Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Law and Enforcement

No matter what sort of genre you write, if you’re doing any sort of worldbuilding it’s a good idea to take a look at your laws and how they’re enforced. Anarchy isn’t generally a great backdrop—dystopian settings and Armageddon excluded.

There’s two ways you can start this. One is to figure out who polices the population and where their power is derived from. This is especially key to finding out where the flaws in your enforcement system are. It’s unlikely you’ll have a perfect enforcement system. Power after all corrupts, and when you’re dealing with people who are there solely to maintain order, they have a fair amount of power.

The other place you could start is figuring out which laws need the most enforcement. This gives you a bigger look at your society, but also opens up a lot of other questions such as why those laws in particular need enforcement. If thievery is your biggest problem, ask yourself why your civilians find it necessary to steal. Is it possible that the general public lacks resources, making theft a survival tactic? If it’s a lack of resources and power driving their crimes, why hasn’t your enforcement agency stepped in to correct this?

Regardless of where you start, it’s a good idea to have an answer for both. Knowing who does the enforcing and where they need to enforce the most is crucial in building a justice system. This gives you a base for expanding from simple enforcement officers such as police or guards into the larger judicial system of judges, juries and executioners. Ask yourself how trials are conducted. Do your enforcement officers carry the task of both catching and condemning criminals? How is the system balanced between stopping a crime and protecting the innocent?

Lastly, now that you know how your system works and what drives it, ask yourself who would join the ranks of your law enforcement. Are these willing volunteers with good intentions? Are they chosen because they meet certain criteria, and if so, who does the choosing? Are these desperate people hoping for a chance to protect their loved ones from the brutality the system inflicts on the populace? Are these men and women serving because they’re required to do so by some legal stipulation?

What does your world’s law and enforcement system look like? If you feel like sharing, drop a comment below!

Posted in General

Creating Last Names

I’ve touched on names a couple of times before, but in this case, I want specifically focus on family names. Family or inherited names can be used to help trace genealogy, but when it comes to writing and creating characters, they also serve to help flesh out your world.

For those stories set in the real, or near-real worlds, last names become incredibly easy. Searching for a surname is as easy as check with Behind the Name, or running a search for common last names of the appropriate nationality. Location names such as Alamanni, Appleton, Yorkshire, Caivano and others are also useful and tie back to real world places. Occupation names also provide easy options. Names like Baker, Cooper and Shepherd give you a clue as to what the family has done historically.

For those who need to create names, things get a little harder. Depending on your setting, occupational names are still very much a possibility. If you’ve created or are using a fictional language, occupation names can be made by translating your given occupation into the language of your choice. Keep in mind that not all things translate well, and errors do happen–when all else fails, change just one or two letters. Baker becomes Bacer, Daker or even Bakor.

Location names are also still a possibility. For fantasy settings, ‘of Landmark’ names work well. You can end up with names like ‘of York’ or ‘of River Edge’. Within the context of space-faring sci-fi you also have constellation and planetary names to utilize. Someone with the last name ‘Andromeda’ might very well be from somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy. Alternately, the last name Jupiter can be used to indicate someone from a colony on or near the gas giant. And again, you can alter these names slightly to help fit: Andromedus or Juptus can be readily used to indicate someone of the Andromeda Galaxy, and Jupiter respectively.

You can add an affix such as ‘-son’ or ‘fitz-‘ as needed to the personal name of a parent to help create another name such as McNeal or Johnson. In more real-world based settings, make sure you’re paying attention to regional affixes.

And, when all else fails, try mashing names and words together. For fantasy names, something like Blacksword indicates a family name with ties to a black sword, even though it’s simply compounding two separate words. For a different feel you could try mashing together two names like Ashley and Robin, resulting in Robley or Ashin (this works well for first names too).


Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Building a Magic System

Being a fantasy writer, one of the biggest parts of building a world often includes creating a magic system. Personally it’s also one of my favorite parts. Writing in itself is a kind of magic, but where my ability to make things happen is limited to what happens on the page, the limits are entirely set by the rules of your world.

Any magic system needs to hit three points: the rules, the limits and the costs. Magic in itself can very well take any form you please, be that the wand-waving spells in Harry Potter, to elemental prowess from Avatar and even into psionic powers such as in Matilda. Regardless of the form, those three points dictate how magic works.

Rules define what magic is. This includes the form it takes, what the power source is and who can have it. This also covers any laws or regulations you may have. Consider things like if there are uses of magic that might be illegal, or if magic is outlawed entirely, if there are ways of using it legally. When determining a power source also consider if there’s a way to measure how strong magic is, and what the difference in power levels might be. As you figure out who can and can’t have magic, also look at when magic most commonly expresses itself; after all you may not want a toddler with the ability to demolish buildings.

Limits are self-explanatory. What can magic do and what can’t it do? It also helps to know what happens when someone attempts to push passed the limits of what can be accomplished with magic.

Costs of magic splits between physical cost and material cost. Physical cost includes energy, willpower or even lifespan. Once you’ve determined what a magic user pays to physically activate their magic, consider if they can push the cost off onto someone or something else. This may cross over into material cost: what does your character need to direct it? This may include things like well-known spell ingredients eye of newt, the magic wand and books. For systems that require learning, this is another part of cost: what it takes to gain magic. Keep in mind as well that not every system has a material cost.

Addressing the rules, limits and costs of your magic system gives you a framework to build specific details from such as spells, rituals and magical items. It can also open up new questions as you flesh out the system, helping you solidify and diversify magic in your world.