Updated: Feb 9
It seems fitting that in our first few blog articles that we talk about the beginnings of all things, the creation of the fantasy universes that we’re all building. I’m going to start by assuming that you are either an established world builder or you’ve got world building dreams that are yet to manifest. Either way, one of the first explanations is how the world came into being in the first place. Later on in these posts I’ll start to introduce a world I’ll be creating from scratch and breathing life into week by week, but for now, let’s examine four ways that a reality can come to pass. This is far from being an exhaustive list and I’d love to hear if you have any suggestions to add. By the way, if you haven't already read it, check out our article on coherent world building
Most world religions attribute the creation of the universe to divine intention (it’s important to note that in your reality, what a religious doctrine states, and the actual reality of the situation might be wildly divergent). A benign creator at the beginning of time creates order from chaos and breathes life into the world in their own image because…er…
Here’s where we encounter a logic chasm that we have to bridge. Normally, the answer that religious doctrines come up with is that the creator god is benign and likes to do nice things, like create life. Christianity tells us that God created Eden for Adam and Eve to live in and if the original sin of disobedience hadn’t occurred, everything would basically have worked out. One of the early challenges we face if we’re going down the route of divine intervention is ‘what did the creator god do all this creating for?’ This question opens up lots of possibilities for exploring an otherwise two dimensional entity and it enables us to begin to shape the world, the theology and pantheon of other deities if we wish to create them.
Did the creator god want to shape the universe in their own image for reasons of pride?
Obligation: did the creator god owe their siblings in the divine pantheon a few favours and have to create worlds for them to rule?
Did a Loki or Anansi trickster dupe the otherwise omniscient creator god into creating a physical universe for them to get up to all manner of mischief in?
Interstellar Maginot Line
Did the creator god create planets, stars and galaxies as a vast belt to hold back some unspeakable evil?
These questions are important because their answers will shape every aspect of the reality the characters in your world experience, even if they have no idea exactly how the universe came into being.
2. Divine accident
We assume that gods, by their nature are perfect and infallible, even though much of our own mythology suggests otherwise. The god of the Old Testament is vengeful and jealous, Zeus is a philandering patriarch who schemes against his wife to hide his infidelities, Odin gave away one eye for wisdom but exists in his own plots and plans. These are gods with very human frailties (we imagined them, so duh), and one thing that humans by their nature can’t conceive of is infallibility.
We have no frame of reference for what perfection looks like and a mortal meeting a perfect entity like a god might discover that its supreme logic could be cold and brutal or, if benign, almost impossible for mortals to fathom. What if there was a god who, whilst ordering the universe discovered that unfortunately the universe itself wasn’t completely capable of being ordered? What if there was a god that tried to make a world of perfection and failed?
Could the god of the Old Testament have accounted for the serpent? It seems as if the serpent in the Garden of Eden existed outside god’s control and essentially did its own thing, giving humans a free will and a sense of separation from god and an awareness of their mortality and vulnerability. Everything else that happens in Christian doctrine after that are god’s attempts to offer redemption to the children of Adam and Eve.
Every world needs a tiny seed of chaos inserted directly into the order so that there is dramatic tension. Because we’re dealing with foundational ideas here, the foundational creation concept that you decide will shape all the other notions you build on top of it. Here’s a quick example off the top of my head.
A creator god orders a universe in a precise ‘music of the spheres’ manner, and in his vanity he assumes he is the only intelligence in his beautiful lifeless universe. He is wrong, because the great white hole of matter and energy that spews life into the cosmos also created his brother, who loved disorder and chaos.
While the creator was enjoying everything he had created his brother appeared by his side and dealt him a terrible blow with a dark sword and the creator god’s blood spread across the universe bringing life to countless worlds. The now weakened creator god, no longer perfect, had to find all the life forms that were born unto him and his jealous brother, unable to create life, only to manipulate it sought to engage with these life forms too.
I think this might form the basis of a theology in the next few posts.
3. Mortal tinkering
You might be creating a godless universe or working on a sci fi world where epic mythologies and theological grand narratives don’t apply. Science fiction works on a different set of tropes, not the infallibility/fallibility of gods, but the hubris and nemesis of man. Human beings travelling to distant worlds and prodding things they have no knowledge of underpins countless science fiction narratives.
Human curiosity, vanity and ego might be the cause of your world creation event; equally there might be a creator species that either terraformed a lifeless world or created an artificial planet or structure. Civilisations higher up the Kardashev Scale that have harnessed the power of multiple stars and have spread across entire galaxies might be able to create giant structures such as Alderson Discs.
At a certain level of technology and power, some of these creatures might be indistinguishable from gods themselves, or have decided for themselves that they are godlike. Are they infallible? Certainly not, and the thing they seek to tame and transform, the universe itself is beyond the control of anyone, god, mortal or supermortal. It is the wild mustang of the story, always ready to throw its rider.
4. Cold barren universe
You can always dispense with the creation story altogether. There is no reason why your universe needs one and can be the product of a big bang event like the one we inhabit. The focus of your narratives doesn’t have to relate to how the universe was created, just the human and non human dramas of survival within it.