Borrow to Build: Fantastic World-Building for the Real-World Lovers
Sometimes you can get lost creating fictional landscapes. There’s so much to account for. This guide will help you find your way to a successful setting that will wow your readers with originality—despite having its roots in Earth.
Start With Exotic Photographs
Travel blogs can be the best place to start looking for exotic place inspiration.
Start by building a snapshot file of the most exotic scenes on earth. These can span a massive variety of climates and cultures. If pictures are worth a thousand words each, you can save yourself a heap of notebooks by cultivating a great photo gallery.
Build Scenes by Combining Like Places and Pairing Abstractly Different Ones
A way to develop unique landscapes in your novel is to come up with larger-than-life scenes in a sketchbook or file.
If you sketch, draw a series of landscape concepts that match the combination of real world locations you saw in your photos. If you photo- or video-edit, you can use your editing software to do the trick.
The use of multiple landscapes combined with your personal touch will solidify your experience with the Terra Firma of the world you are creating.
Borrow From Different Cultures to Establish a Hybrid
This method will help you realize people groups in your fantasy world.
Have you ever wondered what a merge between Japanese Bushido and the Reindeer People would look like? What sort of festivals and ceremonial costumes would such a hybrid race hold and wear?
The secret to imagining strange fantasy cultures comes from combining elements of the most exotic cultures in our world. Make notes of the most similar and different attributes of two separate cultures and see how you can merge these.
Use Existing Foreign Language Rules to Build a Hybrid Fictional Language
This step applies only if you want to create a language with actual rules that your fans can learn to speak.
Observe the cultural languages of the countries you have used as models. To continue with our cultural example, what would a cross between Japanese Haiku poetry style and traditional Reindeer yoiking (chant songs) sound like? What would the rules of such a language be? How could you develop a system for learning such a complex hybrid language?
Combine Fables and Mythical History Accounts to Build Your World’s History
Every people has its repertoire of histories. The rich mythology and fables of your model cultures are indispensable here. Why are Reindeer of such severe value to our Japanese-Reindeer people? Where did Shintoism and Bushido begin? How were they modified by the introduction of Reindeer People into the mix?
Play around with various concepts, cross-breed them, and see what grows. You are the one who determines your world’s diversity. Don’t be afraid to experiment with lots of rich viewpoints.
Use the Theorized Future to Describe Your World’s Past
Keep tabs on scientific theory. If you were living in Jules Verne’s day you would have thought submarines and space crafts were a wild imagining. Now they are historical topics.
In fiction, there are no time confines on anything. A scientific theory of our future could make a great mythology for the ancient past of the world you are building.
Use your models here as well. What do you think Japan would look like in the year 4050? What about far northern Scandinavia where the Reindeer People live? What would a futuristic landscape of these two places combined be like?
A Final Note
I call this part of world-building “landscape modeling,” but allow yourself to think of it as your imagination’s sand box. This is the part of fiction where you get to play. Be creative. Don’t stress. Allow yourself to create some ridiculous pairings of places and people as you build.
Nothing in the world of fiction is impossible. With the right rules, you can make the insane plausible and the fantastical relatable. No judgment here. This is why we love fiction. This is where we live free of the confines of the world as we know it today.