Cities, Villages and the Unknown

One of the joys of writing fantasy fiction is that it gives you the freedom to design a world from scratch; you can let your imagination run wild creating dark forbidding forests, waterfalls, lost cities, and so on…

This page looks at designing a culture for the world and the background encounters that can be defined through that culture. 

Throughout these articles the ideas will be demonstrated by referencing a fantasy world that I designed, showing how it interacts and grows with the stories that were written – Creating the world can be just as much as writing the stories!

Culture Overview


The watermill

Once the basic design and layout of the world is in place, then the types of cultures that will be encountered need to be considered – both their own and others that they will meet on the journey.

The cultures within a fantasy world are there to give a richness to the encounters and interactions that characters have during their journeys. They provide the backdrop against which any encounters operate, defining the styles and rituals that happen during that time

Culture applies not just to the humanoid settings of towns or other group interactions, but to any type of creature that they may encounter – especially intelligent ones. A unique character in the wilderness may have their own unique way of interacting with the world and may not be part of a wider culture type, but due to their own unique style, they may require a culture of its own – part of their own characteristics.

With fantasy worlds you can choose to have as many different cultures as you want, but as with all things, the more different cultures you define then the more you will have to keep track of them.

Cultural considerations that need to be thought about include:

  • The basic cultural level of the world that is central to the stories
  • The different types of cultures you encounter – e.g. different races, species or individuals
  • The social structures within that culture – e.g. hierarchical, social, chaotic, private
  • Where they appear in your world – are they near to each other or a vast distance apart.

Identifying the cultural level

sun rise boat 2

Ocean community

The world in which the stories take place needs to have a general overall sense of culture. The key culture level for the background to the world needs to be considered before the stories can really get going.

It is possible to completely create a culture from scratch, but once the basic requirements of a culture have been identified, it may be worth spending time finding out if there is a similar period of history that reflects this, this will help to ‘fill in the gaps’ and save a lot of time having to consider every possible aspect for even the shortest of encounters

A blank piece of paper (maybe several), or a high-tech equivalent, is good to work with for reflecting upon the world and identifying at least the underlying attributes of your culture.

If you do have some specific ideas of the type of culture you want for your world then make some notes on them, but keep the notes simple if you can, no more than a paragraph.

Tip – If is not easy to identify what is required for the culture clearly, then try working out what is not required for the culture. For example if a group were to encounter a tribe in a forest, the actual culture method of the greeting may not be known, but that it will not lead to instant threats to kill, is known.

Some of the cultural aspects to be determined include:

  • Are the natives friendly?
    • Can your characters relax and fall asleep on a haystack or do they have to ‘watch their backs’ all the time
  • Is there a war going on, if so then how close is it to them
    • If it is far off then this could be a source of rumours, if close by then does it impact on the story line and how?
  • What is their level of knowledge
    • Will they be overwhelmed by what the characters are capable of doing, or will they wonder how they could possibly be so primitive
  • How long has the settlement existed
    • Is the area a new world of exploration for everyone, or is it an ancient place that has been settled for over a thousand years and has the structure and knowledge to go with it
  • If it is a different species then how much common understanding will the characters have with them
    • Will they understand enough basic civilised behaviour so that the characters can approach them, or will they not even recognised the character species – in which case, will they be curious, ignore them or attack them?

World design

Most of the inhabited land consists of small towns and settlements in a rural setting, only beyond the river in the far north do you find any cities and only in the cities can true law and order be found. It is also within one of those cities that you will find the ‘Great Libraries’ that contain the knowledge of the known world, but even these contain only a fragmented knowledge of a world long ago and answers to the past cannot always be found, only tantalising hints – What is myth and what is truth cannot be easily distinguished.

Away from the cities there is an established way of life there that is similar to the medieval/dark age period of English history, the laws from the cities hold some sway over the lands but most justice still relies on the local opinion of what justice means.

The mountain range in the south has only one break in the chain through which travel is possible to some reasonable extent. The land to the south of that mountain range is a harsh place to live, unsafe to travel through and with many unknowns on what will be found there


  • Keep it simple, don’t have lots of mysterious rituals or unexplainable behaviour
  • Do not put too much detail into an encounter if it does not add to the story
  • Design with the thought that you made need to develop the culture further in the future
  • If some new thoughts about certain aspects of the culture come along, then save them to a later time when they may ‘suddenly’ become useful, or give only the vaguest of hints if you need to;

 Jenny Maryl ~  Inspiring the Imagination ~ Contact Me


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: