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Things to consider

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Rkcapps, Jul 18, 2017.

  1. Rkcapps

    Rkcapps Sage

    In trying to be thorough about my world, what things should I consider?

    I have a magic system, political parties, clothes, religion, food, (I'm not doing banks, although I'm thinking barter instead of money), I have how streets lighted at night. What else should I cover?

    I'm focused in one city most of the time so I'm trying to tick off the boxes I need to cover when in a city.
  2. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

    Well that seems very thorough. With regards to the fact that you're talking about a city, it might be worth considering the city's relationship with the surrounding country. Note how historically, cities have acted as hotpockets of political thought and progressive ideology. Just look at 18th century London or 1920s Berlin. What does the city do that the other places don't? And how does tyhe rest of the country perceive it?
    Rkcapps likes this.
  3. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Minstrel

    Does the city have an established plumbing system (magical or otherwise)? If so, how does it work? If not, what do the people do instead?
    Rkcapps likes this.
  4. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    You got it all wrong. It's not about what elements you have, it's how it all fits together.
    Rkcapps and Aurora like this.
  5. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Minstrel

    That is also important :)

    What are some of the connections you've come up with?
    Rkcapps likes this.
  6. DMThaane

    DMThaane Sage

    I noticed you didn't mention culture; how people greet each other on the streets or the proper etiquette when sharing a meal. How people interact with the world and each other will usually provide context to the rest, helping it all fit together. Without knowing the story your writing I can't say if local crop yields or whether the glass blowers are unionised or in a guild is are vital questions or not.
    Rkcapps likes this.
  7. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    Both are important, of course, so it's unfair to say that a discussion of the elements is all wrong.

    There's more to the economy than money or bartering systems. What jobs are there in the city, and how do they come to be filled? How much unemployment is there in the city? How much of the population is homeless? How are the jobless and/or homeless treated in the city?

    Are there social strata in the city, based on wealth or employment type or something else? How do these strata interact or not interact?

    Are there any guilds or gangs (organized groups) in the city? Do any of these groups cooperate or compete with other groups, either in the same city or in other cities?

    How much crime is in the city? What kinds of crimes are most prevalent, and why? How is crime dealt with?

    How does news travel within the city? How reliable is the method of spreading news within the city? How does news from other cities come to this city? How reliable is the method of receiving news from other cities?

    What are the transportation methods within the city and between cities? Not just for individuals, or merchants who need to transport goods, but also for moving sizable quantities of stone or wood or any other type of material that might be used for building or repairing structures. What businesses in the city are necessary to support transportation? In what shape are the roads or other avenues of travel in the city? What is the parking situation in the city? How dense is traffic in the city, typically? Who keeps the streets clean, and how? Who is responsible for repairing the streets when needed?

    Where do people put their garbage?

    Where do visitors stay in the city? Why would visitors come to the city? Are visitors typically welcomed?

    All the above questions can be applied not only to the city in general, but to any identifiable areas of the city that might operate differently than other areas.
  8. Aurora

    Aurora Sage

    Social class is a big one that will affect how your characters relate to one another. Also anything threatening peace in the kingdom/land.
    Rkcapps likes this.
  9. DeathtoTrite

    DeathtoTrite Troubadour

    How does the city fit within the larger setting? How does trade fit into the cities economy?
    Rkcapps and Simpson17866 like this.
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    If you grab the stick from that end, you'll never finish.

    What's your story? If it's about the ruling family, then you probably don't need to put much thought to how tanners and weavers live. If it's about a tanner who turns to banditry then discovers he has magical powers, you can more or less ignore the complexities of urban electoral machinery.

    To put it another way, you don't need to illuminate the whole house; you need only shine the flashlight where the story takes you.

    I'll mention one generality, though. If it's a city, then there's money. Barter cannot support a large central place ("large" here means over about 5000 people).
  11. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    I'm gonna sign on with those who are saying that first comes the story. Work on having a good story, fleshing out the world is an endless task, and mostly behind the scenes anyway.
    Rkcapps likes this.
  12. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    Personally, I like having as much of an idea about my setting as possible before writing the story. I don't mind changing my world design if I have to for the story, but having an extensive world design up front helps me immerse myself into the setting, which I hope will translate into easier immersion for the reader. But, yeah, you have to temper the amount of world design you do prior to writing the story with the nature of the story; if you're writing a novel with planned sequels, the more you might want to decide about your setting up front, than if you're writing a one-off standalone novel or an even shorter work.

    Even if your story isn't about garbage, it can still add color to your descriptions to note that the streets are full of it, if that's how you envision the streets in your city. I went to Seoul, Korea in 1994. I don't know how the city is now, but back then, when I went for a walk, nearly everyone I passed wore a suit and tie, and the sidewalks were immaculate, except for the occasional stretches of refuse-stained concrete cluttered with discarded rags and cardboard.
    Rkcapps, skip.knox and Simpson17866 like this.
  13. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    The rule of thumb is:

    'no matter how much worldbuilding you do, it's never enough.'

    I used to do a lot of worldbuilding - so much it got in the way of the writing. When I started writing in earnest, I immediately found one hole after another.

    I ended up joining the prompt based writing challenges here, and using the stories to flesh out this or that element of the world. And even now, I still make up stuff on the fly.

    My recommendation: write some short stories set in this city of yours, no more than a couple thousand words each. Pick a minor character or three - have them hit the market and/or other major attractions. Find out how they view things via writing their POV. The stories don't have to be masterpieces.
    KC Trae Becker and Rkcapps like this.
  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    > if you're writing a novel with planned sequels, the more you might want to decide about your setting up front,
    > than if you're writing a one-off standalone novel or an even shorter work.

    This is an important point. The size of the project does affect the amount of world building. I've cheated--all my stories are in the same world, so I only have to build one world. But the amount of work to do so is still longer than a lifetime, so there's that.
    Rkcapps and Michael K. Eidson like this.
  15. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

    Short answer: consider everything.


    Long answer: I as a reader of fantasy (and as a potential reader / customer / recommender of your Work(s)) like a well conceived, thought out and described world. Yes, if you're a novelist, you need to tell a story, and so you need to take heed of the warnings about "too much worldbuilding". But as a reader, I'm going to say straight up that more worldbuilding is best. Too little makes your story not worth my time.

    If you can't be bothered about the little details that make your world rich and deep and, well, REAL, then by all means go write a historical fantasy set in 16th century Germany. If you want to write good fantasy, then you really do need to work long and hard on the world your story is set in. Putting a random collection of magic wands, elves and dragons in 16th century Germany still yields a story set in 16th century Germany. There's a reason why JRRT has seen the success he has: he got the recipe right. The world he built / invented / discovered / rewrote is a real world. He didn't fake anything. He didn't pants his way through.

    Short answer: cover everything.

    How about the mythology? The folklore? The literature, scripture and everyday wisdom that the people in your world and in your stories call upon when they talk? The little things that you'll be peppering your dialog with, the way we rely on the Bible and Shakespeare and Mother Goose and Aesop.

    How about the languages? The language(s) spoken will give you all kinds of idioms and curious turns of phrase that will be meaningful for your reader, but will not be English idioms.

    Political parties? What is the basis for governance in the countries of this world? *Here* we have concepts like the "Mandate of Heaven" in the East and the "People's prayers for the Emperor and those in authority" in the West. What kinds of polities exist and how might they differ from what we know *here* in the primary world?

    Clothing? Why do people wear clothing in your world? Who is it appropriate for and when do people wear what?

    Street lights? What is the back-story there? Is there a guild of street lighters? What is their lore? What folk sayings or wisdom touches upon these folks as they go about their quiet rounds? Are they a sacred fraternity? Do they get their light from a certain temple?

    I'm not saying you have to create a whole system of sawyery and lore before you ever write a word of story. (And I'm not saying you haven't done the following,) but thinking of questions three to nine layers deeper than the surface will yield you a real world, a world where you can draw up wisdom and pithy sayings from your mathomhouse the way one might draw water from a deep well. It cools and refreshes. It revives the senses and leads one ever deeper into the secret garden where we'll sit at your knees and listen to your tales of wonder!

    Streets. How are they paved? (Consider how Pratchett describes Vimes's ability to navigate Ankh-Morpork by the patterns in the cobbles. This is something I took note of walking around old cities in Spain --- cobbles are often laid in intricate patterns.)

    Public transportation. How do people get around? Motorised vehicles? Pedicabs? Rickshaws? Sedan chairs? Trams?

    Bread and board. How do people eat? Does everyone cook at home, or is it cheaper and easier to find a local popina? Do people buy bread in a market, or do they mix and knead their own and take the loaves to a neighbourhood bakehouse? How does a traveller get a bite to eat? Where does he sleep? Are there established "hotels" or do travellers try and find a place in a local monastery or caravansary?

    How do strangers navigate the city? Is there a guild of boys who hire themselves out as guides for visitors to the city?

    What about the underworld? The figurative underworld of crime, guilds and all the folks who are up at all hours, as well as the literal underworld of the sewers and undercrofts of any sufficiently old city, the home of criminal elements, the dispossessed, the outcast.

    Ask yourself these and ten thousand more questions and you'll be about 0.001% of the way there! :)
    DavidALindsay and Rkcapps like this.
  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    It comes down to what you want to put time in as an author.

    At the least, you should have the details of the world figured out to the extent they impact your story. Beyond that it is entirely up to your own personal preference. For me, going too far beyond that is a waste of time. For people who enjoy worldbuilding as much or more than writing, developing every little detail may be a source of great pleasure. Your readers don't need more than is required by the story (though some readers like‚Äč having more than that).
    Russ and Rkcapps like this.
  17. DeathtoTrite

    DeathtoTrite Troubadour

    This is shockingly similar to how I do things. I write short stories purely to see more of my world. I have written histories, drawn city-level maps, written short stories, etc. that I have no ambition to be seen by anyone besides myself. Worldbuilding is less for preparing a story in this case and more a great way to relax and think differently after working on an electrical engineering/ applied physics project all day.

    If I ever get around to writing a story with the aspiration to have others read it, I want a world that has essentially been "aged" a few hundred years by me just thinking about events unfolding. I want to have the answer to everything, but restrain from expositing as much as possible to really be able to pick my very favorite parts of the world.
    Rkcapps likes this.
  18. Dark Squiggle

    Dark Squiggle Troubadour

    Pure barter may not be enough, but many great cities have run on a mix of currencies stamped by foreign countries, French Golden Napoleons, Spanish pieces of eight, Dinars, prutas, shekels, and many others were mixed together to form the currency of the Middle East in the 18th and 19th centuries. Norman/Viking cities originally used gold and silver wire as currency. The idea of a single unified currency is a rarity in ancient and medieval times.
    Rkcapps likes this.
  19. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    Health care. Magic based? Level of technology available?

    Education system. Is it a medieval type system? Do the rich kids have tutors? Are there schools? Universities? Guilds?

    What happens to the disabled people in your city? Disabled babies? Disabled adults? Are there institutions? Are they left to starve? Are they killed at birth? What about disabilities that aren't apparent at birth?

    What do women do all day? Do they work? Sit around knitting? Do girls get educated?

    Entertainment? What do people do for fun? Are there plays? Music? Opera? Sports games? Arenas?
    Rkcapps likes this.
  20. Russ

    Russ Istar

    The answer to question lies in what you are doing, writing a story or a world building exercise.

    If you are writing a story you only need to build as much of the world as your characters interact with. If you are world building for some other reason, the answer is pretty much as much as you want to.

    There are a zillion world building checklists out there to assist you, or you could buy a book on "Everyday life in...X" and see what they cover and how they cover it.
    Rkcapps likes this.

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