Thursday, November 3, 2011

World Building, part one

hey FFFers - sorry for the silence. Life has been hectic. Let's get back to talking about fantasy writing. Some of you have sat in my workshop "We're Not In Kansas Anymore." I'm going to use that format here.

Fantasy stories don't only include fairies, elves, dwarves, etc. and magical elements, it also needs a special setting, even if you are writing contemporary fantasy like urban fantasy. When you are developing your characters, don't forget your setting. It's also a character and can add or take away from the action/plot.

First, let's look at the different types of fantasy. This will help you know what you're writing and what kind of world to start building.

• High fantasy
• Urban fantasy
• Steam punk
• Magical realism
• Portal worlds
• Dystopia
• Paranormal

High Fantasy – usually a world other than our Earth. Example: The Lord of the Rings, or The Elfstones of Shannara. It typically includes the usual gang of fantasy characters; dwarves, elves, fairies, etc.

Urban Fantasy (or contemporary fantasy) – kind of a merging with sci-fi, but with definite fantasy elements. Similar to Paranormal, sometimes merging the two. Example: Harry Potter

Steam Punk (trendy historical fantasy) – like Victorian England with certain technologies. A couple of examples are: Around the World in 80 Days, or A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Magical Realism – set in the real world with fantasy elements. Examples: Mudville, Faerie Rebels

Portal Worlds – our world with a portal to another world. Example: Artemis Fowl

Dystopia – post apocalyptic. Example: Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, Bones of Faerie

Paranormal – can be set in the real world with fantasy elements. Similar to Urban Fantasy, but with more of a gothic feel. Example: Twilight

What is the difference between fantasy and contemporary? How did Dorothy know she wasn’t in Kansas anymore?

Your world and characters are what makes the reader know it’s fantasy.

So, let's identify what we're writing before we go on. We've touched on this before, but it's good to refresh. I'll get us started: I am writing high fantasy right now. I have a series I started years ago that was more urban fantasy with a portal world twist. I've left it go for now - it was more of a "practice novel" for me, but maybe someday I'll be able to revise it.

So, let's hear what you're working on!


  1. Uhmm. I think I'm writing more Portal Fantasy than High Fantasy =D I've ALWAYS wanted to try Steam Punk. Just waiting for a story :)

  2. I like your definitions for the most part. However, I think that steampunk can go a little deep than just "trendy historical fantasy." While many books using steampunk seem to focus on the surface "cool steam tech" elements (including many YA novels), there is great potential to engage truth or falseness of Victorian Utopian ideals and concept of a "Great Society" apart from the Creator.

    Right now I'm polishing up a modern fairy tale retelling. The fantasy part mostly comes into play with the extraordinary "coincidences" which lead back to the God Who orchestrated them.

    I also have about ten thousand words of an alternate universe dystopian detective story.

  3. I agree about the steampunk. The definitions I gave were from an agent I met while on retreat at the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop for Fantasy.

    An alternate universe dystopian detective story sounds fascinating! Keep us posted!

  4. Elisabeth - your unicorn story borders on high fantasy, although the more I think about it, the more I see urban fantasy. Of course, I haven't read the whole thing.

  5. I'm all over the board right now... :)

    I'm working on two novellas for NaNoWriMo: one, UNDERWORLD GREEN, is my first urban fantasy. The other, A BARGAIN WITH AN ELF, is high fantasy.

    I also have a collaborative steampunk story going on right now, FALLS THE SHADOW, which is actually being posted online.

  6. My current work-in-progress inclines towards high fantasy (if I can aspire to so great a title). However, I've always been interested with the portal worlds (I suppose Chronicles of Narnia would fit there?). Urban fantasy and steampunk are two of my favorites to read, but writing them--so far--is another matter entirely.

  7. Yep - Narnia is a perfect example of a portal world.