Dark Fantasy World Building: Powers

Published by audenjohnson on

For the moment, I’ve stopped working on my second novel, as often, to focus on filling the holes in my world. I’m finding Powers to be the hardest part of World Building. It’s so complicated. I’ve been trying to find some way of organizing information to help me visualize it. Outside of putting it on the wall, I haven’t thought of anything, not yet anyway. I’m thinking some sort of graph or map but I don’t know how that’ll work out.

It’s so hard because the Magic is a world in of itself with history, rules, societies, races. I read Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America’s World Building Questions regarding Magic and Magicians to help my mind wrap around what I need to be thinking about.


Where did the Power come from? Who were the first people to harness it? How did they do this? Did it go well or did they suffer some unfortunate side effect before getting it right? Did it evolve and cause some physical abnormalities in the person? These questions I know the answers to but it took a long time and a lot of writing to get here. I had to write out the history of each person who first used the power.


This is what I’m having trouble with because the Power works differently for every person. I know why but not how. What do they need to do to harness their power? Do they have to give up anything? Again, what are the side effects? Can they use it the way they want or do they have a limit? If so, do they replenish? How do they replenish? There are more questions I need to answer, I’m sure, but this is a good start. I’m thinking I’ll write a number list of the rules-Constitution style. 


Can the Power be used for everyday living like electricity, farming, cleaning? How? Since it is expelled, what effects does it have on living things in the surrounding area- people, nature, animals. Are there any animals with powers? How do people use it in battle? Can they imbue their power into an object to make a weapon, for example? Since my characters live in hidden towns, I ask myself how they use their abilities to keep “humans” from discovering their existence. Is there an educational system to teach people how to discover and develop their abilities? Is this system divided into specific abilities such as an educational track that leads to a person becoming an expert at creating shields? What career will this track lead to?


In the history part of my World Building, I got an idea of what the different races are. Now, it’s time to figure out how they function in the present. This could go with Society but dividing them helps my mind better process the information. Is there one race that naturally develops  a certain ability? Do they all live together creating a society known for one thing or are the towns a mix of different races? Does being a part of a certain race mean they use their power differently or is it something physical- or both? Did they evolve from something else? Can someone be born to a certain race and be unable to perform the ability the race is known for? 

The whole point of all this is to not only figure out your world but find ways to help you think critically about it. The world is important to the plot the after all. We are creating this by ourselves. Most of us don’t have anyone over our shoulder going that doesn’t sound right.  If you’re like me, no one sees the story until after the umpteenth edit. 


William Kendall · May 18, 2012 at 9:47 pm

It's a genre I don't know I could write. The things you point out here might pose quite the obstacle for someone who's used to writing in a completely different world.

Anonymous · May 19, 2012 at 10:15 pm

This seems to be a difficult process. However you have mapped it out well. Taking the steps you've outlined is a good approach. Stories in other worlds need to be believable.

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