Archive for May, 2019

If you’re just joining the club now, you might want to start at the beginning of the World-Builder’s Anonymous series here.

 

So you see by the articles I’ve drafted so far that there are many, many aspects to building worlds. If you’re building for fun, then there’s something to occupy you for years to come as you could spend all that time and more and still not have a “complete” world.

If you’re doing this for storytelling, I iterate again that you can slip into some serious “too-much” territory, and urge you to follow Holly Lisle’s advice if your intent is to use the building for story, as the build can be an excuse not to even start writing. And while you’re at it, check out some of her other resources on Language, Culture, Plot, Character, etc, all of which have been of immense value to me. I’m not even posting an affiliate link at the moment.

So by now you might be asking, “Where do I start?”

Anywhere. One beautiful thing about worldbuilding is that you can start from any of the points and let them guide you to creating the rest. They feed into each other, and you can bounce back and forth between the different categories with ease.

Say you had a super cool animal in mind, a diamond-crested slinker. You decide it’s an alpha predator, lurking through the forest.

  • Is it a carnivore or an omnivore?
  • What exactly does it eat? What does the thing it eats eat?
  • How abundant are they?
  • What kind of climate does it exist in?
  • Are there humans there? How many?
  • Are they permanent or nomadic?
  • Have they integrated the slinker into their language (crazier than a slinker chewing siliweed)?
  • What kind of relationship do the humans have with the creature – food, fear, sacred/symbolic?
  • How long has this relationship been going on? Is there an historical significance?
  • Does it have prize fur (with natural “diamonds”) that can drive an economy for the humans that hunt it?
  • If they fear it, do they pray/sacrifice to a slinker god or do they pray to a god that protects them from slinkers?
  • If they sell the fur, who are they selling it to? Are the sellers rich from the sales, or are they being exploited?
  • Is the slinker being poached, and are the humans who use it forced to protect it and become warriors/defenders?
  • Do they need someone they trade the furs for that they can’t get anywhere else, and now the demanders have disappeared?

See how much worldbuilding you can get from an idea for single creature? You can also stop from the top down. and make a huge globe and then break it up and populate it. (The D&D-published WorldBuilder’s guide embraces both approaches too, from the town/world creation aspect, but they don’t have the animal/plants as part of their publication.)

Well, that’s it for now, for the worldbuilding. It’s been a lot of fun over the last few months to glaze over it.

Did I miss something? Or is there something you would like to see expanded? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for joining me on this journey, and have a lot of fun building your worlds!

If you’re just joining the World-Builder’s Anonymous, you might want to go back to the beginning and start here.

But if you’ve been following along, read on!

 

Another interesting aspect of world-building I have discovered is the weather.

Weather literally shapes a world – rain feeds rivers that cut through rock over eons, swelling and diminishing to flood and erode. Wind shapes dunes of sand, scrubs landscapes or buries whole civilizations.

When we think of weather with world-building, the first thing that may come to mind is climate on a global scale (Star Wars was notorious for making the entire planet one climate/geological type – Tattooine the desert planet, Hoth the snow planet, Dagobah the swamp planet, Endor the forest moon, that forgotten name of the planet of the cloner people that had a perpetual stormy sea, etc. – which seems incredibly lazy to me). Globally, there are bands all along the globe where certain climates prevail.

Another thing with weather and climate is that it can shape culture. The people of the Brazilian Jungles have a very different way of life than the Bedouins of the desert, or the folk who live in the remotest parts of Siberia. Their subsistence is affected by what is available, which in turn influences what they perceive to be of most importance (which can give rise to which god(s) they worship), which influences their rites, traditions, even things as “mundane” as the way they dress. The light, airy robes of the Bedouin would hardly be appropriate for those in a jungle, where the long flowing fabric would catch on everything and anything as they pushed through the growth. Folk on the cold tundra couldn’t get by with the little or nothing of the jungle tribes, but they’re not going to be growing a lot of the plants by which they can make cotton/linen, so they would gravitate to animals with fur, etc.

I said ‘animals’ and ‘fur’ there, too, which leads into the other thing about weather and climate – it dictates what can survive there. A lizard that thrives in sunlight is hardly going to make it in Antarctica, but that cold inhospitable place is where you can find penguins. Tiny winged critters are going to find it difficult to thrive in areas with high winds because they’d just get knocked out of the sky or battered against the cliffsides – unless they had a very good “pre-sense” of winds coming on and can get to safety before the worst arrives.

If you’re just building a world just to build a world and have fun, then starting with the planet and giving it areas of different or severe weather is just grand. However, if you are building lightly to create the stage for something you are writing, you can easily go too far if you start with the whole world.

Let’s play along using the latter case, building lightly because you’re writing.

Weather can mean ambience. We’ve all heard the “It was a dark and stormy night…” cliché for horror or drama/thriller. As if horrible things can’t happen on a sunny, mild day. (That might make a good shocker, turning the trope on its head, to have the crime/horror committed on what started out as a beautiful Spring day.)

Weather can also be a hurdle to heighten conflict and suspense.

Sheriff JimBob is chasing Bad BillyRoy west to recover the money and bring him to justice, but the bridge that BillyRoy just used to cross is now floating down the river in pieces thanks to the storm that fed the river. And now JimBob is faced with crossing there, going out of his way and getting more miles between them, or stopping to help the family getting swept away in that same river.

It’s also the hurricane threatening Carrie Saylor who defied the others and rowed to the tiny island alone and ended up with a sunken boat and no shelter.

Used lightly, it can also be used to reinforce an alien setting in a fantasy or science fiction story, with radiation or EMP storms being a constant threat, or a methane rain (like on the moon Titan). For fantasy, there could be magical storms, which are magic in-and-of-themselves or somehow mess with the magic in freaky ways.

Weather can be a tool of the antagonist. For stories with fantasy/magic, this is a great gimmick of evil wizards, sending storms and altering normal patterns to cause misery in the land or directly against the protagonist.

Weather can be the primary antagonist itself – think of the disaster novels and movies with the threatening volcanoes, storms, etc. Sure there can be a lot of other antagonists (usually people taking advantage of the disaster or the panic beforehand).

Shows like Strangest Weather on Earth highlight some truly unusual events that could form the seed of a really good story too.

So, what’s your favorite weather event (mine is lightning, as I’ve mentioned before) and how could you use it in your stories? Share in the comments!

 

 

If you’re just joining me, you should know that I started blogging about my quick-starter world-building process a few weeks ago. You can go back and start here. Or, if you just wanted to read about the culture aspect, start here.

Like I stated above, we went over a quick and dirty culture build, starting with the building blocks: values/fears.

Once you’ve established that, this next step is pretty simple.

Let’s say you wanted your world to have a pantheon, or gods/spirits to worship.

Where would they look for them? In their values and fears.

A deity or deities can arise from each of the values, or one can encompass all of them. A single deity can be dichotomous – instilling values and fears.

Let’s look at the Romans: They valued many, many things, of course, and had dozens if not hundreds of deities of lesser or greater status, but for the sake of this article I am going to point out only a few.

The Romans possessed the greatest military force of its time. Ask any Roman in his day, and he might add that their avid worship of Mars (where we get the term “martial” of course) had as much to do with their prowess as did their physical conditioning, discipline and tactics. In any martial society, a way to replenish the population was absolutely necessary, so they venerated several deities presiding over different aspects (fertility, virility, pregnancy, sex, conception…). Feeding a population was also of utmost importance, so any deity related to the fertility of the land (Ceres as one of them, and she also held ground over life and death and rebirth of nature, and sacred law, and… you get it).

Fears can be leveraged in your culture, especially by people who are cunning enough to trick the people into thinking that whatever it is that they fear can be avoided, such as with sacrifices of people and treasures.

What if you don’t want supernatural beings acknowledged at all? How about that?

There are cultures that venerate or vilify actual historical figures (sometimes even alongside supernatural beings, imagine that! Ha!) Think of America’s Founding Fathers – George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere among others – who embodied values of strength, resilience, and the idea that men should be free. There’s the opposite, those who are infamous like Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin. But there could be a smaller villain in your culture, something like:

“Now you young’uns, don’t you go traipsing off up to that old cabin at wood edge yonder. That there’s the gateway on to Hell itself, old Shakey Jake butchering them youngfolk gone creeping up there and putting his curse on all round it. That’s why nothing grows in fifty paces all around. And it don’t matter he’s been dead for nigh on a century – if’n he’s done sold his soul so’s he can walk the earth again.”

You get the idea.

Sometimes you can even reach a serendipity – where you have a value that some venerate and others vilify (like Hitler who was adored by some seriously misguided people), and this is beyond awesome for you as a writer, because it means that there’s conflict! Conflict is at the heart of every story, and if you can build that into your very culture, then you can easily insert it into your characters’ lives and give them somewhere to “go” in the story’s arc.

So, what kind of values did you come up with, and how are you using them?

World-building – yes, we’re still on that subject. This is the World-builders Anonymous. If you’re just tuning in, check them out from the first post HERE.

Tackling Culture.

Alright, not so much “tackling” as “touching on”. Like trying to drink the lake through a straw. Pucker up, and hope you don’t get a mouthful of fetid water. And it’s much, much deeper than you think.

In many stories, culture is HUGELY important. Even if your characters don’t go up against it directly, the culture in which they are brought up is going to influence just about everything they do, be it in protection/defense of their culture, or in spite of, or even against.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Imagine a character brought up in a safe, secure mansion whose practical world experience doesn’t go beyond the opulent, manicured courtyard of the home. His careful parents, mindful of their wonderful child, have sequestered him in their luxurious home and shower him with gifts and tutors and just about anything tangible he could want. His only other means of travel is through books. A character could remain there and be happy in that environment, only there’s no conflict in it, and the culture of security/luxury/protection is window-dressing to some other conflict presented in a story. Or it’s just a damn boring story where nothing happens (and yes, there are too many of those out there).

OR…

This kid could have it all but still feel like he’s missing out. He wants to travel, to see the real world (or at least what he thinks is the real world) through his own eyes, as he’s tired of all the servants following him around making him learn math and science and take baths. That’s creating all kinds of conflict, as he’s at odds with the culture he knows, and seeks to escape it somehow.

There’s also a place for a good-culture-threatened. Say we take the first character that has their world of security and opulence and is suddenly wrenched from it, or it’s destroyed outright. They’re going to fight to get it back. They might be turned into a slave, or have inherited debt and now can’t just live in their accustomed culture but work for it, which is a new thing.

In both cases, the culture creates a workable conflict for stories.

The great news is that culture doesn’t have to be developed deeply for it to be useful in your world-building and in the creation of conflicts. After all, how many of us can describe in detail our own cultures? Yet we still live in them, or in spite of them.

Let’s say you really don’t have anything else planned just yet, no characters, no language. Culture is an easy one to start with. Why? Because it’s really based on a concept of values and/or fears.

So you ask yourself: what three things (physical/concrete things or concepts) does your culture value/fear the most? Note: this is not generally what the character values most. We’ll get to that.

In the example above, I used SAFETY/SECURITY, LUXURY, CHILDREN.

In this culture, since Safety/Security is important to them (and we will expand “them” to mean the whole society, not this one family, for the sake of the example) and so they will have spent resources to develop a place for themselves that is safe and secure. Possibly by means of an efficient, large security force, either a military or police (depending on where/who they perceive the most threat is coming from). They may even have very restrictive laws, if the idea of “liberty” isn’t very high in their value system, which is doesn’t seem to be considering how sequestered they keep their child. They live in luxury, which could mean that they were either producing something of extreme value, were shrewd traders or they used that military/police force to seize the resources of others to fuel their lifestyles. And their children are kept behind closed doors, in protected spaces, given anything they want (generally not a good thing, the kind of treatment that turns kids into entitled snowflake monsters).

This could end up being a very dystopian culture, and definitely one where the kid not only dreams of getting out, but of finding a way to change it or escape from it to go where he wants to go and do what he wants to do. And you can see on each level what kind of fight he’s going to have – his parents, for one, who’ve “sacrificed” for him. The society itself, which strains to protect children, especially from themselves.

Whew! That’s a lot of ground already covered and I haven’t even started. But to get you started, try to come up with those three concepts and you can start building around that. Next week, we’ll take those three concepts and build something else that may be vital for your world: a pantheon.

So, tell me below what you came up with for your concepts and the conflicts you can build.