Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Worldbuilding under the radar - a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary

This discussion focused on the kinds of worldbuilding details that might come out automatically without being noticed by a writer. In particular, we talked about critical underpinnings for a world. Measuring distance. Measuring time. Measuring money.

"What is the name of your money, and why?" we asked. In our own world, gold pieces were not called "gold pieces." There were Crowns, and shillings, and pennies, and Spanish silver, and pieces of eight. There are still nickels. These words have historical origins and such origins are worth thinking through for a secondary world. The Canadian "loonies" and "twonies" were mentioned.

It's important also to ask, "Why are the nobility rich? Where do they get their money?" Do they own all the land, as is the case in many places, so they are entitled to skim off the proceeds of the use of that land? Where else might their money come from?

Morgan mentioned that some places have two different currencies. Money considerations have to be practical, because "you can't walk around with everything in pennies." Ask yourself whose face you would put on a coin.

Other kinds of measurement can also sneak in. How do we measure height? What about weight? What does the choice of measurement say about the world? Science fiction often uses the metric system because it's considered scientific. Fantasy often uses archaic measurements. Do you measure in feet and inches and pounds? How about kilograms, or stone? These measurements vary in our world, and will suggest different things about yours.

How do you measure temperature? Do you avoid measuring it at all? Do you talk about temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius, or Kelvin?

How does time get measured? We talked about days of the week, which have a long history that goes back to Norse gods in some cases. Why would your world have seven days in a week? Would it? Would it have the concept of weekends? Why? I mentioned how I re-derived the week structure for my Varin world, and also re-derived seconds and minutes and hours, so that the world would feel much like ours but have a very different fundamental basis.

Sometimes you don't need to use precise measurements, but can rely on characters' judgment of things instead. Does the precise height matter? How would the presence or lack of precise measurements affect a reader's impression of the world?

We talked about how, as a writer, you can rely on the translation effect. If you are using familiar measurements, you can simply say that these measurements are a translation of the measurements that the people of your world normally use. That can be helpful to keep your story comprehensible!

Often people neglect to think about climate and how it relates to the kind of food that is available for people to eat. Does food have to travel far for your people to eat it?

What does the transport system look like in this world? If you are moving food by horse, then you will have to find a way to get it to market before it spoils, which limits the range of what you will have access to. There is a long and rich history of food access in our own world that is worth researching. Roman roads had a huge influence.

We talked briefly about inventing fantasy foods.

We also discussed the question of "If it's a rabbit, should you call it a rabbit?" How does the creature compare to an animal in our world? Will it be helpful or confusing to use a new term? How do the differences in this creature become relevant to the story, necessitating a special word for it?

The more alien words you use in a story, the more you will alienate your reader and make them feel distant from the story's narrative. So sometimes you will want to use a rough translation to English to help keep that distance from intruding into the reader's experience. Use of alien words needs to be supported by context.

Che told us about how sensory differences influenced culture in a story of hers, because werewolf people had something called a "scent conviction" where a person could be placed at the scene of a crime by their scent. This also entailed that there existed people called "scrubbers" who could remove a person's scent from a place.

This is a huge topic, and in one hour we could just scratch the surface, but we had a very enjoyable talk! I have to get two more report summaries up, one from last week and one from this week, but I do want to let you know that we will have a guest next week!

Next week, Wednesday, April 20th, 2016, we will be meeting an hour later than usual, at 11am Pacific. Our guest will be author Randy Henderson who will speak with us about Finn Fancy Necromancy and worldbuilding in Urban Fantasy. I'm really looking forward to it, and I hope you can attend!


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