So far, I am heavily influenced by the landscape, culture and mythology of where I live in the UK, but I have also written stories that are set on the continent with a good mixture of both real and fantasy elements.
I’m also very inspired by Welsh, Scottish, Northern English and Cornish landscape / terrain, native languages, history and culture.
I also love using local names for various elements in my stories, such as villages, cities, houses and family names.
It’s what I know and feel connected to, so it’s what I want to bring into my world building.
I usually start with the story's general techno-social-cultural inspiration. Like if its Antiquity, Middle Ages, 19th Century or whatever I'm looking at for a kind of feel to the setting. Then I form a rough outline in my head, add any story-specific needs and then with one eye on my historical, and not-historical, inspiration I create the land(s) in question.
Well, my favorite way to create fantasy lands is to write them.
I don't actually create lands because I write alternate history fantasy, so the geography is given. But I do modify lands in service to the story. The biggest mod was taking an existing place, Lamprecht's Cave, and turning that into an entry into a hollow Earth. So, the caverns along the way were invented, and then the hollow Earth area was completely invented.
I tried going to some of the Hollow Earth legends, but they were all just too silly. Jules Verne's version was too bare-bones. Most of the inventing wound up being a headlights-in-fog sort of thing, where I just added this or that, then peered ahead a little and decided something else was needed. For example, I posited a sea, which meant I had to sail on it. But there were no trees. So I invented a stone that could be shaped and could float. None of it was designed ahead of time, but was just stitched as I went along.
Most of the mods are done like that. Whatever the story needs, even if it means geologic mods.
It comes as a result of writing the key scenes first. Those first scenes are a bit bare boned in their descriptions, so when I link them all I add all the rest of the setting around them as needed. As for what inspires the settings, it's the things I've seen in the places I've been around the world combined with a big pinch of reality in terms of what would make society work in that setting.
World builder more then story writer, so I happily create from all over. Though with an overt fondness for semi-tropical and tropical lands (might have something to do with growing up in the lands of ice and snow). And will also create most parts of the land, except the languages, because I am not good at them. I will draw on all sorts of different times and cultures and places.
I like to take places real or fictional and give them a bit of a twist. So, you could call me a plagiarist. Or I take them directly from a person, and see if they like what has been used. The general gist of it, is that I make up stories based on what has already been used, and locate it in a same sort of place.
I may be the odd one out, because I like building worlds by first drawing a map.
Usually the map starts out as a continent. Islands here and there, bays here and there. Then I add the geography—mountains, rivers and lakes, forests and woods, swamps, deserts, usually in that general order.
Then I begin national borders. Some of the geography from the previous stage was already designed with this part in mind. I tend to create lands drawn from my memory and appreciation of historic places and events or other fictional places and events. These things stick around with me, as if waiting for me to eventually use them, so I do. I consider the broad history of each of these lands, the general culture, as I assign them to places around the map.
Eventually, when I decide to set a story in one of these places, I focus on deepening my understanding of their history, culture, politics, language, and so forth.
I suppose my process has been informed by my early, youthful obsession with Dungeons and Dragons plus the handful of fantasy novels I read early in my life.