The milieu, or world, that you create as a writer for your characters plays a critical role in how your story will progress. This becomes even more prevalent when you write in the genres of fantasy and science fiction, but the same fact holds true for even a fiction or romance piece. How you build the settings in which your story unfolds will have a direct impact on how the other elements of the work are able to interact and react.
For this reason, it seems prudent to share some of the key elements that you should take into consideration when constructing a milieu for your next work.
1. The Physical Limitations.
The first thing to figure out when delving into world-building is its physical limitations. If it’s a fiction work set here on our own planet, then most of this is a no-brainer unless you’re wanting to take the route of urban fantasy. I’ll give you my experiences in constructing the worlds for my fantasy epic, Shaygan. I wanted to create a world that wasn’t too dissimilar from our own, but had its unique features that let the reader know right away, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” To do this, I gave the book’s home world of Sicon two moons, Eros the larger blue satellite, and Nuula the smaller yellow companion. I went as deep into the weeds as to describe how this affected the ocean’s tidal cycles, the vegetation and the physiology of the races of people who inhabit Sicon. You don’t have to do that, of course, but the more detail that you can provide the more life you will breathe into your world.
2. What kid of magic system exists?
If you’re going to incorporate this element into your story then you want to be sure to describe how the system works. I’ve read stories with some magical systems that drained energy from the user. There were others that used blood sacrifices to obtain the power. For Shaygan I decided to create a symbiosis between the Kanji Masters and their natural elements of choice. So, if a mage wanted to conjure up a windstorm to protect himself from an adversary then he would have to draw on the energy present in the environment around him (i.e. the trees, rocks, animals, etc.) In doing this, I emphasised the point that the person and the world were dependent on one another. It also allowed for some interesting plot twists. If a mage was in the belly of a mountain attempting to use her Elemental Symbiotic of Earth and the mountain couldn’t support it then she might be crushed.
3. The Power
Who has the power in your world? Is there any authority at all? Game Of Thrones used this premise to perfection in telling its tale. Multiple rulers vying for the one Iron Throne! I went with an elected dynasty of power in my epic. The masses voted on a father and son pair who would then rule their world for generations as High Counsilate. I sort of took our perception of leadership and turned it on its head.
4. The Economic System
What kind of currency will your world use? Will the characters barter or trade? How will they acquire what they need when it comes time? What are the major sources of food and drink in your world? You don’t have to reinvent the wheel as far as this is concerned. The customary gold coin would suffice. You might, however, want to ensure that you give this point enough thought so that it doesn’t get you stuck while writing. Who knows? You might even come up with a great story arc based on the world’s economics. I personally went the coin route, but based Sicon’s coin on a light blue gem called Zan. The blue coins are fashioned out of the gem, and each denomination is gauged on its weight in Zan.
5. The History
This may be the last point that I offer up in this post, but it certainly isn’t the least. What happened, how it happened, when and why it happened in your world’s past will play a major role in what is or will occur in your world and your work. I’ll use the Portal War from my book to illustrate its impact.
I spent several years fleshing out the history, cultures, places, races and languages for Shaygan. In doing so, I built a neighboring world called Quina. This world was connected to Sicon via a portalstone that activated a doorway between the two. Treachery and betrayal within the High Counsilate’s cabinet led to a massive war between the once peaceful places. I detailed major battles which led to the development of the character Pegrin. He served as an infantryman for Sicon, and kept a personal journal of his trip over to Quina. This work ended up playing a key role in the current storyline for the book. The war that happened decades prior to the start of Shaygan also had a direct effect on how either world would handle the major problem that they now both faced.
Again, these are more or less the major points that I found and used in creating my own worlds and stories. There are more out there that I’ll get into in another post, but hopefully these will assist you in creating a vibrant and engaging milieu for your future readers!