This is the first in a series of world building tips! Today’s theme is analogues. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 1, “Why Build a World?”, from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).
Tip #1: “Use Analogues”
An analogue is a world building element that has a corresponding version on Earth. Maybe we create a country modeled on Japan, using cultural and physical elements so that we don’t have to invent all of it from scratch. This shortcut helps us create realistic items for our world but has a caveat of being less interesting and original. Use wisely and you can save time and effort.
Tip #2: “The Rule of Three”
It’s more of a guideline than a rule, but when using an analogue, it’s a good idea to make at least three major changes to it so our audience doesn’t immediately recognize it. A large, four-legged, pack animal with big tusks, floppy ears, and a trunk is obviously an elephant. What would you change to make it seem new?
Tip #3: “Don’t Use Names Poorly”
Avoid using a familiar name for something that’s very different. If you call something an elf, people expect pointed ears and a preference for forests. Failure to follow certain expectations will make them assume you don’t know what you’re doing. Use a new name if you’ve changed anything fundamental.
Tip #4: “Mix and Match Analogues”
We can combine elements from different analogues to help obscure where we got the idea. Take staple foods from one land (like rice and fish from Japan), culture from another (like Nazi Germany), and the typical appearance (including clothing) of people from a third (an African tribe). Look at the Earth like a buffet from which you can create a unique meal.
Tip #5: “Make It Worth It”
Audiences have short memories, so we should keep an analogue easy to describe and remember. This is aided by making the changes significant. Adding two extra legs to a horse may not be worth it, especially if all of the horses are that way. It’s not like the six-legged kind are faster than the four-legged ones that don’t exist in your world. Make the alterations relevant or leave it like the original.
Summary of Chapter 1—Why Build a World?
While world building is expected in many genres of fantasy and SF, we must decide how many worlds to build. This will depend on our career plans and goals. Learn the advantages and disadvantages of building one world per story vs. one world for many stories, and when to take each approach. Sometimes doing both is best, allowing for greater depth in one world but the option to step away to keep things fresh. Using analogues can help us create believable societies quickly but has pitfalls that can be avoided. Do you have the ability to create many interesting worlds, and will they have enough depth to make the effort worth it?