5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #7): Items
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is items. You can read more in Chapter 7, “Creating Items,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).
Tip #1: “Use Standard Forms”
Don’t be afraid to create magic items that are typical in form, like jewelry or clothes. Being able to wear the item minimizes the risk of loss and keeps it handy when it’s suddenly needed. This is a huge advantage, so while a magic ring is a cliché, that form of item is also helpful.
Tip #2: “Limit Their Powers”
For both tech and magic items, make sure they don’t solve a character’s problems perfectly or it’s too convenient. Something must go wrong. The battery in a tech item might have drained. A magic item can suffer a similar fate, a rationale being that whoever created the spell wasn’t powerful enough to make it better.
Tip #3: “Avoid Talking Items”
The infamous talking sword is a fast way to get mocked, and yet we have devices that talk to us now, not to mention AI in SF, where we can get away with it. But in fantasy, it’s still frowned upon without a good explanation.
Tip #4: “Marry Form to Function”
The purpose of an item doesn’t always match its form. The powers in magic rings, wands, and staves have little to do with their shape. This is often true of tech, too. When the purpose is more active, marry function to form, such as an arrow or sword designed to strike something.
Tip #5: “Invent Regular Items, Too”
Everyday items acquire significance by being associated with famous (or infamous) people and events, like a prophet, hero, villain, or royalty. We and our characters are less likely to make a big deal of these, but creating them fleshes out our setting. Besides, making a big deal out of everything is like having high drama every moment – it’s too much.
Summary of Chapter 7—Creating Items
Whether magical, technological, or more ordinary, memorable items exist in our setting whether we mention them or not. SF likely expects them, and fantasy often has at least one magic item someone has or covets in a story, but even ordinary items can be given significance through association with important people, places, or events. This chapter discusses how to invent their properties, origins, and form, and how to determine who is likely to use or want them. The creation of an A.I. is included.