This is # 1 of a 5-part blog series on how to make fantasy and science-fiction world's feel real. It's based off of a science fiction and fantasy world-building prompt session I ran at this year's Ladder Literary Conference.
About this World-Building Series
If you love imaginative worlds, you know the setting is itself a character, with a history, distinct features, strengths, and weaknesses. A well-written fantastic world could be as vivid in your mind as the last new place you visited and as familiar as your backyard. When I can walk through my science-fiction or fantasy world in my mind and see it with in-depth detail, that’s when I'm ready for my characters to set foot in the places I've made for them.
When we think of a fantastic world, we often think of the broad strokes, but it’s the small details of the world that make it come to life. Those little details are what we’re going to focus on in this blog series.
Going to New Places
Sometimes, to write in the extraordinary, I like to ground in the ordinary. For this exercise, I want you to remember the last time that you went someplace new. Perhaps you went to another region or country, or maybe it was just the next town over or the next street over. What did you notice that was different about that place. Common cultural differences include languages, religion, accents, food, architecture, and customs. There’s also variance in the landscape, climate, flora, and fauna.
Building a New World
Why do want you to write about the last place you visited? Because the little, and sometimes big, details you notice when you are in a new place are the same elements you should feature in the description of your fictional world.
The more fantastic your world, the more fanciful you can be, but you be, you should have ordinary details as well. These details ground the reader and give them a common reference point. Maybe there’s a science fiction world where everyone walks on floating sidewalks, but they also all eat boring cabbages because it’s easiest to grow in the depleted soil underneath.
The Prompt: Write out some of the sensory details from the last new place you visited.