First off I want to send some thanks out to some wonderful people:
Matt Rush made my day today by leaving a cool comment in my last post, basically suggesting that my first novel is written just for people like him. Not only that, but his post about our critique group garnered me a few more readers (and readers are more precious for us wannabe authors than The One Ring!).
Anne (Piedmont Writer) and Maria Zannini both gave me great feedback on one of my short stories. It means really rewriting some of it, but it will be a better story. Thanks to both of you!
Thanks also to the handful of others who read and sometimes comment. Know that I read the blogs of all who appear on the blog roll down below on the right, even if I don't always have something to comment about.
Now on to today's post. I was thinking about all of the thousands of elements that go into world building. I have thought so long and hard about my fantasy world that I would be honestly surprised if I had trouble answering any question about it. I decided to pick just one element to write about today.
Do you know how the different cultures of our world each have a national characteristic of some kind (one that is not always correct, of course, but is to a degree)? For instance, Germans are generally considered to be precise and solid, while Italians are passionate, and Russians like a good drink. Okay, well I gave my main 'tribe' their own characteristic - pragmatism.
I say 'tribe' since these people no longer consider themselves to be a tribe (as opposed to all the barbarian tribes howling outside the borders). I didn't give them the pragmatism randomly, but chose it due to the manner in which they evolved. Rather than evolving naturally, this tribe was the first to meet a group of scientists from earth and decide not to kill them right off. Due to that happy fact, the scientists helped this tribe to advance far more quickly than their neighbors, making them the one 'civilized' group of humans on the planet.
The Greatlanders, as I call them, were eventually driven from their original tribal lands, because they were seen as too much of a threat by the barbarian tribes. They relocated to an easily defensible land beyond a wall of mountains, and after two thousand years it is a well-developed region called the Known Lands.
The pragmatic character of the Greatlanders shows in several ways. First in place names. While many people enjoy giving fancy names to places, the Greatlanders tend to keep it simple. A lake that is frozen year round is named Frozen Lake. A forest in which a great battle took place becomes the Battle Wood. Yes, there can be a boring aspect to this, but it is their character. Fortunately not all names follow this pattern, because the Greatlanders also took on characteristics of the earth scientists, who were mainly Russian (there was an Icelandic geneticist in their group).
Greatlander bards tend not to use fiction much, since making up things is not a big part of their nature. Rather, they write songs or perform skits based upon true events from history. I know, sad isn't it? It reminds me of my grandfather, who would never read fiction.
Probably the biggest aspect of Greatlander pragmatism shows in regards to religion - they have none. Partly this is due to their contact with the much older race of elves, since the elves already were aware of the great energy (magic) that permeates the world and thus never developed the idea of gods. However, part of it is that the Greatlanders simply feel no need to make up stories in order to better understand the unknown. When they look at a moon or a star they don't pretend to have any special understanding of what they are. They are comfortable with simply saying that they don't know and leaving it at that. The scientists never explained such things to the Greatlanders, feeling that some ideas were too big and needed to be left for later.
One of my favorite scenes is when two Greatlander rangers are scouting through the barbarian lands and encounter a small tribe of cannibals. They see the painted shaman and their guide tries to explain about their red moon god, but the Greatlander rangers simply cannot fathom it. They do not have a word or concept for 'god'.
This is just one tiny element of world building, and one must think of just about everything if the story is to feel genuine to readers. Personally, I do my best thinking about the world at night when I am trying to fall asleep. How about you?