A few things to think about when creating a new world (or editing your existing one)
I do apologize for the intermittent blog posting, life with an infant makes it difficult to get things done which aren’t necessary for survival, like blogs. Actually, life with an infant makes it difficult to think clearly on the best of days, without a couple cups of coffee first, anyways. I’ll be the first to admit that this post is a bit of a jumbled mess, it’s meant to get the gears going, think about what you will need to start up. You know, what with Nanowrimo around the corner.
Gods, that’s exactly a month away today. This will be the first year I don’t feel “ready” for this challenge.
Anyways, here’s a topic which spans pages upon pages, on which people write novels about, dedicate websites to, cry over while drinking wine, and have tons of journal entries trying to figure out what exactly what they’re doing. If anybody can truly claim to know what they’re doing nowadays.
There are websites, of course. If you head over to the NaNoWriMo Website and check out their forum you’ll find plenty of links which will guide you and provide you with questionnaires which will assist you in discovering your brand new world. Or have you tearing out hair in a sudden fit of helpless rage. Whichever.
See, the thing about world building is that it can be as complicated or as simple as you want, span ages and civilizations, or you can simply concentrate on one culture or lifestyle. No matter what you have in mind, whether it be grand quest or a tale told within city limits, in the end it has to be believable. You can’t suddenly add technology if your established world is a medieval or amazonian society. Well, I mean you can, Anne McCAffrey did exactly that in her Dragonriders of Pern series, but it has to make sense. (In this case, the original settlers were from outer space, so this explained the spacecrafts alongside dragons. If you’re at all curious, go and read the series, you won’t be disappointed)
Everything affects how you characters react to the world around them, from the available wildlife (dragons, cows, whales, giant scorpions, aliens) to the religions practiced by the people to the climates they live in. Here are some questions that might spur a thought or two:
Does your character have to stop at dawn and sunset to pray? Are they workaholics and amazing most of the week, but come the seventh day (or ninth, or third) they laze about and flip the bird to anyone who asks for help?
What do they eat? Rice? Gruel? Giant scorpions? Babies? Sunlight?
Is there a monarch? An Emperor? A tribal chief? A council of elders? A group of eight year olds who are wise beyond their years? Who exactly makes the decisions for the realm, who orders the grain, who cooks the food?
What do your characters live in? Houses, castles, straw held together by dung? Do they believe in slavery? What is a woman’s role in society? Are they equals? How does your society view same sex relationships? And no, here isn’t where you tell me you’re trying to be historically accurate and therefore women belong barefoot and pregnant and all individuals who don’t fall in the heterosexual category are doomed, because unless you’ve personally visited your world, which happens to be this imaginary place you are currently creating that doesn’t exist anywhere else but in your mind, and they told you same sex marriages are unacceptable and women (the only sex capable of reproducing, unless you changed that about your people too) are somehow lesser beings, then you’ve got nothing. Nada. You have the credibility of the hole inside a donut. You are creating a whole new world with a whole new set of rules which don’t have to mirror our history or the beliefs of any time period. Dare to be different!
For the Shadows of Sylvara series, I decided that not only are fairy women on equal footing with men when it comes to opportunities and skills, but same sex relationships are so mainstream that no one blinks an eye at them. Now, will I do this with every culture/race on this world? Likely not. It wouldn’t do to make every single culture think the exact same way. But will I have characters that push the envelope in each of those races, challenging beliefs and rising above? Probably. It creates conflict and conflict is what makes the tale so interesting.
Another thing to think of is whether or not the children are likely to follow in their parents footsteps. Do they have an option aside from the family business? Can they become apprentices elsewhere, go outside of their guild? Or is the army the only way out?
What about the poor, the orphaned, the mentally unstable? How are those with low status (not nobles, not rich) regarded? Are the respected as the backbones of society or do the higher ups snub their noses at them? Just a few more things to think about.
As for the climate, you obviously can’t have a dessert culture worshiping an ice queen, or a people from a frozen land worshiping the sun as the lead deity in their belief systems. Not only that, it affects their clothing choices, housing, how they prepare food (wood in the dessert, I don’t think so. Dung is more likely to be used as a fuel source) and everything else in between. Are they diurnal, nocturnal, or something in between?
Now, get on out there, fill out questionnaires, think about your world. Even if you never use some of these facts, they might still affect a character’s attitude/way of looking at things. If you drop a person from the far north in the middle of a mountain range, would they be prepared to face the challenges it presents? I could go on forever with these what ifs and hypothetical situations, but then you’d spend all your time reading this post and none of it brainstorming your world.
And, as always, don’t forget to write it all down. Our memories are fickle things that only work when it suits them, such as in the middle of the night when you’re trying to sleep or in the middle of a busy meeting. If you don’t jot down those fleeting moments as they appear, you’ll lose an idea that may possibly propel your story into the realm of believability and could ensnare your readers imagination for the duration of the novel.