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Which raw materials would elves make for ordinary materials?

Those "ordinary materials" being:



  • Concrete

  • Stone

  • Steel

  • Glass

  • Paper

  • Cement

  • Plastic


The criteria that would affect the answers are as follows:



  • If left untended, would have an average lifespan of 500-1200 years

  • Lower risk of environmental waste
  • Not magical
 
Stone lasts literally forever baring something destroying or eroding it. Roman concrete is still around. Plastic... well, yeah. Bronze (except around seawater or modern pollution), aluminum, stainless steel, or titanium last basically forever. There are also alternative forms of bronze like aluminum bronze which is an alloy of copper and aluminum. The patina that forms on copper-containing objects, and the clear oxide layer on aluminum, titanium, or stainless steel generally protect the metal underneath from further oxidization. Not sure what you mean by "magical" but there could be special woods that are extremely long-lasting, or treatments for wood that are themselves practically indestructible that would then seal the wood against the weather.
 

Chasejxyz

Inkling
Besides paper, all those things have extremely high life spans. Paper can if it's treated the proper way...which professional archivists would do. In my story there needs to be long-term archival (like I'm talking about thousands of years) so the solution is writing/painting words/letters onto stone slabs, which is then coated in resin, and then stored in a basement-like situation. I know that resin does get funky after some time but I also can use magic to make it work so shhhhhhhh.

Anyways. What do you mean by "lower risk of environmental waste" ? Do you mean really nasty gross chemicals that can set the river on fire? Or things that make superfund sites? Every thing you make needs raw materials, and those need to come from somewhere. Glass is made from sand, and you're digging up a river bank or a beach to get that. The desert isn't endless sand, there's rocks underneath, so you CAN drain a desert if you take more sand than what's naturally made. Even "stuff from nothing" like solar and wind energy is still removing stuff from a system, which will absolutely have effects at scale. So even if your elves find a way to create stuff by messing around with protons/neutrons, it's still going to have some sort of effect on the environment, there's going to be some sort of waste products/energy. Not much you can do about that.
 
I like the idea of a runic alphabet with all the lines the same length that works kinda like cuneiform but tapping runes into thin copper sheets with a small hammer and chisel.
 

Chasejxyz

Inkling
Funny story the original version was cuneiform, but I didn't think that would be very space/weight-efficient. Also I probably should have mentioned that the species doing this is birds, and they haven't figured out how to turn into humans yet, and also humans were still cave person level, so getting/working metal wasn't really an option.

I imagine OP's elves have the standard number of fingers/thumbs so this shouldn't be a problem, though.
 

Ankari

Hero Breaker
Moderator
How can this question be asked without any background information? Further, why is it being asked? As writers, your book is your sandbox. What part of this question requires outside opinion? Everything on that list can be attributed to YOUR elves as YOU see fit. All these questions serve is a validation of outside influence. These tend to serve as roadblocks to creativity rather than aid in its progression.
 

Almyrigan Hero

Minstrel
The thing is most conventional building materials aren't inherently harmful to the environment, it's how they're produced and how the waste is disposed of, and there's usually some sort of catch that prevents you from having your cake and eating it too.

Stone and wood, for example, are both perfectly 'clean;' but they're also resources you generally have to gouge holes in the environment for (literally, in the case of quarries,) if you want to build on a really large scale. Speaking of quarries, moving an inverted mountain requires a ton of gas-guzzling equipment. That, or you can levy an entire empire to finish one large project in your lifetime. Since you even mentioned plastic, I'm assuming your civilizations are a bit beyond willing to work at that pace.

Metal is mostly found underground, where there isn't a ton of ecosystem to disturb, but then you have to smelt and refine it before you can use it, and that contributes to carbon emissions. You could build with metals that have a lower melting point and thus consume less fuel, but then most worthwhile metals for construction don't have a very low melting point.

TL;DR - It's not what you use, it's how much you use, and how big of a trash heap you're left with by time the job is done. Very small but very tidy cities are the best bet for your elves.
 
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How can this question be asked without any background information? Further, why is it being asked? As writers, your book is your sandbox. What part of this question requires outside opinion? Everything on that list can be attributed to YOUR elves as YOU see fit. All these questions serve is a validation of outside influence. These tend to serve as roadblocks to creativity rather than aid in its progression.


This is a real world, albeit an alternate world. And if reality is any consideration, world comes before history, and history comes before story. There are no geological handwaviumites that just came out of nowhere, much less in a point of departure no older than 56 million years.
 

Ankari

Hero Breaker
Moderator
An alternate world with elves is a real world? You have to immediately toss out "reality" when writing an alternate history/fantasy. If it was reality, than you wouldn't have elves.

I think you're seeking a way to model your alternate fantasy world as close to our real world. Why doesn't matter, although I'm of the opinion this need limits your story.

To think "world" exists in a vacuum and is not influenced by "history" or "story" is a mistake. One, you're susceptible to falling down the Worldbuilding rabbit hole, always seeking the next world characteristic before moving onto the story. Two, "story" shapes "history" shapes "world." Think of the forests that do not exist because of wars, or industrialization. Think of how this affected the seasons, or erosion, or the death or birth of cities.

Now think of Elves and how they would shape this world. Think of their impact. Why even limit what can or can't be done in an alternate world already boasting a 1 in a trillion event such as a different species of intelligent life.

Also, consider your question. Glass (with exception to obsidian), plastic, concrete, cement and steel are not raw materials. They are, in some cases, technological leaps (glass, plastic, steel), and in others, a combination of raw materials (cement and concrete).

If your elves are using any of these materials 56 million years in the past of our current time, they would be as gods to ants by the time they catch up to the present.

Last word. Resist the need to limit your story with the minute. Just tell the story you want to tell and build the world to serve it.
 

Saigonnus

Auror
Something that wasn't brought up yet in this thread is that the durability of a substance is directly influenced by the environment it exists in. For example: A stone structure in Massachusetts (cold, lots of rain and snow, brine in the air) would last 150 years... and be barely recognizable as a structure. The same structure in New Mexico (hot, dry, low salt content to the air) could last several hundred years. Same would be true if you put an old Studebaker (steel frame, rubber tires etc.) in Maine vs. Arizona. After 50 years in the north-east, you would still be able to tell it's a car, but more would survive in the south-west.

The materials these elves would use would seriously depend on what sort of climate they live in, their knowledge of architecture/construction, and whether or not magic plays any role in their story. It would also depend on their values. The pre-colombian people of North/Central America (Aztecs, Mixtecas, Olmecs etc.) placed great value on building huge temples and ziggurats, cities of stone and giant stone heads. The native Americans in what would become the US were/are very close to nature, almost the complete opposite to their southern neighbors. Their ancestors didn't leave behind many structures at all... and what they did build with were natural resources (wood, leather, animal skins, bone) and did quite well for themselves for thousands of years.
 

Saigonnus

Auror
In other words, make stuff up as you go along. Uh-uh. That attitude negates the realism.

Realism to the real world is different then Realism within the confines of the story. Would it be realistic to use a faster-than-light propulsion system in a Spy thriller set in the 1960s?, not unless it is one of those strange episodes of Star Trek. Using it in some kind of sci-fi post-apocalyptic story? YES! (is it realistic to the modern world, no.)

What sort of story are you trying to write? An analogy to the modern world with real Earth history? or something more akin to "what if a fantasy world were advanced to a similar technological level to that of Earth in 2010"? This could really help us figure out what exactly you are looking for.
 
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Chasejxyz

Inkling
In other words, make stuff up as you go along. Uh-uh. That attitude negates the realism.

Don't wanna rock your world or anything, but that's how most writing happens. You can sit down and plan and outline and think you're 100% prepared to sit down and write your first draft, but I absolutely guarantee you, there is things that are going to happen that you didn't think about or changed in ways you couldn't expect so you'll have to make something up in the moment. And that's totally fine. There's this thing called "editing," where you go over your finished draft to make things better and consistent. So if you come up with something in chapter 5 that contradicts something in chapter 2, you make a decision on what to keep when you're working on the second draft.

That's what everyone does, except people who post fanfictions the moment they finish a chapter and they're totally making up the entire story as they're going along. Fifty Shades was written this way and little to no editing happened when it was converted to original fiction, so you can see a lot of these issues when you read it. But when they turned it into a movie, they had a finished book AND they knew what would happen in the subsequent novels, so they could make editorial decisions to make it look like everything was planned from the start.
 

Saigonnus

Auror
A comprehensive textbook on the geography, geology, wildlife, culture and history of that alternate Earth. Doing that first would make the settings of the stories more believable.

I can understand your point of view, most of us love world-building, but it isn't something I share. The reason I don't is because doing it that way paints me into a corner when it comes to actually writing the story. Imagine I have this 197 page file about everything from cultures, to world history, to geography, to economics, to religious orders and deities... all painstakingly done so that it seems perfect. Then in chapter 6 I realize that the geography or trade economics I set up doesn't work. Maybe the city needs to be farther away or it's too far. Maybe the neighboring country is more likely to trade in livestock than in the metals that I need? Maybe in chapter 10 something about one of the religions just doesn't work... I will have to change the geography or religion to fit. Do I really have to change what I spent literally days on?

Another issue to consider is that unless there are somehow dinosaurs walking around (which most people are familiar with anyway), or some other alien creatures, we all know what sort of creatures to expect in an alternate Earth. Why take time cataloging their appetites and territory? Why is it important that this creature is insectoid and lays thousands of eggs if it will never make it into the story?

My method of doing things is to create only a rough framework for the world. I halfway flesh out the main cultures, get a general layout of geography, what sorts of governments represent the various peoples of the world, and the basic idea for any religions that might play a part in a story. Then, as I write, I add things to the world almanac.
 
In other words, make stuff up as you go along. Uh-uh. That attitude negates the realism.
Good luck with the endevor. Tolkien tried it and he didn't succeed in the 25 years he spend on world building, which incidently is part of the reason he never published the Silmarillion.

Just know that most Fantasy authors worldbuild "a hollow iceberg". With an iceberg 90% of its mass is underwater. With worldbuilding, you want to create the illusion that 90% of what you know about your world is not in the text. In reality, that bottom part of the iceberg is hollow. You know some stuff really well and just never bother with the rest until you need it. The stuff you focus on is that which is important to your story. For instance, you make sure you know your magic system really well (if that's important), or your geography, if you have a lot of travelling in your story, or different customs and rituals.

And yes, many writers actually make stuff up as they go along, without it impacting realism at all. That's what you have second drafts for. If on page 200 you discover that you need your elves to have access to glass buildings then in your second draft you have an elf make an off-hand comment about how his glass home is a lot prettier than the human hovel he is in now on page 10, and on page 50 you have your protagonist walk into a glass building (or come across glass bricks). The reader will never know stuff didn't start out that way, but it's what works for a lot of people.
 
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