This one is going to be a two-parter.
In our first post, we considered the effect geography and environment can have on a story. Climate, landscape, and seasons will have a profound impact on our next project: the people of your new world.
As an architect of this world, you’ll spend most of your time building the communities, cultures, and societies from which your characters and adventures will spring.
From my perspective, the best way to build is from the ground up.
Let’s use what we learned last time, and start with our geography: Does your story begin on an arid, grassy steppe, or are your characters in the shelter of a mountain peak? Now extrapolate: When would the community’s seasons be? Do they have particular methods of irrigation, herding, farming?
Answering these questions will answer further questions, such as what kinds of rituals a community might have at different times of year, what their growing seasons are, and what can be grown in such a region—which will help when you want to describe that scene where your protagonists stop at a local inn while on their journey.
What elements of the landscape might feature in their mythology? This will become imperative when asking yourself questions about your peoples’ value systems and language. You don’t have to be a linguist like Tolkein to give your fantasy community distinct vernacular and phraseology. Actually, a friend of mine (who is a linguist) recently pointed out to me that much of the English language reflects our capitalistic culture. For instance, the way we spend time on a project, or the way we wish to repay people’s kindness. The Innu, meanwhile, have extensive metaphors and phrases based on the weather. Language reflects values, and values often reflect the way a culture interacts with their environment and climate.
Other considerations, such as education, social structure, and transportation will also be highly dependent on the land you’ve designed for your people.
Keep in mind that real-world research makes for a fuller, more credible fantasy world. It’s okay to let real world communities and locations guide your creative choices—but that’s not an excuse to go cherry picking from this or that culture in order to build your own. Real cultures don’t exist just to provide you with inspiration, and I’ll talk about that more in my next post: On Foreign Shores.
Eleanor is a student of writing. She holds a master’s degree in literature from Memorial University. Her fiction and poetry has appeared in The New Quarterly, Cactus Heart Press, and Drunken Muse Press. She currently resides in Ottawa. Her pastimes include mythmaking, over-thinking, and coffee-drinking.