By Mya Lewis
1. Examine the real world.
To begin making your fantasy setting compelling, you will need to make it stand out. Start by looking at the real world, at its environment and cultures. What makes them stand out? Depending on where you are, there are different things you might encounter. You aren’t going to see a lion in Australia or a great white shark chilling in the Amazon river. Your world should have solid regional differences as well. Take elements from reality and merge them into something entirely new. Think about what’s been done before. Elves and fairies have been done to death. What makes a trope boring and overused, and what would turn it on its head? If it doesn’t excite you, don’t write it. If you’re sick of reading medieval-inspired fantasy, don’t write something that mirrors medieval-inspired fantasy!
2. Don’t bore with detail.
Don’t bore your reader with pages of exposition on how the world was created, or by describing every blade of grass. Instead, let the setting unfold gradually on the page. Note the battles that were fought in the open field as the character passes by them. Make mention of how the trees look and why they’re unique, but only while you’re in the forest, and only for a moment. Giving snippets of information will be like giving the reader a little treat, a sneak peek inside the world building. This will make the setting seem more real and vivid, like our own world, which is full of surprises.
3. And lastly, most importantly, add danger.
Make the setting filled with fresh and unique challenges. Think about our world, and how difficult it would be to attempt to cross it all on just your feet. To make a compelling setting, you need the same element as you do to make a compelling plot: a healthy dose of suspense and intrigue. Perhaps those innocent-looking bunnies frolicking at your feet aren’t so innocent after all. Maybe the ground underneath your feet has a nasty habit of devouring people every day at exactly three a.m. but only if you’re wearing green and only if it’s rained recently. …Maybe not quite like that. But your setting needs to have rules and challenges interspersed throughout.
But what if your fantasy setting isn’t in the jungle or some wild mystical world? What if it’s as simple as inside a house or down a mythical alleyway? The same elements apply. Ask yourself, where is the danger? And what makes that danger such a threat? There could be conflicts inside that house that your character wishes to avoid, or muggers in that alleyway that pose a safety concern to anyone wishing to walk down the street in peace. In any setting, there is always danger, and identifying it is what makes the story compelling.