A number of history teachers told me that “nothing happens in a vacuum,” meaning of course that any particular event, problem or thing came from some previous events and relied on the system around them. This brings me to today’s subject: World building. This is a huge topic and I’m going to tackle it in future installments such as: the world itself(physical laws of science and magic, weather/climate, landmasses, the living environment/biomes) and the social world( social structures, belief system(s), etiquette, the size and organization of groups, from tribes to empires, architecture.)
Why bother? Good question. It’s one I wish someone would have answered for me in school. It may seem like a lot of work, and it is if you’re just writing a one shot story. You won’t be able to explicitly state most of the above information as it won’t relate to your tale. However, in a novel or a setting you may use again for other short stories, it can be invaluable and take your story from the void of uncertainty into the fleshed out world of someplace that might be. Which of these do you think will be more engaging, especially over the long-term?
Let’s take simple geography/ landscape as an example before I let you go. A land with many lakes or rivers may rely more heavily on fish, know a lot about boats, even have groups which live on boats. They would be more concerned with tides and snowmelt(if there are mountains to gather lots of snow in the winter… is there winter? if your fictional world has a different or no axial tilt, the seasons may be different/longer lasting, more or less severe, or lacking altogether) causing flooding.
A land which has only cold may only know snow and ice, only heat may never see snow and may be threatened by drought, or a long rainy season.
A land which is large and connected, unobstructed by mountains, may have great herds of beasts roaming across mighty plains and traveling people who live off them. At any rate, roads from one place to another would be common, where in a mostly water world or area made up of a series of islands, boats may come back into vogue or perhaps bridges if the islands are close enough and the people have the technology.
Availability of food, types of food, types of weather which are the greatest issue or even in existence can inform the attitudes of the people, the characters. Quite often, a focal or main character will be a bit different. Perhaps, in a place where it rains all the time and people are tired of it, they love the rain, or they hate the beans everyone eats to get by, or they want to be a great merchant, building their own caravan across the plains.
Even the literal vacuum of space isn’t really that empty in a story. The proximity of other planets, moons, asteroids, etc, ships, stations, other civilizations in any number of forms will have direct effect on the formation of the society, norms, and psychology of the characters. That is what stories are all about.