When done well, fantasy worlds linger with the reader after they’ve finished the story. Hogwarts. Narnia. Middle Earth. Westeros. Each world is different and memorable.
But there’s one aspect of world building that a lot of writers (especially new writers) tend to overlook: flaws.
Think of your fantasy world as one of your characters. When you create your characters you don’t want them to be perfect, so you give them flaws. Why? Because perfect is boring. Flaws create interest.
When I wrote my first fantasy story, I created a perfect world. There was no poverty, no slavery, no hungry children, women were equal to men, the streets were clean of filth, and for all I knew there weren’t any prisons. All of the kingdoms got along and no one had enemies. All of the kings and lords were fair and just except for the “evil” king and my “evil” villain who wanted to take over.
It was a very black and white world in terms of good and evil, as fantasy can tend to be. And pretty boring. This is not the kind of world you want to create. You want to make your world as grey as possible.
What do I mean by this? Well, think about it. In real life, no country is perfect. Every place has its pros and cons, its prides and issues. America is the land of the free, but we had slavery. China now has the world’s largest economy, but they have severe pollution. Australia is beautiful, but everything there tries to kill you.
So, what are the issues of your world? It’s flaws? It dirty secrets? It’s atrocities?
When you create your story world, you need to go beyond the obvious flaws of a tyrant king, evil villain, and a war to save the kingdom. I get it, it can be hard to create flaws. No one wants to create a dark, terrible world–heck, we get enough of that on the evening news every night. It’s tempting to create the fantasy land of your dreams where you would want to live.
“But why not?” you ask. “I want readers to like my story world!”
Trust me, giving your world flaws won’t turn readers off. It will actually make them like it more! Strange, I know. But let’s look at the wonderful things adding flaws to your world can do for your story.
Giving your world flaws creates conflict. Yes, you’ll already have conflict from your plot, but having inherent conflict already worked into your story world creates even more options for conflict. And readers love conflict.
You know what else conflict does? It creates tension. And you want tension, because that’s what keeps readers turning pages.
Flaws make your world feel real to the reader. No place in real-life is perfect, so why should your story world be? Just like you give characters flaws so readers can relate to them, give your world flaws so the reader can relate to it.
To get you started on brainstorming flaws for your story world, here’s a list of examples.
Types of Flaws
- banning interracial marriage
- gender bias
- savage, poisonous, etc. beasts
- corruption of justice system
- class divisions
- contempt for certain field of work
- persecution for religion, race, etc.
- civil war
- severe weather/harsh climates/natural disasters
- mistreatment of animals
- mistreatment of mentally ill
- mistreatment of handicapped
- child/arranged marriage
- sex trafficking
- orphans and widows
- murder/hired killers
- restricted education
- banning books, teachings, practices, etc.
- mobs, riots, protests, rebellions
- violent/extremist orders, religions, governments, etc.
- unjust laws/limited rights
- thieving, looting, raiding
- debt, taxes
- violence as entertainment
- Child and spouse abuse
- genocide, infanticide, suicide, etc.
- bribes and betrayals
Does your story world have flaws? Do you find it challenging to create a flawed world?