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As some of you may know, I recently attended a Discord convention for writers called 'SaScon' (Scribes and Scribblers is the parent server for it) and I took some extensive notes for the panels and learned a lot about how to teach people these things, and I've expanded a little bit on the things I talked about in "World Building |". So, I'll be sharing my notes and new experience with you today!
How to start worldbuilding:
1. People behave like people, no matter what their world is like.
2. Ask yourself why certain things in your world exist and what would bring about their creation. What purpose was it created to serve, and what purpose does it actually wind up serving.
3. Craft societal rules and systems. Think about the real world and how it works. Why are certain rules created, and why/how they both work and don't work. It's useful to think about more ridiculous rules that are in place, which on the surface seem silly, but their purpose is functional. For example, in the United States Utah, there's a law that it's illegal not to drink milk. Hilarious right? Its actual purpose is to force schools to provide milk during school lunch.
4. Study History - Real history is the best source material for just about anything you can think of. Religion, government, war, resource fighting, etc. It's the best way to learn how to mold things in a way that makes the world make sense. History can help you figure out how things in the modern age came about and how they would likely progress.
This doesn't you have to become a historian (although by the end you might be lol), you can include it as part of your research for your story. Say you've got a story about a kingdom that's going into a civil war, so you can look up how civil wars start (and there will be more than one answer to choose from), what drives a civil war, how do civil wars usually progress and end, what counts as a civil war and when does it escalate/evolve into something else, etc. Once you know how it works, it'll be easier to figure out how to manipulate your own pieces however you need them to be in order to achieve the goal you were after, and it can even help you figure out where your story is headed and warn you of possible road-blocks you might be spearheading yourself into that you didn't want to happen.
The real trick here, as some of you may have already guessed, is to think about real societies and how they developed, and consider as many facets as possible when creating your world.
Here's a good list of things to consider and questions to ask & answer about those things:
♣ Government & politics - Who holds the power and why? How do they keep it? Who controls what? How are the rules enforced? What are the punishments for breaking these rules? Who benefits from the rules and who doesn't?
♣ Religion - When you deal with things that are faith-based you want it to make sense, and try to keep in mind that people of different faiths will be reading your story.
Creating your own religion: Is your religion monolithic or paleolithic, what is its role/purpose in society? Does it affect their government and the powers of society? Is it a big part of daily life? Do their deities have real power in the world or is it purely faith-based? Do they pray to gods for everything like ancient Rome or is it a casual faith? What are the gods like? Are they most similar to Roman gods, Ancient Greece, the Catholic God, The Buddha, or are they more like mythos and legend, etc.
A good thing to consider if you're setting up more than one (which is a good idea because not all people believe the same things, even if they worship the same deity; think like Catholicism vs Mormonism) is that religions do not often see eye-to-eye and if they don't, there will be conflict.
One religion per species is a little unrealistic, but one religion per people (city, kingdom, etc) is perfectly believable and was often the reason for segregation among cities throughout history.
♣ Business & Industry - What do the people need in their daily lives? How do they get it? Where does it come from? Where is it produced? Who are the key players who control/provide these things to the people? How much power do they hold in society? What has value and why?
Resources & commodities. What is the currency? How does it work? (Example: Dwarves live underground so they have access to more minerals than anything, but might trade it for food). What's made locally and what is imported? Is it easier to import raw materials and make items internally or is it easier to have an entire internal system, or is it easier/cheaper to trade for the final products from somewhere else? What is contraband and sold on the black market? Why is it banned? Why do people still want it? What are different locations in your world known for? (Example: Hollywood California is known for entertainment, Watsonville California is the world capital of strawberries, Silicon Valley is known for tech, Las Vegas for gambling, etc)
♣ Entertainment - What occupies people's attention? Violence is a good place to start because it's instinctual, relatable, and tied to survival which means you get a satisfying high from winning, and almost every living on the planet does it. Another good way is by asking yourself what entertains you? What entertains other people? Sports ranging from violent to artistic like football vs gymnastics, reading, music, plays, various arts like painting or sculpting. Is there different entertainment for different strata of society, or are they largely obsessed with the same thing? For example, nobles may enjoy extravagant parties and commoners may enjoy street fights (or more often, it's the other way around; commoners enjoy parties and festivals because their lives are hard enough, whereas nobles enjoy brutal things because they feel safe & secure in their day-to-day lives; it's like thrill-seeking). How widespread is entertainment? Is there a financial barrier for some types of it that will affect the 'strata' that enjoy it?
Fun fact: Gladiator fights are one of the most remembered things about Rome, but it actually wasn't the most popular form of entertainment during that time. Chariot racing was.
♣ Language - Writing another language can be difficult but can add a lot of depth to a story. You don't need to create a whole new language like Tolkien (but I raise my glass to your ambition if you do), you can simplify it and just spice up your world's languages by creating 'slang', and if the ecology of the world is different from our own, your races will have words that we don't have. Writing an accent through a character's speech is not a good idea because it's too difficult to get it across without sound cues, but writing the way people enunciate or mash different words can be very interesting, just like how I did with Daryl in my story Sneaky; Writing 'gonna' instead of 'going to', clipping words like "them" to just, 'em. It works as a compromise between "proper" writing and showing that someone has a distinctive accent.
Pro Tip: Regions that are near to each other or have the same base language, will have some cross-linguism happening. They'll learn some of the lingoes from each other or at least know what it means, and often times their dialects will even share some words, and sometimes those words will have different meanings; which can create some fun misunderstandings to play with. Like British and American "pants" lol. Different regions will also have different forms of swearing, and it can be a lot of fun to come up with those; though you have to keep in mind that swears often come from discrimination and disrespect because the root of swearing is cursing people.
Some examples are, and I'm not gonna pull any punches here because it's important to consider where swears & slurs originate from because as bad as they are, they are things that happen and if you want to write a world that feels real, you have to be realistic, so be warned: Rakash - from the Styx video games; a racial slur for goblins, Mud-blood - from Harry Potter; meaning mixed-blood, Goram - from Firefly; meaning 'god damn', Fag - from our own world; and I don't think I need to explain the meaning, Retard; a slur against people with mental deficiency/disability.
I chose these examples because they each represent a different sort of discrimination and disrespect. Rakash: species discrimination, Mud-blood: racial discrimination, Goram: disrespect to a god/religion, and Fag: disrespect & discrimination against a way of life/state of being, and Retard: discrimination & disrespect against disabled and/or people with deficiencies.
This is also important for determining who is looked down upon and why; aka the flip-side of who has power and who they have taken it from/used it against.
♣ Societal Roles - Look at our own human history and not everybody is treated fairly. Use it as a basis for your societal roles. These roles can and should change as society changes, but each role fills a societal need. Warriors protect and attack, healers take care of the injured and sick, farmers produce food, craftsman make tools and resources for other things like glass for windows and tableware for eating, artisans enrich life and share their experiences and help to broaden people's horizons and ways of thinking, entertainers keep boredom at bay and make people happy; often raising morale which can have a big impact. All of these things fill a need and they all interlace with each other. When one of these things is lacking, the other things suffer for it. For example, without craftsman warrior's weapons aren't as good and make fighting harder, which results in injury. If there aren't healers then it creates high mortality which shrinks the population and constricts its growth; in the worst case, it can be the extinction of a people. This is also how needs can arise and new roles are created. If warriors are getting hurt and having a tough time fighting, then finding ways to make fighting easier will naturally occur, thus you get craftsman. If warriors are dying from their injuries and people are getting sick and the like, then naturally medicine and healers will emerge. These things will need to be recorded and passed down to the next generation, thus you get story-telling and artisans who specialize in sharing this knowledge and experience through various means, which then causes people to be creative and imagine things and you get entertainment, which reinforces morale and makes the warriors stronger through encouragement, and from there, you can get things like battle hymns and celebratory dancing, which creates faith in their teachings and ways of life, and that results in religion. An expanding society with a lowered mortality rate will result in the need to make more food, which creates farmers and agriculture and combined with healers artisans, and craftsmen can result in leaders who look ahead for problems, and scholars who come up with solutions and in the process create science.
Everything comes full circle, and one thing leads to another, but all things can reinforce each other and can cause problems if they aren't there. It's all rooted in filling a need.
♣ Military Operations - No two armies are exactly the same. Different societies will have different forms of combat, structure their soldiers differently, run their military camps differently, they'll have different equipment and tactics, they'll be at different stages of technology and their people will favor different forms of combat and terrain based on their heritage and locations. People who live in the desert will be more efficient fighting in the sand and drier places with hotter weather, than people who don't.
Take their weaponry into account, what it's made out of and how they would use it, and then consider how it would fair against weaponry that's not only different but made with different materials.
When doing battles and fights, you have to take a lot of things into account, like weather, terrain, time of day, conditions, the people's constitutions, and even luck. Consider who the odds are favoring in the fight, and what might tip those odds.
♣ Geographic Considerations - From an evolutionary standpoint, there's a reason our species has racial differences and why we look the way we do, and it's because of our ancestry. There are a lot of geographic considerations when you're crafting a society. People who live near the equator generally have darker skin and wear less or lighter clothing because of the higher temperatures and more sun exposure. Evolution determines that darker skin doesn't burn as easily, and where there is a need for our skin to not burn, it makes sense to have a defense against it. It's the same reason that some animals have fur and some don't. Food sources also play a role in geography and people, what are their staple foods? What clothing has developed due to weather and environmental conditions? Do they live in colder climates and have thicker clothes? Or do they live near the water or rain forests and have clothing that deals with moisture and camouflage? How dangerous is their environment and what is the chief environmental reason that people die? Now how do they deal with it?
♣ Other considerations: Food and drink; what do they have access to, including spices, and how does that affect their staple foods and flavors?
Wildlife and nature; what animals live nearby and how does that impact life? Animals make noises and leave footprints and traces of their living (mainly fecal matter and things like nests or dens).
Fashion; a way that precludes one's status in society the way priests wear robes and commoners wear tunics but kings and the rich wear jewels.
Crime & punishment.
Relationships; what are the societal standards and legal standards for a relationship.
Weapons; what kind of weapons do they have.
Architecture; what building materials are most common that the lower - middle class made out of; what are harder to get that the rich will make their homes out of; people build buildings to say something or serve a certain function.
Death, is an important one to consider; how do people honor their dead; how do people think about their dead.
Schooling; how does education work (are the parents the teachers, do they have classrooms, etc).
Level of tech; Technology changes so the level will often depend on how harsh the environment is, and how long people have been around in the area -- and whether or not they value knowledge and advancement or a primitive way of life (perhaps their religion deemed advancement to be a bad thing after a catastrophe and it has stunted the growth of society).
Housing, Travel, family; how do ppl feel about their family.
higher education; who has access and who is restricted by what.
Childhood/child-rearing; what is childhood like and how are the children raised.
Understanding the unknown; how do people in your society process things that they don't understand? Do they concede to panic and fear, do they get angry and attack, or do they become curious and investigate?
Are they progressive or stuck in their ways? Why?
♦Pitfalls to avoid:
If your world has something just because it's cool and for no other reason, cut it.
Changing rules after the reader knows the world. Don't change the rules after you established them. If you made a mistake, work with it, or find a way to make it so that the people were the ones who were wrong and discover that they were wrong, and then you can correct it. You have to play within the box you made, and sometimes that means getting crafty.
Inconsistencies. If something is important, put it in your notes and refer to your notes often. You have to be clear on the important points of your world, even if you keep it mysterious and unknown for the readers. You as the omnipotent creator of this world, have to know about it and know what's going on.
Research. Not doing your research will come back to bite you. It will. If you think of a question or don't know if something is possible/plausible, look it up. Find out. Don't just keep writing and hope for the best because that creates a point of failure in your structural integrity and your building will fall.
♦ Don't create things just to have them. Think about the history; how did this thing come about and why? Think about why people would use this thing. You can be basic and concise about it, but you need to at least have an idea.
♦ If you have passions, if you have things that you love and are excited about, it will translate to the words and readers will pick up on it. So, use it to your advantage where you can.
Last but not least, it's important to world build, but it's not the point of the story. So, don't spend more time world-building than writing unless it is the point. If you're writing just to create a world, then go ham; have at it, enjoy yourself.
The world-building is to help you tell the story and to serve the characters who live in it.
Your world-building serves your story. Not the other way around.
You can let the world grow around the characters, it will be less rich in the beginning, but can blossom later so that the reader understands. However, you should at least have a solid idea of it, going in.
Do what works for you. If you like having it all mapped out before you begin, do that. If you want to just flush out the one town it takes place in, do that. Though I would recommend at least having some overall stuff; like what kingdom/city/tribe they're in and what's generally around them, what society and day-to-day life around them is like. Establish what's normal for the people living there.
I hope you guys enjoyed this tip. I'm sorry it's so late into the month, it took some time to put together and I didn't have too much time for editing so pardon if there are any mistakes or if I droned on a bit in places. I hope this helps.