What makes your world your world
Rebecca Mikkelson, Editor-in-Chief Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Well, hello there. Welcome back to us talking about world building. If you missed it last year, you can find all of what we’re talking about in further detail here, but we’re just going to be hitting just the highlights in this post. For the sake of brevity, I want to cover what I think are the five most important things to think about when you start your world building.
The first thing you need to do when starting your world building is in the name: the world.
The top three things I always advise people to think about when creating just the basics of their world are what kind of people they’ll have, how time works, and what kind of land they’ll have. The latter is absolutely the most important. This is where you’ll decide if you’re going to have an earth-like environment or if you’re going to have something completely different than what we know. This could mean anything from odd plants and animals to literally living in space on a different planet, moon, or even in a different solar system.
As for your people, that can vary as easily as your planet. You could have all animals as your cast, fantasy creatures such as elves and dwarves, or you could stick to plain ol’ humans. Or you could have a mix of all three and see who kills whom first see who becomes the dominant species see what happens.
Lastly, because I apparently like to work in reverse order, how does time work in your world? This is important based on where you choose your location. Will your year be 365 days as it is on earth, or are you on another planet where one revolution around the sun is a single day and your people only live to be ninety days old? And how will time be marked? There are nearly as many calendars as there are countries in the world, so it’s truly a decision with no downside.
The land itself
Well...in some sections, you’re going to have extras snuck in that pertain to the main section, so you’re welcome for being indefatigable. This is how we ended up with our original eighteen-part series on world building in the first place.
This decision is purely contingent on what type of world you choose (earth or not-earth). This is where you’re figuring out your geography, climate, and how they affect the local people, plants, and animals. If you’re living somewhere in the mountains, your resources and climate will not be the same as if you were living near an ocean or a desert. Knowing what your people will have to face will help you shape what your people will want, need, and thrive with.
As mentioned above, where your people live is going to affect what kind of climate they have and what they eat. If you’ve got people living in very fertile land, they can become a very rich people in terms of resources and not have to worry about how to feed themselves in anything other than very severe drought or epic natural disasters.
There are also several other things to think about with food: are there any sort of delicacies that only the nobility can afford to eat; are there any feasting days that are celebrated by all; and do the working class hunt for their own food so that they don’t have to pay as much out of their monthly wages—or even sell their game to make more money during the year?
This could easily get drawn into commerce and trade, but if you want to read about that, go ahead and follow the link at the top of the page because I promise if I go on too much longer, I’ll add every single subject I can in this blog post.
Governments, love them or hate them, are a necessary plot point. You might say, “But mine’s post-apocalyptic dystopian, there is no government!” Well, honey, that’s a plot point; why did your government fall? Was it an invasion or revolution ending with Madame Guillotine?
First things first, you want to figure out what kind of government you want to have. There are plenty of examples throughout history, and in the post where I’ve covered government before, you can learn about eight different types and find real-world and book examples of them. What’s also important to know is, what does your government actually do for your people? Do they keep the cities clean, or is that relegated to its inhabitants? Offer library services to aid in the education of its people? Lastly, you’ll want to think about what kind of legal systems are in place and how your governments make laws.
Government and politics go hand in hand. Love it or hate it, politics makes the world go ’round.
When it comes to your politicians, you’ll want to think of a couple of things: how long they stay in office, what kind of political parties that you have in your world, and what kind of foreign relations there are. Also, depending on the type of government you’ve chosen (read: monarchy), if you have any sort of political marriages that strengthen alliances.
Also depending on what kind of government you choose, the defense of the county comes down to the government’s discretion. Here in the United States, one cannot enter a war without congressional approval. (Laugh all you want; thems the rules, even if we do habitually break them.) However, if you’ve chosen a monarchy, particularly one set in the past where the delegation of power to duchies, clans, or whatever you want to write about was prominent, you can easily have wars the head government is not a part of.
Your time period will also dictate how wars are fought—guerilla warfare versus Napoleonic warfare versus chemical warfare versus siege warfare (there are a lot of types of warfare, okay? People be killin’ people since people existed), and on and on until everyone’s dead. You’ll also need to figure out what type of weapons will be used that are appropriate for the world that you built.
All of that is really to say: who decides who fights, who is in charge of it, and how do they fight?
Religion is a complicated and diverse subject that can take years of discussion without getting all the fine points hammered out.
What you’ll want to think about for your world is what kind of religion—if any—you want for your people. Will your world be dominated by a monotheistic god, or will you have polytheism present? Or both? You aren’t trapped in one religion, and it makes a story wonderfully rich and diverse if you don’t stick to just a single religion.
You’ll also want to think about how religion influences the ethics and values of your world. Your hackles might be rising at the last, saying, “You don’t have to be religious to have ethics and values!” You’re right; you don’t. However, oftentimes, they go hand in hand and influence far more of your day-to-day life, even if you aren’t a follower of that faith, than you think it does.
Our whole lives revolve around our cultures, whether we realize it or not. We have rituals for births and deaths and everything in between. We also have customs for how we generally treat people—everyone’s heard of Southern Hospitality—to how we greet them, and even how we visit with each other. For every decision you make when it comes to daily customs and rituals, make sure that it fits the narrative of the culture that you want. You would not have a particularly aggressive culture doing dainty little rituals and vice versa, more subdued cultures having particularly brutal rituals.
Having magic in your world is a lot more complicated than just saying, “Let there be magic!” and then resting on Sunday.
There are several things that you’ll need to think about while creating your rules of magic. First, who can actually do magic? Is it just any old person, or are only certain people blessed with the ability? And, if only certain people can create magic, can a non-magical person use a magicked item, such as a curse or a magical gardening tool?
Next, you’ll want to think about the consequences of magic. Does the magic user have to draw the power from themselves—if they use too much, can they wind up dead? Do they have an opposing force against them while they cast so if they lift a bolder, will they end up sinking in the ground?
Lastly, how will your baby magicians be taught? Will there be covens of witches that each have their own brand of magic? Will you have a wizarding school à la Harry Potter? Is skill taught from parent to child? There are so many options you can choose from, but whatever you pick, make sure it fits within the world that you’ve crafted.
Speaking of education…
Education is an important part of society as a whole—it’s how we make advancements, and the more people who have knowledge readily available, the quicker that happens. There are four things you’ll want to think about while you’re implementing the education of your world: who is educated, who does the education, where are the people educated, and what is taught?
Depending on the time period you’ve gone with, only the upper class are afforded the right to an education. Will it be like that in your world? Will education be free for all, up to and including college? The time period can also determine who will be teaching and where students will be taught: historically, governesses and tutors would teach the rich in their homes until they completed their education, but your world can easily have state-mandated schools with teachers from all backgrounds.
All in all, for whatever world building you’re doing in your story, make sure that it serves the story that you want to tell.
Thanks for reading more than you bargained for, and join us next week when I talk about themes.
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