news Archives - Page 2 of 11 - The Art of World Building

Podcast Episode 26 – Creating Religions

 news, Podcasts  Comments Off on Podcast Episode 26 – Creating Religions
May 192020
 

Episode 26: Learn How to Create Religions

Listen as host Randy Ellefson discusses how to create a religion, including its all-important history, beliefs, worship practices, and traits of those who belong to a religion.

Listen, Subscribe, and Review this episode of The Art of World Building Podcast on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, or Google Play Music!

In This Episode You’ll Learn:
  • Why you should start by creating its history
  • How to determine a religion’s beliefs
  • What a religion’s followers might be like and what they need to do to join, exit, or remain a member
  • What the clergy might need to do to join and their roles
  • Considerations for how people worship and the impact on story
Coda

Thanks so much for listening this week. Want to subscribe to The Art of World Building Podcast? Have some feedback you’d like to share? A review would be greatly appreciated!

Episode 26 Transcript
Intro

Hello and welcome to The Art of World Building Podcast, episode number twenty-six. Today’s topic concludes our discussion about how to create religions. This includes its all-important history, beliefs, worship practices, and traits of those who belong to a religion. This material and more is discussed in a chapter from Cultures and Beyond, volume three in The Art of World Building book series.

Do you want practical advice on how to build better worlds faster and have more fun doing it? The Art of World Building book series, website, blog, and podcast will make your worlds beat the competition. This is your host, Randy Ellefson, and I have 30 years of world building advice, tips, and tricks to share. Follow along now at artofworldbuilding.com.

The Religion’s History

First, I want to mention that you can buy the transcripts of these podcast episodes by going into artofworldbuilding.com.

When we do world building, we are often focused on the present and we only need to do a certain amount of work on the past, but this is different with religions because so much of what is happening within a religion is based on the founding of that religion. So, we really need to focus on this first. More often than not, when we’re inventing our religion, we want one that is relatively old. It’s only rarely that we’re going to have one that has just formed in the last 10 or 20 years. The reason for this, as you’ll see as we go along here, is that so much of what’s going on in religion is about the past. So, unless our story is really focusing on a new religion being created, how that happens and the things that cause it to spread, we probably want to default to our religions being several hundred, if not a thousand years old.

The longer that history, the more artifacts and scriptures and other things that exist. These are the things that our characters are going to think about and that we are going to use as a creator. So, if the history is very short, we don’t have nearly as much material to use. Every religion has to start somewhere, and the usual culprit is a prophet of some kind. This is someone who’s either speaking on behalf of a god or is believed to be doing so. This perceived authority is what gives their words weight. And, of course, that is part of why people will follow them. Although, in many cases, people will also follow because they liked the ideas that this person is saying. But generally religions attribute everything to a deity; that all of these ideas are coming from that god. Otherwise, you’re worshiping a man or a woman or whoever that prophet was instead of the god.

If you’ve already created gods, as we talked about in a previous episode, and in the Creating Life book, then you have a lot of your work already done for you, and this is going to help you figure out what religions might exist on your world. An important consideration there is whether your god is real or not. If the god is not real, then your characters can pretty much make things up as they desire. If the gods are real and there are multiple gods, that means you’re going to have multiple religions. And because each god is going to have a different personality or things that they care about, then that’s going to control what their religion is like as well.

Just because the gods might be real, that doesn’t mean that they’re actually going to interact with people or tell people to go ahead and create this or that religion. This could mean that even though the god is real, that god hasn’t communicated to a prophet, and someone who is claiming to be a prophet is not really a prophet. They’re just someone who is espousing the beliefs of that god even though they have not directly received any communication.

This is another option that we have when we are inventing a religion, and we can look at this person as a kind of false prophet because they are not the actual prophet from that god because the god hasn’t told them anything. This, of course, means that they might be getting it wrong and they might be creating a religion that is not officially sanctioned, and maybe things don’t happen as they would like, such as trying to call on that god, but the god just doesn’t answer because that’s what that god is like.

The predictable result is going to be something more along the religions that we have today because, generally, most of us accept that god does not show up and say, “Hey, everybody. Do this or do that.” People are interpreting the supposed word of god from one prophet or another from thousands of years ago. We have to go on faith that these people actually were speaking the word of god. Your characters will pretty much have the same situation if the gods are non-communicative. But if the gods do communicate and they are in control of what happens in this religion or giving direction, then this gives us a certain definitiveness to what is happening in that religion, and we can leverage this to make creating it easier for us.

Of course, if the god actually does answer prayers, that’s going to eliminate the need for faith because we know that the god is real, the god is doing things and we’re not just telling ourselves something that we want to hear. My personal opinion is that when there is no evidence and that people are just telling themselves what they want to believe, that belief can often be extremely strong. For example, you might have a really strong belief in god and the message of god, and therefore that’s very important to you. On the other hand, the existence of the sun is not something we need to believe in. That is a fact. So, therefore, none of us are really investing ourselves in the idea of the sun because it’s real. It’s always there. So, a god that is real is going to be the same thing. It’s actually there. It actually does things. So, people may not be as heavily invested in a god simply because it actually is real and they’re not having to tell themselves what they want to believe about it. That’s my personal opinion about that and you’re certainly free to disagree.

If you do agree, then you have a world with real gods, people might not be quite as passionate about those gods and their choice of religion. On the other hand, because the god is real and actually answers prayer, they might be really grateful that they know they can call upon this god. And if that god has actually answered their prayers, that can cause devotion in a different kind of way. From a practical standpoint, I don’t know that there’s really much difference, but I just wanted to mention this idea.

Prophets

Let’s talk about prophets. There are some basic details that we’re going to want to invent regarding this person. One of them is obviously their name. They may have a new name now that they are a prophet. We want to know their occupation before becoming a prophet, and whether they are transformed by the experience. We also want to know when it happened.

When a prophet became one is actually very important because this is going to determine things like holidays. Calendars can actually be based on the existence of this prophet, the same way that today we have everything based on the life of Jesus Christ. We also want to know where they became a prophet because this can result in holy sites, and sometimes those are contested. We also want to know how they became a prophet because this can generate relics, symbols, and rituals that are prevalent in this religion. We can keep these pretty simple, and I’m going to read an example of this from the book.

“In the year 12 AK, the horseman Vinson rode into the Dark Peaks in what is the modern day Empire of Amarysh. He emerged as the Prophet Kier, chosen voice of the God of War, Arion, whose golden sword he pulled from a petrified lluvien tree, whereupon he heard Arion’s voice commanding him to return and form the Blades of Arion, an elite force of mounted religious warriors.”

It only took me a couple of minutes to write this, and what we have here are several potential symbols, like the sword and a specific tree type, plus a generally holy area, as in those mountains. And then there may be a specific location there as well, and of course there could be a petrified tree there. Details like this can result in people doing pilgrimages to go to this location at certain intervals of our choosing. The type of tree can be associated with this religion as a symbol or as one that is actually planted at holy sites like a church. If you’re a practitioner, maybe you have one planted in your front yard. When our prophet became one, perhaps he was eating a specific type of fruit, and that has been seen as a harbinger of good news. So, this fruit is also associated with this religion.

All we have to do is make up a story with a little bit of details and then people assign meaning to those details. We’re also going to want to decide how long this prophet lived and when he died because this can also give us dates that we use in our religion. Did he die naturally or not? If he was killed, who did it? Why, how and when? How did the religion react to this and what did the dod do? The reason we want to invent these details is, once again, to create aspects of our religion that are going to come up in the course of our story.

We should also consider how our religion comes to an end, if it does. The world does not have to end for the religion to go away, and we have seen this on Earth many times. It’s important to note that, as we mentioned earlier, maybe the gods are not real and people have invented these religions. This makes it easier for the religion to go away. This is also true if the god does exist but has no part in the religion because he’s non-communicative. Why does that matter? Because, in both cases, people can lose faith in the gods, stop believing in them, stop talking about them and, essentially, the gods go away. Of course, if the god is real, he doesn’t actually cease to exist, but if we have invented the gods, they do effectively stop existing.

There are various reasons why people can lose faith in religion, and one of these is if there was some sort of foretold event that does not actually occur. Smarter religions don’t choose specific dates for something for exactly that reason. Some of the reasons people can lose faith include that other practitioners are hard to live with, the religion may be too hard to practice if it’s really strict, the teachings may be too hard to understand, the individual might resist submitting to an authority like that, and they may crave an experience that they are denied because they are part of this religion. In the end, all we need is for people to abandon a religion and it effectively dies.

More Resources

If you’re looking for more world building resources, Artofworldbuilding.com has most of what you need. This includes more podcasts like this one, and free transcripts if you’d prefer to read an episode.

You can also find more information on all three volumes of The Art of World Building series, which is available in eBook, print, and audiobook formats. Much of the content of those books is available on the website for free.

You can also join the mailing list at artofworldbuilding.com/newsletter. This gets you free, reusable templates from each published volume in the series. You don’t even need to buy the books to get these. I also send out contest information, free tips, and other stuff to help with your efforts. Please note I do not share your email address with anyone as that’s against my privacy policy, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Sign up today to get your free content and take your world building to the next level.

A Religion’s Followers

Let’s talk about the people who become followers of this religion. Many religions have no particular requirement for becoming a follower. If we’re looking to speed up our work creating a religion, this is one way to do that. We can just skip that altogether. People can also be a practitioner without ever going to church, praying or giving any outward sign of their faith. Although, this is going to depend on your religion. You might have a god who demands some show. If we do want there to be requirements, there are some options such as donations of money, food or possessions. We could make visible adherence to any requirements for the way they dress, how they prepare, whether they eat or drink (or avoid eating or drinking) certain kinds of food and alcohol, and then maybe we require them to do missionary work to spread the gospel of that religion.

Or, of course, one of our favorites is sacrifice. Whether that’s a lifestyle and prohibiting something and following that, or actually killing something or someone. You’ll know if you have a god who requires the last one. When people perform these acts, that tends to make them invest more heavily in their religion and become more devoted. If you want really passionate members of a religion, then have them be required to do more. If you want them to be less interested and less passionate, then you can make the requirements be less.

When it comes to leaving a religion or no longer practicing it, those religions that don’t have a formal admission process will probably also not have a formal way of abandoning their religion. But we could reasonably assume if it’s required that they do a lot to get into their religion, that they also have to do something to get out of it. Or there may be some sort of price, like being banned from entry into any holy sites thereafter. If the afterlife is real, well, then maybe they’re going to be denied it. The most severe price is, of course, being killed so that you’re not actually allowed to leave the religion. Instead of leaving voluntarily, you might also be expelled from it due to certain offenses, or you could be killed for those same offenses.

A stricter religion might forbid you from knowing people from other religions, or having friends like that, or lovers, or certainly having children among them. Why would we want to do this sort of thing? Well, because it adds a good tension to our characters if we have two people fall in love, but one of them is from this religion where they’re not allowed to do these things, and they try to live in secret, but then they get found out. It causes all sorts of problems, tensions, and they’re just living their life in fear of this and living their life around being discovered. And then, of course, if something happens, if they get found out, now they have to find a way to rectify the situation and deal with a religion that might be coming after them to punish them in some way.

World Building University

If you’d like to learn world building skills through instruction, I’ve launched World Building University. There you can find one free course you can take just by signing up, which has no obligation. Other courses are in development and available now. You can preview parts of every course, all of which include video lessons, quizzes, assignments, and sometimes downloadable templates that are even better than those found in the books.

To get your first free course, just go to worldbuilding.university.

The Clergy

The followers of religion are not the only ones involved in it, of course, because we have the clergy, and that’s what we’re going to talk about next. Just as with the followers, some religions will accept anyone as potential priests while others might have strict requirements. Maybe they need to be a virgin or maybe they need to have killed someone. It really could be anything, and that’s going to depend on the god. Some professions might be desired while others are actually forbidden. The ability to read and write is going to be desired, if not required, because these people need the ability to interpret scrolls and other written word. Unless, of course, those don’t exist.

Perhaps the ability to communicate with the god is required, or the ability to be a vessel of godly power in the sense of healing the living because the god has worked through you. This might be a requirement before you become a member of the clergy. It could also be an ability that happens after you become a member. Religions most often accept someone into it on a formal basis. You can’t just walk in off the street, walk up to the altar and start preaching to people, right? Once someone becomes a member of the clergy, they are often trained in more than one position. Not necessarily at once, of course, but in time.

Part of what I’m getting at is that there is a hierarchy and they will have to work their way up through the ranks. It is a good idea to decide what sort of hierarchy exists and do something about codifying that so that when you have a character who was a member of their priesthood, we have an understanding of how high or low they are in the food chain. I recommend borrowing some ideas from Earth, such as the pope, and then there are bishops, archbishops and then there are the priests who are more in charge of a local church or a shrine. And then, within each building, there are going to be people who are just kind of lower level where they just deal with more basic functions of church life. This could be something like a secretary or someone in charge of the paperwork.

We don’t necessarily have to come up with everything that allows someone to move from one rank to another because we may not need it. That said, there are some basic ideas such as someone above them in the food chain dying or being transferred to another position, so the position has been opened up, or that person could have been promoted and now this person is also promoted. There might also be service requirements, like you’re in a certain role for two years, for example. Or they may have performed a really good deed, whether that was on purpose or not, and this warrants recognition with the promotion. We should keep these simple.

An area not to overlook is whether there are saints, prophets or other religious leaders. Each of these people will have ideas similar to our original prophet that we were talking about earlier, meaning they may have a story to their life and what they did regarding this religion. That story could have produced more artifacts, more holidays, occasions and the other stuff that we can leverage in our storytelling. All we really need is for them to have exemplified some virtue of our religion by performing a deed in the past, and we can just quickly make these up.

Another issue is that a religion could have different sects that disagree with each other about interpretation of religious texts. This always reminds me of an idea in world building that sometimes we can’t make a decision between two different ideas, and I think we don’t have to. We can actually use both ideas. In this case, we would end up with two different sects of a religion. All we really need is for them to have a significant disagreement about important aspects of the religion. This is slightly more believable and easier to achieve if the gods are not real because that means people are making things up, and one a group of people will find it easier to disagree with another. But if the god is real and is actually directing the religion, I don’t know that we’re really going to have different sects unless each of them is sanctioned by the god.

This might be problematic, but the most likely idea that I can see is that one sect is specializing in certain aspects of this religion while another is focusing on different aspects. This would suggest that instead of being opposed to each other, they are working in conjunction to fulfill the overall god’s vision.

A related idea is what this religion’s relationship is like with other people. This includes various species, both genders and other religions. These are, once again, areas that we could invent or we could try to keep this pretty simple. I do think the one area you really should work out is how the religion views each species in your world and how those species have used the religion. The easy way to go about this is simply to compare the values of that species with the values of the religion. Are they in conflict or do they seem to match? Do they sort of match, but maybe the species has problems with some of the behaviors of the people in this religion? Maybe they sort of view the religion favorably, but have problems with some of those actions.

Subscribe

So let’s talk about how to subscribe to this podcast. A podcast is a free, downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go. To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone, iPad, and iPod listeners, grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes Store and search for The Art of World Building. This will help you to download the free podcast app, which is produced by Apple, and then subscribe to the show from within that app. Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right onto your device.

For Android listeners, you can download the Stitcher radio app, which is free, and search for The Art of World Building.

This only needs to be done once and at that point, you will never miss an episode.

The Beliefs

Let’s talk about the all important beliefs of this religion. There are some basic ideas that we probably want to decide on, and many of these will have something to do with the god. For example, where did the god originate and what does the god represent? What does the god want of the world, his followers and maybe even their enemies? How does the god want to be worshiped, or at least how do people believe that god wants to be worshiped? How does the god reward or punish people, and for what? How, and under what circumstances, does the god’s power manifest in the world? All of these ideas can help shape the behavior of practitioners. Generally, belief leads to behavior, so if we’re trying to decide how our followers act, we first start with the god’s virtues, then these beliefs, and then the behaviors of our religious people.

Beliefs are often centered on spiritual, mythological and supernatural elements of the god or the religion itself. The good part of this is that we get to use our imagination and make up little stories about things that have happened. We are basically talking about inventing myths. For each myth, we really just need a point that we are trying to create; a moral of the story. If it’s a god of love, we might want a story where we show the good things that happened to someone because they followed their heart. If it’s a god of greed, we might want a story where someone becomes a rich because they apply certain principles and they ended up with the result that the people who followed this religion hope to achieve for themselves one day.

Keep these stories simple and summed up in maybe a paragraph. The details that we add to this would be just like when we’re talking about prophets earlier. They could have artifacts that become associated with this religion. All we really need is a half dozen of these — not the artifacts, but these prophets and these myths — and we end up with a pretty detailed religion.

Review

if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate and review the show at artofworldbuilding.com/review. Reviews really are critical to encouraging more people to listen to a show haven’t heard of before, and it can also help the show rank better, allowing more people to discover it. Again, that URL is artofworldbuilding.com/review.

How They Worship

Let’s finish up by talking a little bit about how people worship. A more demanding god or religion might require people to show their faith more often, and that could result in something like daily prayers. A more relaxed religion and deity might have less frequent devotion. Choose whatever seems appropriate. One question to answer is about the location. Do they need to go to a church, a mosque or other religious site in order to worship or are they allowed to do it anywhere? When people pray, do they need to get into any specific position, such as kneeling, or can they do so standing? One way to decide these is how much deference needs to be shown. A demanding or insecure god might insist that people go out of their way to show that they love the deity, whereas one that is maybe more secure might not really care so much about how they go about doing it.

People might also be expected to stand or kneel on some sort of mat, and that might be required to be made out of a certain kind of cloth. What kind of cloth? Well, if our original prophet was wearing some sort of cloth or type of material, or using it in some significant way when they became a prophet, then that, in turn, becomes the kind of cloth you use when you are showing your devotion. Does the religion require anyone to observe fasting where they don’t eat for a certain number of days or weeks, or just give up certain amount of food — well, not the amount, but certain specific foods?

There may be specific prayers that are said on a daily basis, a yearly basis, or somewhere in between. If we want to keep this simple, we can just give them a name, like “the Lord’s Prayer,” and not even specify what is actually said. If we want to build it out more, then we go ahead and we write down the actual words that they say. How far to go is, once again, going to depend on what you need to do in your story.

It’s about time to wrap up this episode, and I do want to mention that in Cultures and Beyond I talk about a few things that I’m not covering here today. One of those is the name of our religion. It’s important to come up with a cool one. We’re also not going to talk about locations and identifiers, the afterlife and the combat style, if any, of the members of this religion. If you’d like to know more, I suggest picking up a copy at artofworldbuilding.com.

Closing

All of this show’s music is actually courtesy of yours truly, as I’m also a musician. The theme song is the title track from my Some Things are Better Left Unsaid album, but now we’re closing out today’s show with a song from The Lost Art called “Bach Minuets I & II.” You can hear more at RandyEllefson.com. Check out artofworldbuilding.com for free templates to help with your world building. And please rate and review the show in iTunes. Thanks for listening!

5 Tips – Cultures

 5 Tips Series, news  Comments Off on 5 Tips – Cultures
May 142020
 

5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #1): Cultures

Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is cultures. You can read more in Chapter 1, “Creating Cultures,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).

Tip #1: “Culture Clash is Useful”

Invent culture to cause conflict. Any time we need characters to have bad feelings towards each other, a culture clash is an easy way to create this. For traveling characters, it’s a virtual given. People are sensitive and judgmental. We don’t need people to have screwed up in a serious way, just offend someone in a trivial one.

Tip #2: “Understand Cultural Origins”

Values, beliefs, and morals are the origins of culture. These are ideas. And they manifest as rituals, habits, customs, art, music, and the use of language. We should therefore create those values, beliefs, and morals and then figure out how they manifest (that’s culture!).

Tip #3: “Consider the Government”

A sovereign power’s government greatly impacts culture from the “top down.” Consider how much freedom and control people have. Less means less variation at regional, settlement, and social group levels of culture. More freedom means more variation.

Tip #4: “Know What’s Valued”

While morals and values are slightly different, they can both be used to invent culture. A more high-minded society will value different traits (like dignity, equality, politeness, and tolerance) than a barbaric one, which might value self-reliance, courage, respect, and integrity.

Tip #5: “Determine Cultural Scope”

Are we creating culture throughout a kingdom, region, or social group? Culture trickles down, so what’s valued in the U.S. might be less valued on the East Coast, and more valued in New York City, especially in the punk rock scene. Determine what level we’re inventing culture for because it’s not uniform across all these levels.

Summary of Chapter 1—Creating Cultures

This chapter discusses the differences between a culture and a custom, and that morals, values, and beliefs underlie cultural aspects. A cultural vision should be based on these and inform all decisions subsequently made. World builders can determine the scope of an invented culture, as some are regional, or throughout a sovereign power. Cultural depictions have visible, audible, and performance aspects that can be defined. These include body issues such as body language, hair styles, gestures, clothing, and more. Greetings and farewells should be defined because characters will use them. Similarly, swear words, slang, expressions, and colloquialisms can be created to characterize interactions. The daily life of a culture is depicted in dining, bathing, sleeping, employment, and transportation rituals and behaviors, while pastimes, holidays and more create a respite. Even architecture can be influenced by culture.

Buy Now!

Podcast Episode 25 – Creating Armed Forces

 news, Podcasts  Comments Off on Podcast Episode 25 – Creating Armed Forces
May 052020
 

Episode 25: Learn How to Create Armed Forces

Listen as host Randy Ellefson discusses how to create armed forces like the army, navy and air force. This includes how to become a member of one, their ranks, and how they’re viewed by society.

Listen, Subscribe, and Review this episode of The Art of World Building Podcast on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, or Google Play Music!

In This Episode You’ll Learn:
  • How terrain impacts where armed forces exist
  • What special sites should exist for them.
  • The difference between various ranks and roles in the military (whether army, air force, or navy)
  • Why you should consider their place in society
  • How transportation impacts them
  • What to consider for how people join this military, including prerequisites
Coda

Thanks so much for listening this week. Want to subscribe to The Art of World Building Podcast? Have some feedback you’d like to share? A review would be greatly appreciated!

Episode 25 Transcript
Intro

Hello and welcome to The Art of World Building Podcast, episode number twenty-five. Today’s topic concludes our discussion about how create armed forces like the army, navy, and air force. This includes how to become a member of one, their ranks, and how they’re viewed by society. This material and more is discussed in a chapter from Cultures and Beyond, volume three in The Art of World Building book series.

Do you want practical advice on how to build better worlds faster and have more fun doing it? The Art of World Building book series, website, blog, and podcast will make your worlds beat the competition. This is your host, Randy Ellefson, and I have 30 years of world building advice, tips, and tricks to share. Follow along now at artofworldbuilding.com.

Location

Before we get started, I want to mention that if you would like to purchase transcripts of these podcast episodes, you can now do so directly from the homepage at www.artofworldbuilding.com.

The first thing we should worry about with armed forces is the location. The case can be made that the armed forces are going to exist whether we invent them or not, unless the location is one that does not allow for this. For example, if the civilization is not very advanced, it’s not going to have a formalized military. If the landscape is also something like grasslands, then we may have a more nomadic people where they don’t really have a formal military. The same could be true of somewhere that’s very mountainous, where the people don’t travel very far. In this case, I’m thinking of the fantasy dwarves. These places may be exceptions rather than the rule, where the terrain is really impacting whether something forms or not.

For the purpose of this episode, we’re going to assume that you have a somewhat more varied terrain and enough civilization that armed forces are going to be needed. Some types of armed forces are going to work better over one kind of terrain than another. A good example is the cavalry because they’re not going to be used in the mountains nearly so much as somewhere flatter. This is, once again, a kind of specialty group that can be operating on its own, and also, at times, be incorporated into a larger military as a specialized unit.

For example, a long time ago, in the United States, we had the infantry who were on foot, and then the cavalry who were, of course, on horseback. These were treated as different units within the army. When we are creating the armed forces, we should decide if we are creating a specialty group or the larger organization like the army. It doesn’t matter whether we focus on the smaller group or the overall group first, just as long as we go through what we’ve created more than once, paying attention to both the overall structure and then the usage of any specialty groups.

In both fantasy and science fiction, we have another issue regarding terrain, and that is that we have multiple species. So, we could have elves within our armed forces and, as a result, they might bring a specialty for operating within a forest that the overall army, for example, does not otherwise have. This means that an elf could be part of a specialized unit that is comprised mostly of elves, or the elves could just be part of the overall military. By the same token, we could have dwarves who specialize in underground fighting, or anything on the mountains, but then there might also be dwarves who don’t want to be part of that specialized unit, and are just part of the army, navy or air force in general.

This is an opportunity to put some racism and some bigotry in there because we could have someone like the humans see an elf who is part of their unit and object to this, saying, “Hey, why are you not with the elven unit that is supposed to be specializing in forest fighting? You’re here with us.” This is a believable aspect of the relationships within the military. Of course, we can do the same thing with any species of our own that we have invented.

One reason all of this matters about terrain is that this will determine, in large part, where this army or other group tends to be located. If they don’t do well on plains or in the desert, and they aren’t needed there much, they’re probably not going to be located there. If circumstances force them to fight on such terrain, they may have less training and experience. The opposition in a conflict might know this and try to take advantage of it by forcing the conflict to take place on that kind of terrain.

What if one army has elves who specialize in forest fighting and another does not? It would make sense that the one with the elves might try to force the conflict to take place near or in a forest. They might also use the forest for cover, knowing that they’ve got people who can navigate really well there, and the opposition does not.

Special Sites

Another aspect of location is whether this military group has any sort of specialized sites, and where these are located. For example, maybe they are expected to be super efficient at fighting a certain type of creature, and therefore they need to have experience fighting these. So, maybe they’ve got a training base located wherever that creature is. Generally, the military uses special training sites, and they don’t have the training available everywhere. So, one of the decisions we need to make is where this training is taking place. A large population center is an obvious choice, as is any sort of special terrain or nearby creatures that training is needed for.

This can be true with science fiction, as well, if we have training for something like pilots where they need to deal with certain kinds of space phenomenon. Naturally, training for certain things can happen in one location, and training for others can happen in a different location. We can also decide to give each of these locations a cool name, like “the Citadel” or “the Dark Abyss.” Therefore, characters can mention this. “Hey, in my time at the Citadel, I did so and so.” If we give it an interesting name, it just adds a little interest for our readers. It can create mystique about what the training facility is like, and make people curious what goes on there.

Beyond training facilities, we might also have special locations that they use as part of their duties. One example that comes to mind is if they ride giant birds of prey, like eagles or falcons, and when they land on the ground, they are vulnerable. And if they need to camp for the night, this could be a problem. So, maybe they do things like build special towers out in the wilderness that are large enough for the birds, for them to camp, and where these cannot be accessed from the ground. Using our imagination, we can think of other places similar to this.

Transportation

This neatly dovetails into another related subject, and that is what they are using to get around, whether they are walking, riding animals, or riding machinery. We should make a basic decision about what they are typically using. One reason for this is that the military will most likely be charged with supplying that. For example, horses will most likely be owned by the military, even if a specific soldier has a specific horse that he is typically using for the purposes of bonding. The reason for this is that military horses must, of course, be trained. The same will be true of any other animal that is ridden as part of a military group.

Machinery comes up a lot more in science fiction and, obviously, this is something that’s going to be supplied by the military. In a film like Star Wars, the only reason Han Solo gets away with flying the Millennium Falcon is that he’s not an official part of the military there. You’ll notice all of the other ships look the same, and they have the same capabilities as a result. For additional realism with science fiction, we should invent different kinds of machines that people will be using. They will have different capabilities. Whether that’s firing ability or defensive abilities, or even the kinds of terrain that they are designed for. One way that we can use this as storytellers is having the characters acquire a type of machinery that is not the ideal one because they’re on the run, or something like that. They have to just take whatever they can steal, for example. There is something that they want, but they can’t find it, so they have to take something else.

It helps us if we have already invented these machines, and if we’ve already created limitations so that our characters can complain about whatever choice they have to make. This allows them to get a vehicle that allows them to escape, but it may not do so in an optimal fashion. Therefore, they might have to travel from wherever they are now to some other location and hope that they can acquire what they really need there.

This is one way to not only be realistic, but create more plot points for us. If they can always acquire exactly what they need, that’s not very believable, and it doesn’t have a whole lot of tension to it. We need things to go wrong.

More Resources

If you’re looking for more world building resources, Artofworldbuilding.com has most of what you need. This includes more podcasts like this one, and free transcripts if you’d prefer to read an episode.

You can also find more information on all three volumes of The Art of World Building series, which is available in eBook, print, and audiobook formats. Much of the content of those books is available on the website for free.

You can also join the mailing list at artofworldbuilding.com/newsletter. This gets you free, reusable templates from each published volume in the series. You don’t even need to buy the books to get these. I also send out contest information, free tips, and other stuff to help with your efforts. Please note I do not share your email address with anyone as that’s against my privacy policy, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Sign up today to get your free content and take your world building to the next level.

How to Join

Once we’ve decided where this military group typically operates, the kind of transportation they have and what kind it is — whether it’s a navy, an army, an air force or a space force — then we can start thinking about the road to becoming a member of this armed forces, and what someone has to go through. Many militaries will accept people who have no particular training or skills before they join the military. Those people are put through what is called “basic training” in the Army in the United States. However, by the time they complete basic training, they are expected to have acquired certain skills. This can be a default decision that we also do for anything that we are inventing, but we might also want to decide that certain prerequisites are required.

Why would we decide this? Well, if the group is supposed to be elite in any way, they probably don’t want to waste their time training people who appear to have no talent or skill for something. This, again, brings up the concept of joining the general military group or joining a specialized force within that group. The latter is arguable more likely to have specific requirements. Expert swordsmen probably want a certain amount of skill with a sword and even a knife. Cavalry might require basic horsemanship skills. The air force might require a certain amount of flight skills. A space force could require the same of any time piloting in space, or possibly even doing launches from the ground, through the atmosphere and into space.

One way we can use this is that in addition to someone becoming an elite member of this specialized group if they pass all the tests, they were able to be recognized as being kind of special even before they joined because they made the cut. This can result in some snobbery, of course. There will always be people trying to act like they are better than you. Maybe this group even has a reputation for being haughty. That could, in turn, make some of our characters resent certain members of this group if they are encountered during our story. So, this is another way that we can leverage this kind of development.

So, what prerequisites might your group need? Think about how you intend to use them in the story that you are creating them for. What do they need to do? And are you just going to use them as a general army kind of thing where they’re just going to go out and be a nameless mass of 5,000 people who maybe all get killed, or a bunch of them do, or they win the war but you’re not really going to delve into the specifics of who they are? If that’s the case, then maybe don’t worry too much about creating prerequisites for them. On the other hand, if you imagine that you’re creating this group because one of your main characters is supposed to be a member of that group, or a former member, or even an aspiring member, then you probably want to think about the prerequisites. Not to mention, as we’re going to get to in a minute, the training they went through, or are going to go through, and then what the final tests are going to be.

So, the first question, really, is do you need to worry about prerequisites or not? As a final note on prerequisites, not all of them have to do with physical skills. It might be something like knights requiring you to be of noble birth. This is, of course, a kind of discrimination. We can leverage that to create some tension. That brings up the subject of characteristics. You may remember from the Creating Life volume in The Art of World Building series that we looked at things like intelligence, wisdom, charisma, strength, constitution, agility, dexterity and morale. Officers are more likely to require the higher mental traits, like better intelligence. By contrast, we could reasonably assume that the enlisted men and women might need more physical attributes because that’s what they’re bringing to the table instead.

A group like medieval knights are not really known for their agility, in no small part because they are wearing heavy armor. So, obviously, they’re not going to have a huge requirement for agility. They may require better dexterity, however, in order to wield a sword with expert skill. Military who wear less armor might have higher requirements for agility. So, we can use the typical armor that they have as a way of deciding some prerequisites. It’s always great when we can use decisions we’ve already made to help us make other decisions.

For any characteristics that we decide on, it can be difficult for anyone to test these. However, in science fiction, simulations offer a good way to do this. For example, we could have a scenario where wisdom is required to escape a situation. In another one, their morale might be tested by whether they flee or they stand up to the opposing forces. Physical skills are necessarily easier to determine with a test. So, if we want to have tests for these other mental traits or characteristics, we might have to think about that a little bit more. These tests can be famous, and they can also add some interest to our story.

Another aspect of initiation testing is that it can allow someone to bypass certain training if they show that they already have the skills required. Either that or the test can be so easy for them that they don’t really need to prepare for them, and they just kind of blow through them. One way we might want to use this is to have that character impress the leadership. Therefore, that person is tasked with a higher level of service than they might have otherwise been expected to get.

Someone who’s already an expert pilot or a sword fighter isn’t going to have to go through all of the training, and they may realize this person has a lot of potential. In both fantasy and science fiction, we tend to like characters who demonstrate that they are special in some way, partly because it allows us to live vicariously through them, and the idea that we would also be that special if we were in their shoes. This sort of escapism is one of the things that this genre allows us to do as an audience member.

Some of these tests can also be purposely unfair to see how someone reacts to that. Do they whine about it or do they accept it gracefully? Or do they simply point out that something wasn’t fair? If you were a military leader, would you want a whiner on the frontlines or in charge of anything important? Probably not. If we’ve already decided how these people are going to be used, that makes it easier to figure out what kind of training they need. The easiest way to decide how they’re going to be used is simply to imagine some scenes where they are doing whatever it is that they do. You don’t have to really write these, you just kind of play around with it in your head. What do you imagine them doing in your setting and in your story? What kind of impact are they going to have? Do these actions require a certain amount of skill for them to implement? If so, well, there’s your training.

Unless we have an understanding of how long it takes to be trained in something, like swordsmanship, in order to become an expert, we probably don’t want to be too specific about how long someone is in training. Granted, if we’re talking about a skill that doesn’t exist, then no one can show up and tell us that we’re wrong.

The last thing to mention here is that there are most likely going to be some sort of final tests in order for them to graduate and become a member of this military group. We can decide that these tests are relatively safe, or that they’re so dangerous that sometimes people actually die from them. Naturally, this will have an impact on someone who is about to take these tests. It can also impact the way that others view them if they know that these guys took tests that could’ve resulted in their death, but they didn’t, they made it through and now they’re a member of this group. This could cause some people to look at them in awe. To decide this, decide what kind of a reaction you want people to have to any character who is a member of this group.

World Building University

If you’d like to learn world building skills through instruction, I’ve launched World Building University. There you can find one free course you can take just by signing up, which has no obligation. Other courses are in development and available now. You can preview parts of every course, all of which include video lessons, quizzes, assignments, and sometimes downloadable templates that are even better than those found in the books.

To get your first free course, just go to worldbuilding.university.

Military Ranks

Unless you have served in the military, there is one area of it that you probably don’t understand much more than I did, until I took the time to do the research. That is the ranking and the difference between commissioned officers and enlisted grades. That’s what we’re going to discuss now.

Like virtually all episodes of this podcast, this one is based on a chapter from The Art of World Building series, and, in this case, it is from Cultures and Beyond, the chapter on how to create armed forces, of course. I mentioned this because in the book I have a number of charts that lay out the different ranks and what that really means. I’m not going to go right down these charts, but I am going to cover the basics about this. Before we get started, I want to mention that we can use any of the existing rank structures that exist in the army, navy or air force. We don’t have to make up our own. Another option is to take the same ranks, but give them new names so that they seem different, but they actually aren’t. Why would we do that? Just to create a sense of another world.

Unless we are writing a detailed account of what it’s like to be a member of this military, we don’t really need to go into any kind of detail at all about most of this. It’s more that we should understand some of this. As it turns out, if we compare the army, navy and air force ranks to each other, they are pretty similar. They just have different names. For example, in the army, the field marshal or general would be the equivalent of a fleet admiral in the navy, or a marshal in the air force. At the opposite extreme of the officers, we have the officer cadet, which is called that in both the army and the navy, but is called a flight cadet in the air force. Otherwise, this is still the entry level rank for an officer.

I want to contrast the commissioned officers with the enlisted grades and explain what this means. A commissioned officer is appointed by a formal document that is issued by the head of state. That is the person who is running the government. You may remember from a previous episode, or from the Creating Places book, that we discussed heads of state in detail. The generic word “officer” actually means “commissioned officer” most of the time. However, it can refer to a non-commissioned officer. What’s an NCO, as it’s often called? That is someone who has not yet earned the commission, and they have been promoted from the enlisted grades. One thing that this can mean is that the officers went through special training to become officers, but the non-commissioned officers did not because they have risen through the enlisted ranks who did not go through that special training.

So, let’s talk about what it means to be part of the enlisted grades. In short, this is basically everyone who is not an officer. In the army, this would include your privates, your corporals, your sergeants and your sergeant majors. The commissioned officers are trained in things like management and leadership, and they often have a college degree — especially at the higher levels. In a world without colleges, we may be able to skip that and just say that they have a certain amount of experience.

The enlisted grades are the bulk of any military. These are the fighting men and women and anyone who is supporting them, such as pilots, engineers, technicians and more. The non-commissioned officers that we talked about a minute ago are considered crucial in the military because these are people who sort of have their boots on the ground and have a lot of experience, having gone from private up to whatever rank that they have. These are the primary points of contact between the enlisted grades and the officers who outrank them. In other words, an officer may not really understand what it is like to be one of these guys who’s got his boots on the ground all the time, and what it’s like for the basic military men and women. So, therefore, these NCOs do have this because they rose through the ranks. The NCOs, or non-commissioned officers, have practical experience being soldiers, as opposed to the commissioned officers, who may have none.

In the book, I also go into detail on the difference between a commanding officer and an executive officer. In short, the executive officer is responsible for running the military organization, and reports to the commanding officer. You may have heard them referred to as CO and XO, the XO being the executive officer and the CO being the commanding officer. This sometimes comes up in military shows or movies where someone asks, “Who is your XO?” or, “Who is your CO?”

Ranks and Roles

When it comes to a rank and the role that that person plays in the military, this can change from military organization to military organization, and from country to country. So, the good news here is that we don’t necessarily have to get this right, we just have to have a general understanding of the kinds of things that go on, and then we can invent whatever we need for the world that we are inventing and, of course, no one from our fictional world is going to show up and tell everyone that we got it wrong. What I’m getting at is that we sometimes have a tendency to want to get something right and, as with many things, that’s not really something we need to worry about. Plausibility in world building is the bar to get over.

Now, before I talk about the military ranks and their roles, I do want to briefly mention that in the book I have another very useful chart of all of the military units, how many people comprise those units, and who the typical commander is. For example, we’ve all heard of a platoon. Well, what is that? It’s got about 15-45 guys in it, and it’s commanded by a lieutenant. A brigade has somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000 men, and that has a commander of a colonel, or maybe a brigadier general. In the air force, a flight, as it’s called, may have three to six aircraft and support crew, plus a squadron leader.

Rather than go through a whole chart for the rank and the role, I’m just going to point out some of the more interesting tidbits from these. For example, in each branch, there is a five-star rank that sometimes only exists in an honorary way, or during a time of war. So, under peacetime, it doesn’t exist  and a four-star general, for example, is the highest rank. That would also be true of an admiral in a navy.

One of the more interesting army roles is that of the captain. This person commands a company and is sometimes the second-in-command of a battalion. This can be the entry level rank for those who have an advanced degree, such as a doctor, a lawyer, or maybe someone like a wizard. This is usually the highest rank that is still in the field as a fighter. That means all the majors, lieutenant colonels, colonels and different kinds of generals above them are not going to be in the field. Below the captain is the lieutenant, which is sometimes called a first lieutenant, and a second lieutenant, which is an entry level rank for the officers. College graduates can sometimes skip that rank, and even others are often in it for less than a year.

In the navy, you may have heard of admiral, vice admiral and rear admiral, but not really understood what these meant. Generally, a fleet is divided into thirds, with the admiral being in control of the middle third. The rear admiral is what you might expect, the admiral of the lowest rank, a two-star rank, who is the least experienced and has control of the rear of the fleet. And that is opposed to the vice admiral, who is a three-star rank, and who is commanding the vanguard, or the front of the fleet. The admiral in the middle is the four-star rank, who has the highest rank, and he is the one who is in command of the overall fleet.

The commodore is the one-star rank, and this is someone who commands more than one ship at a time. This is typically a temporary rank. Normally, this person would be a captain, and that’s someone who is commanding the largest ships.

In the air force, we once again have multiple names that are very similar. For example, the air chief marshal is the four-star rank, and this is the commander of an air force. The air marshal would be the three-star rank, and this person is, again, commanding the vanguard of a fleet of planes. The air vice marshal is, again, a two-star rank that is commanding the rear of a fleet. As with a navy, the air commodore is someone who has a one-star rank and is commanding multiple groups.

If you need this kind of thing worked out for your story or your setting, I highly recommend either researching these on your own or just picking up a copy of Cultures and Beyond where I have already collected a lot of this for you.

Subscribe

So let’s talk about how to subscribe to this podcast. A podcast is a free, downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go. To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone, iPad, and iPod listeners, grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes Store and search for The Art of World Building. This will help you to download the free podcast app, which is produced by Apple, and then subscribe to the show from within that app. Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right onto your device.

For Android listeners, you can download the Stitcher radio app, which is free, and search for The Art of World Building.

This only needs to be done once and at that point, you will never miss an episode.

Place in Society

I briefly want to talk about their place in society and how they are viewed. This can have a big effect on how we portray them and how other characters react to them. Naturally, how they are viewed by one society or one settlement or sovereign power may differ from how they are viewed by someone else. As with many things, we want to generalize in our notes about them and then make up exceptions as we go along.

We can actually generalize those exceptions as well. For example, they could be highly valued in places where physical danger is a constant presence, but in places where safety is taken for granted, they also could be taken for granted. Maybe there’s not even a whole lot for them to do, but they must be kept around just in case something happens and, therefore, they are idle and not considered terribly worthwhile. Maybe some people even want the military to get smaller, and some of these people to essentially lose their jobs and livelihood and have to find another way to make a living, the goal being to reduce the amount of budget that is spent on maintaining this military force in that size.

Another issue that can come up is that sometimes the military, or members of it, commit war crimes, and they might actually be known for this. As a result, people could fear the soldiers quite a bit. This fear could cause some people to avoid them, of course, and they might also cause restrictions, such as these people only being allowed to dine in the back room so that people don’t feel uncomfortable around them. They may not be welcome in certain kinds of establishments. On the other hand, if they are honorable, they might be seated in a prominent place, and even have people say, “Hey, Knight So-and-so frequently dines here,” as a way of bringing in more customers.

Unless we have a need for one depiction or another, it’s probably best to go with a somewhat more moderate tone, where they’re neither loved nor despised. They’re just kind of there as a basic force that is needed. But, of course, you need to make your decision based on your story.

Review

if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate and review the show at artofworldbuilding.com/review. Reviews really are critical to encouraging more people to listen to a show haven’t heard of before, and it can also help the show rank better, allowing more people to discover it. Again, that URL is artofworldbuilding.com/review.

How to Get Started

While we didn’t cover every aspect of how to create a military organization, I do want to mention how we should get started. I think our first choice is to decide if we are creating a smaller, specialized group, like the U.S. Marines, or a larger force, like the entire army. This will help determine where they typically operate, and every subsequent decision we make. We should try to determine what sort of role we imagine them playing. Whether that’s a large scale conflict and world wars, or just something smaller. That could just mean that one of our characters is a member of this group, and that the group itself is not going to go to war in the context of our story.

At a minimum, we should also invent their symbols, their colors and any slogans. We can skip over something like history, but it is a good idea to have at least one or two historical figures that used to be members of this military group so that our characters have someone to aspire to or to fear being compared to. Another area that we can skip creating is worrying too much about the details of how someone becomes a member of this military, or creating ranks that differ in any meaningful way from the standard ones that are common on Earth.

Closing

All of this show’s music is actually courtesy of yours truly, as I’m also a musician. The theme song is the title track from my Some Things are Better Left Unsaid album, but now we’re closing out today’s show with a song from Now Weaponized! called “Rapid Fire.” You can hear more at RandyEllefson.com. Check out artofworldbuilding.com for free templates to help with your world building. And please rate and review the show in iTunes. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 24 – Creating Organizations

 news, Podcasts  Comments Off on Podcast Episode 24 – Creating Organizations
Apr 212020
 

Episode 24: Learn How to Creating Organizations

Listen as host Randy Ellefson discusses how to create good and evil organizations, how people join and leave them, what power structures are like, and how to invent history for them.

Listen, Subscribe, and Review this episode of The Art of World Building Podcast on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, or Google Play Music!

In This Episode You’ll Learn:
  • What to think about when creating an evil organization
  • What might happen when someone leaves an evil organization
  • What good and evil organizations are like and how to create one
  • Common elements across evil/good groups
  • How to create history for groups and use existing history to create them
Coda

Thanks so much for listening this week. Want to subscribe to The Art of World Building Podcast? Have some feedback you’d like to share? A review would be greatly appreciated!

Episode 24 Transcript
Intro

Hello and welcome to The Art of World Building Podcast, episode number twenty-four. Today’s topic is about how to create organizations. This includes forces for good and evil, what they have in common, and how someone joins or get expelled. This material and more is discussed in a chapter from Cultures and Beyond, volume three in The Art of World Building book series..

Do you want practical advice on how to build better worlds faster and have more fun doing it? The Art of World Building book series, website, blog, and podcast will make your worlds beat the competition. This is your host, Randy Ellefson, and I have 30 years of world building advice, tips, and tricks to share. Follow along now at artofworldbuilding.com.

Forces for Evil

Before we get started, I want to mention that there are transcripts of every episode available, and you can now buy these transcripts. In fact, you can actually buy the podcast episodes, too, as an audiobook. You can find out more at artofworldbuilding.com, or on Amazon you can just type in “The Art of World Building” and these will show up.

So, what do I mean by “organizations?” Well, we’re talking about something like the X-Men or maybe The Knights of the Roundtable, or even Robin Hood and His Merry Men. We could also be talking about a guild, like a wizards’ guild, or maybe even an assassins’ guild. Even the mafia would be an example. Groups like these will exist in our fictional world, but of course, if we don’t invent them, then we’re probably never going to mention them, and we may not even be using them. But they’re still going to be there, and it can add an extra level of belief to our world if we take the time to create these.

Creating organizations is one of the simpler tasks. Let’s first talk about forces for evil. Now, in theory, some groups may not think of themselves as evil, but if you’ve got an assassins’ guild, obviously, these are people going around killing people. So, they may justify that in some way, but they probably have a sense that they’re basically doing a bad thing. Any mafia is likely to be the same where they understand that they are involved in organized crimes of various kinds. Whether that’s money laundering, killing people, bribes or the drug trade.

So, one obvious question for a group that knows it’s doing bad things: Why are they doing that? In the case of something like a mafia, they are, for the most part, trying to enrich themselves at the expense of others and take advantage of laws, loopholes in those laws, or simply circumnavigating them because they don’t feel like obeying those laws because their life is, maybe, not going to be very good if they do follow those laws. Maybe they don’t have economic resources available to them unless they go ahead and commit crimes.

Sometimes a mafia will validate what they’re doing in the sense of building up their own kind. So, for example, if they are from a certain ethnic group, maybe they feel like their ethnic group is being downtrodden and this is their way of getting ahead. One problem with that kind of justification is that its own ethnic group is often the recipient of the bad behavior. This is where you get some bad justifications where people will say something like, “In order to improve things for the most people, someone, somewhere, has to suffer.”

The point here is that if you want to create a group like this, you might try to come up with a justification mindset that they have, but then also show them betraying that, but continuing to do it anyway. Because this is realistic. People do that kind of thing where they are essentially a hypocrite.

When it comes to the crimes that they’re committing, hypocrisy is relatively low on the list of bad things that they are doing. So, it’s not really a deterrent to bad behavior. The way we can use that is if a character is essentially recruited by such an organization with those ideas, and then as they’re becoming a member of the group, they see that group betraying those ideas. As we all know, conflict is the heart of every story, so there’s one way to do that.

Some organizations will have a worldview that is based on religion. So, in order to do this, we’re going to have to have that religion worked out, and preferably a god that it is based on. This is one of the ways where we can use work we’ve already done in our world building. If your world has a god that is considered evil, like a god of greed, then the followers of that religion could be ones who are forming this organization. And even if they’re not particularly religious, they might just be using that as a justification. The thought will usually go along the lines of, “Hey, there’s a god who promotes this and thinks it’s great, and we’re just going ahead and following that god’s word.”

The real motivation for those people will not be to do something centered on greed for the god of greed, but actually for themselves and their own greed. But, of course, they may try to act like they’re not really doing it for themselves, they’re doing it for this deity.

There can also be social reasons for an evil organization. One way of looking at that is to take bullying and elevate that to an even higher level where they feel like they should take advantage of different kinds of people for their own personal gain. In these cases, the group is probably going to target another group that is a rival, or a type of person that they dislike, such as followers of a certain religion. Maybe these are poor people and they are targeting the rich for theft.

In such a scenario, people can often feel justified in what they are doing, and in that sense, they may not feel like they are doing something bad when they actually are. Any group of people that is also being oppressed by a society might form an organization to essentially thumb their nose at the people who are in charge of that society.

What we’re trying to do when we create an evil organization is find some sort of justification or guiding principle that defines their actions. This will not only help us determine what sort of actions they undertake, but it will also help us understand what sort of people are drawn to that organization. What does the group want? How far are they willing to go to get that? What means do they typically employ to achieve that goal? And do they bail themselves out of trouble, or members of their organization, if they get caught? Do they free people from prison or do they just say, “Hey, look, if you get caught, you’re on your own?”

This sort of outlook will really characterize what it’s like to be a member of that organization. Certainly, I would be more attracted to one who showed more loyalty to me and was willing to get me out of trouble. This can also really impact what happens when someone is captured because if you feel like you’ve been abandoned by the group, and you’re being tortured for information about that group, you’re probably more likely to give up that information. The organization may realize that this happens, but instead of showing loyalty, they might actually try to kill someone who is in custody.

Forces for Good

Let’s talk about organizations that are good in nature. Here on Earth, these seem to be few in number, if existing at all, and I suspect one of the reasons is that we have something like the police. That’s who we turn to for certain types of reinforcement of our values. On the other hand, there are a lot of organizations that are interested in promoting a good cause, or one that they feel is a good cause. Some groups promote the ethical treatment of animals, although, for some of us, the way they conduct themselves is not necessarily a good thing, even though they may have a positive goal that they are trying to achieve. There are other organizations that are also interested in protecting animals. There are also environmental groups like Greenpeace. Although, again, some people find their methods offensive, even if their cause is one that they could support.

The trick to creating these for our setting is to think of some pressing issue that is threatening either an economy or something like animals and livestock, or a way of life, or even the health of a planet. Are there organizations that are taking it upon themselves to try to correct these problems? Some of these organizations — in fact, many of them, if we consider them good — are going to follow laws. But, in some places, they may see those laws as a barrier to achieving their end goal. Therefore, they might do things that are illegal or, if not illegal, are kind of questionable. Just as with the forces for evil, we’ve got groups for good that want to achieve something, and their methods might be a problem for some of their members.

In fantasy and science fiction, we can also have groups that have taken it upon themselves to do things that something like a police force is not capable of or willing to do. Any police force, for example, is associated with either a settlement or a sovereign power, and therefore, there is the question of jurisdiction, whereas some groups, these organizations that we’re talking about inventing, can operate across these divisions and not have to worry about them. One interesting side effect of that is they can sometimes run afoul of local laws, getting themselves into trouble even though they are considered a force for good.

That said, one settlement and one sovereign power might have a very different outlook than another. So, they could be seen as good in one place, and as evil in another. This jurisdiction issue is especially interesting in science fiction, where the group could be operating over a whole solar system, or certainly multiple planets, and even bigger areas.

As for ideas on groups that we could create, another one is a group that is going around and collecting dangerous artifacts. This could either be in science fiction or fantasy. If they’re collecting these, then they’re going to need somewhere to store them, and that could be another interesting location in our stetting. We might have another group of warriors who take it upon themselves to show up and stop our bad guys from doing one thing or another. A character like Conan the Barbarian typically does this, but he’s not really doing it on purpose. He is just trying to steal something or enrich himself, and he ends up getting involved in these situations. We could make a character like him be part of a larger organization where he is going around doing this kind of thing on purpose. Of course, we might also have a group of wizards, or even something like from Star Wars — the Jedi.

One advantage to a force for good is that they might have acquired a reputation that allows them to do certain types of things, such as commandeering a vehicle. Why would a settlement or a sovereign power allow this? Well, because they’re doing something that’s supposedly going to help all of mankind or the other species. And they are sacrificing themselves and their livelihood, and they’re not really being paid — or maybe they are being paid. But there are perks to doing this and if there’s something available that’s going to help them do their job, then maybe a sovereign power is willing to let them just commandeer that.

This might be officially policy. Then again, there might be a policy where they are not allowed to do that in certain locations. This sort of deviation is another way to make our setting more believable. It can also cause problems when someone is expecting to be able to commandeer a vehicle and they can’t because of local laws. We may want a justification for that, such as someone having once commandeered a vehicle and causing a huge problem. Therefore, this has now been outlawed. This gives us another event in our history. Or it could just be that the local sovereign power doesn’t really support them, it only kind of sort of supports them and lets them do certain things, but not others, in their jurisdiction.

One point I’m making is that it’s not a good idea to have this organization we are creating be treated the same way everywhere they go. What we might want to do is decide some of things that are typical, and then open up every sovereign power or even settlement file we have and say, in a section we have about this group, “What are they allowed to do here?”

We can either plan that in advance or when we are setting up a story and we are trying to think of obstacles that they might face in one part of the story or another. This is something that we can throw in there and justify it with some minor incident that happened in the past. That said, we don’t necessarily have to explain it.

More Resources

If you’re looking for more world building resources, Artofworldbuilding.com has most of what you need. This includes more podcasts like this one, and free transcripts if you’d prefer to read an episode.

You can also find more information on all three volumes of The Art of World Building series, which is available in eBook, print, and audiobook formats. Much of the content of those books is available on the website for free.

You can also join the mailing list at artofworldbuilding.com/newsletter. This gets you free, reusable templates from each published volume in the series. You don’t even need to buy the books to get these. I also send out contest information, free tips, and other stuff to help with your efforts. Please note I do not share your email address with anyone as that’s against my privacy policy, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Sign up today to get your free content and take your world building to the next level.

Common Elements

Whether a group is good or evil, they are likely to have some common elements. As we were just talking about, they’re going to have a goal of some kind. One of those goals that I alluded to earlier is the controlling of objects. This can be objects in general, those of a specific type, or one very specific object. Naturally, if it’s only going to be one object that they are focused on, their activities are going to be somewhat limited and that object is going to be extremely valuable or powerful. This reminds me of the Indiana Jones movies where, in the first one, there is a group of Nazis, a subgroup, that is trying to get to the Ark of the Covenant. In one of the later movies, they’re trying to get to the Holy Grail.

Now, obviously, the Nazis were trying to do many things, but there was a group of them within that organization that was tasked with something smaller. This is another option that we have. As this example shows, these objects are thought to have not only a religious significance, but supposedly a power that can be conferred to the possessor. In both of those movies, there is a heavy moral element where the evil group is trying to get it, and a good person — in this case, Indiana Jones — is trying to prevent that from happening.

We can also have a group that is trying to prevent something like that from happening, and in fact, in the third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, there is such a group, although I can’t remember the name of them. That group initially tries to kill Indiana Jones before realizing that he is going to help them. If we have a group that is after an object, we should decide what they are going to do if they ever get it and if we are going to allow them to ever possess this. This is the kind of element that we can add to our world and it gives a kind of side story where some of the characters might get involved with that group. I’m also reminded of the Faceless Men from Game of Thrones where audiences became so enamored of the main character that was from that group that they liked having this guy on screen, seeing what he was doing and learning more about that organization.

Eventually, one of the main characters, Arya, actually joins that group for a brief time. If she hadn’t done that, it’s possible that the author could have just written a side book about that organization. That said, that group was not really interested in object control, which is what we were just talking about.

Another potential goal for our organization is the possession of land. Instead of land, it can also be something like a building or a space station. The goal of having this could be something like security for themselves and their people. Naturally, we’re going to want to figure out what is so special about this place that this group covets it. It might have a strategic value. Think of something like a castle that is guarding the entrance to a mountain range. In this case, there would be something in those mountains that is valuable, and whoever controls the castle controls access to it. In other words, possession of a place might be a means to an end. Sometimes religion is a reason for a group to covet an area. We can look no further for inspiration than the Palestinians and the Israelis.

That, of course, calls to mind another type of group, and that is the terrorist organization. Does your world have these, what are they after and what kind of means do they employ? We can probably assume they’re very similar to those here on Earth, and we might just be changing the type of bomb that they are using, from something magical or to a technology that doesn’t actually exist. In order to decide on these land possession goals, we’re going to have to have worked out some of our geography. If we’ve already got a map, we can just look at that and decide what sort of valuable resources are in a given location and decide that there is a group that wants to possess that. This has conflict built into it because a sovereign power or a city might already claim that territory, and there might be other groups that also want it. That can also create enemies for our organization.

In theory, power is another goal for a group, but that is usually a means to an end. And then there might also be the goal of upholding a philosophy or a religion, which we already talked about.

Another common trait for both forces for evil and good is that they will have enemies and friends. As we’ve alluded to, a sovereign power or a settlement can be one of those friends or enemies, but we can also use other groups that we have invented. Now, if this is the first group we’ve invented, then we can’t really set them off against another group yet, but we might start to imagine another group that will be in opposition to this one. Therefore, we can go back and forth, working on both of them at the same time and updating their relationship with each other.

It’s possible that one of these groups can spring up just to oppose the other group, which will also mean that if the first group falls, then the second group will no longer have any reason to exist.

We should also talk about the power structure of our organization. Is it run by one person or is it really kind of by committee, and one person is sort of nominally in charge or are they officially in charge? Instead of calling it a committee, we might want to call it something like the “inner circle,” for example. Within that inner circle, there will be some people who are more influential than others, and this can cause power struggles there, as well.

In fact, this can even be how a group splinters off and forms a subsequent group. There might be people who agree with the mission, but not how they are acting out that mission. So, if we are inventing a group and we can’t decide between two different choices on how they act, we can actually choose both and create these two factions of that organization. As world builders, we have a lot of decisions to make. Sometimes, we feel indecisive, but this is a quick way of getting around that, by using both.

Power can come in different forms. Whether that’s physical, some sort of supernatural or technological might. If you have the biggest ship in science fiction, then maybe you’re the most powerful one. Maybe you don’t have the biggest ship, but you have more of them or you’ve got access to more resources. Maybe you or your crews have personally saved many people who are also in this group now, and those people are loyal to you. Or maybe you have power just because you’re the smartest, the wisest or the most well-informed. Maybe you’ve proven through history that you have better strategies for taking on your enemies and realizing your goals — not only your goals, but the goals of the organization.

At the same time, someone who is doing bad with that sort of thing may find themselves losing power. Unhappy about that, they might be the one who defects and forms another group. We’ve probably all seen organizations that are seemingly ruled by brutality, where the most vicious killer is the one who leads the group. This is certainly an option for us, but obviously, that’s probably not going to be a group that is focused on good deeds. More civilized and good-natured groups tend to favor something more intellectual.

The kinds of organizations that we’re talking about don’t usually have titles the same way that the armed forces do. In that sense, they tend to be less organized and, as a result, we don’t really have to create all of that organization. This is one reason why creating them is a little bit simpler.

World Building University

If you’d like to learn world building skills through instruction, I’ve launched World Building University. There you can find one free course you can take just by signing up, which has no obligation. Other courses are in development and available now. You can preview parts of every course, all of which include video lessons, quizzes, assignments, and sometimes downloadable templates that are even better than those found in the books.

To get your first free course, just go to worldbuilding.university.

History

Let’s briefly talk about the history of our organization. We could decide that it’s a new organization, but many of them are going to have some history. If it is new, then there is most likely a very recent event that has triggered their invention. Now, we probably don’t want to invent a recent incident if we don’t actually need one for the world, so this is the kind of scenario where if something has recently happened and we want to leverage that by saying that a group has sprung up in reaction to that incident, then this is a good option. Otherwise, we’re probably going to have an older group.

In order for a group to form, we need multiple individuals who feel the same way about something that has happened, or that they have the same goal in mind. For example, if an event affected the poor, then we might have a group of people from the poor who are good fighters and decide to form a group to go after the perpetrators of that event.

Wars that have happened in the past, and the fall of various cities or kingdoms can be incidents that we can leverage. To do this, we should think about who lost that conflict, and are there people who are leftover from that defeat who still want to do something about it, and form a new organization? It doesn’t have to be war either. It can be any group of people who are affected by something negatively. We can also have incidents that are much smaller than war. We could have a stockpile of magical or technological items that have gone missing and now a group of people have decided to go after them. Something like that could start off as just a mission by a group of people, but it becomes an organization when maybe decades pass and only so many of these things have been acquired. And in the meantime, some of those items are being used in destructive ways, and this causes more people to want to join this group and it becomes a bigger organization as a result.

You can make these up, just as I am doing right now while I’m talking about this. All we really need is an incident and a reaction by a group of people who are bothered by that incident in the same way.

Subscribe

So let’s talk about how to subscribe to this podcast. A podcast is a free, downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go. To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone, iPad, and iPod listeners, grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes Store and search for The Art of World Building. This will help you to download the free podcast app, which is produced by Apple, and then subscribe to the show from within that app. Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right onto your device.

For Android listeners, you can download the Stitcher radio app, which is free, and search for The Art of World Building.

This only needs to be done once and at that point, you will never miss an episode.

Joining or Leaving

The last subject I want to talk about is how people join this group or leave it. Exclusivity is something that makes any group more appealing. If this group is expected to do any sort of fighting, using magic or piloting spacecraft, then, obviously, a certain amount of skill with these things is going to be expected. We might want to choose some prerequisites that people must meet, but there probably isn’t going to be some sort of formal testing because that’s the kind of thing we typically see with something like the armed forces, not with a somewhat informal organization.

Instead, we might have one character vouch for someone who wants to join. If that can’t happen, we might have that new person join a group while they’re off doing some sort of mission, and have to prove themselves on that mission. In that scenario, someone else in the group, someone who is trusted, is probably tasked with keeping an eye on that person to prevent them from screwing anything up. So, they may be allowed to accompany them, and they might also be on probation when they do join.

The types of groups that we’re talking about are ones where people go out into the world and they try to accomplish something difficult, whether that’s good or bad. This means having some sort of skillset. A force for good might also want to test the character of someone who is being asked to join. This is where references come into play. Testing character is not the easiest thing to do. In a world with science fiction, we might want the test to take place in a kind of virtual reality to see how they act without actually causing any real harm.

What about leaving a group? In a force for good, you can probably just announce that you are leaving for whatever reason, and you may not even have to explain it. However, a force for evil might not want you to leave because you could tell people about how that organization works, and otherwise spill secrets. This could mean that once you are in, you are in for good unless you are dead — possibly because they killed you. If you know this, then when you’re planning your exit, you might want to fake your death, or somehow stage your disappearance so that nobody knows where to find you. This is an interesting scenario for a character who was bad but who has been redeemed, and now they’ve left and they want to take up a life somewhere, but they can’t live openly because they know someone’s going to come after them. And that seems like a good place to end this episode.

Review

if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate and review the show at artofworldbuilding.com/review. Reviews really are critical to encouraging more people to listen to a show haven’t heard of before, and it can also help the show rank better, allowing more people to discover it. Again, that URL is artofworldbuilding.com/review.

Closing

All of this show’s music is actually courtesy of yours truly, as I’m also a musician. The theme song is the title track from my Some Things are Better Left Unsaid album, but now we’re closing out today’s show with a song from the same album called “Everlast.” You can hear more at RandyEllefson.com. Check out artofworldbuilding.com for free templates to help with your world building. And please rate and review the show in iTunes. Thanks for listening!

Cultures and Beyond Released!

 news  Comments Off on Cultures and Beyond Released!
Apr 212020
 
Cultures and Beyond (Vol. 3)

Cultures and Beyond (Vol. 3)

Cultures and Beyond (The Art of World Building, #3) is available!

That said, the paperback, hardback, and audio book are ready but it sometimes takes a couple days for Amazon to have them go “live.”

Buy now!
Endorsements

I was once again able to get Piers Anthony and Ed Greenwood to review the book, with Ed having giving his comments already:

“Ellefson continues his masterful overview of worldbuilding, carefully and coherently dealing with every last detail that Creating Life and Creating Places haven’t covered. All three are essential reference works. Ellefson is a master of this craft, and it shows. Highly recommended!”

Ed Greenwood Endorsement!

 news  Comments Off on Ed Greenwood Endorsement!
Apr 162020
 
Cultures and Beyond (Vol. 3)

Cultures and Beyond (Vol. 3)

With Cultures and Beyond a week from release, Ed Greenwood, inventor of The Forgotten Realms, had this to say:

Ellefson continues his masterful overview of worldbuilding, carefully and coherently dealing with every last detail…that…Creating Life and Creating Places haven’t covered. All three are essential reference works…Ellefson is a master of this craft, and it shows.

Highly recommended!

Order your copy today!

Podcast Episode 23 – Creating Names

 news, Podcasts  Comments Off on Podcast Episode 23 – Creating Names
Apr 072020
 

Episode 23: Learn How to Creating Names

Listen as host Randy Ellefson discusses how to create names, including tips and tricks we can use, the difference between given names and surnames, and both people and place naming considerations.

Listen, Subscribe, and Review this episode of The Art of World Building Podcast on iTunes, Podbean, Stitcher, or Google Play Music!

In This Episode You’ll Learn:
  • How to create given names and surnames
  • How to invent place names
  • Techniques for altering common words into being names
  • Why we should keep it simple
  • Common mistakes to avoid
Coda

Thanks so much for listening this week. Want to subscribe to The Art of World Building Podcast? Have some feedback you’d like to share? A review would be greatly appreciated!

Episode 23 Transcript
Intro

Hello and welcome to The Art of World Building Podcast, episode number twenty-two. Today we discuss how to invent names. This includes tips and tricks we can use, the difference between given names and surnames, and both people and place naming considerations. This material and more is discussed in a chapter from Cultures and Beyond, volume three in The Art of World Building book series..

Do you want practical advice on how to build better worlds faster and have more fun doing it? The Art of World Building book series, website, blog, and podcast will make your worlds beat the competition. This is your host, Randy Ellefson, and I have 30 years of world building advice, tips, and tricks to share. Follow along now at artofworldbuilding.com.

People Names

Before we get started, I want to mention that there are transcripts of every episode available, and you can now buy these transcripts. In fact, you can buy the podcasts episodes, too, as audiobooks that you can take with you. Just go to Amazon or artofworldbuilding.com and search for the series “The Art of World Building” and you’ll see books of the transcripts among the series books. Since episodes are based on chapters from the series, I group the transcripts that way, too. In other words, there’s a book called “Creating Life – The Podcast Transcripts” which has all of the episodes based on that book. Now, on with the episode.

The first thing I want to talk about is people names. As it turns out, it’s not until relatively recently, like the 12th Century on Earth, that people had a first and last name. These are also known as a given name and a surname. One thing this immediately suggests is that it’s optional for our world for people to have two names. In some countries, people have more than one surname, and hereditary last names are not universal. So, what this gets at is that we have a lot of flexibility on how we want to handle naming. And if we have multiple sovereign powers in our world, we may want to have it different in one than another.

Another area of variation is that in western countries, the given name is typically first and the surname is last. But in eastern countries, this is actually in reverse. In Spanish speaking countries, the given name can be followed by, first, the father’s surname, and then the mother’s.

Given Names

Let’s take a closer look at the given name and what this really means. The given name is just what it sounds like. Somebody gave you that name. Usually, this is the parents, but it could be something like an older sibling. In an authoritative regime, we could decide that the state is the one giving the name. These names are typically given at birth, but they could be at a later time such as an important event or a religious ceremony. I’ve seen some stories where someone is given a name at birth, but then when they become something like a wizard, they’re given another name.

The point of a given name is to distinguish one person in a family from someone else in that family. That immediately reminds me of George Foreman, the boxer, because he named most, if not all, of his sons George. But maybe they all have a different middle name to distinguish themselves from each other, and that’s what they actually use in day-to-day conversation. But most of us don’t do something like that. In the United States, at least the middle name is a second given name, and there are people who choose to go by their middle name.

There are various reasons that people give a name, and one of those is that they simply like it. But sometimes a name is given to suggest something for that child, such as Hope. Now, many of the names that we hear today actually do mean something, but most of us have no idea what they mean unless we’ve looked it up. We can also do this in our invented world, but, of course, then we’re going to have to explain that to the reader if they want to understand that a character’s name means a specific thing. We can also use an occupation for a first name, but this is especially true of last names like Smith for a blacksmith. Sometimes something that is a last name becomes a first name, like Harrison. Of course, it is possible to give yourself a new name.

Surnames

Let’s talk surnames. Unlike a given name, these are typically inherited from either your family or a clan, but not all surnames are inherited. Just like a first name, we can choose to change this. Government officials in the United States changed many people’s last names when they were at Ellis Island immigrating a long time ago. Surnames are another area where the original meaning of that name can often be lost.

But let’s talk about where surnames can come from because we can leverage this when we are inventing stuff for our world instead of just making things up out of thin air. Places are one of the most obvious ways to get names. Let’s say we have a character named Galen. If he is from a village, then maybe he doesn’t need a surname because there might only be one Galen there. If he lives in the town of Norin and then he goes traveling, he might become Galen of Norin, which in time could be shortened to Galen Norin.

When we do this, we may be implying that someone’s ancestors came from a certain city or area of our world, but Galen might be a little more enterprising or wanting to convince people of something that isn’t true, and he could just choose a name and maybe no one would realize this. Of course, in the real world, people will sometimes have an accent that might give them away. But maybe he’s good at changing that too.

Norin doesn’t have to be the town where he was born. It could be just where he has spent much of his life, or where he has most recently lived before going somewhere else and needing to adopt a surname. If there is a prominent land feature, like a mountain or a castle, then maybe they do that. So, let’s say he lives near Ardo Hill. He could become Galen Ardo. Or maybe we want to be more generic and we just call him Galen Hill instead of Galen Ardo, based on Ardo Hill. Of course, that name is pretty common on Earth, so that may suggest something here, but it still makes sense. We can use any place in our setting that we have a name for.

Another source of surnames is an occupation like blacksmith or ironsmith. Naturally, that’s going to result in Galen Smith, another name that really reminds people of Earth. In some countries, a servant might have to take the first or last name of the person they work for and add an “S” to it. So, if Galen has a maid named Suri, maybe she becomes Suri Galens instead of Suri Galen. We might also have an actor who often plays a king and becomes known as Galen King.

Another thing that we’ve seen here on Earth is that sometimes we can use the first name and that becomes a surname. For example, let’s say Galen has a son named Rogan. Rogan becomes Rogan Galenson. My last name is Ellefson. So, presumably, there’s a guy somewhere named Ellef and I am a descendant of his. We don’t hear daughter used as much in that context here in the United States, but in, I believe, Norse culture, that is very common. This means his daughter would be Galendaughter.

Nicknames can also be the source of a surname. So, let’s say we have a character who is famous for hunting down and killing trolls. He might be known as Galen Trollman. That sort of structure also reminds us of Earth, so we might want to go with Trollkiller instead. Sometimes people are essentially given a surname by other people who witnessed their behavior and decided that their behavior is just like a famous person who had a similar personality. So, for example, Caesar was known to be arrogant, so someone might end up being given the surname Caesar. We would need a situation where someone actually can have a surname forced on them, and it could be something like someone being a servant.

Going back to that Ellis Island example, maybe someone immigrating here was really arrogant, or behaved that way in line, and the government official decided to slap the name Caesar on them. Now, that immigrant may not have even known what it meant, but now it’s their last name and, of course, they pass it on.

There is one subject that’s covered in the book that I’m not going to cover here because it gets confusing if you can’t look at the names. That is the concept of the compound surname. This is very common in Spanish speaking cultures, and it happens more in the United States in the last 20 or 30 years than it used to. What we’re talking about is a child having the last name, or the surname, of both the father and the mother, often separated by a dash. This is simple enough when we’re talking about one child, but what if that person becomes an adult and is getting married to another person who did the same thing? So, now you’ve got two people, each with hyphenated last names. Well, what do they do? This kind of thinking can result in really long names, which we do sometimes see in fantasy books where our character just has a name that goes on for like a mile. If you want to do this, well, then learn about compound surnames and how to create these, and then it will become easier to do that.

More Resources

If you’re looking for more world building resources, Artofworldbuilding.com has most of what you need. This includes more podcasts like this one, and free transcripts if you’d prefer to read an episode.

You can also find more information on all three volumes of The Art of World Building series, which is available in eBook, print, and audiobook formats. Much of the content of those books is available on the website for free.

You can also join the mailing list at artofworldbuilding.com/newsletter. This gets you free, reusable templates from each published volume in the series. You don’t even need to buy the books to get these. I also send out contest information, free tips, and other stuff to help with your efforts. Please note I do not share your email address with anyone as that’s against my privacy policy, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Sign up today to get your free content and take your world building to the next level.

Place Names

Let’s talk place names. Just like with people names, we sometimes have no idea what a word actually means. In the United States, many of us probably assume that anywhere named Washington has something to do with George Washington. But a place like Dallas, we just think it’s called Dallas. The reality is that is actually named after somebody. This is the kind of thing we definitely do not have to explain to our readers because they really don’t want that kind of exposition all the time anyway. A place name is just a place name, and that’s the end of it.

However, if we do have a historical figure from our world, we may want to leverage their name by using it for a place. When we use a place name, at least here in the United States, we often add a suffix like “ville” or “burg” to it. So, we might end up with Jacksonville or Harrisonburg. Sometimes we use the feminine version of a name. So, for example, Alexander the Great has his name on many places, but it’s always called Alexandria. To do that, you may want a naming convention such as earlier when we talked about adding the letter “S” to Galen to become Galens. The Cook Islands are named after Captain James Cook, and Saint Dominic resulted in the Dominican Republic.

There are many examples of this that you can leverage or use for inspiration, and all you really need to do is Google places named after people and you’ll find some of these lists. Of course, the big problem with doing this is that we are naming them after another character, and it might be one that we are using in our book. That’s unlikely to happen unless they’re something like 90 years old. This is why I mentioned historical figures earlier.

It can also seem like we’re being a little bit redundant to have a character in our story who also has somewhere named after them. It could seem like we’re just trying to not make up more names. The point is that you’re going to want a pretty good reason to do this. Sometimes it helps to modify the name. So, a character like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars could have a place named after him where it’s just called Skywalk. By modifying it, we make it a little bit less apparent, while also getting away with leveraging a name we have already used.

If we have saints in our world because we’ve worked out our religions, then we can use those saints for naming places. There might be other people who have done great things that we can use this way. Another option is to use events. For example, maybe a shipwreck happened nearby, and this was a while ago, but now the place is known for that because that’s what people think every time they think of this place. We can also do this in reverse where we name something in our world based on the setting. So, for example, the Ebola Virus is named based on the Ebola River. An obvious example of something like this is a battle being named after the place where that battle happened.

We can also use natural events like weather. There are places that are actually named things like Snow or Tornado or Frostproof. These literal names are a little bit less interesting, but sometimes we can do something a little more artful like Rainbow Springs. Something I mentioned earlier is that we can add suffixes and prefixes to names. So, we end up with something like Jacksonville and Harrisonburg. This is actually fairly important because there are areas of the world that have a certain naming convention, and we may want to do this on our setting. For example, “ton” is often added to something to make a place like Hamilton. We can use the word “ford,” which is a river crossing, and that ends up with something like Stafford. I’ve got a pretty good list of possibilities that I have in the book that you can check out.

The last tip I’ll give you for this is that we can also do compound names. You’re well aware of this because you’ve probably seen some of these such as Ironforge or Oakheart. All we really need to do is make a list of words that we may want to combine, and it’s good if we can choose some names from our setting and things that may be typical of that genre. Once again, I’ve got a list of these in the book.

World Building University

If you’d like to learn world building skills through instruction, I’ve launched World Building University. There you can find one free course you can take just by signing up, which has no obligation. Other courses are in development and available now. You can preview parts of every course, all of which include video lessons, quizzes, assignments, and sometimes downloadable templates that are even better than those found in the books.

To get your first free course, just go to worldbuilding.university.

General Tips

There are some general tips I can share, and the first of those is to keep the names short. Longer names are harder to read, remember, spell and pronounce. In our modern world with social media, we always want people to be talking about our characters, but if no one can spell their name, then that’s going to be more difficult. One example of being too long is having too many names. This can also be true of titles. Lately, when I watch Game of Thrones and they introduce Daenerys, it sounds like they’re just going on and on and on with all of these titles. It actually keeps getting worse and longer the longer the series goes on. I keep waiting for someone to go, “Oh, god, this is taking forever. Would you just get on with it already?”

Now, if we do want our characters to have really long names, that can be fine, but I would suggest using that once when we introduce them to the reader. Otherwise, just stick with something like the given name that they will be using throughout the story. The only other time we might want to use the longer name is if someone is, for whatever reason, discussing their lineage, or if they are being introduced again in a formal setting, like Daenerys is with all of her titles.

Now, if we have a lot of introductions, like with Daenerys on Game of Thrones, we may, as an author, just want to start kind of skipping that and saying, “Okay. After all the introductions were done, blah, blah, blah.” We never want to lose our reader’s interest and make them start skimming over stuff, and that’s one of the ways we can cause them to do that. I always consider that a moment of losing the audience. In theory, we always want to grab them and then never let go. So, we shouldn’t do something that kind of makes them skip over stuff, just get annoyed with us, or do anything that ruins that hold we have on them.

Being annoying with names is one of the potential problem areas. Even if we have a single name that is really long, like 20 characters, most people are not going to take the time to sound that out. And, of course, in the real world, most people are not going to want to say that. They’re going to shorten it to something like a memorable aspect of that name, the way we might take Johnathan and shorten it to John. I’m not saying Johnathan is a really long name, but, in fantasy in particular, we sometimes get these really crazy names and people just tend to skip right over that.

Another option for using that long name is that sometimes a parent will say the full name when they are disapproving of their child. So, John might go by John all the time, but when his parents are really mad at him, they call him Jonathan. The reason people do that is that is the formal name and they’re trying to exert some formality because the person is now in trouble.

We should also strive to keep names simple. Part of what I’m getting at here is the use of apostrophes and hyphens. World builders typically want to create the sense of somewhere different with the names, but sometimes we can overdo it with too many consonants, hyphens or apostrophes. When we put too many consonants together, we sometimes make the audience unable to pronounce that name.

As I’ve already mentioned, hyphens are use to connect two names, such as someone wanting to keep both the father’s last name and the mother’s last name. We should have some sort of justification in mind when we do this instead of just randomly throwing out a hyphen. We can also make this cultural, just like with the Spanish where this frequently happens.

Now we come to the apostrophe. For some of you, you probably already have an attitude about this because this is a somewhat infamous subject where fantasy authors in particular make up names with apostrophes, and they just overdo it. It should be remembered that an apostrophe is there to take the place of a missing letter. Sometimes it’s actually more than one letter. So, when we do this, we should decide what letter has been omitted. And if the name seems fine with that letter, then leave it in. An apostrophe is also used for a contraction such as “can’t” instead of “cannot.” One problem with doing this is that people don’t understand what we are contracting unless we explain it. So, there may be no point to this and it can look random. This means that even if we have a rational worked out, they’re not going to understand it and they may still think that it’s kind of stupid.

Now, there is one good use of an apostrophe, and that is to suggest pronunciation. If you are following along with the book and looking at what I’m about to describe, it would be a little bit easier to understand. Let’s say that we have a name “Tourten.” Most of us might pronounce that as “Tourten,” but we might have intended it to be “To’urten.” One way to solve that is after “T-O” have an apostrophe, and then “U-R-T-E-N.” Therefore, it looks like “To’urten.” Even if this is why we’re doing it, we should work out what letters were omitted by that. So, for example, maybe there was a name “Tourney” and the last name “Urten,” and we removed three letters.

Another general tip is the issue of similarities. There’s an old idea in writing that we shouldn’t have two main characters who have a name that starts with the same letter. So, for example, on Earth, we could have Randy and Ralph. Both of them start with R and they’re both the same length. Why is that a problem? Well, because readers tend to not read that carefully, especially if they get excited like, of course, we want them to. So, they may just not realize that they have read the wrong name. We may want to keep this idea in mind when we are naming people or places for our setting. If we are inventing our setting for a specific story, it is a little bit easier to avoid this problem. We should also pay attention to the way the word looks on the page. We may not think that books are a visual medium, but they are. And, of course, we should pay attention to how the name sounds. It’s always a good idea to say your names out loud because if even you struggle with this, then someone else is probably going to as well.

One way to get around some of this is if you have a webpage for your book, you could put a kind of glossary on there with a recording of yourself saying each one of these names. But this is a kind of nice-to-have. A lot of the readers are never going to go there, play these files and hear these names.

Subscribe

So let’s talk about how to subscribe to this podcast. A podcast is a free, downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go. To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone, iPad, and iPod listeners, grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes Store and search for The Art of World Building. This will help you to download the free podcast app, which is produced by Apple, and then subscribe to the show from within that app. Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right onto your device.

For Android listeners, you can download the Stitcher radio app, which is free, and search for The Art of World Building.

This only needs to be done once and at that point, you will never miss an episode.

Naming Techniques

Now, for my favorite part of inventing names. That is using techniques to do this. I’ve been making up names for 30 years. Over those 30 years, I’ve come up with some pretty reliable tricks. One of those is the silent or repeated letter. The way I spelled was Galen was “G-A-L-E-N,” but there’s no reason I can’t add an “H” as the second letter. Or I can take the “N” at the end and make there be two of them. Sometimes doing this changes the pronunciation, but that could be fine if we are okay with the result. Another trick is to either substitute, add or subtract vowels. Instead of “G-A-L-E-N,” we could double the “E” and end up with Galeen. Now, Galen, spelled “G-A-L-E-N,” could be “I-N” instead. It would sound the same, but it would look different.

I should point out that one of the ways that I do this is that I take known words that are around me on a product, for example, and I will sometimes apply these techniques to those words, or parts of those words, to invent names. That is how I got the name Galen. It is on a product in front of me. There’s also the word “Solution” on another product, and I took that and just changed it to Lucion. I’m recording this in my recording studio and I have speakers that are made by a company called Alesis. I can just get rid of that first “A” and I end up with Lesis. If I don’t like that, then I start applying the techniques that I’m talking about, changing it up until it becomes something that I like. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. The great thing about it, to me, is that I’m still using my creativity to invent something rather than using something like a name generator. You can find name generators online, but I don’t personally find that to be very rewarding.

We can also choose to capitalize another letter. When we do this, it can make it seem weird unless we use an apostrophe like we were talking about before. Another technique is to switch out the first letter of a word. So, the word “woman,” if we put an “S,” “D” or an “R” on the front, we get Soman, Doman and Roman. When I do this kind of thing, I’m usually sitting there looking at my computer keyboard. We can also add a suffix or a prefix. Galen could become Galenor, Galendor or maybe Galenda, Glenda. We could add a prefix and end up with d’Galen. Remember to have fun with these when you’re doing this.

Another source of names is a foreign language, but, of course, we do live in a world that is pretty well interconnected. So, you could invent a name that you think is original, and it’s actually a word from another language. When we do this, we might want to apply these techniques to alter that name so that it is not exactly the same.

My final tip on this is to be consistent with your names, but not too much. For example, let’s say that you have decided to use “nor” as a suffix on the end of names. You don’t want to make every last settlement in a given region have that same suffix because it starts to look a little bit too planned. The reality is that places get conquered, they get renamed, stuff happens and so, sometimes, the name changes. Now, if we’ve already created a map and we’re already using a place that has names where everything has the same suffix, then there is an easy way to get around this. We can just decide that somebody somewhere renamed everything. So, for example, maybe that became a kingdom in its current form 40 years ago, and the new ruler renamed every last settlement. This is plausible, especially if it’s something like an absolute monarch who can do whatever he wants, but what we want to avoid is the impression that we have done too much planning. We always want to be realistic.

Review

if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate and review the show at artofworldbuilding.com/review. Reviews really are critical to encouraging more people to listen to a show haven’t heard of before, and it can also help the show rank better, allowing more people to discover it. Again, that URL is artofworldbuilding.com/review.

Closing

All of this show’s music is actually courtesy of yours truly, as I’m also a musician. The theme song is the title track from my Some Things are Better Left Unsaid album, but now we’re closing out today’s show with a song from the same album called “Better Things to Do.” You can hear more at RandyEllefson.com. Check out artofworldbuilding.com for free templates to help with your world building. And please rate and review the show in iTunes. Thanks for listening!

WBU Covid-19 Sale

 news  Comments Off on WBU Covid-19 Sale
Mar 252020
 

As owner of World Building University (WBU), I recognize the difficult times we’re all facing as Coronavirus changes life as we know it. For a limited time, I’m offering a 75% discount on the full price of How to Create a Species/Race. Just $49 instead of $199: Review the course here.

I’m also hoping to finish Accelerated World Building soon so those of you with free time on your hands can use it to your advantage. That course has been planned to be free from the beginning and I’m happy to provide it so you can get more done!

Podcast Episodes to Resume

 news  Comments Off on Podcast Episodes to Resume
Feb 062020
 

Art of World Building Podcast LogoIt’s been almost a year since I released episode 22 of The Art of World Building Podcast, but new ones have been recorded and are scheduled to resume releases on April 7, 2020, two weeks before Cultures and Beyond is published. As before, episodes will release every two weeks. Each of the new ones is based on volume three, so you’ll get cultures, armed forces, organizations, religions, magic systems, the supernatural, items, languages, and more!

Vol 3 Release Date Set

 news  Comments Off on Vol 3 Release Date Set
Jan 292020
 

Cultures and Beyond (Vol. 3)The release of Cultures and Beyond (The Art of World Building, #3) is set for April 21, 2020. The writing is done and the book is headed off to the editor and formatter soon. I know a lot of you are waiting for it and I apologize for the delays. Thanks for your patience!

Pre-Order Now!