World-Building, Part I

This panel at Miscon 32 was full of people saying things from brains that aren’t my own. It was wild.

You know what I mean by that, right? Someone says something, and you think, “Whoa. What a cool way to view the world!” And your viewpoint shifts as if they pulled aside a blue veil.

Brandon Sanderson was the moderator, and he was joined by Peter Wacks, James Glass, and Lee Moyer. Because there’s a lot to unpack here, I’m breaking this one into two parts.

Where do you start?

“What do they eat? What do they do for fun?” – Peter Wacks

“I find a cool element and work forward.” – Lee Moyer

“A habitable world.” – James Glass

What is your process?

Peter Wacks has put up whiteboards around the walls of his basement. (brilliant, right?) He walks in circles, taking notes and fleshing it out.

James Glass, ever the hard SF’r, gets straight to it with character/setting/problem.

How is geography a part of species development?

Sanderson recommends the book Guns, Germs, & Steel as a starting point to this concept. The idea that our geography decides our technical development, even with something as basic as agriculture.

I will add my own revelation here about the Huns and their tech. Their use of the stirrup was their version of technologically-advanced warfare. It seems such a small and insignificant thing, but it truly shaped history and outcomes.

Lee Moyer added that a good map makes creating all of this easier. If you know where your natural boundaries are, your good soil, your floodplains, the natural world (or not) that your character sees, it is easier to develop that iceberg (my words, not his).

He added later that he has noticed societies with visible natural geography are “better” people. He explained with New York as an example. City dwellers look around at all the human achievement and structure, and think: Wow, humans are amazing.

Rural folks look around at their environment and think: Wow, nature is impressive.

(I would argue some rural folks look at their environment and think: Wow, I feel scared and tiny. I’m going to inhabit this vast land and dominate it.)

All of that leads to character development and world-building. How does YOUR character react to what they see? What do they see? Why?

I’d love to hear books or concepts that you’ve read or written that touch on the idea of the environment shaping the character’s values and viewpoint.




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