Medieval/Fantasy Setting

by Ser Lin

Question: I'm a 16-year-old who has an interest in writing. So I'm already planning for this novel, in which a centaur is the hero/heroine and the clan of centaurs are part of the central plot. (I've noticed writers usually put centaurs in a supporting role, so I'm hoping to be different and unique)

The story is most likely to fit in a medieval/fantasy setting. But I've never experimented with writing such settings before. Is it necessary to research that particular period? If so where can I get references? Is it just better to use my imagination and think up of a whole new land to put my story in?

Answer: Obviously, if you're writing about centaurs, you're already in the realm of a fantasy world. What that fantasy world is like is entirely up to you. Some of your choices include...

* a completely fictitious planet, with its own history, culture, species, technology, etc.

* a parallel universe, in which your story takes place on earth, but an earth very different from ours, possibly one where magic can occur.

* an alternative timeline, in which certain key events in earth's history happened differently, and they changed everything that happened since.

* an alternative history, in which centaurs did exist in earth's distant past but were wiped out at some point.

The key to designing your world is to have it make sense, to make it consistent. You may need to consider things like the level of technology, to determine what tools, clothing, food, architecture, weapons, understanding of science, etc. exist. You may have to decide if magic or some alternative physics exists in your world, and how it works. Are there other creatures/inhabitants of that world that don't exist in ours? What is the geography like? What is the history of your world? What's the political system, religion, art, etc.?

You might start by looking at what Greece was like, around the time the mythology of centaurs was created. Or if you prefer a medieval level of technology, look at the history of that period. Just remember, medieval technology was in some ways more advanced than that of ancient Greece. You have to decide how much knowledge your world has of things like engineering.

A good library should have plenty of material you can get ideas from. Librarians can help you target the best references. For that matter, an internet search for historical information on any period may turn up more than you need.

You don't have to be bound by a certain period, of course. You just want your world to be consistent. Reading a little about history helps to give you a sense of why people lived differently in different times and places - how it depends on things like technology, resources, etc. Thinking about all the elements that go into a culture will help your imagination come up with a more realistic world.

Of course, the danger with worldbuilding is that you can get lost in it or overwhelmed by it. There's no limit to how much detail you could potentially create for your world. Fortunately, you don't need to have it planned down to the last detail.

Rather than designing a complete world ahead of time, you can just decide on the broad strokes and the details you need to tell your character's personal story.

As you write, you may realize you need to fill in other details, and that can send you back to the history books or the drawing board. (You may want to keep a notebook where you record the details about the world as a reference.)

Any inconsistencies that accidentally creep in can be fixed in your second draft.

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