The latest reward for the Knight Tier of subscribers on Patreon is now live: PDF download of “The Art of World Building Podcast Transcript – Ep. 27.3”
5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #12): Conclusion
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is closing thoughts. You can read more in Chapter 11, “Conclusion,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).
Tip #1: “Stay Organized”
However you do it, keep your world building files organized so that you can easily find information. And don’t repeat info in more than one place because you won’t remember to change it in both. I keep a master spreadsheet where I can see, at a glance, certain basics about every city on a continent such as population, races present, age, colors, and symbols. And in each city file, I don’t mention these things, alluding to the spreadsheet.
Tip #2: “Follow Your Own Rules”
If we state that no one can do something, don’t have someone be able to do it. The exception is when a character is special in achieving this impossible result, but do that on purpose, not because you made up a rule, forgot, and then had someone break it later without you even commenting on it. Audiences notice these things. Keep a list of your rules and do yourself a favor – don’t be ironclad about them. This gives us flexibility to break one when we need to.
Tip #3: “Consider a Partner”
World building can take huge amounts of time. Consider doing a joint venture with friends where you build a setting together, collaborating and dividing up the work. Just be advised that if this friendship ever fails, you may start arguing over who gets to use the setting. A simple written agreement can specify you each have ownership to write stories in it, but you’ll need to work out these details.
Tip #4: “Remember to Have Fun”
Try not to get so bogged down in world building that it’s no fun anymore and you don’t have time to write stories – or promote them. Use the resources I’ve provided to help you decide what to skip and when. World Building University has a free course that’s designed to help you decide what to do. Use promo code “185Tips” once “Accelerated World Building” is available!
Tip #5: “Use World Building Tools”
Whether it’s my series, The Art of World Building¸ my school World Building University, or books, podcasts, and YouTube videos by others, get familiar with many opinions on how things can be done and take all of it with a grain of salt. There are few things we must get “right.” Be flexible and don’t get overwhelmed.
Summary of Chapter 11—Conclusion
In the series conclusion, we look at how to organize our files of world building notes so that the info glut doesn’t become overwhelming; this includes some tools others have created, whether free or not, and the pros and cons of using them. We’ll also look at different approaches to world building and how they can affect our working methodology and results. Final thoughts include the merits of following our own rules per world and whether partnering with another world builder is a good idea or not.
5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #11): Cultures
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is cultures. You can read more in Chapter 5, “Creating Cultures,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).
Tip #1: “Determine Cultural Vision”
Have an overall vision so that we avoid creating manifestations of culture that clash with each other. An obvious example is elves acting refined at dinner but acting like savages when making love. Invent a vision (which springs from values) that guides our invention of culture, so incongruity doesn’t spring up unless we want it to.
Tip #2: “Race as Culture”
A frequent complaint is when a fictitious race has a mono-culture – every society in that race is identical. The difficulty of creating cultures likely causes this oversight. Don’t make all elves the same regardless of where they live or the social class to which they belong. It’s not realistic – and yes, people do complain about it.
Tip #3: “Create Culture You Can Use”
Some aspects of culture are far more useful to us and should be our focus. This includes greetings, meal etiquette, phrases, rituals, and daily life routines. Other items like songs, clothing, and architecture styles are less helpful because readers won’t see them (less true in visual mediums).
Tip #4: “Alter Earth Expressions”
We can leverage anything from Earth, but changing our expressions is a quick way to make people seem like they’re from somewhere else. “What the hell” becomes “What in Tartarus” for example. Make a list of things you say and just invent alternate versions. It doesn’t take long, and the cumulative effect works.
Tip #5: “Alter Daily Routines”
Creating a daily life schedule that differs from Earth is a fast way to make a place seem different. Be sure to use climate as part of this. People in cold places may venture out in midday when it’s warmest, while those in hot/humid places might say indoors for a siesta. Having a sense of location helps with regional variations on culture.
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.
5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #10): Other Systems
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is other systems. You can read more in Chapter 10, “Creating Other Systems,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).
Tip #1: “Simplify Monetary Systems”
Audiences don’t care about our monetary system or want to remember it. We’ll seldom be mentioning it anyway. In the U.S. we just say “dollars” and “cents,” never mentioning pennies, nickels, etc., so do the same in a fictional world. It can even be smart to say that an $100 item here is a 100 credit item in SF, for example. Why figure out what everything is worth?
Tip #2: “Invent Some Crimes”
In a world with magic or new tech, we have crimes unknown to us on Earth. This is a fun imagination exercise, including deciding punishments. Be reasonable about why the laws exist and find ways characters can be constrained by them or run afoul of them. This is likely with traveling characters.
Tip #3: “Know Your Units”
In commerce, units of weight mean the amount of gold, for example, determines the value. But units of value mean the item has no value beyond what’s printed on it, like paper money; the paper itself is worthless. Units of value become worthless when the government backing them collapses and may not be present in fantasy settings as a result.
Tip #4: “How Educated Is Everyone?”
In fantasy settings, educational levels tend to be lower, as in the 1500-1700s on Earth, while SF often suggests people are more educated, but they needn’t be. Ignorant people can drive a car well, and maybe they can fly a spaceship, too, especially if it has an A.I. they just need to command. Either way, we should work out how much education is expected and whether characters met that expectation or not.
Tip #5: “How Informed is Everyone?”
Regardless of education, information flow can be compromised. In fantasy, it’s typically word of mouth and prone to some inaccuracy. In SF, it might be better, but that’s assuming people have access to data; they may not, and for our story needs we can choose how ignorant they are. This helps us create biases that place them at odds with those who bring more info, creating conflict. This is a good reason to restrict information flow in both genres.
Summary of Chapter 10—Other Systems
Other systems exist in our setting and warrant development. Education systems will determine opportunities available to characters, including employment. We’ll examine educational systems and their impact on employment, plus where and how people are getting educated or being disqualified from it. Health systems include medical and mental, and they range from great to terrible, each having significant impacts on lives. Information systems aren’t just for SF, because fantasy settings need to disseminate information, too, and have their own ways of doing so. Understanding monetary systems and how to keep them simple is another focus and includes how to determine the value of time, labor, and materials. And no world is complete without laws, crimes, and punishments, so developing a legal system is a critical world building task we breakdown into a manageable task.
5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #9): Names
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is names. You can read more in Chapter 9, “Creating Names,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).
Tip #1: “Avoid Apostrophes and Hyphens”
The use of both is cliched. If doing this, make sure most names from that culture are the same so that it doesn’t seem like we’re just trying to be exotic, which is how this got a bad reputation. The hyphens are caused by concatenating a mother and father’s surname. An apostrophe replaces missing letters and we can easily live without doing that.
Tip #2: “Keep Names Short”
Long names are a way to distinguish one race from another, but no one likes trying to sound out Limineraslyvarisnia, for example. However, such names can exist, so if we do this, only use that long version once and shorten it for the rest of the book, such to “Limi.”
Tip #3: “Alter Existing Words”
We can take words we see around us and remove or replace letters and syllables to make new words. We can add prefixes or suffixes. We can substitute vowels. These techniques are fun and effective.
Tip #4: “Surnames Sources”
We can use places, occupations, nicknames, and first names for “last” or surnames. This helps us reuse places and names we’ve already created. Places can imply a character’s origins, but some, like “Hill,” are too generic for that. Professions can imply at least their parent’s background, such a blacksmith getting the last name “Smith.”
Tip #5: “Avoid Name Generators”
There are free online programs that can create names for us with a button click. A quick search will turn them up. But they tend to feel impersonal and when we need multiple names, these programs are unlikely to create ones that seem to fit together.
Summary of Chapter 9—Creating Names
Many techniques exist for creating names of people, places, and things, and all of them leverage our creativity to make the results and process more satisfying than using name generators, which are also discussed. Caveats and pitfalls abound, for while a great name elevates our story, bad ones turn off audiences, or keep them from talking about a character with an unpronounceable or unspellable name. We look at the differences between given names, surnames, compound names, and different ways to leverage parts of our invented world for all of them. The tips in this chapter will make this required activity fun and rewarding.