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 writing

Story Bibles

If you’re a writer and you’re in the midst of editing, or even writing a series, you probably want a place to keep track of all the details of your story. It’s incredibly useful, especially if you want to write a series. Bonus points: if you do a lot of roleplaying and need or want to write your own campaign, having a story bible set up for your in-world conflicts, NPCs and lore makes it easier to keep your campaign more or less on track (sorry, but I can’t promise the same of your players).

A story bible is essentially a document or several documents that keeps the details of your story or stories together. This prevents things like character details changing unexpectedly halfway through the story. It also helps keep worldbuilding and relevant setting details in one place so you don’t have to go hunting for particular details.

There’s several ways you can keep a story bible. If you’d prefer a hardcopy, a binder or multi-subject notebook is a good option. This way you can section your bible off as necessary. Digital options include things like Microsoft OneNote or Evernote, or even something like World Anvil or Notebook.ai to keep your bible sorted and on track. Depending on your preference and how you work best, you may find one option better than the other. I personally prefer to keep a digital copy of my notes in OneNote because of the search function.

Although your story bible should work for you, there’s a few sections you may find helpful to keep in it.

Character Notes. This is a good place to keep things like detailed descriptions, character sketches, backstories and family trees. I usually create a small section for each character so I can keep track of their character arc during edits.

Setting Notes. Depending on the genre you’re working in, this can easily become a massive portion of your story bible. Everything from notes on legal systems to lore can be placed in your setting notes. For speculative writers, this spreads to include bestiaries, cultural analysis, maps and even engineering schematics as necessary.

Story Notes. Editing and writing in general tends to create a multitude of different notes—outlines, and even thematic notations. Having a story-specific section makes it easier to keep all your editing tools in one place. A lot of my plotting notes end up here, but I also try to keep a list of any flash pieces relevant to the story, world or characters here.  This way if I need to reference something for a flashback or thematic reason, I can easily reference back to the original piece.

What are some of the things you keep in your story bibles? How do you prefer to keep them?

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 worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Language

If you’ve decided to include fictional languages in your fictional world: congratulations and good luck.

Language itself is an altogether different beast than any other type of worldbuilding. The evolution of language is a little bit of a convoluted process. It’s not always logical and in some cases, it’s outright insane and seemingly impossible—English being the prime example of how very bizarre some of our language rules can be.

When it comes to creating a language, you do however have a couple of options.

You can, of course, create an entire lexicon for your language. This includes things like grammatical rules, conjugations, subject-verb agreements and yes, the dictionary of your language. While it might seem like a lot, this can be a rewarding task because you’re able to see how your characters would naturally communicate and what might be stumbling blocks for those who learn it as a secondary language.

Alternately, you can shorthand this and keep it to a few of the more common phrases or words. This makes it easier to keep track of, which in turn makes writing easier.

Either option is valid and fully dependent on what you as the creator and writer feel like tackling. The biggest question you might have is where to start.

Alphabet. I highly recommend starting with your alphabet. It can strongly inform how the language sounds, especially if you’re pulling letters in or out of a real-world language. Case in point: the z sound most English speakers are familiar with isn’t the same in Spanish. Z there tends to be softer—more of an ‘s’ than our buzzing ‘z’ sound. Think about what would happen to your language if you dropped similar sounding letters like b, p or d from its alphabet. How would those words change and sound?

Common phrases. Often starting with the common sayings, idioms or even endearments your characters might use is a good starting point.  This gives you a handful of words to work with and start forming the core rules of your language. What’s something someone might call their lover? How would someone address a respected authority figure instead of sir or ma’am? How do you say ‘I love you’? What’s a common greeting?

Grammatical Rules. Even if you’re only using your language for a few phrases or names, it can help to have grammatical rules established. This isn’t just about comma placement, this also includes things like spelling—i before e and all that. This in turn helps you establish how most words are supposed to be spelled. Be careful here though, as grammar can get tricky. English is again, the worst and best example of how complicated even simple rules can get when applied to individual words. Again, i before e unless you’re leisurely heisting eight beige sleighs from a caffeinated foreigner.

What are some of your favorite tricks for creating a new language? Let me know in the comments!