This is something that’s got me a little paranoid lately. It happens when I read through fantasy stories and think oh…that thing I thought was original has already been done before. I’m sure we’ve all had that thought, no matter what genre we’re working in. But when we create our own world, we may take it for granted. Of course it’s different! It’s our world. But is it? Is my fantasy world different enough from those books that I’m reading?
Making our fantasy world different
Back when I was at uni and writing about Ancient Egypt, one of the things my tutor pointed out was that I hadn’t made the setting weird enough.
I was guilty of spending too much energy trying to get everything historically correct that I had missed out on bringing the “magic”, which is what drew me to the time period in the first place. One of the reasons I was so drawn to Ancient Egypt was because it felt like a completely different world to my own, but there I was busy writing a text book.
He was right, it wasn’t nearly weird or exotic enough. There was no colour to highlight how different that world was from our own.
Now with fantasy, I’d like to think that I’m not falling into the same trap because it’s based on a new world. However, as you read fantasy you’ll see tropes that you may love (or hate). Sometimes you may come to the realisation that that you’ve perhaps stolen them without meaning to. Sometimes you find that you’re falling into old habits or predictable story lines you’ve read in a hundred different fantasy novels.
There was a post a couple of months ago on Fantasy Faction about dragons which I totally agree with. I like dragons as much as the next fantasy fan but haven’t we seen enough of them already?
Especially with Game of Thrones being so popular, they feel a bit overdone now. The same went for vampires after Twilight and various TV shows came out a few years back. Nowadays I’m keen to read more stories that aren’t based on typical medieval myths and legends.
One of the reasons I love Brandon Sanderson’s work is that he’s so inventive. Not only are his stories epic tales, they’re very different from other things I’ve read before. This is particularly true with the way he writes magic. The way he takes the concept of magic and applies it to something new and inventive is one of the highlights of his books.
While we were all writing about magic spells, old books and amulets, he was creating magic from pieces of metal (Mistborn), colours (Warbreaker) and light (Stormlight Archives).
Customs in society
While magic and big parts of the story like dragons and such are the focus of many authors’ attentions, a lot can be done on a smaller level to bring colour to your world.
If you want your world to stand out, then focus on what is normal and everyday for the people and creatures of your world. It doesn’t have to be anything drastic. I’ll use Sanderson as an example (apologies for the overuse of this example, I’m currently reading Oathbringer).
Sanderson’s creatures and magic are great but he doesn’t stop there particularly in the Stormlight Archive. He gives the human characters what we would deem strange behaviours. For example, there are male and female foods. The woman only eat sweet things, the men eat savoury and spicy things. Women also cover one of their hands as an act of modesty. He expands this by saying that high class women will cover it with a special sleeve and the lower class women will do so with a glove because they need to use their hands more.
Little things like this, not necessarily with a huge explanation or back story, can help to make your world stand out.
Is imitation the best form of flattery?
Sometimes, and this is true for any genre really, we take something we love and end up imitating it too much. This can either be intentional or not but it’s something we need to keep an eye out for in our own work.
This isn’t just so you’re not caught out on a plagiarism accusation but if you’re copying off someone else, all you’re doing is hiding your true voice and doing yourself a disservice. Let the readers see you, not someone else everyone copies off.
So is my world different enough or am I just churning out the same things everyone’s written before? It’s something I really want to keep in mind while writing. Looking back at my drafts, I know where I’ve gone wrong. I know where I’ve got lazy and written something predictable. But this is what we have editing for.
So on to you, what is it about your world which you think stands out? Or are you worried you’re slipping into a slight retelling of something else? If you’ve got any tips on how to stay on your original track, please share below!