So, you have your map, your magic system, and you know how the government works. Maybe you’ve imagined a new religion or two and some holidays to go with them. Very good, but what else does your original world need?
Oh no! Your hero is wounded! Now what? Maybe the magical friend does a magical thing and they are magically better. There’s nothing wrong with that – so long as you don’t overuse it. What are the rules on magical healthcare? Why can’t the magical friend do the magical thing every time any character gets hurt or sick? If you don’t put strict limits on that special, special power, your plot’s tension will bleed out. There’s a battle? Someone’s on the brink of death? Why worry. We all know who can fix that!
It’s important to remember that even if your protagonist has a magical friend with magical powers for magically quick recoveries, the rest of your world probably doesn’t. If the average soldier is stabbed in a fight, where does he go for help? Does your world have science/history-based medicine, or is it all differing levels of magic? What if a housewife develops an obvious tumor? Who does she go to? Same thing for sick kids, bed-ridden kings, and traveling merchants. Figuring out these angles can help prevent too many magical solutions. Remember: an easy fix makes for a really short book.
They say there are two sides to every story, but that isn’t quite true. There may be dozens of sides. Even great classic fantasies that rely on a general good/evil conflict feature characters who feel different ways about the same topic.
The Lord of the Rings is a great example. Denethor was technically on the side of good, but everyone hates him because he was a bad father and a poor ruler. Faramir and Boromir were brothers. They had similar opinions, but they were different enough for one to be corrupted by the Ring and one to resist. This goes without mentioning the thoughts of other hobbits in the Shire or how the limited knowledge of the people of Bree shaped their opinions of Frodo, Strider, and the world.
Remember characters, towns, and countries in your world don’t always have to have the right idea. Allies don’t have to agree on everything to pursue a common goal, and realistic towns will have divisions.
Does every hero need to be a nerd? Nah. Does every hero need an education? No. That said, it’s very strange when your orphaned heroine strolls into the city with all the benefits of (at least) a middle school education. Can your character read? They learned that. An adult – or several – took time to teach them. Rare genius children who “learn” to read on their own have parents who read to and with them diligently.
The same principles go for education on things like politics, military strategy, and city planning. Yes, you can have a great idea or two without training, but the experts all study. They are experts because they have studied. It would be weird for Little Orphan Annie to stroll into an air force base and explain a better system for stealth bombers.
Figure out what kind of education is available to children in your world and if your character is set up to receive it. Is basic education something parents are supposed to provide? Do people hire tutors or fund a community school with taxes? There are many ways to learn, but be sure you know how your character came into their education.
What is your favorite element of world building? What solutions have you found to these questions in your own writing? Share your thoughts with other writers below!