No two fantasy worlds are the same (although there may be similarities) and so, with the many fantasy books there are available, its easy to find fascinating and engaging worlds.
While writing my book, Deviants of Giftborn, I spend a considerable amount of time building the world that my characters would populate. I found that it was easier to create a plot when I knew how they interacted with the world around them, what restrictions there were and the potential conflicts that could arise.
One of the most interesting elements of a fantasy world to build, is the Empire. By that, I mean the ruling and most influential power. This can be a society, a country, a company, a race of people/fantasy beings, usually led by a person or council.
So what makes an interesting and effective Empire to me?
It is highly unlikely that any worldwide dominant power gained their status by accident. Usually it is the result of force, brutality, intelligence, mercilessness, strategising and methods of persistently keeping down any potential threat. A rich, varied and well thought out history can provide an Empire with scope for secrets, prequel stories, mysteries as well as have an impact on the choices the Empire made on the ‘present-day’ story as we read it.
I have seen this done well in so many books I’ve read it would be difficult to name them all. Many of them hinge the plot on one main secret that changes everything for the character and twists the story into a new perspective. Brandon Sanderson’s The Last Empire is based on the mysteries and secrets of the past – the ‘baddie’ is keeping a terrible secret that the main character eventually finds out. Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana delves into the idea of an entire country being wiped from history.
Finding out about something significant or dramatic that happened in the past in one of the most interesting things in a story because it can dramatically affect what the characters do, think and the choices they make.
Empires can only work if laws are in place that are followed by the mass majority. The Laws should make sense and fit with the Empire’s culture and history. They may not make sense to everyone, but there should be a reason why they exist. Apart from the usual laws any society might have, a fantasy empire might also include laws to prevent rebellion, laws to address magic and laws around any unique aspect of the world. The great thing about laws is that they can be broken. And there lies a great conflict of a story.
All fantasy books I’ve read have rules relevant to the unique elements of the fantasy world. Most also have rules pertaining to the Empire. In the Harry Potter world there are rules about the use of magic and protecting non-wizard humans from knowing about the magic world. The School of Good and Evil by Somain Chainani starts off with the premise of two children being taken to be trained at the school’s branches. Even if the characters of the story feel they are in the wrong place, the rules dictate they can’t change schools and will be forced to stay.
Laws can offer the basis of a good conflict.
3. Special Forces
So with all those laws, it makes sense to have law enforcers to uphold them. But not just any law enforcers. All cities will have some kind of police, but empires usually have need for a special forces army, or equivalent, for a number of reasons.
- deal with serious criminals
- undertake covert operations
- investigate foreign lands
- repel highly trained warriors/magicians from other lands
- protect important people in the empire
These specials forces can be a massive army or a smaller selection of the main army that are highly skilled in some form. They could be experts at physical combat or magic.
In the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind, the Mord’Sith represent this idea. They are an elite group of ruthless, highly devoted female warriors whose sole purpose is to protect the Dark Lord. They are created by force from abducting young girls who are kind and gentle. There is a specific ritual they must go through before their transformation is complete. In The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, the special forces are actually assassins called wetboys. They work for money and therefore end up working for the people who can pay (i.e. royalty and high society), but don’t particularly have any allegiance to their employers.
The special forces element of a fantasy world isn’t required for every great empire but it adds an extra zing that makes the world more fascinating.
4. City and Economy
Usually a great empire will control a mass amount of land and numerous cities. I’m struggling to think of any empire depicted in fantasy (or indeed in real life) that doesn’t control a vast landscape or property. In addition, empires are usually busy and bustling places (cities) where people live, work and socialise. Having a thriving economy is good for empires because it ensures that they maintain control of public behaviour and make as much money as possible through tax and charges. The people/person in charge can only make money if there are a mass of people to extort in some way. There is also more status and security with a large public that support (or are forced to support) the ruling class, council or family.
In The Game of Thrones, George R R Martin depicts Kings Landing as the main Empire. It is the largest city of the Seven Kingdoms and is also the capital. It is a bustling city where most can live comfortably, although it also has a slum area. When the existing king dies, almost all the character groups are vying for the throne and much of the series is specifically about that battle/struggle.
So there you have it, the top things that make an Empire interesting and/or effective. Can you think of any examples to add to the items? Or is there a category I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!
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