Guidelines for Fictional Worlds
For some stories, it is of little importance in which fictional world they are set in. For instance, many Shakespearean classics can be told in the context of different times and places. Other stories such as the Lord of the Rings are deeply interwoven with their context and cannot easily be separated from it. I believe that a rich context for a story, which might be a highly detailed fictional world such as Middle Earth or an authentic account of a real place and time, can make a story more interesting and engaging. I have been thinking about what characteristics a fictional world should have so that it would be interesting for me to write fiction within it, as well as that it is capable of enhancing my message.
I should have good knowledge of the aspects of the world of relevance for the story. For instance, it would be difficult for me to write a story about fighter pilots in the second World War, since I know very little about the aircraft used, important battles or how life for a fighter pilot would have looked like.
While existing knowledge about a world is ideal, a fictional world for which it would be easy for me to conceive the properties of this world as I go along would also be workable.
I think what makes certain fictional worlds such as Tolkien’s Middle Earth or the Star Wars universe so interesting is that one feels that there are more stories within this world than the story we are currently experiencing. More often than not, these stories are actually created - they are certainly in Tolkien’s case - just not published and presented to us. Also both Middle Earth and (the earlier) Star Wars films do not attempt to explain every detail mentioned in the story completely, it is left to the audiences imagination or further research.
I think that a world in which things are not coherent to at least a degree how we experience coherence in our real world is not a good world to write fiction for. Readers at best will be confused and at worst annoyed at the negligence of the author.
See for a discussion of this ‘House of the Dragon’ and ‘The Rings of Power’ Both Use Diverse Casting. One of Them Does It Better.
The world should have the potential to crystallise as an easily identifiable concept for the audience. For instance, a world set in the Mayan empire ten years before Columbus’ arrival in the Americas or a future in which all humans are enhanced with cybernetic implants. In addition, this concept should be different from other existing fictional worlds. Thus a fantasy world which is very similar to Middle Earth is not as desirable as a world which sets out a completely new premise.
The fictional world should provide a platform in which concepts meaningful for our current experiences may be discussed. For instance, the world of Lord of the Rings provides a powerful backdrop for exploring the theme of friendship. The world of Star Wars reflects our own personal "good versus evil" struggles as well as the same on political level.
The most beautiful aspect of writing fiction for me is, that there is no limit as to what we can try and what may make a beautiful story. As such, these guidelines should be seen as nothing but some inspiration and not strict rules. There are limitless ways in which fictional worlds can be conceived, and these guidelines are based on what has worked in the past, rather than what will delight us in the future.