The Villain Makes the World

silhouette of man standing against black and red background
Photo by Elti Meshau on

Different authors have different approaches to world building. Some start with maps of their world. Some, like Tolkien, start with the languages of their creation and then built cultures up around the language. While I like drawing maps, I’m not particularly artistic and unlike Tolkien I’m a not an Oxford educated professor of linguistics. Therefore for my main project, I started with a character.

As I have said before, I have four ideas that have the potential to become novel length works. One of my ideas; the traditional (for lack of a better word) fantasy has been in my mind for thirteen years and it didn’t change much over that time, I knew, or thought I knew what way I wanted it to go. That is, I did until last year when I had a lightning strike moment and the idea morphed into something else, while still retaining some of my original ideas; specifically the name of the project and my villain.

“How can it be the same project if you scrapped everything but the title and the villain?”, I hear you cry. Well, that’s because my first act of world building was creating the villain of the story. My reasoning was that if I can create a good enough villain everything else in my fictional world will fall into place. What are their motivations, and why? In what kind of world could a person like this exist?

Now, I’m not about to go ahead and start spouting spoilers here, as this project is something I hope to at least attempt to get published one day, but here are some of the questions I asked myself.

  1. What do they want, and why?
  2. How are they trying to get what they want?
  3. How will achieving their goal affect the world?
  4. Do they have any particular skills or magical abilities?
  5. Is their existence common knowledge? Or do the general population believe them to be rumour / legend?

Without going into too much detail, I was able to do a fair bit of world building based on the answers to these questions.

For question one, it wasn’t enough to just say “they want to do blah blah because they’re evil“. I needed to create a back story to make their motivations believable. The villain’s back story is part of the world’s history and a stepping stone for creating the rest of it, or at least the relevant history.

Answering questions two and three effectively gave me an idea of the overall plot. The answers to these questions created the conflict that my protagonists would be striving against.

Question four was a very interesting one. As many fantasy authors have said in various interviews, the magic system needs rules and limitations, otherwise it will be very uninteresting. I needed to create a magic system for the world. In the first iteration of the project, I had wanted to minimise magic in the world, keeping it mysterious like in A Song of Ice and Fire. When I had my epiphany, this was no longer an option, and I needed something more akin to Brandon Sanderson who is the king of creating interesting systems of magic. I won’t go into this any more here, as I’ll probably make another post about magic systems sooner or later.

Answering question 5 allowed me to have a good think about history again and the mythology of the world, and by swings and roundabouts, religion as well.

So there it is; my initial world building exercise was creating a villain and letting the world create itself around them. It worked well for me, as it gave me a firm grasp on the history, legends and cultures for this fictional universe, as well as the basis for the overall plot.

Thanks for reading. I’d be very interested in people’s thoughts on this one. Until next time, goodbye!


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