One of the best things about writing any kind of fantasy genre (whether it is fantasy itself, science fiction or any other genre that requires something a little bit more imaginary) has got to be that you get to create worlds. With your words you are literally creating worlds (pun intended). Straight from your imagination to the page and then hopefully if you have done your job well enough your readers get a glimpse at just what you envisioned. And while there’s a good amount of joy to be gained from sharing what goes on in your imagination isn’t the actual creation process just that little bit more fun?
Maybe the world you are forming is just slightly different from Earth. Maybe it’s just a “what if” world like in the novel and TV show The Man in the High Castle (what if the nazi’s won?). Maybe you are imagining an Earth in the future. Or maybe an Earth where magic was real. That can be great fun, it can require a huge amount of attention to detail to pull off well. To really make the reader feel both a sense of familiarity and newness, taking the readers home and making it unfamiliar is a skill. Dystopian fiction really relies on it to make it a believable possibility.
But what I enjoy most is creating new worlds. Worlds unlike Earth. Worlds like Earth but somehow alien. Worlds that bring about that sense of magical wonder we search for in fantasy Earths, that sense of unfamiliarity in those “what if” worlds, worlds that are so well crafted you can almost believe they are out there. And that is a tough task. To create a living breathing setting for your writing is a challenge for any writer, creating towns and cities that feel authentic is a challenge for any writer, creating culturally diverse countries is a challenge for any writer. But to create an entire planet? Now that’s a challenge.
What natural habitats are there? Who lives there? How did they evolve? What features make their evolution path markedly different from humans? How did this affect the beginnings of their civilisations? How much of their culture has survived through modern ages? Are they religious? How many religions are there? Are they blood thirsty war mongers or peace loving pacifists? How have they cared for their environment?
There are so many questions to ask yourself when creating a world. And there are no right answers, the good news is there aren’t really wrong answers either. I say there aren’t really any wrong answers because depending on your feelings on believability you may want to set yourself some constraints. You may want to make sure that it is physically possible, is physics on your side with this idea?
With your alien races you get to decide if you are going to stick with that fundamental humanoid figure or imagine a “big stupid jellyfish” like the Hanar in Mass Effect. And it’s the little details that make them real. No way an alien evolved from a cricket is going to hold a tea cup like a humanoid alien. How are their everyday utensils different? If their world has a slightly different array of elements available how does this affect their technology?
There are so many questions that I could ask to get you thinking about how to create a world but at the end of the day if you intend to do it then all those choices are yours to make. All those little hurdles are yours to jump. And all those joys are yours to be had. If you don’t care about believability that world is your oyster. Go crazy create the next Great A’Tuin (Pratchett’s flying turtle supporting four elephants with a disc world on their backs).
I hope I’ve got you not only thinking about imagining worlds but excited to give it a go. It might be something you never share with anyone but it’s a fun hobby to have when you are bored at work I promise. It’s something you can take seriously or not. You can be organised about it or not. You can note every idea carefully or keep forgetting things and re-imagining others.