I received a couple of questions on my last post and on my Inspiration for Wordcrafter about how to create a solid fantasy world and how to do the research for it. I was really at a loss how to respond, at first, seeing as the parallel world in Wordcrafter was one of those things that came into my head and needed little help; but as I thought about it, a few ideas occurred to me.
For starters, you have to be willing to take the time to make your world like one of those that I mentioned in my last post; because if yours isn't one that was fully formed already (most aren't), it will most likely need research and brain-storming. Just like a historical fiction, fantasies take planning. What happens when a person jumps out of a plane without a parachute? He goes splat. And what happens when a writer jumps into a story without any forethought? Chances are, the story goes splat. So you have to be dedicated enough to the story to not skimp on the hard parts.
Now on to the actual suggestions. Chances are, your fantasy realm is tied to something in our world - probably English history and culture. Only God can create ex nihilo; we build off of things we know. And for Americans, what we know is largely our own history: that is, the history of the United States and the history of our mother country, England. It's no wonder, then, that most fantasy worlds in modern novels have some basic themes in common, such as the existence of a ruling king and queen. I mentioned in my last post that Tolkien fashioned Middle-Earth largely on the old legends of Britain and the myths of the Norse, and a few writers have followed his lead (such as Christopher Paolini). Considering how fascinating English history is, it's not a bad or strange thing that writers utilize it in crafting their own worlds; but that leads to my first thought -
Think outside the box. The realm you're making is your own and so is the story itself, so you know best what kind of a world will fit with your plot and the feel of the novel. But if you're going to have a fantasy set in a Medieval sort of world, then do your homework; read books on life in the Middle Ages, because knowing your material will give you what you need to manipulate and bend those facts to spice up your story. You might try delving into cultures more foreign to American readers, such as ancient Asian empires or the Aztecs. Don't limit yourself to the culture of the Western world just because most authors do.
Surface research. This is what I suggested to a friend of mine when she asked me about ideas for world-crafting. It's basically just skimming books on a wide range of subjects to see if anything catches your eye. Children's books are great for this, juvenile as they may seem, because they give the reader a cursory look at different cultures and don't take an age to look over; plus, they usually have pictures, which are great helps to some. So if you're seeking inspiration, you could try getting one small book on each culture that even remotely interests you - Mayans, Japanese, Chinese, Greeks, Phoenicians, etc. - and looking over them. You may either find a variety of things from each that would all work together to inspire a fantasy world, or you may find one culture specifically that interests you. And then...
Read. This is probably where most who call themselves writers lose interest, but it's imperative. If you don't read, you won't know how or what to write. Once you find a culture that catches your attention, look into it more deeply and pick out those features that you think you would like to weave into your fantasy. Read books and look up internet articles on it, and then brainstorm.
Brainstorm. Brainstorming is especially important to the writer, because here is where you make sure that those tidbits from history that you fell in love with will actually work in the story. It's no good to have fascinating points that don't work or that stand out garishly from the context. Brainstorming is one of the parts of writing that polishes ideas, as well as creating them, so don't leave it out of the process.