Philip Athans on Building Immersive Sci-Fi & Fantasy Worlds

Special Announcement: Susan J. Morris (Writers Don’t Cry columnist) Philip Athans will both be appearing at Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, WA, on March 30th. Meet the authors as Susan discusses the secrets behind creating killer villains for games and books, and Philip discusses the ins and outs of the publishing business! Details at the end of this column.

WritersdontcryWorldbuildingBooks are more than stories—they are whole worlds. Absorptive, transportive, and filled with all the quirks, grit, and breath-taking wonders that make the magic feel oh so real. The Lord of the Rings movies brought J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth to life in ways that had never been seen before, and we were enraptured, practicing our sword play and learning the languages of the elves—just in case. Harry Potter inspired a whole theme park where some people go again and again, just to have the feeling of being in that magical world once more. And Avatar’s Pandora was so beautiful and resonant that people actually cried at the end of the movie when they realized it wasn’t real. That they couldn’t live there.

That is the power of a well-built world.

Of course, the work required to build a world with such strong immersive properties is no small task—and it’s particularly intimidating when you’re facing the blank page of your book or outline. I mean, there’s a whole world at stake here—where do you even start? How do you know what decisions will make or break your sci-fi or fantasy world?

AthansPhotoFortunately, I was able to get a hold of New York Times best-selling author and editor Philip Athans, who has more than a little experience designing and maintaining worlds. A professional world-builder at Athans & Associates Creative Consulting, Philip also had a hand in maintaining The Forgotten Realms shared world for many years, creating the Fathomless Abyss world, and co-creating the shared world Arron of the Black Forest. A veteran on both sides of the red pen, Philip is ideally suited to help guide authors through creating their own rich, immersive fantasy and sci-fi worlds.

 

Susan: World building is such an intimidating concept. Why is it so important for fantasy and science fiction writers to establish a world for their stories? Can’t they just make it all up as they go along?

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