By Michael James Liljenberg.
Creating Fantasy and Science Fiction Worlds
In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth,
but the Earth was formless and void and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.
Day 0: In the Beginning God: Theology
Before even the first day dawns, one of the first issues you must at least address is theology. This is not just the issue of God(s) and how he/she/it/they interact with the world, but the whole issue of the supernatural. Is there magic in your universe and how does it work? It also addresses the fundamental morality in your universe. What is right and wrong, and how will the characters in your world decide between them?
There are a few basic answers to the theology question
Atheism/Agnosticism: Many Science Fiction stories assume an Atheist or Agnostic answer. Either God doesn't exist or doesn't matter much as far as the story is concerned. For example, in David Webber's The Honor of the Queen the faith of the people of the planet Grayson and their arch foes on Endicott is an important factor in the story, and the Grayson characters are very sincere about their belief in God. But whether or not there actually is a god or whether their doctrines actually reflect the intentions of any divine being is not an issue in the story.
Naturalism: Atheism is often equated with naturalism, but naturalism is more than rejecting the idea of a divine being. Naturalism rejects the idea of the supernatural in general. Naturalism assumes that there is nothing other than the physical, natural universe: space, time, energy, and matter. If you want to include 'supernatural' elements into your world (like psychic powers or magic) you will have to invent some sort of quazi-scientific explanation for how they work. Morality and ethical rules are derived from personal choice or social constructs.
Monism: This is something of a middle ground between Atheism and Theism. It is the concept that all things are one; all nature, super-nature, spirit, matter, consciousness are facets of a whole. That 'one' thing may be spiritual but it is not a god, a personal being, just a cosmic force. Rarely can you attribute traits like will, or love to it. Buddhism is an example of an atheistic, monistic religion.
Pantheism: Is kind of the next step. It is the idea that is all things are part of God, that God is the aggregate of all the consciousness or spirit of the world. Pantheism usually under-girds polytheist or animist world views.
Animism: Animism is classic paganism. An animist world-view holds that the whole world is suffused with spiritual beings. To quote from Disney's Pocahontas, a world where 'every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name'. Waterborn, by J. Gregory Keyes or Miyazaki's Spirited Away are very good examples of this sort of world. There is usually little structure; that is, there isn't necessarily a specific hierarchy with some gods or goddesses in charge of others. Any given god or spirit has little authority or power outside their specific venue. There may be major deities, like over the sun or moon, sky or sea, but the primary concern of most people are the local spirits around where they live.
Polytheism: Classic polytheism, like the mythologies of Egypt, Babylon, Greece, China, Rome, has a group of gods who often compete with each other for worshipers, position, power, and prestige. The gods each have specific aspects of the natural and cultural world under their control. So there might be a god or goddess responsible over the Earth, the Sea, the Sky, Agriculture, Sex, the Arts, Business, Technology, Math, History, etc. Frequently gods fill multiple rolls. For instance Apollo is often called the god of medicine, philosophy, the arts, and science (in ancient times all these fields were the perview of philosophy). But he originally was a sun god (his sister Artemis was goddess of the moon).
Polytheist pantheons are usually built on an animist foundation (so each tree still had its attending dryad and each spring its own nymph) but people are much more concerned with what the big head honchos up on Olympus are doing. This is often the result of historical forces. For example, the Babylonian creation myth is a story about the ascension of the god Marduk (the patron god of the city of Babylon) to power over the other older gods and his victory over Tiamat and the forces of chaos. It reflects the historical ascension of the city of Babylon to power over the cities of the older Sumerian Empire and the raiders from ancient Persia.
Dualism: This is the idea that there are two equal and opposite cosmic forces of light and darkness locked in an eternal struggle. These conflicts can be moral in nature (the eternal battle between good and evil), or amoral (both gods may be selfish jerks or altruistic crusaders convinced they are the ones that have the best plan). The forces may be personal, that is beings with personality, will, and character, or they may be impersonal, like the 'light side' and 'dark side' of the Force in Star Wars.
Monotheism: This is the idea that ultimately there is one God. This God is the being who guides history, defines morality, etc. You must decide how powerful the God in your story is, what their personality is, what their nature is, what their ultimate goals are. You also have to explain where the bad guy came from and why the God in your story allows him to exist.
Religion & Magic:
As you consider your basic theological construct, one of the most important things with regard to your story will be how characters interact with and manipulate the supernatural forces governing your story's universe. I'll spend more time on religions in day 6 (since they are primarily social/cultural institutions). One of the keys to building a good Fantasy/Science Fiction world is building a workable magic system.
Magic works like an Etch-a-Sketch. You want to draw a picture, so you twist the knobs. An unseen array of wires, gears, and rods move the stylus. And the picture appears on the screen. You want the girl to fall in love, or the bad guy to turn into a toad, or carpet to fly, so you mix the potion, wave the wand, or say the magic words and they manipulate an unseen web of mystical forces that create the desired effects.
As the creator of the world, you need to have at least a cursory understanding of those forces and how they work. Even if they stay 'black box' (you never really explain how it works, it just works like expected every time) you need to set up established rules and limits. They both inform the reader and keep you from using them as an easy out when you work your characters into a corner.
One of the best examples of this kind of abuse I can give is the Transporter device from Star Trek (TNG). Yes, I know it's not strictly magical, but technology serves much the same function in Sci-Fi that magic serves in Fantasy. It was a common problem with many of the scripts to use the transporter as an emergency solution to impossible problems. They used it to make rapidly aging characters young again, re-incarnate Captain Picard almost out of whole cloth, preserve Scotty for 70 years. The transporter could automatically filter out disease causing microbes (unless the plot called for an epidemic to break out on the ship) and disarm weapons during transport, but it couldn't remove any of the Borg parts from Captain Picard.
The transporter was originally created as a quick way to move characters from one scene to another without needing to constantly shoot expensive special effects shots of a shuttle launching and landing. It allowed characters to travel from the ship to a planet without a break in the action and drama. Writers, however, quickly grasped that if a machine could break matter down into energy and perfectly re-assemble it; is should be able to do all kinds of things besides just move people from orbit to a planet's surface.
Eventually the producers had to lay down some hard rules and limitations on the writers. They realized many of the people submitting scripts (and writing books) had only to slide those three little levers on the transporter control board, and all the plot problems 'magically' disappeared. Even when the writer had a novel and creative explanation how the transporter could do what they wanted, it either got rejected or rewritten. By the time DS9 and Voyager came around (and CG animated ships drastically reduced the price of SFX shots of ships landing) you will notice that the transporter generally reverted to its primary function of being a convenient character conveyance.
So, a magic system has two parts, the gears, rods, and wires that work under the surface and the knobs you use to control them
Different Magic systems:
These are kind of the basic choices for the gears and rods under the surface of the etch-a-sketch:
Mana - A root magical concept in which various fields of magical energy exist along side of the fundamental forces of physics like gravity and electromagnetism. Certain people, or races, or objects (or even technology) are capable of manipulating those fields in a variety of ways to produce a variety of effects. These fields may be elemental in nature (like fire, earth, air, water, life, and death), moral in nature (good or evil), it may just be that thought or consciousness is as fundamental a force as gravity (like the Force in Star Wars). The key is how the characters in your story manipulate them.
Chi - This is where the magic user calls upon his own spirit to power a spell. This is a good choice if you want magic to be a more subtle part of your world because you can easily limit the scope of magic by how much chi a person can draw on without causing themselves serious harm.
Astral - The spirit can interact with alternate realities that interrelate with our own. Magic is actually performed by an astral projection of the magic user's self
Derivative - This is where the magic user's powers are derived from other spiritual beings, usually gods. When you hear a spell-caster say, 'In the name of . . .', that's derivative magic. The magic user needs to have a connection with and some sort of authority granted by the divinity or spirit. Abuse of derivative magic can have some very nasty side effects. One of the attractions to this sort of magic is it always gives the bad guys a leg up. The good gods usually place all sorts of restrictions on their followers, while the bad god is totally willing to let his minions use all the power they like.
Proxy - This is where the actual magic is performed by a spirit or familiar under the command of the magic user, like the Genie of Aladdin's Lamp or Ariel, the sylph who served Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest. (Or Dr. Morbius' Robbie the Robot in the sci-fi version Forbidden Planet)
Keep in mind, that you can mix and match these different forces (and any you might make up). For example you could have a group of heroes that includes a priest character using a form of derivative magic, a druid who walks the astral planes, a shaman with proxy animal spirits, while a sorcerer who uses mana and a martial-arts monk who calls upon his chi. They may all argue a lot about who has the best powers, or who's theology is right, but your world doesn't have to be limited to one form of magic. You might even play with different forms of magic working in different areas, or have a series of parallel worlds each having different theologies and magic systems.
Once you've got an idea of the gears under the surface, you need to decide on the knobs that move them. These are fairly interchangeable and frequently you will see more than one in any given universe (such as different orders of sorcerers using different forms of magic). The names are not necessarily technical names but terms I use myself:
Mental - The magical forces of your world are controlled by nothing more than the will and concentration of the magician. Perhaps the magic user can see threads of the magical energies or visualizes the result.
Shaman - The shaman is closely connected to, communicates with, and often channels animal and nature spirits. As such he is part of an animistic world. He can ask or even force the nature spirits to perform services or give information. These interactions are often deals, which obligates the shaman to the spirits he calls upon. These obligations may be simple offerings left at a shrine, or small tasks, or epic quests.
Random/Tarot - This is based on the idea that there is no truly random event. The spiritual fields surrounding people, places, and events constantly interact. Therefore a deck of cards, dice, or bones properly attuned to those forces will not fall in random patterns, but in patterns that meaningfully reflect the patterns of all those interacting ethereal forces. They can even predict patterns of events. Powerful cards may even be able to reverse engineer those patterns causing events rather then just predicting them.
Alchemy - by properly manipulating and mixing ingredients one can manipulate other objects or people even at a chemical/atomic level. This is not to say that it is chemistry. The eye of the newt and the leg of spider don't react chemically to create a sleeping potion. The ingredients of a magic potion are based on the ingredient's association with a particular trait, like love, beauty, sleep, vitality, hatred, strength, truth, deception, etc. So a potion to slow an enemy down might include ground snail shell or a potion for wisdom might have owl's eyes.
Alchemist will usually be familiar with regular 'bathtub' chemistry as well, able to mix potions from natural drugs
Summoning - Magic based on summoning creatures from distant places, or from other spiritual planes of existence. These creatures may just be animals or they may be monsters, warriors, demons, angels, and demigods. You can have all kinds of fun with how controllable these beings may be (or how uncontrollable). Summoning is obviously built on a proxy magic foundation.
Necromancy - Magic based on manipulating death and the dead. This is akin to Summoning and usually must involve other forms of magical manipulation to control the spirits of the dead. Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy has one of the best-developed systems of necromancy I've every seen in a book.
Sacrifice - The magic user must offer some sort of sacrifice to seal an agreement with a spiritual being, or the energy released in the taking of a life (usually symbolized by the blood) is used to power a spell. This may involve something simple as leaving a small bowl of grain in a shrine or pouring a few ounces of wine on an altar. This may involve the ritual slaughter of a hundred people. Occasionally this is combined with ritualistic cannibalism, in which the sacrificial victim is consumed, imparting its spiritual energy to the sacrificer.
Erotic - Sometimes called Tantric. The idea that the energies released during seduction and intercourse can open one to altered states of consciousness or that one can funnel those energies to influence the world. Commonly this form of magic is associated with fortune telling. It is often vampiric in nature, sucking energy off the victim. It is also frequently used to seductively manipulate and mesmerize victims.
Physical - Physical discipline and precise forms of movement can control spiritual energies of the body and the world. This form of magic can appear as a simple hand gesture, or a series of karate moves, yoga poses, or a dance.
Vocal - Magical forces are manipulated by the spoken word. This can mean that the spoken word is simply a focus for the mind to manipulate the magic (as in the case of a magician that always says 'presto' no mater what spell she is trying to cast). Or it could mean that saying a certain string of syllables causes a specific effect. In this case what is important is the words and phrasing (and perhaps the language) of the incantation. Check out 'A Wizard of Earthsea' by Ursula LeGuin for an example of a magic system based on a 'true language' where things can be controlled by knowing their names in the true language.
Musical - This is a variation on 'vocal'. This is the idea that certain sound patterns can manipulate the magical forces of the world. They may need to be vocal, that is sung, or played on a musical instrument. This is based on the primal power of music and lyric on the human psyche. J.R.R. Tolkien was fond of this and you see it frequently in his writing. Indeed Middle Earth is the physical embodiment of the song of the Valar composed by Eru, the One.
Symbolic - This is magic controlled by written symbols, runes, or words. This is one of the most common magical methods historically employed. Ancient Roman and Greek sorcerers wrote spells on sheets of tin or lead, rolled them closed and threw them down a well. Oriental spell casters often use a spell precisely written on a strip of paper to seal a spirit or place blessing or a curse on a person or room. Often spells need to be performed in a precisely drawn diagram, or a box sealed with a precisely engraved symbol. Tattoos are another method employed using this type of magic.
Focus - The magic user needs an object, like a wand, staff, ring, gem, hoop, charm, doll, or ball to focus and control their power properly. The focus acts something like a magical antenna directing the magical energies. In some cases, especially wands, the object must be precisely moved to generate the desired effect.
Now the fun comes in when you start to mix and match things. For example you can have rival schools that use different types of magic. Frequently magic methods are combined, like when a magician has to scribe a precise symbol on the ground (symbolic), speak the incantation precisely (vocal), then precisely strike points on the symbol with a staff (focus).
And this is only the beginning . . .
Day 0: Theology
Day 1: Physics
Day 2: Weather
Day 3: Geography
Day 4: Astronomy & Planetology
PDF: Solar System Worksheet
Day 5: Animals
PDF: Ecoshpere Worksheet
Day 6: Man (& other races)
Part 1: Culture
Part 2: Economics & Government
PDF: Civilization Worksheet
Day 7: The Rest - of the Story
http://hiddenway.tripod.com/world/ an index of site for creating fantasy and science fiction worlds, from mapping software to academic papers on population growth.
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
One of the most popular books for aspiring Sci-Fi/Fantasy writers. Card suggests creating your story's word as a great starting point to developing your story.
The Writers Complete Fantasy Reference: An Indispensable Compendium of Myth and Magic
The title is a fairly accurate description of the book's content. Everything from medieval economics to magical creatures.
FARP Article Guestbook
|8 Feb 2008|| RodneyMcKay|
I have used this for every one of my stories, I love it’s accuracy and the fact it covers so much, well done.
|2 Mar 2009|| Alesia m bush|
i a alien race called mithionans one of the abielaies is too shape shift. what catagorey do i put that in
|2 Mar 2009|| Michael James Liljenberg|
That depends on how they do it. Is their ability to shape shift biological (like Odo on DS9 or a cuttlefish that can use chromatiphoric skin cells and specialised muscles to change their color and shape)? Is their ability magical? Does that magic come from within their own bodies? (that’s Chi) Do they draw the power from the moon? From an animal spirit? (those would be Derivative)
How do they shapshift? Does it require a complex ritual? Does it require a magic word? Does it require a specific mental focus? Is it second nature? Can they shapeshift into any animal they want, one type (like any bird), or only one specific animal? Can they mimic specific individuals? Do they take only the shape of the animal (like a selkie putting on it’s seal skin) or actually, biologically, become the animal with all it’s powers, senses, and abilities?
Remember, the goal is not to find a specific category that I use to classify the Mithionans shape shifting ability; the goal is to codify the rules and limitations of that ability so that it is a consistent part of the world you’re making and that you use it consistently in your story.
|3 Mar 2009|| Alesia m bush|
i’t bio it one of thier many ability the can copyother skill powers abilitys ect.
|16 May 2009|| Anon.|
Regarding Apollo and Artemis, Apollo was originally the Greek god of Medicine and only later connected with the sun. Artemis became interchangeable with the Roman version of Diana, the Huntress, represented by the Moon.
|16 May 2009|| Michael James Liljenberg|
I’m gonna sound all Wikipedia here, but do you have a source for this? Not that I doubt you. I know that Helios was the original Sun god and Apollo kind of took over, but that, in part, was due to the wierd regionalism that the Greek gods developed in. Greek mythology was still in flux when Homer composed the Illiad and the Oddessy in 900 BC. There is a website http://www.theoi.com/ that has a lot of info about Greek mythology that does match up what you say, that I’ve got it backwards, that Apollo was originally the god of poetry and prophecy, and only later associated with the Sun. I can’t even find the Mythology Encyclopedia at the Library that I used as a source.
|23 Oct 2009|| Miko Travis Wildcat|
This is what i have been looking for to start my book and i have no idead how to begin so i might use ur plans ideas to help me create mine. Awesome job on the religion thing, keeps people from arguing over why their’s was not included
|24 Aug 2010|| Alex Christopher|
soooo many cultures get worked up about their religion, eg that nook that the auther now can’t show his face in public because he said the prophet mohamed had visons from many gods. WHO CARES. any story is driven by the world its in and the world is driven by religion so than kyou for making this guide
|12 Feb 2012|| Noel|
This is just perfect! I started writing my first sf story few days ago, and i must thank you for introducing me into writing sf! Michael James Liljenberg
replies: "Cool! I look forward to reading it on your Library Shelf!"
|10 Apr 2013|| Fernanda|
Thanks for the info and for the recommendations, this site has been really helpful for me!
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