Creating a Fictional Universe

So, I started writing again – this time with a hope to complete the book!

Unlike my past attempts this time I’m writing a fantasy novel – one that’s not based completely on our world, but in a Cosmic Universe based on the Vedic Cosmology.

Now, one of the great things about this is that a lot of the world that my story takes place in is pre-built for me. I, however, have taken liberties in reinterpreting the universe in a different form.

In this article, I’m going to focus on how I’ve gone about constructing this universe and how other writes can use this as a template to create their own fictional universes.

Before you start constructing a universe you must have a basic idea of the plot, always remember, no matter how deep your universe is, if your plot and characters are not compelling then it’s simply not going to work.

Assuming that you have the basic plot in place and you have created some character journeys you can now start with the universe.

I did this using my experience of design thinking and plotting character journey as I would plot user/customer journeys – using post it’s and huge charts.Vedic universe

Now, building the universe; when I started building the universe I took the Hindu Vedic Cosmology as the basis for my universe – different ‘lokas’ with the earth as the central realm and then started building and adding on to what I had.

A universe – fantasy or otherwise needs to have the following elements:

  1. Rules:  define the laws of physics, magic, etc that your universe and everyone in it MUST obey, e.g. no one comes back from the dead, gravity cannot be ignored, magic doesn’t work in the dark (for whatever reason), or no magic at all, etc. These will keep you from going astray when writing the book.
  2. People: races, cultures, history, politics, and physicalities that differentiate them from one another
  3. Physical structure: realms, geographies, geologies, important locations, etc
  4. Creatures and beings: any special beings, creatures, etc that you might want to create for your universe
  5. Characters: List of important characters with their defining traits and backstories

Now, I will get into each of these in detail one by one:

#1 Rules

Here the writer should cover the rules that define your universe:

A sample set of rules would look something like this:

  • Death is permanent – no one comes back from life
  • Magic does not exist
  • Average human lifespan is 165 years
  • A day consists of 24 hours, a month has 30 days and a year has 12 months
  • Teleportation can only be done within 100 km
  • One cannot travel back in time only to the future

Rules like these put limitations on you as a writer (which is good) and they also give the readers an idea of what is and is not possible in the universe – it makes your universe consistent and more believable.

#2 People

An interesting universe is inhabited by interesting people. When defining the universe the story takes place in visualizing the different races that live within, their separate histories, beliefs, cultures – it makes the world a lot richer and shows the depth of that you have gone into as a world creator.

A lot of the fictional worlds that exist today from Game of Thrones to Star Wars were created by taking inspiration from the people, cultures, and races that exist in the real world. It adds layers and subtext to the plot and the world that you have built. This will also help you later in better defining your characters, their habits, and motivations.

Each race should ideally have a history and a belief system – points of interaction and conflict with other races and ideologies. This will help you justify the mindset of the people and the politics in your universe.

You can add nuances to each race by adding their eating habits, dressing styles, battle strategies, physical features, family structures, social structures, etc – traits that differentiate them

#3 Physical Structure

How big is your universe? What are the major locations? What is the geography of the different regions?

One of the best ways of creating a universe for your story is the Lord of the Rings or the Game of Thrones route – DRAW A MAP!

You do not need to create a technically sound topographical map, simply create a loose structure of what lies where and the terrain – mountains, deserts, rivers, borders, cities, etc.

If your universe consists of multiple parallel realms and ‘other’ universes then it’s slightly more complicated.

In that case, you might want to start with a list of all the possible realms and start describing them using adjectives, if the rules differ from universe to universe then capture that, if the characters travel from one universe to another make sure you write down how they do it, etc.

#4 Creatures and Beings

A lot of writers borrow from existing mythos and add a few of their own creatures to it. The Harry Potter series is a prime example of how this works. Steven Erikson’s Malazan (The Fallen) series is a really good example of original world building with creatures, races and Gods previously unheard of – with exception of dragons.

As with races, for creatures, you’d want to define their attitude, abilities, and characteristics which are often represented by a variety of physical attributes. The better you define these creatures, the better your reader can envision them while reading your book.

If there are any unique creatures in your universe, it’s a good idea to define their origin.

#5 Characters

The Characters! The most important part of your story. No matter how detailed and intricate your universe is, if it’s not inhabited by interesting and compelling characters then there’s no point in having anything else. They are the core of your story. The characters and their interaction with everything in the universe are what brings your story to life.

The universe and the characters who live in that universe have a symbiotic relationship.

There will be characters who shape the universe and then those who are shaped by it.

And it is this distinction that will separate your antagonists and protagonists from the general milieu in your world. Their habits, motivations, backstories, experiences, worldview, relationships with one another and their surroundings and how these will change with time is what will give shape to your plot and add layers to their development.

I will write a separate blog on creating characters and plotting their journeys –  based on how I’d create user personas and plot customer journeys using design thinking concepts, for now, this should be enough for you to get started.

Good luck and write on!


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