New? Begin with lesson one.
In the last lesson we took a very broad overview of world building and talked about determining the scope and depth to which you will need to shape your setting. This week we will look at how the sciences factor into society.
Even if the culture you are writing about has a very limited or primitive notion of science, certain principles will play a role in shaping their society. Things like geology, climate, and biology might seem like background elements, but they influence our lives in ways we don't often think about.
Where we live, and the environment where our culture was born plays a big role in its development. Local flora and fauna, planting and harvest seasons, temperatures, precipitation, seasonal storms, and biological needs have been the driving forces behind festivals, holidays, fashion choices, traditional dishes, and the rhythms of life in every society on our planet. How different might Greek civilization have been if it was born in the Nile River Valley? What if they'd been native to the tundras of Siberia?
Geology and climate are interlinked, so where do you begin?
There's no separating them really. Geology determines climate, but the same geological features at different latitudes produce different climates. So, I'd suggest starting with the setting for the beginning of your story. What type of land mass and climate do you imagine? If your characters travel, you can use your starting place's geology and climate as a spring board to start fleshing out the land surrounding them. Geology follows patterns based on the placement and movement of tectonic plates creating mountains, valleys, and volcanos; the jet stream, currents, rivers and streams, and soil types. By looking at these patterns, you can determine the geological features surrounding your setting.
Going back to the examples of Right of Succession and Icarus, I'll expand.
The volatile climate of Tekar plays a central role in the entire Yekara series. The architecture, holidays, the human governmental system, and even the dual species society are in direct response to the rigors of living on a world where the summers are five months long, winter is just as long and as bitter cold as summer is hot, and spring and autumn are crammed into just six weeks or so, resulting in massive and devastating storms.
I knew I wanted the main setting to be across a mountain range from the ocean. It would need to be near enough to a major mountain range, and its cave system, that the human and Yekaran races would have close contact. In doing research about climates near mountains, I found it is common to find deserts to the west of mountain ranges in the northern hemisphere. This is because the jet stream in the northern hemisphere generally flows west to east, and humid air blowing in from the western seas is pushed up over the mountains. They lose most of their moisture as rain and snow in the process, leaving relatively small amounts of rain to fall on the lee side of the range.
Because of this, Reiont hugs the mountain range, being the first castle built after the humans crashed on Yekar. It has the benefit of being close enough to still get a decent amount of precipitation as well as being situated near springs. Tembar is a few miles further east and at the edge of the continent's largest desert. Ground water is deep below the surface, making the province dependent on its irrigation system.
In contrast, the biodomes in Icarus are self-contained. The fact they are built under varying depths of water and in different oceanic environments plays a role in how big they are and their layout. Otherwise, there isn't much climate to speak about, in the first book at least.
Think about how environment and biology interact.
This aspect can be straight forward or tricky, depending on if you're sticking with humans or adding in other species. If the society you're writing about doesn't have an advanced transport system, the local flora and fauna will determine their diet. Seasons and climate can determine a lot about local fashion trends, pastimes, and architecture as the people adapt them to fit their needs within their environment.
Yekarans are adapted to Yekar. Their biology lends itself to making the most of the cave systems riddling the mountains there. Because these homes are cramped in terms of a species that stands fifteen to twenty feet tall and has a total body length of thirty or more feet on average, Yekaran society is spartan. They keep furnishings simple. Light is provided by a bioluminescent moss they've bred to thrive on shelving units hung or carved just above eye level, and what little decoration they have ties back to their faith, history, and beliefs. A fire breathing species isn't likely to develop paper, after all.
Adding humans to this environment was interesting. Left to their own devices, they wouldn't have survived the first winter on Yekar with the loss of much of their tech and having only a month to prepare before autumn arrived. The climate was much more volatile than they'd anticipated from their probe's data, and they overshot the smaller and more temperate continent during the crash. Necessity was what first forced them to work with the Yekarans, and the success of this cooperation encouraged the development of their dual society.
Thinking about how different species would survive such extremes, particularly a large brained reptilian species, led to the idea of an organic compound vital to thermogenic processes of the native flora and fauna being abundant in the soil, water, and most every food source as a result. How would non-native species react to such a widespread compound? Several factors arose from that notion that gave rise to the talent groups, and all the political and social ramifications thereof, as well as the attitude toward life expectancy, reproduction, and pregnancy as a whole within Tekaran society.
Biological concerns are a major driving force in Icarus. The plot centers around whether or not the surface can be returned to a livable state after conventional, nuclear, and biological warfare ravaged every land based society and nation. The dangers of making the attempt bringing contaminates back to the biodomes is a fear standing in the way of the project's inception.
The structure of the domes themselves is determined by the needs of their inhabitants. Multiple air locks are a pain to open and reseal every time you want to go from one section of the complex to another, but they're also an important safety feature. Air purification, waste removal, and power systems come into play in the construction of the domes and the smaller structures within. Diets are restricted to species capable of being grown within the domes or sourced from the surrounding ocean.
Societies are shaped by a people's attempt to mesh their needs with their environment.
Cliches such as, "Necessity is the mother of invention," fit well with this aspect of world building. We all have to live. Our body's needs and how we meet them has an impact on our lives. Keeping that in mind makes this part of world building easier.
All the tiny details making up a culture stem from this struggle mixed with the technology of the society. The stories we've told throughout the centuries have been reflections on our lives, our past, and our dreams for the future. Stories shape beliefs, attitudes, and cultural norms. Living conditions can do the same. Civilizations where one bad harvest could wipe out a town centered their lives around planting and harvest. Nomadic cultures place value on spartan living, where you can pick up and move at a moment's notice.
Do some research on places similar to your setting. Go there in your imagination and set up camp. Follow it out, and let the details grow in your mind. Continue to do this periodically while you write, and you might be amazed by all the notions and details that come to you over time.
Continue on to considering history, mythology, art, and politics.
A. B. England is a small business owner, home-schooling mom, novelist, all around geek, and avid crafter. She loves fantasy, mythology, and all flavors of science fiction.
Yekara Series Book 2
The Icarus Project
Rough Draft Progress
69061 / 75000
Myth & Science Collection
Icarus Trilogy Book 2
Yekara Series Book 3
Myth & Science Collection 2
Intent Only at this Time
Icarus Trilogy Book 3
Supers Collection 2
Intent Only at this Time
Yekara Series Book 4