Worldbuilding for Fantasy Webcomics

Guest article by Chilari

Now, I’ll admit this is a fairly narrow genre within the webcomicking world, but writing fantasy is my forte, and there are a few fantasy webcomics out there, so I figured I’d adapt what I’ve already got in my work-in-progress guide for webcomickers.

The thing that really makes fantasy, well, fantasy, is the differences the fantasy world has with the real world. And this means worldbuilding can be very important. Some people don’t really like it. They put in magic and think “that means it’s fantasy” and that’s it. And certainly, magic is part of what makes fantasy fantasy. Magic, unicorns, dragons and enchanted swords – the elements traditionally associated with fantasy certainly make it easily recognisable as fantasy. But there’s more to it that that.

A fairytale castle, surrounded by a forest

Fantasy doesn't just mean "stick magic and a dragon in it". Image by Myk_Crypt, courtesy of Flickr.

If you create a rich and detailed world in which to set your fantasy story, it becomes more believable, and keeping a record of all that you decide about your world means you can be consistent – something essential in any genre, since readers have an annoying habit of noticing when characters’ hair or eyes change colour, or a two-up-two-down house becomes a five bedroom, two bathroom suburban mansion. Consistency is important, and so are details.

So what kind of details am I talking about? Well, the key things that come to mind are magic, religion, philosophy, geography and politics. Magic is dealt with in a great many articles elsewhere, but in general, magic needs to have limitations and stick to certain logical rules. The other topics are not addressed so much.

Flimsy religions can harm a good story. Frequently in fantasy they’re either based on Christianity or on some sort of pagan earth goddess religion. This is not wrong in itself, but can cause problems. For a start, real-world religions don’t necessarily fit in a non-Earth world; fantasy religions based upon real ones are sometimes used to preach; and because it’s “easy”, it’s often seen as lazy and cliched.

So my advice with religions is to create something from scratch, perhaps with factors borrowed from real-world relgions, but which ultimately stand alone. They should have a certain amount of detail. What deities do they revere, and how do they see them, both physically and in terms of the god’s personality? It’s also a good idea to think about what kinds of festivals and observances they might entail, and what kinds of rituals the priests and preistesses perform, as well as what an individual needs to do or be in order to become a priest or priestess (not all religions demand celibacy of their clergy, remember, or at least not from both men and women). Physical attributes should also be considered, such as what places of worship look like, where they tend to be (hilltops, underground, public places, springs), and what special clothing or symbolism members of the religion might wear.

Philosophy tends to be the aspect most people forget, and yet it has existed in our own world for at least two and a half centuries, and probably longer. So how do the deep thinkers of your imagined world logically consolidate science, magic and religion? Some ancient Greek philosophers came to the comclusion that the gods did not exist, for example. Archimides used his practical knowledge of science to invent a way of moving water upwards in vast quantites, using what is now known as the Archimedes Screw, and also used concave mirrors to focus sunlight and set fire to Roman warships. If he could do that, what might the brightest minds of your world manage? What kinds of weapons might this lead to, and how could this affect the story or the background of your story?

Geography is also important. If it takes one character three days to travel from one city to another on foot, don’t let it take another character a week to make the same journey on horseback (unless the second character is travelling in heavy snow). If you’ve got a world with several locations, sort out how they relate to each other, how long it takes to travel between them, and what obstacles your characters might come across on the way. Think about how these obstacles might affect the story, or might create conflict.

Politics, too, can be important. Politics has the potential to affect everyone in a fantasy world. Taxes, confiscation of land (or its redistribution – it’s not unheard of in history, after all. Look at Sparta.) Wars and economy. Trade deals with other nations, and what the ruling body does to combat piracy or banditry (or whether they leave it to those who are affected by it to hire mercenaries to deal with the problems). Whether a ruler is popular or not might affect how much of the population is inclined to take action against them, and how much protection the ruling body feel the need to hire.

Now so far this is all about fairly broad things, and mainly details with the writing part of it. But much of this can be translated into seemingly unimportant details included in the visual aspects of your fantasy webcomic. Maps might depcit the area where the story takes place. The kinds of items on a character’s desk may reflect the currently held beliefs of the group of people to which he belongs, as well as the level of technology that exists within the world. If you have a lot of non-Earth animals, why not include some semi-domesticated examples in a street scene, or some weird insects or predatory mammals in a forest scene, unmentioned in the dialogue and maybe even out of sight of the characters, but there just to add an extra spark.

Tags: , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply