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Worldbuilding: Holidays

People love celebrating. True, some people like celebrating more than others, but if there’s a reason to celebrate, people will. That’s essentially what the holidays are about–celebrating something. Depending on what your holiday is about will depend on how it’s celebrated and when. When creating a holiday however, there’s a few things to consider.

When

Some holidays have movable days, like Thanksgiving, Easter and the Chinese New Year. The reasons behind that can be varied, which gives you a couple of things to consider when forming your holidays: are specific days of the week considered holy or sacred, as in the case of Easter? Are the holidays tied to a seasonal or lunar calendar as with the Chinese New Year?

Other holidays are firmly locked into a date. These might commemorate a specific historical event such as Guy Fawkes Day for the UK or the Fourth of July for the US. It might also be the reason to celebrate an event such as a death–which is namely why Valentine’s Day is always February 14th.

When also covers how long. Festivals such as Diwali can be celebrate for days. Yule, which coincides with Christmas, lasts for twelve days. Although New Year’s Day is the official holiday, celebrations begin on New Year’s Eve, with people staying awake until midnight to greet the new year.

Why

As I said, if there’s a reason to celebrate, people will. This doesn’t just apply to big holidays either: think of the last time you went out for a nice dinner with a friend or family because someone had good news. A job promotion, new baby, buying a house or even just to celebrate someone’s birthday. The reasons for a celebration are varied, and that means so are the reasons for a holiday.

Some holidays mark the change of seasons such as the Solstices or even the change of the calendar such as the many varied new year holidays. Holidays are also used to mark and celebrate important figures, though often these are country or region specific.

Other holidays might have a specific function such as remembering the dead as in Día de los Muertos or in celebrating love such as in Valentine’s day.

How

If you’re creating a holiday, also consider how it would be celebrated. You can probably think of a few things connected to each holiday you know and celebrate with ease.  Red decorations for Chinese New Year, presents for Christmas, turkey for Thanksgiving, sugar skulls for Day of the Dead, and so on and so forth.

While some holidays include giving gifts, others might call for things like fireworks and parades. Specific dishes might be prepared around that time such as mooncakes or stuffing. Color patterns could be associated with various holidays such as red, white and blue or orange and black. Staying up until midnight and egg hunts are two very specific traditions associated with New Year’s and Easter respectively.

The how is often tied directly into the why, but keep in mind that holidays have a varied history of their own. Some of them have been completely taken over, becoming defunct even though parts of their celebrations remain in the holidays that have absorbed them.

 

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Worldbuilding: Technology

When you think of technology in a fictional world, your first thought might go to science-fiction. That’s not wrong, as science-fiction is dominated by computers, AI and faster-than-light travel. That’s not all technology is however. By definition, technology is the use of science to create equipment and machines for practical use.

Every tool is an example of technology. A hammer and nail can be used to join wood pieces together, creating a practical means of building a house. Similarly, the wheel creates practical transportation, both of people and goods.

That means that even in fantasy, where everything a computer can do could instead be done by use of a spell, you have to consider what sort of technology would be available. One of the big fantasy tropes is using a medieval, renaissance-like setting. That means farmers, knights, castles built of stone and a lot of hand-labor.

Even here, technology exists. Your farmers will be applying basic science to get plants to grow by turning their soil, watering their crops and yes, training horses to haul their carts. Knights need someone to teach them the fine points of swordplay, but they also need a smith to make their weapons and armor. That castle probably uses masonry, which leads into chisels, stone saws and mortar.

That’s at the base end of the spectrum. There is technology, but it is simple and doesn’t require an advanced understanding of how to work the equipment. At the other end we get into advanced technology.

Keep in mind that advanced technology doesn’t necessarily mean every character needs an engineering degree. Rather, it means that the technology has been built up and improved upon.

Take for instance glass. Organic glass such as volcanic obsidian has been used in tools such as knives and early spears. Once it was discovered that melting silica could create glass, the uses for glass began to spread. Early uses included glass beads and decorative murals. Today, we know that although silica produces a brittle glass, we can add ingredients such as magnesium, aluminium and iron to produce stronger types of glass for a wide variety of uses including windows, touch screens, eye wear and sculptures.

When building technology for your world, consider a few simple questions:

  • What purpose does it serve?
  • How can it be built upon?
  • What needs to be built first in order to make this a practical solution?

 

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Worldbuilding: Daily Life

One of the places that gets overlooked in worldbuilding and how it affects character development is daily life. Despite that it seems simple, it can and should impact your characters and their interactions with one another. Their day-to-day habits aren’t going to simply go away just because they’ve been thrown headfirst into an adventure, and certain aspects of it are impacted by various social demands.

Some of the basic things you need to consider are hygiene. How often do they bathe? Is this a private thing, or something more public such as a bathhouse or a shared tub among the family? This also applies to beauty routines, and not just for women either: beards need care and so do teeth. Bad breath isn’t going to land your protagonist a date if he’s got food stuck in his face.

Aside from bathing, chores are another thing to consider and look at. Not only does housework include things like cleaning and cooking, but also yard work and animal husbandry.  Class division affects daily chores as well. Someone who’s entire job it is to cook and clean for a family of five will not only have those chores, but the care of their own living space as well. Gender bias is still another factor as some chores will be seemingly ‘inappropriate’ and socially unacceptable for some family members to take care of.

Chores also include shopping and managing the budget.  Regardless of who your protagonist is, if his shopping hasn’t been taken care of, he’s not going to be eating dinner. In settings where electricity and water aren’t in every house, you still have bills such as rent, taxes and groceries. This is especially true if there are animals to take care of. On a rough average, a horse will eat between ten and twenty pounds of forage a day. Goats need roughly two to four pounds of feed per day.

The expenses need to be offset by some form of income. Daily life also includes work and jobs, many of which will take your characters away from their house. In exchange they’re paid, but how much they’re paid and how they acquire it affects their ability to pay for goods and services.

Yet another place to look at might be childcare. In the earliest ages, children are heavily dependent on their parents and as a result there’s things like feeding, bathing and clothing a child to take care of multiple times a day in addition to everything else that needs to be done.

While adults and parents are working however, children face education. Homeschooling and public schooling are relatively low-cost options, but each one comes with its own challenges. Higher education and private schooling will provide more opportunities, but also cost more.

Daily life has a lot of factors in it to consider when developing characters. Day-to-day concerns change with time, technological advances and class, but understanding where your character comes from in their world gives you a better grasp on who they are and how they act as a person.

As an exercise: Set a timer for fifteen minutes and free write a typical day in the life of your character or characterss. Consider things they have to do like errands, chores and working either for money or education.

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Worldbuilding: Terrain

Part of worldbuilding is understanding the terrain. By definition, terrain covers all of the physical aspects of the world: mountains, canyons, plains, rivers, ponds and every other form of landmark you could imagine. Depending on your story, terrain itself may impact what characters can do when traveling. Regardless, terrain can have a massive impact on the ways and the resources people use to build their homes.

There are multiple types of terrain and each one presents unique challenges to life and civilization. Most of them also break down into smaller sub-types.

Mountains are frequent obstacles to travel. Their peaks also present challenges based around elevation such as lack of breathable oxygen, which reduces the amount of life found near the top. Mountain peaks also tend to be much colder. Both they and the slopes below have danger from avalanche and storms.

Slopes however are angled and cause water to run off. Because of their grade they make movement much harder. Hiking trails are often excellent examples of the sort of struggles you might face living on a slope daily. This unevenness also adds a challenge when building shelter. Slopes can also have rockfalls and mudslides collapse parts out from under them.

Valleys by contrast are often full of vegetation and life. These are the places where most mountain lakes and streams will eventually run to as they’re the low points between two mountains or mountain ranges. Although easier to travel through, they also have to contend with mass amounts of wind redirected by the surrounding mountains.

Forests have a larger variety of life and vegetation, which provides plenty of resources for your fictional people. Dense forests like rain forests and jungles having higher biodiversity. A medium or sparse forest will have less diversity in their flora and fauna, and sparse forests in particular may function as a transitional area between forest and other surrounding terrain. Regardless of the density fallen trees and undergrowth provide plenty of traveling obstacles while concerns such as fire create weather-related dangers.

Plains breakdown into two main types. Grasslands support larger animals such as bison, antelope and other herd animals, which in turn provide for larger predators such as lions and coyotes. There’s often smaller animals as well such as a mice and insects which attract their own share of animal predators. Flooding and wildfires are very serious weather concerns for grasslands.

Farmlands are often man-made plains. They may have been cleared out from another type of terrain, or converted from grassland. Because of the nature of farmland in which plants typically don’t remain where they are for more than a few years at a time (the exception to this being orchards), loosened soil adds in the threat of dust storms and soil erosion during rain.

Deserts are primarily defined by very little precipitation. Although the popular and most common form of them are hot and dry, there are also tundras to consider when thinking of deserts. These are cold places which have short growth seasons, reducing the amount of flora found there. Because of their temperature, exposure to the elements can be just as deadly in a tundra as it can in any other desert.

Sandy and rocky deserts are better known forms of desert. They are both hot, arid landscapes, but the difference is largely in the composition of the soil. Rocky deserts may occur closer to mountains where the mountains can block or redirect rainfall from reaching the desert beyond. Sandy deserts are often comprised mostly of sand and can form near rocky deserts, near mountains or towards the center of a continent and especially along equatorial lines. Dust storms and flash floods are very real dangers alongside exposure and dehydration.

Knowing what sort of challenges comes with your terrain helps understand what resources and struggles any civilization faces as well as finding suitable places for fictional animals.