Jun 6, 2016

World Building Part 2: Resources and Materials

The Spice Must Flow!

The first article in this series discussed how I make rules for my worlds and when I can break them. Once we have established what is possible and not possible in our worlds, we can then move on to considering the available resources in our worlds. 

For example, this friendly guy needs something to eat.

For this I usually work backwards, if I want tigers in my world, then I work backwards to put together what a population of tigers would need to survive. If I want brick and timber buildings in my world, then I work backwards to make sure the local population has a supply of clay and wood. If I want my local population to not be living in poverty and have a standing army, I then work backwards to consider what possible sources of trade, income, and wealth that population could have to justify it. I will provide a breakdown of some of these below.

Basic Ecology: The first consideration I look at is the living creatures of the world I am creating. All living creatures generally need food, water, space and shelter. Imagine a creature that inhabits your world, it could be a real creature or unreal creature, but either way you must allow for the possibility for your creature to practically exist in the world. I am not claiming that anyone needs to become an expert in ecology or biology, but you should be able to hold enough information to avoid writing yourself into a corner. Some examples:

Real: Grizzly Bears are very large animals that require a lot of space and access to fresh water. They are omnivores who eat almost anything, but do require a source of protein to thrive such as fish or other mammals. Grizzly bears hibernate for five to seven months of the year, and so need access to a sheltered space to do this. If you are creating a world that has grizzly bears in it, you should consider these needs when thinking about the geography and other creatures in that area.

Fantastic: The oliphants from Lord of the Rings are enormous elephant-like creatures, who must need huge expanses of land for space to roam, sources of fresh water to drink, and vast amounts of foliage to eat. For these creatures to exist the world make room for the necessary resources for these creatures to survive. J. R . R Tolkien does this simply by leaving a massive area of his map of Middle Earth called Rhรปn totally empty to account for this.

Magical: the dementors from the Harry Potter series infest the darkest, filthiest spaces, and are non-beings, which means they do not need to eat, sleep or breathe. They feed off of human souls, and can be controlled by anyone able to offer them a supply of this. It is unclear if they can be destroyed or only weakened by limiting their resources. If your world has dementors, you do not need to include much for them other than a dark nasty corner for them to occupy and a supply of souls.

Basic Building Materials: Next I consider what materials are available in the world for the people there to actually use. If I want my people to live in stone houses, there must be access to stone nearby. The materials the buildings and technology are made of need to come from somewhere. The technological advancement of the civilization needs to be fueled by something and the knowledge of how to use them needs to be considered. This will impact the local geography as you consider what raw materials are available, locally and globally.
Some examples:

Real: Ancient Romans made glass, for windows and other purposes. in order to make glass they needed not only the education and technological know-how, but access to sand and nitrate as raw materials. Also a huge amount of food for burning was needed in order to create the temperature necessary for melting the sand and keeping the glass warm enough to work with. Not every Roman settlement needed to be close to a beach for sand and forest for wood, as the land they occupied was huge and so these materials could be transported all across the territory. But it is important to remember that it needed to come from at least somewhere.

Fantastic: In the city of Bedrock in The Flintstones cartoons, all of the buildings and materials are made of stone, wood and animal materials such as bones and skins. Fred even works at the Slate Rock and Gravel company as a crane operator, and the first shot of the cartoon into we see is Fred at work moving stones. It might sound like a silly example, but everything in the fictional world was at least consistent when it came to available materials.

Magical: Neverland exists in the minds of children, as written by J. M. Barrie for the Peter Pan stories, and so is mostly fueled by magic and imagination. But Peter Pan and the Lost Boys live in homes made of what they have available close by. They live in tree houses and wear animals skins and fight with spears they made themselves. When Wendy arrives they build her a Wendy House, using John's hat as a chimney and a slipper for a door knocker. Even in a magical world, practical materials have to be accounted for.

Basic Local Economy: Lastly  I consider the local economies and how gatherings of people survive and prosper. I plan the approximate size of the population I want, if they are human or not, and what level of wealth and materials that population can command. If the population can have a standing army (which is number of people who function as soldiers full time, not just farmers who become soldiers when trouble is brewing) then this is very expensive in terms of resources and requires a great deal of local wealth. This again will also impact the local geography as you consider what raw materials are available, and how exactly it is that the population has access to some particularly rare materials. Some examples:

Real: Most large and successful cities grew up around rivers, such as London, Paris and Egypt. The supply of fresh water was important for drinking, farming, cleaning, and industrial processes like fabrication. If the river is large enough it also allows for trade by boats, which historically was the most practical way to move large quantities of goods. All these factors made large rivers highly desirable places to settle and for people to prosper, resulting in some of the most magnificent cities modern and historical.

Fantastic: In Frank Herbert's Dune, the only reason to even go to the inhospitable desert planet of Dune is to gather the resource known as the spice Melange. An incredibly powerful substance that allows for interplanetary travel and heightened consciousness, but is buried deep beneath the sands of the planet, guarded by enormous dangerous worm creatures, an desired by everyone. The greed for this material fuels the settlement of one of the worst planets in the fictional world, and is valuable enough to be traded for whatever the inhabitants of the planet need from other worlds that they cannot get themselves.

Magical: The city of Old Valyria in George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones world, rose to power because the ruling Targaryens had access to dragons for use in warfare. The dragon eggs  they needed for this were located inside fourteen volcanoes around the local region, which required slaves to venture in and mine for them (I don't think you could pay someone to go into a volcano). The enormous number of slaves required for this enterprise resulted in almost the entire continent being converted into a slave economy, including other local cities such as Volantis, Meereen and Astapor. This slave based economy lasted thousands of years, even after Old Valyria, the volcanoes and dragons were gone.

I am absolutely not suggesting that to build a world with your writing, designing or illustrating that you need to show all of these aspects of your world. Sometimes all you need to do is consider them briefly yourself to make sure you at least leave conceptual room for them or avoid breaking the suspension of disbelief by accidentally making sure there is no way for them to exist.

If you are writing about a population on a small island, it only takes a few moments to understand that they cannot produce bread, and so their staple diet must be something else. If you are writing about an alien race who lives on a spaceship, they will probably not have access to fresh meat. If you are writing about a population which lives next to a forest infested with vicious goblins, they will probably need some way of defending themselves, but to not be too powerful otherwise the goblins would have wiped out a long time ago.

Which hints at what I will be covering next time I write about world building, which will be Conflict

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