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Worldbuilding: Maps

At some point in my life, I want to arrange a home office that contains a map of every fictional world I love. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Paolini’s Alagaësia, McCaffery’s world of Pern. An entire wall dedicated just to the maps of fictional worlds. I love the look of fictional maps.

And there’s no better place to find fictional maps than in worldbuilding. if you’re doing any worldbuilding, you might be asking yourself if you need a map.  How you determine if you need a map will vary greatly from creator to creator. For me, that’s usually asking myself some questions.

  • Are there multiple locations?
  • Are any conflicts reliant on location?
  • Are there specific features that affect the scenes in that location?
  • Am I, personally, having a hard time figuring where settings are in relation to one another?

Typically if I answer yes to all of those, I’ll at least do a quick map sketch. Your process for determining if you need a map may look different. Sometimes maps are just fun to create, without anything else behind them. Sometimes creating a map is just an unnecessary headache.

If you do decide you need or want a map: Go for it! There’s dozens of ways to create a fictional map. You might want to try out several different methods to find the one you like the best.

Hand drawn: The classic method is of course, drawing or sketching a map. You can most certainly use paper, or you can try using a digital art program to create it. (Tip: If you’ve never used a digital art program, check out Gimp. It’s a free photoshop alternative with a fairly low learning curve).  The beauty of hand drawn maps is that it’s okay if they’re on the rough side and there’s several dozen tutorials across the internet to help you create your map. You can also check out a map creation software or commission an artist to create one for you.  

Generated: In some instances, you might want the map before you start writing or designing the story. For that, try a map generator. If you’d like a ready-made map try out Azgaar’s fantasy map generator. If you’re willing to put in a little more work, there are options such as the polygon map generator which give you just the land mass. This lets you either create your own names for landmarks and locations, or you can pair it with a naming generator. Although generators give you a cleaner look with less upfront work, be mindful of the restrictions on use: not every generator allows use for commercial works.  

Regardless of how you choose to create your map, it can be an enjoyable process. Take some time to play with the different options and find the one that works best for you.

I’d love to see your fictional maps! Drop me a comment below if you’ve got one you’d like me to check out.

Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Word and Phrases

A lot of worldbuilding is thinking about big-scale things. It’s thinking about things like transportation systems and political hierarchies. It’s accounting for trade systems and timelines of development.

But every so often, it helps to take a moment away from the big picture and focus instead on details. One place it might surprise you to look at the details is in your languages—specifically, in the phrasing of your languages.

English is the official language in sixty-seven countries globally. More importantly, that means there are literally thousands of phrases that can confuse even other English speakers.

Case in point, the British (and Australian, and New Zealand) use of the word ‘knackered’. Although it means tired, it largely doesn’t exist in the American lexicon. Similarly, asking an American child to show you the barbie results in them fetching a doll while an Australian child would show you their barbecue. Speaking of American specifics, we ‘break’ our bills into change or smaller denominations.  

None of the above examples account for the other sixty-four countries where English is the official language. It doesn’t include Canadian loonie and toonie. It doesn’t touch on the Irish quare.  Although the language might be the same, the phrases and specific use of words changes between countries.

Part of that has to do with history. Although we may hear of international events such as Prime Ministers disappearing, unless it’s happening in our own country, we largely don’t have to deal with the immediate ramifications. Over time, bad political choices tend to create a reputation. Combine that with the usual gossiping and discussion from the people and when you disappear mysteriously you might just do exactly what Australians refer to as ‘doing the Harry’.

Another part of that is cultural. It’s no secret that America is a capitalist country. In fact, it’s capitalism that gives rise to one of our phrases: don’t buy it. As an example, if someone is telling you they were late to work because their dog jumped off their balcony and miraculously landed on their neighbor’s trampoline but still escaped into the street by climbing the fence…if you don’t believe this far-fetched story, you don’t buy it.

And finally: words simply warp their meanings. Pissed for example, might mean drunk…or it could mean incredibly angry. Again, knackered means tired for many English speaking countries but has practically only come into the American use as a sort of import from European English.

 So while you’re crafting your countries and your languages, take a little bit of time and ask yourself how they might refer to certain things. Would they use ‘barbie’ or ‘BBQ’ when using the shorthand form of barbeque? Are there specific cultural and historical events that might give rise to a certain phrase? What words might change meaning over time? Which countries would consider a particular word offensive?

By doing this you can help craft entire regional identities for your world. It also feeds into building better characters—after all, they may have grown up with different local phrases or even in entirely different countries.  

What are some of your favorite local phrases? What are some phrases you’ve come up with in your worldbuilding? Let me know in the comments below!  

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Worldbuilding: Currency and Wage

Part of creating an entire fictional world often comes across the question of economics. At its core, economics is the way in which resources and goods are affected by value. There’s a lot to unpack in economics, so it may help to start with your currency and their units.

Start by figuring out what your lowest value unit is. The common, day-to-day grocery shopper may not have a lot of power as an individual, but your lowest unit determines the lowest possible cost a merchant can charge. From there you can scale it up into the higher currencies. This is usually where math starts getting involved.

It might help to think of currency as a sort of rarity mark. You have extremely common, common, uncommon, rare and extremely rare. Each level of your currency has more purchasing power than the previous unit, building off each level below it.

For example, we’ll use the American quarter. It’s worth twenty-five cents. Four quarters (extremely common) to make one dollar (common). That means to get to a five dollar bill, you need twenty quarters.  To get to a ten-dollar bill, you need ten ones, or forty quarters. To get up into the rarer fifty-dollar bill, you need two hundred quarters, fifty ones or five tens. Building up to that fifty would take a little saving.  

Once you’ve determined the units and the scaling of your currency, it’s time to start assigning value to things. You don’t need to get super specific here. Instead you can use the rarity level of that particular resource or good to help you figure out how much it might be worth.

Common, everyday items such as food probably won’t be worth very much unless there’s a scarcity of it. Items that require either specialized skill or equipment become harder to produce and as a result become rarer. This is where the innerworkings of the economy begin to branch out and get messier.

For example, your common citizen. They can likely buy their common items such as food quite easily. This is something they need to either buy or produce themselves every single day. A new winter coat however, is something they’ll only need for part of the year. A fancy coat with lots of decoration and add-ons requires more skill to produce, which drives the price higher. This means the cost of that fancy coat could jeopardize your citizen’s ability to purchase the common resource they absolutely have to have. Ergo, they buy a simple coat, and the rich merchant buys the fancy coat because it won’t impact his ability to buy food.

This presents another consideration for your economy: wage and wealth. Wealth is how much access a person has to any given resource. Currency is largely a form of wealth granting access to any purchasable resource. Often, we gain wealth as a wage, either by performing a task for someone else or selling something we’ve produced.  

For the most part, this holds true across your common population. Either they’re performing a task in exchange for a wage, or they’re producing something to sell. In essence, they’re exchanging their time and labor for currency. This is the basic idea of a wage: the value of a person’s time and/or labor.

The more valuable a person’s labor or time is, the likelier they’ll earn more. There’s a number of factors in this including skill, experience and job hazards. A highly skilled craftsman can produce four items in an hour. His apprentice can only produce one. That means when the crafts go to sale, the skilled craftsman earns more than his apprentice. Over time, the apprentice can catch up and begin selling as many wares as his mentor, but to start he’s going to make less.

In theory, a hazardous job should also earn more. Though this often applies when dealing with adventurers going off to slay monsters and the like, depending on the rest of your worldbuilding and other outside factors, this might not be the case. Mining is a stressful and dangerous job. With modern technology and safety advancements, thousands of miners still lose their lives every year. In the 1900’s, a day’s wage for a miner was often only six or seven dollars—often for ten and fourteen hour days.

Another place where your wealth and wage might get a little funky is in restricted resources such as land.   

If you own land, you can sell it, but it becomes a one-time sale for that particular piece of land. Alternately, you might be able to rent it out in some cases, such as allowing a farmer to work the land in exchange for a small amount each month. This applies to buildings as well: you can sell them, or you can charge rent for someone to live or conduct their business inside. Although making money that way would take a little knowledge and thought, the effort is relatively low—yet because access to land ownership is often barred, it’s possible for landlords to make a tidy sum.

Although this is only scratching the surface of economics, these are two of the basic questions to ask when working with your fictional economy: how much do things cost and how do people earn enough to purchase those things?

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Worldbuilding: Folklore

Part of building a world completely from scratch includes figuring out what the myths and legends of the world will be. Folklore is such a big component of how we view the world and conduct ourselves that it can be impossible to get away from it completely. Every culture on earth—our very real world—has folklore in all its glorious forms.

Don’t be fooled by the name. Folklore isn’t just the stories and myths. It also crosses into the songs, proverbs, dance and traditions of a culture. The largest difference between folklore and culture in worldbuilding is that folklore exists to help teach and preserve a culture.

Although folklore is intended to teach and preserve, many of its forms are also meant to entertain or celebrate. Folklore is often used to pass on wisdom and advice to children. Many fairy tales carry a moral message and even superstition relies on doing right or wrong as evidenced by things like ‘step on a crack, break your mother’s back.’

For that reason, folklore actually becomes very easy to create. You might already have a few pieces of it already, to explain things like seasons or why night and day exist. You can expand on these by creating stories or rhymes about what happens when a person or animal obeys or doesn’t follow the advice or morality of the tale.  Take a look at any of Aesop’s Fables for examples of how this goes.

When creating a proverb or even an old wives’ tale, you can be more direct about the message or lesson. The key with these is that they should be short and memorable. If it helps, try creating an analogy between natural actions and your proverb. For example, wild birds will often fly away when startled or threatened. A tame one however, remains in hand and has no need to be recaptured. Forsaking what you have at home for the unknown of the wilds isn’t always a good idea. You may end up with nothing, even when there’s supposedly so much out there—after all, a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.  

I’d love to know! What’s some of the folklore in your world?

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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!