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 worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Social Stratification and Class

Stratification is a word geologists use to describe the way rocks build up in layers. It’s also a word that can be applied to sociology. In worldbuilding when we discuss social classes, we’re discussing exactly that: social stratification.

Unlike layers of rock however, social stratification isn’t so clearly defined. Part of that is because of the nature of intersectionality. People belong to different social groups, and often we belong to multiple social groups. Often those groups are determined by things outside of our control, with some exceptions of course.

While I could write (and have plans for) an entire post on intersectionality and how it works, today we’re sticking to the basics of social classes, starting with how to define a social class.

One of the first things to determine is whether you have a class system or a caste system. Although moving up in a class system is difficult, it can be done. Caste systems however are locked, barring entry from one class to the next—both up and down.

At a bare minimum you’ll likely have three social classes. That is the upper, the middle and the lower class. However, in reality you can have far more. Typically the additional layers in social hierarchy are built around the middle class, forming into ‘upper middle’ and ‘lower middle’ classes. You can further differentiate the other classes—upper or lower elite, or even adding a difference between lower-working and working-middle classes.

Regardless of how many classes you have, you’ll need to understand what the difference between each one is. To understand that, take a look at where your power is held. This includes political power, monetary power and physical power.

Depending on your governmental system, the people holding political power could very well be based on either heritage like a monarchy, or elitism such as wealth. Those who hold more power will fall higher in the social ranking than those who lack it. With power comes better access to resources.

Other defining factors for social class include things like education and occupation. Jobs deemed to be somehow unclean or low-skilled won’t net much in the terms of resources (such as wealth or political sway) and as a result, aren’t likely to provide better opportunities either for themselves or their families.  Opportunities to better oneself and as a result, better your social class, can be barred because of something like gender, disability and nationality among a dozen other factors.

The tricky part of this is that there’s rarely a clear cut off between one class and the next. When working with measurable things such as acreage of land owned or money it may help to define a range for each class and keep in mind that there will be bleed between each layer and the next. Also keep in mind that even if two characters have the same access to resources such as wealth or education, other factors such as health, ability, gender and family reputation will affect where they fall.

How do your social classes break down? What does social stratification look like in your worldbuilding?

Posted in Exercises, worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Resources and Civilization

In my last worldbuilding post I talked about the different types of terrain. Each type has its own dangers to consider, but it also provides its own resources. Civilization of any level is heavily dependent on resources. Basic survival needs include food, water and shelter which all need to be met by the environment. More complex ideas such as trade and politics also depends on some level on the available resources.

Survival is the most obvious reasons to know what resources your setting offers. Both food and water are heavily effected by this. Not all farming techniques suit every environment and water is needed not just for basic survival, but also for farming and hygiene.

Shelter however, is perhaps where the natural setting plays the largest role. Grasslands and deserts both tend to be open areas, without a lot of natural cover, but they have very different things to offer in terms of building materials. Stone or clay may be plentiful in desert settings. Mud or woven stalks might be easier to gather in a grassland area. Not only do different materials affect the appearance of structures, they also provide different benefits. A woven grass wall will allow for more airflow than a stone one. Stone will provide more security and resists damage.

Because of this, different building materials affect architectural styles and as a result, has some influence on early culture. This is also seen in art, where traditional art uses the natural and readily available materials to craft things like wooden masks, clay dishes and grass or feather dance costumes.

Trade is also another place where resources have a large say. When dealing with market value, common resources will have a lower value than a rare one. This is also affected by how useful a resource is. A resource with multiple uses can have its price driven up. When dealing with direct trade between cultures and regions, resources common to one area can be valuable in another, and common resources between the two may be bartered and exchanged.

When considering interactions, also keep in mind that limited resources can spark conflict. This isn’t restricted to conflict between differing nations as maintenance can become a serious concern. Environmental damage from over harvesting may lead to restrictions and regulations, which can cause disagreement between interest groups, businesses and individuals.

Posted in writing

Beta Readers and the Like

Regardless of who you are, how long you’ve been writing or how many times you’ve been published or any of the other dozens of variables that go into a writing career it never hurts to have a second pair of eyes go over your work. You are naturally biased towards your own work, which is both a good and a bad thing. You want it to be good, so you’ll work harder to fix things that aren’t right on it. On the other hand, you want it to be good, so you can’t necessarily see what’s wrong with it.

Having someone who hasn’t agonized for hours over those same words read through them is absolutely invaluable. Sometimes referred to as beta readers (and sometimes as alpha readers), these are the people who read your manuscript before anyone else to help you find problem areas.

This is not to be confused with a sensitivity reader, who checks your work for harmful tropes, messages or ideas towards minorities groups.

Beta readers however, can do a huge amount for your work, be that spotting a wonky paragraph that needs reworking, to helping you find a scene that’s dragging. In some cases they may also pick up minor mistakes you missed such as the wrong homophone or a missed punctuation mark. (Note here that this is not something you should rely on a beta for, but should probably find a willing critique partner to help with).

Most importantly however, beta readers can give you insight into what a reader is thinking when they’re reading your stories. One of the most valuable things I’ve found from my own betas is how they react to the characters I craft. In these cases they’ve shown me where I’ve missed the mark when motivations aren’t clear, and also when they’ve unexpectedly fallen in love with a side character.

Finding a beta reader doesn’t have to be hard. Try asking anyone you know who falls into your target audience if they’re willing to read and give you feedback on your manuscript.

Keep in mind however, that there are a couple of things that go with being a beta reader.

  • Honesty is key. While it might feel nice to have someone say they like your work and that they don’t think there’s anything to change, that won’t help you improve your writing in the long run. On the flip side of that, it also helps if they can point out things they enjoyed.
  • Articulation is another useful trait. Rather than a vague ‘this bit was nice’ it helps if your beta can explain ‘I enjoyed this because it was tense’ or ‘this scene felt a little slow’. They don’t need to have a full, detailed report on every little thing, but telling you why this or that isn’t working for them does help.

As the writer however, you have a couple of things to uphold as well. Remember that betas are often doing this in their free time on a voluntary basis, so have some patience. If you’re uncertain about what they mean by some of their comments, try asking questions, and especially ask for suggestions! You’re not honor-bound to follow any suggestions they do give, but they might just have the solutions you need.

Posted in Exercises, writing

NaNo ’18 Chronicles

NaNoWriMo is something I do almost every year. I’ve had many years where I did it unofficially, without signing up for an account and simply wrote. I’ve also had several years where for one reason or many, I simply didn’t make the fifty-thousand word goal.

This year of course, I’ll be doing it again. I’ll also be recording how the attempt goes, through from preparation to the final day of writing on November 30th. While this year I’m in the rebel class and working on something I’ve done previously, I did want to share some of my resources for getting inspiration for those of you who want to try your hand at it but could use a dose of inspiration.

The Forge is a really good generator for things like place names, beasties and yes, spells. Very fantasy.

Chaotic Shiny has a massive amount of generators for almost anything you could possibly need. Wide variety.

WritingExercises is a massive collection of prompts and exercises to help get you started or unstuck. Wide variety.

Polygon Map Generator generators random island-like maps, with some basic options for customization. Good for setting.

Fantasy City Generator is really useful for modern cities too if you need it and can be modified to some extent. Good for setting.

Pinterest is an excellent place for collecting all the random bits you find into a single storyboard or helping you find that one piece of something you’re missing. Wide variety.

Ambient Mixer can be used to create virtually any sort of background noise you need for setting or focus. Wide variety.

These are some of the resources I’ve found the most useful for starting, collecting and gathering inspiration to help build the story. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but hopefully it gives you somewhere to start looking.

Also, don’t forget to check out the NaNoWriMo site itself and poke your head into the forums.