When you write fantasy or science fiction, you generally have to construct a world in which your plots and characters can develop. You can choose from the stone age, bronze age, medieval, Regency England, a future where computers dominate, and so on: the only limit is the author’s imagination.
However, whatever age you choose, you have then to develop traditions, customs, laws and some basis of a society: are there kings, queens emperors, a nobility, or some sort of tribal system, or a kind of democracy? How is the commerce arranged? Is there money – if so, who issues it?
And what about the physical world? Is is much like Earth? Is it a hostile, barren desert such as described by Frank Herbert in his book ‘Dune’? Maybe there is a mixture of landscapes, from forests to high mountain ranges, seas, plains, marshes, etc. What about the vegetation: similar to Earth or completely different with man-eating plants?
Animals? Again you can choose to keep Earth type animals, or you can invent a completely new fauna. You can invent weird and wonderful animals, mind reading dragons, similar to those in Anne McCaffrey’s ‘Pern’ series of novels, intelligent wolves etc.
What about the length of years, seasons, the number of months, length of days etc? How do the natives of this world measure time?
And who exactly are the natives? Men and women, similar to our world? Elves? Orcs? Goblins? Fairies? Or maybe a mixture of them? Or perhaps the writer invents his own?
And what powers do these people have? Are there Mages, Wizards, Witches, Warlocks and Sorcerers? Or is it a mundane world built on technology without a magic wand in sight?
And the climate? The weather? What is the norm in summer, winter? Is spring stormy and wet, or calm and temperate?
Whatever you choose, and as THE WRITER, you do get the choice, all pales in comparison to the plot. You must have a good story with interesting, believable characters. Without that, all the rest is background scenery – it’s not the book.
I once read a review of the New York stage production of ‘Camelot’, the musical loosely based on the King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table legends. The critic said: ‘Beautiful scenery – Trouble was people kept walking in front of it!’
Don’t let critics say that to you.
(Mark Patrick is the author of ‘The Chronicles of the White Tower’ series of books and has invented a medieval world. You can read the first few chapters of his books by going to his website: www.markpatrick.net)