5 Tips for Creating World Figures

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Jun 132017
#authors can learn how to create #heroes and #villains in #fantasy and #scifi when #worldbuilding. These 5 tips are extracted from CREATING LIFE (THE ART OF WORLD BUILDING, 1). Read more at www.artofworldbuilding.com5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #4): World Figures

This is the fourth in a series of world building articles! Today’s theme is world figures like heroes and villains. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 4, “Creating World Figures”, from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Decide Who the Heroes and Villains Are”

There are many types of world figures, some hated, others revered. In your world, what kind of people make good figures to reference? Warriors, explorers, inventors, and leaders come to mind. Determine what they did and what they’re famous for by deciding how you’re going to use them. As characters? Someone to mention?

Tip #2: “Determine Their Status”

Living figures provide ongoing opportunities for new fame, but dead heroes tend to be more revered. If they’re alive, decide what they’re doing now. Retired? In hiding? Imprisoned? Read Creating Life for more ideas.


Tip #3: “What Items Did They Have?”

Whether the figure is alive or dead, they might’ve had cool items, including ships or steeds, that are lost or in the wrong hands. This is a great way to make these figures still relevant if current characters have their weapons and armor, for example. Invent some items and reasons they’re famous. What can they do that others can’t?

Tip #4: “Who Were/Are Their Relatives?”

So often, the relatives of world figures aren’t mentioned at all, as if everyone was born in a test tube and raised by no one. Determine who their relatives are, including descendants, and how they feel about this figure. Don’t forget that every species probably has a different opinion on this guy, too; he might be a villain to one and a hero to another.

Tip #5: “Where Did They Learn?”

Most famous people have special skills. Where did this guy get his? This can be important if he was a villain who killed his master for knowledge, for example. A hero might’ve inherited knowledge from a mentor grooming him for great things. These aspects characterize our figure and make them “human.”

Summary of Chapter 4—Creating World Figures

Villains, heroes, and more give our characters admired or despised individuals who’ve shaped the world and inspired them. Using Earth analogues can speed the invention of such world figures, though it’s best to change some details to obfuscate the similarities. Living figures can provide ongoing usefulness but the deceased can cast a long shadow, too. Their possessions can be just as famous and offer opportunities for our characters to find something helpful or dangerous. Family, friends, and enemies also provide ongoing possibilities for their life to impact our current characters.

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5 Tips for Creating Species

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May 302017
#authors can learn how to create #species in #fantasy and #scifi when #worldbuilding. These 5 tips are extracted from CREATING LIFE (THE ART OF WORLD BUILDING, 1). Read more at www.artofworldbuilding.com5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #3): Species

This is the next article in a series of world building tips! Today’s theme is species. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 3, “Creating Species”, from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Decide Whether to Create Them”

Some SF and even fantasy (like Game of Thrones) has nothing but humans, so you may not need to invent a species at all. Or you might be writing a genre with public domain races you can use, like elves. We can do a mix of these, using the latter while inventing a few of our own, but this has risks, too. Read Creating Life to understand why and how to manage them. The best reason to invent is arguably that you have a great idea.

Tip #2: “Decide If They’re Species or Races”

We have leeway to call our humanoids species or race, but it might be best to use both terms and create a hierarchy that makes it easier to understand relationships. Decide which ones inherited DNA from others or which ones developed on their own, or were independently created by the gods. This is fundamental to creating relationships. Volume 1 explains how to structure humanoids for the best of both worlds.


Tip #3: “Determine How You’ll Use Them”

A race that’s just a monster in the woods is easier to create than one that must have a full culture and stand alongside classic races as a well-developed humanoid. Consider how your invention can be used to discover benefits and limitations that you can either accept or overcome. Maybe the “monster in the woods” version isn’t allowed in cities, so you create a tamer race that is accepted; this can cause complexity, realism, and fun plot points as characters aren’t sure which one they’re dealing with until too late. See Creating Life for more ideas.

Tip #4: “How Integrated Are They?”

A species that keeps to itself in mountains or forests will have different attitudes about others than one that gets around. Is it realistic that they’re so isolated? Invent a good reason if so, such as troubling history with others. Consider having them frequently live among humans and others, as this can create even more conflict than hiding away. A tension is where stories lie.

Tip #5: “Determine How Environment Affected Them”

Like dwarves, anything living underground is bound to be short. A forest dwelling species might not run well, while one on the plains likely does. Physical adaptations are probable unless the race lives everywhere, like us. Once this is decided, we can determine how that environment affected their culture, too. Giving thought to this makes our species more cohesive.

Summary of Chapter 3—Creating a Species

Audiences are familiar with using “race” to distinguish between humanoids, especially in fantasy, but species may be a more appropriate term. This chapter explores the meaning and implications of both words, with some examples of which one to use, when, and why.

Creating a species is challenging and time consuming, but the risks and rewards can be navigated and achieved, respectively. This chapter helps us decide on our goals and if the effort is worth it. SF writers might have little choice but to create species because there are no public domain species available like the elves, dwarves, and dragons of fantasy. The benefits of creating something different can outweigh the investment and help our work stand out.

An invented species must compete with legendary ones like elves, dwarves, and dragons; this chapter helps us achieve this. Starting with habitat helps us decide on physical adaptations that affect their minds, outlook, and society, and what a typical settlement might be like and even whether or not they live in jointly formed settlements. Their disposition affects their relationships with other species but can also limit their usefulness to us unless steps are taken to avoid this. Characteristics like intelligence, wisdom, and dexterity all play a role in how they can be used in our work, as does their society and world view, both affected by a history we can invent to integrate them with our world. Their familiarity with the supernatural and technology influences their prominence and how they compare to other life in our world.

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5 Tips for Creating Gods

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May 162017
5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #2): Creating Gods

This is the next installment in my series of world building articles! Today’s theme is deities. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 2, “Creating Gods,” from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Decide Whether to Create Them”

A story that doesn’t need gods frees us from inventing them. That might change if the setting is a world we’ll use often, as a religious character would crop up sooner or later. But single-use worlds can get away without deities, though it’s arguably better to just create a lone god and skimp on details or a pantheon. If you don’t have a feel for what to do, skip this…or read Creating Life to gain ideas.

Tip #2: “Science Doesn’t Eliminate Religion”

A popular theory states that with more science we have less religion, but look at our own world to see how much of it still exists despite all of our accomplishments. Science may explain things that were once held to be of divine origin, but beliefs persist. Your world’s inhabitants will still believe in a higher being, most likely, even if you decide not to comment on it.


Tip #3: “Are the Gods Real?”

In fantasy, deities are typically real and sometimes put in an appearance. SF often doesn’t mention the gods, but if so, they seldom show up. Decide if the world’s gods are real and whether they interfere in events. What are some famous incidents and consequences? Read Creating Life for ideas.

Tip #4: “Mix and Match Analogues”

If we create a detailed setting we repeatedly use, gods are one of the subjects we need to invent only once because they exist outside the scope of our current story and can be reused. This is one reason to create one more highly developed world. One detailed pantheon can be more entertaining and be a common theme across stories. Why create pantheon over and over?

Tip #5: “Use Analogues”

We can borrow gods of various Earth pantheons and alter them to fit our setting. This helps us get started. At the least, we can create a list of gods and their attributes and then start mixing and matching what we like to create our versions, like Dr. Frankenstein creating gods.

Summary of Chapter 1—Creating Gods

Our species will invent gods to believe in even if we don’t invent them, so we may need some deities for people to reference in dialogue, whether praying or swearing. In SF, belief in gods may still exist despite, or even because of, advances in science. In fantasy, priests often call on a god to heal someone, and this requires having invented the gods. Pantheons offer advantages over a lone god, including dynamic relationships between them and the species. Half gods and demigods are other options that help us create myths and legends to enrich our world, especially if gods can be born, die, or be visited in their realm.

Myths about how the gods or species came to exist help people understand the purpose of their lives and what awaits them in death. Symbols, appearance, patronage, and willingness to impact the lives of their species all color a pantheon and world. Gods also create places people can visit or items that can fall into the wrong hands, offering possibilities for stories.

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5 Tips for Using Analogues

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Apr 012017
#authors can learn how to use analogues without getting caught in #fantasy and #scifi when #worldbuilding. These 5 tips are extracted from CREATING LIFE (THE ART OF WORLD BUILDING, 1). Read more at www.artofworldbuilding.com5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #1): Analogues

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?

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