Friday, August 6, 2010

Building Realistic Worlds - Part IV

The Devil's in the Details

For fiction, we clearly do not have time to explore the endless nuances of a created world. There are only just so many pages of text to use when transporting our reader from their ordinary, mundane lives into a world filled with magical robots, or fire breathing elves, or whatever other amazing thing you’ve stuck in your head. We still have to tell the actual story somewhere in there. Knowing what details are noteworthy enough to put on page and which should be left in your stacks of notes is too big a subject for today’s article.

For the time being, I’m going to cheat a little and direct you to another site that will help you flesh out your world in ways you may not have thought possible. In August 2009, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) published an article (really a series of questions) intended to make you think about your world. This thought provoking list brings important details, big and small, into center stage.

Here’s a sample copied directly from the article:
  • How long have there been people on this world? Did they evolve, or did they migrate from somewhere/when else?
  • Are there non-human inhabitants of this planet (elves, dwarves, aliens)? If so, how numerous? How openly present? What areas do they occupy?
  • How do differences from Earth (multiple suns, moons, etc.) affect the climate in various areas?
  • How much conflict has been or might be caused by these imbalances in resources? How much active, peaceful trade?
  • Is magic legal here? All magic, or only some types? Do laws vary widely from country to country, or is the attitude generally similar?
  • What does this country import? Export? How important is trade to the economy? How is currency exchange handled, and by whom? What is the system of coinage, and who mints it?
  • What eating utensils are used, if any? Forks, eating knife, spoons, chopsticks?
  • What things, while edible, are never eaten (what’s not kosher)? Why? Are some common human foods poisonous to dwarves or elves (or vice versa)?
  • How do gestures and body language differ between countries? Between species? Are there things that don’t matter in one area that are mortal insults in another (eating with the left hand, etc.)?
  • What will people swear a binding oath by? What do people use as curse words?
  • What are the social taboos — what things are “not done,” like wearing a bathing suit to the office? What things are not talked about? What would happen if someone did? How do these taboos vary among the different races?Is population shifting from rural to urban, south to north, mountains to coast, etc.? Why — invasion, plague, gold rush, job opportunities, etc.? What effects has this had on the places being left? The places gaining people?
  • What do people at various levels of society do for fun?
  • How many people usually live in a typical house? How large is a typical house?
  • Are cities generally laid out on a square-grid system of streets, or do they just grow? How wide are the streets and alleys?
  • How are farming/food-producing areas divided up between humans/nonhumans? What kinds of conflicts are likely to result? (Example: Expanding human farms encroaching on a forest that dragons or werewolves use for hunting.)
  • What is the level of literacy in the general population? Is literacy considered a useful/necessary skill for nobility, or something only scribes/clerks/wimps/bourgeoisie need? How common are books? How are they produced?
  • Which days are general holidays or festival times? What do they celebrate? Are there any that are only celebrated in particular countries, cities, or regions?

The list goes on and on! I highly encourage you to check out the full article for yourself. If you can answer a significant number of these questions already, then you’re well on your way to master world building. If not, then this should give you something to think about.

Build safe and dream big!
Composite image of the Earth at night.

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1 comment:

Please play nice with others. Disrespect against any commentor (or me for that matter) may result in deletion of your comment. Disagreements are perfectly acceptable - just keep it civil.