22 December 2011

Aunt Noony’s Five Tips for Worldbuilding

1. Decide in which world you want to set your story. As Xakara mentioned in her post, ANY world in which we write, be it the “here and now” or the “once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away” has its own rules and customs. Once you’ve decided where you want your story to be set, ask yourself some questions on behalf of your main character:

a. How do they make their money? If they are supported by someone else, how do they make the money that supports your character? Are there taxes? Tributes to pay? What skills do they need to make a living?

b. How do they live? Do they have a house in a residential area? Are they on a ship with hundreds of other individuals? Underground?

c. What do they eat? If it’s not set on earth, how does the food get there? Who produces it, and how is it transported from producer to table?

d. How do they deal with the climate? What is clothing like? What are the buildings like? Human beings are fragile creatures but have many ways of mitigating environmental impacts. Describe how your character deals with them.

2. What rules govern relationships? Is there marriage? How does it work? How do kinship paradigms work? In some cultures, for example, adult siblings of the opposite sex are allowed to be friends with one another but with no other individuals of the opposite sex outside the family. What about rules regarding children? How are children treated in your world?

3. What kinds of organizations have sprung up? Is this a simple society with clan and maybe village government? Is this a megalithic society with governments and complex politics? How do roads get built, taxes levied and collected, money produced and invested?

4. As you develop the answers to these questions, it’s useful to create a document that accompanies your work but that can be used as an encyclopedia of rules for you. You can call it what you like, but make sure it includes lists of characters and their details, relationships, government notes, and notes on anything else that you need to keep in mind. For example, if you are building a werewolf society, then you might have a section in your document called “Werewolves” that details who’s in charge, how succession is handled, what colors the wolves are, etc.

5. Do people swear? This can tell you a lot about a society and culture. For example, if you set your world on a planet that doesn’t have a Euro-American Christian majority as the dominant paradigm, then “God” or “Dammit” probably aren’t common swearwords. If you create an Egyptian society, you might use “By Anubis’s teeth” or something similar. It’s useful to come up with several options, from equivalents to the “F” word all the way down to something minor like “crap” or “darn.”

If you’re still stumped, try answering the questions above using your favorite worlds. Some places to start would be Star Trek or Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series.

Have fun!
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