Friday, September 24, 2010

Words Come Alive

Build Your World

You have characters that knock your socks off, and a fast paced plot, but whatever atmosphere your story fills, dare we ask how to complete it with a consistent world?

Worldbuilding requires detailed attention that forms the landscape your characters inhabit. The world casts an umbrella of social beliefs and traditions that framed the character’s family before he was born. And that world’s system of housing, transportation or even food distribution will affect the movement of the plot.

So how do we create a checklist of items to consider as we erect our world? A starting point could be the science of the world. Which item appears drastically different in the story’s world? For example, let’s play with the idea that the story occurs on a planet without metals.

Let’s view this planet’s societies through that lens. Where do we go from that point? One idea might be to form a checklist and think of the letters representing Social, Political, Ideological, Cultural and Economic factors, or SPICE.

Without metals, the societies would not meet a Bronze or Iron Age. How would they develop writing with weaker stone tools? That problem would affect the growth of social groups. Would they find an alternative to stone carvings that allowed some members to communicate and then become a hierarchy? If the absence of metal promoted stone works to the most useful material, would communities grow around stoneworks?

The political development would depend on the way the society shaped from the agricultural transition from hunter gatherer. Would the weakened tools allow for a steady growth of farmers to support a city-state? What shape would that city take without metals? What weapons would the leaders use to maintain control? Would forces of spear carriers be replaced by sling-shooters?

The ideology of the society would be affected by the lack of metals. If stoneworks were the hardest material for construction, then mythology might develop around stone workers, or stone gods. Would valleys that lacked stone quarries form alternative religions? Much of Earth’s philosophy has emerged around the disagreement over whether people were naturally evil or good. Would the metal-less world discover a philosophy based on a knowledge of stoneware so that the people thought goodness or evil arose from a deeper understanding of rocks?

Cultures depend on art and music to further the aims of the society. Would the metal-less society find an alternative to paper since the cutting of trees for the resource would be more difficult than on Earth? Would the society find a grain that could be used as papyrus for writing material? If stones were reserved for the upper class or priests, then stones might not be used for popular music. The society might focus on reed instruments.

The economic world could face obstacles. The making and transporting of products would require new methods. Without metals, the axels of wagons would be difficult to construct. Wood could be used, but cutting trees would be a problem to overcome. Once axels could be fashioned, then systems of transportation could bring goods to parts of the society. But other methods of making goods would have to be designed. Without furnaces, would the society be able to reach the industrial age? Could they bypass it by constructing goods in another manner?

These considerations show many obstacles exist for a writer going through the thought process of creating a world. But writers could bypass the lack of metal if science allows a substitute. Could diamonds be discovered in a plentiful amount so people could construct tools from the gem? What if people found the ability to control EM fields through mental thought? Then the potential of controlling plasma could form tools and weapons. If people channeled wind currents, forms of wind shields could be developed to erect protection for homes or used for weapons against armies.

Worldbuilding requires thoughts and details that arise from thinking through the implications of how the science plays out on the planet. From that beginning, a checklist of concerns like SPICE acts to assist writers in finding those details. That way, the characters in a moving story can strike out in a more complete way to engage the reader.

- Tom Pope

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