news Archives - The Art of World Building
Feb 032021
5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #10): Other Systems

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is other systems. You can read more in Chapter 10, “Creating Other Systems,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).

Tip #1: “Simplify Monetary Systems”

Audiences don’t care about our monetary system or want to remember it. We’ll seldom be mentioning it anyway. In the U.S. we just say “dollars” and “cents,” never mentioning pennies, nickels, etc., so do the same in a fictional world. It can even be smart to say that an $100 item here is a 100 credit item in SF, for example. Why figure out what everything is worth?

Tip #2: “Invent Some Crimes”

In a world with magic or new tech, we have crimes unknown to us on Earth. This is a fun imagination exercise, including deciding punishments. Be reasonable about why the laws exist and find ways characters can be constrained by them or run afoul of them. This is likely with traveling characters.

Tip #3: “Know Your Units”

In commerce, units of weight mean the amount of gold, for example, determines the value. But units of value mean the item has no value beyond what’s printed on it, like paper money; the paper itself is worthless. Units of value become worthless when the government backing them collapses and may not be present in fantasy settings as a result.

Tip #4: “How Educated Is Everyone?”

In fantasy settings, educational levels tend to be lower, as in the 1500-1700s on Earth, while SF often suggests people are more educated, but they needn’t be. Ignorant people can drive a car well, and maybe they can fly a spaceship, too, especially if it has an A.I. they just need to command. Either way, we should work out how much education is expected and whether characters met that expectation or not.

Tip #5: “How Informed is Everyone?”

Regardless of education, information flow can be compromised. In fantasy, it’s typically word of mouth and prone to some inaccuracy. In SF, it might be better, but that’s assuming people have access to data; they may not, and for our story needs we can choose how ignorant they are. This helps us create biases that place them at odds with those who bring more info, creating conflict. This is a good reason to restrict information flow in both genres.

Summary of Chapter 10—Other Systems

Other systems exist in our setting and warrant development. Education systems will determine opportunities available to characters, including employment. We’ll examine educational systems and their impact on employment, plus where and how people are getting educated or being disqualified from it. Health systems include medical and mental, and they range from great to terrible, each having significant impacts on lives. Information systems aren’t just for SF, because fantasy settings need to disseminate information, too, and have their own ways of doing so. Understanding monetary systems and how to keep them simple is another focus and includes how to determine the value of time, labor, and materials. And no world is complete without laws, crimes, and punishments, so developing a legal system is a critical world building task we breakdown into a manageable task.

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Patreon Reward – Ep. 24

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Jan 052021

The latest reward for the Knight Tier of subscribers on Patreon is now live: PDF download of “The Art of World Building Podcast Transcript – Ep. 24”

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5 Tips – Names

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Jan 052021
5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #9): Names

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is names. You can read more in Chapter 9, “Creating Names,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).

Tip #1: “Avoid Apostrophes and Hyphens”

The use of both is cliched. If doing this, make sure most names from that culture are the same so that it doesn’t seem like we’re just trying to be exotic, which is how this got a bad reputation. The hyphens are caused by concatenating a mother and father’s surname. An apostrophe replaces missing letters and we can easily live without doing that.

Tip #2: “Keep Names Short”

Long names are a way to distinguish one race from another, but no one likes trying to sound out Limineraslyvarisnia, for example. However, such names can exist, so if we do this, only use that long version once and shorten it for the rest of the book, such to “Limi.”

Tip #3: “Alter Existing Words”

We can take words we see around us and remove or replace letters and syllables to make new words. We can add prefixes or suffixes. We can substitute vowels. These techniques are fun and effective.

Tip #4: “Surnames Sources”

We can use places, occupations, nicknames, and first names for “last” or surnames. This helps us reuse places and names we’ve already created. Places can imply a character’s origins, but some, like “Hill,” are too generic for that. Professions can imply at least their parent’s background, such a blacksmith getting the last name “Smith.”

Tip #5: “Avoid Name Generators”

There are free online programs that can create names for us with a button click. A quick search will turn them up. But they tend to feel impersonal and when we need multiple names, these programs are unlikely to create ones that seem to fit together.

Summary of Chapter 9—Creating Names

Many techniques exist for creating names of people, places, and things, and all of them leverage our creativity to make the results and process more satisfying than using name generators, which are also discussed. Caveats and pitfalls abound, for while a great name elevates our story, bad ones turn off audiences, or keep them from talking about a character with an unpronounceable or unspellable name. We look at the differences between given names, surnames, compound names, and different ways to leverage parts of our invented world for all of them. The tips in this chapter will make this required activity fun and rewarding.

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Patreon Reward – Ep. 23

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Dec 082020

The latest reward for the Knight Tier of subscribers on Patreon is now live: PDF download of “The Art of World Building Podcast Transcript – Ep. 23”

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5 Tips – Languages

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Dec 022020
5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #1): Languages

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is languages. You can read more in Chapter 8, “Creating Languages,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).

Tip #1: “Read Books”

There are several books on how to create a language, including The Art of Language Invention (italics) by the guy who created Dothraki for Game of Thrones (italics). Reading this will convince you this is doable or not – and what you need to know if doing yourself or even hiring someone else to do it.

Tip #2: “They Can Be a Distraction”

No one but us understands these words and they can distract a reader. Even those who take the time to sound them out have been pulled out of our story while they do so. We may want to just avoid this altogether.

Tip #3: “We Have Three Options”

We can ignore language creation, we can make up nonsense words as we go along, or we can create a real language to one degree or another. The only people who’ll really know which we did are conlangers, a small group of people whose opinion might not matter to us!

Tip #4: “You May Coach a Narrator”

If you hire someone to create an audiobook for you, you’ll need to coach them on how to say everything unless you do the book yourself. Make sure you can say everything yourself if this might happen.

Tip #5: “Hire a Pro”

The Language Creation Society’s (LCS) site at makes it easy to hire an expert for as little as $100 US or up to $800. The difference is how much they give you. But understanding what we’re getting may require reading those books I mentioned.

Summary of Chapter 8—Creating Languages

Creating a language is one of the most challenging aspects of world building, but it’s also one of the few that we can outsource; how and where to do so is discussed. Even so, some basic terms must be understood so we know what we’re buying and receiving from our expert. If we choose to do it ourselves, we should consider whether it benefits our audience and how, or whether it’s even a burden that we can save both them and ourselves. This chapter will not teach world builders how to invent a language because there are entire books on the subject, and those are referenced here, but it will discuss the pros and cons of constructing a language and what we lose by not having one (or more).

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Workbook Coming

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Nov 102020

The Art of World Building Workbook is being created now and I’m determined to get it done before the holidays for those of you wanting a present, or a gift to give to the happy world builder in your life.

The book will come in two editions: fantasy and sci-fi. Click the link for more details.

Patreon Reward – Ep. 22

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Nov 092020

The latest reward for the Knight Tier of subscribers on Patreon is now live: PDF download of “The Art of World Building Podcast Transcript – Ep. 22”

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5 Tips – Items

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Nov 042020
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.

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