So you have chosen to write fantasy. Behind this door, a world full of mystical creatures, legends, and warriors awaits. And, most likely, magic. One of the most alluring elements of fantasy, magic is also one of the most complicated ones to write. It is easy to get lost on who has which power and how they interact with each other. Luckily, Brandon Sanderson, author of over twenty SFF books, has assembled three pieces of advice that could help you navigate these treacherous waters. Remember, however, that everyone’s process is different, but it is always good to have other writers’ perspectives, guides, and starting points.
Note: Information and advice are taken from Lecture #5: Worldbuilding Part One — Brandon Sanderson on Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy.
This is How You Lose the Time War is a co-written novella by authors Amar El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. It follows two soldiers on opposite sides of a war spanning all of space and time. Red works for the Agency, while Blue is a part of Garden. There isn’t much talk about these two entities, and we only get vague details about them. We have no clue why this war started, or for how long it’s been going on. The only information given is that Red and Blue are on opposite sides of this war, and to win, one will have to destroy the other.
If there is something I used to fear as a writer, it was the blank page. But not just any blank page. Sure, I sometimes have trouble starting a draft or a quick outline. But what I was actually scared of was the document named “Worldbuilding”, with a black line flickering menacingly, as I felt my ideas demanding to be put on paper. For me, it was like walking into a completely white, matrix-like room that needs to be filled. But there was just so much space, so much emptiness, it was overwhelming.
I wished I could have just blinked and I would have found myself taking a panoramic view of an almost-tangible place. Maybe there would’ve been a mountain with a castle in ruins, or a space station overlooking a hostile planet. But eventually, I learned that worldbuilding is a slow process. And it demands a lot of effort from writers to fill that white room. We are creating a new world, after all.
The Folk of the Air’s badass, strong female main character, Jude Duarte, does not try to do the right thing. For most of the series, she doesn't even know what the right thing is. Instead, she does what she can to attain the power and status she has been denied because she is a human in the world of faerie. And she does it "go big or go home" style by making herself the power behind the throne, the one pulling all the strings for an entire race.
She’s a fictional inspiration to girls everywhere and breaks stereotypes through her ruthlessness, strength, and an unapologetic lust for power.
In some ways fantasy and science fiction stories allow us to delve into a world that is wholly unreal, yet we as readers can relate to the characters and their journeys. However fantastical the world, unique the systems of magic, and creative the creatures that reside within it, readers read these stories and can relate in some manner to the characters we follow. Oftentimes in speculative fiction, the excuses for a lack of diversity can be exceptionally thin or characters that are supposed to be diverse are coded confusingly or badly portrayed. When writing LBGTQ+ characters specifically, coding them correctly can allow readers to feel seen even in the most outlandish of lands.
There’s several ways to code characters, even if you do not want to include a romantic subplot in your story. Queer stories aren’t always romantic, but living in a heteronormative world, it’s important to make sure readers won’t assume a queer character to be straight.
Creating an authentic character means putting in an effort. When it comes to bisexuality, I struggle to find books where I feel like a bisexual character is given a personality. Or worse, it’s highly eluded in their actions that they’re bisexual, but the canon never confirms these speculations. Writing bisexual characters doesn’t have to be hard, if the characters are developed. Also: The Young Writer’s Initiative, the companion group to JUVEN, is a great spot to get feedback from other young readers/writers for your project. And when in doubt, it’s okay to ask a bisexual person to look over your character’s interactions to see if they’re realistic or stereotypical.
Comics — formally known as “sequential art” — provide a unique form of storytelling that attracts all sorts of creators. The blending of images and text work together to express characters and nuance images in a way that’s different from normal books and poems, appealing to creators including U.S. Congressman John Lewis (March) and actor George Takei (They Called Us Enemy).
Many LGBTQ+ creators have turned to this playful art form in order to tell their stories. In a lot of comic shops nowadays, you’ll find an entire shelf dedicated to LGBTQ+ comics and writers. Here are some titles to read:
I’ll admit it--I’m much more into lit fic, classics, biographies, and poetry than I have ever been into fantasy. But that interest has taught me a thing or two about creating characters that hold their pain in the subtlest and most realistic of ways, that feel less like characters and more like people you’d meet on the street, that are flawed and not-necessarily loved, but always devastatingly human.
And it is to my belief that they can be applied to fantasy to make your characters more real--less Divergent and more Six of Crows.
Tolkien started with elvish languages, Margaret Atwood with how her character eats breakfast. And you? You can start anywhere you'd like. In fact, you probably already have. But if you're officially lost on what next? or caught in the muddle of how the architecture of the place makes zero sense with the climate? Wondering what holes there are in the world you've created?
Worldbuilding is strange. Forget about one thing and suddenly your whole society is broken. So take the mnemonic EPIC LANDS (all credit to u/mr_nefarious_ on reddit!):
Writing novels is a long process. Writing SFF novels can be even longer, especially if your world and cast is a large one, with endless amounts of information to keep track of. But if you have a laptop, the Internet, and some extra patience plus a bit of time, you can set up a whole wiki-brain-dump-directory-thing for your book that's as systematic as you want, and completely free. (While I wish we were actually sponsored by Notion, we are not). This blog post will take you through how I use Notion to keep track of the worldbuilding and pacing in my fantasy novel, Huntsman, as well as how I set it up (and how you can too!), before it grew to what it is today.