For Character Driven Fantasy, Start With World-building

Filed under notes to self.
During my planning for this year’s NaNoWriMo novel it occurred to me I have developed a process for honing in on characters, and it starts with world-building.
Create a physical world: whether it is the real world, a secondary world, or a nebulous astral plane, knowing what the large physical constraints are helps define what kinds of societies evolve. This might be where I introduce any magic inherent in the world, particularly any magic based on nature.
Define the time period of the world: when in the world is the story happening?
Describe societies: with physical boundaries in place and any natural magics defined, and knowing when the story is happening, I can start to see what sorts of societies might have developed. Is there an isolated society, or one where water is scare, or seafaring versus landlocked? This is where ideas for characters really start to emerge. Knowing how societies order themselves through social norms, politics, traditions, religion, commerce, etc. I can see roles within those societies. These roles start to suggest important players, not always POV characters but characters to move the story.
I should note this is often where a plot, if I don’t have much of one, starts to be revealed. To me, plots are about conflict and on the epic scale, conflict is about power; who has it, who doesn’t.
List who best to tell the story: again I’m initially talking about roles, not specific characters, but as the roles get defined the focus narrows to individual voices.
Identify the voices to tell the story: by this point most of the POV characters have been revealed. I know who needs to tell the story, the ones who need to shed light on an important role character who is not a POV. Most importantly, I know the characters who’s voices need to be heard. They already beginning to speak and make me take notice of them.
Detail the characters: is the final step. Dig deep into who they are, how they came to be who they are, and who they might be at the end of the story.
This is by no means a unique process but it’s the one that works for me. This is my sixth novel/series and just as the process has evolved to this point, it will no doubt continue to evolve. This is also not definitive. There are times when I’ll have an idea for a character and no world in which to put them in. That’s a thought for another day.

Published by Author Kevin J Fellows

He/Him Novelist and poet.

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