human’ or other?
VI. (If) Person speculative element: Trait, ability (controlled/learned), or magic (complex system)?
VII. (If) Person speculative source: Innate, transformation, or learn/choice (anyone can do it)?
VIII. (If) Person type: Individual, single ‘species’, or group of species?
IX. Contemporary interaction with our world: Blended, self-contained (but alongside), or separate (geographically)?
X. Complexity (things to think about): Population size/needs? Government? Economy? Society/culture?
Harry Potter: Sub-world, fantasy, familiar, person, ‘human’ (with sub-species of others), magic, innate, group of species, self-contained, complex
Iron Man (w/o Avengers): Individual, ‘science,’ invented, thing, ‘human,’ trait/ability, learn/choice, individual, blended, simple
The Mortal Instruments: Sub-world, fantasy, familiar, person, ‘human’ and other, trait/ability and magic, innate (and transformation), group of species, blended and self-contained, complex
Pirates of the Caribbean: Group/multiple, fantasy, invented, person, ‘human,’ trait, transformation, single ‘species,’ blended, simple
Twilight: Group/multiple, fantasy, familiar, person, other, trait/ability, transformation, single ‘species’ (before werewolves), blended, simple
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: World (connected), fantasy, familiar/invented, person/place, other, trait and magic, innate, group of species, separate, complex
X-Men: Group/multiple, ‘science,’ familiar, person, ‘human,’ trait/ability, innate, single ‘species,’ blended, simple
Star Wars: World, ‘science,’ invented (?), person/place, human and other, trait/ability, innate, group of species, N/A (non-contemporary), complex
Lord of the Rings: World, fantasy, familiar, person, human and other, trait/ability and magic, innate, group of species, N/A (non-contemporary), complex
Fruits Basket: Group/multiple, fantasy, obscure, person, ‘human,’ trait, innate, single ‘species,’ blended, simple
Mercy Thompson series: Sub-world, fantasy, familiar, person, other, trait/ability, innate/transformation, group of species, blended, simple
You may disagree with some of my choices here, or not understand what I’m talking about–so feel free to ask a question about any of this. I use this tool just to get an understanding about the different kinds of fantasy worlds that are out there, and I figured I might as well share it in case it might give anyone else an idea. If anyone out there has something to add (or argue against), please do! 🙂