Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Handling Multiple Countries

It’s a little unlikely that you’ll have only one country for worldbuilding. Although your story or even your game campaign may only take place in one particular country, as a general rule humans don’t do great in massive cohesive groups. Add in a couple of different races and you’re almost certain to have at least a couple of different countries in your world.

Where you have multiple countries, you also have multiple chances for conflict. Politics is often the basis of how a group of people govern themselves. When you have different groups, you often have different ideas of how they should be governed. In itself that can be the basis for conflict between countries. Resources are yet another place where varied opinions might clash—that includes not only food or minerals, but also land.

A good way to manage multiple countries might be to figure out where their conflicts potentially lie. Start with cultural differences. Do they have differing religions? What about language? Are there certain actions which might be considered respectful in one culture, but odd or even insulting in another?

Now consider the resources your countries have. Animals, plants and building materials are major resources for civilization at any stage. Following that, decorative items such jewels or dyes are often traded back and forth.

With your resources and cultures figured out, look at how well they can be meshed together. If one country is drowning in a particular resource the other one considers holy, it’s possible trade agreements will be reached. This is where imports and exports come in. Countries doing a lot of trade are likelier to set aside their differences and may form alliances in times of war. Keep in mind this isn’t always the case—owing another country a lot of money doesn’t breed much goodwill on either side.

A final thing to consider is how easily people can immigrate from one country to another. How easy is it for citizens of one nationality to becomes citizens of another? What steps do they have to take, and how does this changed based on which country they’re coming from and going to?

Posted in writing

Character vs. Plot Driven

When it comes to moving your story forward there are usually two driving forces: plot and character. Because each one drives the events in a story a little differently, this gives us plot-driven and character driven stories.

With plot-driven stories, the events drive each other forward. High taxes from the king cause a famine in the kingdom, which leads to bandits stealing from the rich nobles to help feed the poor. Cause and effect directly affect what happens next.  Often, plot-driven stories have a predictable outcome. The murder is solved, the couple gets married, etc.

Plot-driven stories often feature static characters.  Arguably if you replaced any of the characters in The Lord of the Rings you’d have largely the same story. The ring would still be destroyed, Aragorn (or his replacement) would still take the throne. This is because the events happening are more important than the character development.

With character-driven stories, the reactions to each event drive each other forward. The high taxes cause anger which causes riots, which causes a civil war, which leads to the division of the country. In this case, emotions and motivations push events forward. Endings can be a little harder to predict because they’re often focused on internal goals instead of external conflicts.

Because the focus on character-driven stories is heavier, they rely heavily on character arcs and development. In The Hobbit, replacing any of the characters gets a little trickier.  Replacing Bilbo leads to a few less questionable incidents (the trolls, anyone?). Replacing Thorin probably avoids the fight over the Arkenstone.

The main difference between character- and plot-driven stories is where the focus is. A story focused on external conflict lends itself more to a plot-driven structure. The conflict must be resolved in some manner, and as a result, events push forward to that inevitable resolution.  A character-driven story is less about the end goal and more about the changes a character goes through during the course of a story.

If you’re wondering which one is better, the answer is neither. As a writer you may find yourself preferring one style over the other, but neither character- nor plot-driven stands firm as a ‘better’ option. Nor are they mutually exclusive. Going back to The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit you can see that a character-driven story like the Hobbit gives way to a plot-driven story such as the Lord of the Rings.  If Bilbo never steals the ring, then the ring never needs destroying. And, as above, with high taxes and a famine sweeping the land from our plot-driven example, it makes sense for a motivated Robin Hood to start stealing to help his community.

Which storytelling style do you prefer to write?

Posted in Exercises

Exercise: Help Wanted

Advertisements are everywhere. It’s a part of the modern world we largely can’t escape—they litter major cities on the sides of buses and benches, spread across the internet in myriad hidden places and even reach into basic farmer’s stands and markets.

With how frequent ads are, there’s probably one you’ve learned to overlook: Help Wanted. When a company needs help they rely on advertising to let job-seekers know they have an open position.

Exercise 1: Write a help wanted add for the roles in your story. Think about what some of the ‘job’ requirements would be. Are there certain actions or skills your characters will need to bring to the table? What about requirements like education or a vehicle?

Exercise 2: Take a look at a job posting board and pick an open position. Create a character that would perfectly match the listed requirements and experience. If they match the requirements perfectly, what sort of obstacle can you put in their way to getting the job?

Exercise 3: Write an advertisement for an unusual job—like dragon washer or space station inspector. Think outside of the box and get as strange or bizarre as you like. What might the job duties entail?