Worldbuilding

Getting Started With Worldbuilding

Some writers assume that writing speculative fiction is easy because we can “make up” our setting instead of researching it. But making up a world is like making up a story: it might be easy to put whatever you feel like on paper, but it’s hard to create something readers find believable and engaging. That’s why speculative storytellers have a craft of our own called “worldbuilding.”

Worldbuilding comprises everything we know about our reality and everything we guess about how our world could be different. It’s so complicated that a single article on worldbuilding will never do the craft justice. It’s so knowledge-based that you could research it for your entire life and still have thousands of unanswered questions.

Given the size of the undertaking, specialized articles on niche topics are generally most useful to worldbuilders. However, as valuable as it is to get into the weeds of evolution or language use, newcomers still need the big picture. Why is worldbuilding important? Where do you start? What pitfalls could you fall into? Let’s take a tour.

Why We Build Worlds

First, if you are creating speculative fiction of any sort, you are worldbuilding. You may not be doing it with much thought or intention, but as soon as you express something in your fiction that doesn’t match known reality, you have created a world. Anyone who consumes your work will look at everything you’ve implied about your fictional setting, and they’ll form a working model of your world in their head.

Their ideas about your world could either enhance or sabotage their enjoyment of your work. If you suggest that everyone in your world can teleport and then make your characters walk across the nation without further explanation, your audience will struggle with the contradiction. Instead of appreciating the dangers of traveling the countryside, they’ll be wondering why the characters are doing it at all. Problems like these are common when storytellers create worlds as an accident or afterthought. Thankfully, it’s easy to prevent obvious contradictions just by thinking of your world as a separate creation and taking some notes on it.

While a flawed world can detract from the story, a great world adds value above and beyond what the story could otherwise provide. Many speculative works are popular largely because of the fascinating worlds they feature. Putting time and thought into your world gives your fiction a better chance of getting onto a bestseller list.

World-First vs Story-First Methodology

Spec fic storytellers approach the process of worldbuilding differently. Some like to create a large and complex world first and think up stories to set there afterward. Other storytellers think up a story first and make a world that’s custom-built to fit the story they want to tell.

Many world-first storytellers invest enormous amounts of time creating a whole planet with different cultures on each continent. Since the world is large and diverse, it becomes a good place to set novel after novel, so the storyteller doesn’t have to create a new world for every story. These worlds are usually rich and deep, since they are so well thought out. Unfortunately, such worlds can become too complex for short stories. Another disadvantage of the world-first method is that it becomes tempting to put things in your story just to show off your world. This can result in weaker stories.

Story-first worlds are generally less detailed, but also less likely to distract from the tale at hand. The world will have all the features that make for the best story, though writing unplanned sequels could be challenging. This method also allows for a world that’s more focused on creating a specific impression. You may not want to read 20 novels set in the world of George Orwell’s 1984, but boy does it get its point across.

You can start by choosing where along this scale you want to be. If you’re delighted by the idea of building a world for its own sake, the former method is probably a good place to start. If you already have a specific story in mind, building around that story will keep it moving forward.

Goal-Setting for Your World

Regardless of whether you put the world or story first, think up some goals for your world. You can create a better finished project if you know what you want to achieve. The most important goal is a high-level concept or theme you want your world to embody. I’ll give you some examples:

  • A world where humans are tiny puppets at the mercy of greater forces they can barely comprehend.
  • A world that embodies infinite diversity in infinite combinations.
  • A world where there is no longer a boundary between biology and technology.

A theme like these will make all the parts of your world feel like they belong together and help create a whole that is greater than the sum of those parts. A strong theme also leaves the audience with a vivid impression of the setting.

Once you have your concept, you can come up with significant features that you want the world – or the stories set there – to have. If your world is focused on blurring the boundary between biology and technology, you might want machines that engage in sexual reproduction or communities that trade manufactured body parts on the free market. The same goes for anything obvious you don’t want. If your world will be past the medieval era in technology but you don’t want your heroes to fight with guns, you should know that straightaway.

The earlier you think of important specifics, the easier it will be implement them. Everything in a world influences everything else. You don’t want to create half your world only to realize something important has been forgotten. In those situations, you could end up either rethinking everything you’ve already created or making too few changes for the new element to feel believable to your audience.

For more practice thinking up themes and specifics, I recommend the worldbuilding game Microscope. It’s a fun way to come up with concepts, and you can take your friends along for the ride.

The Major Categories of Worldbuilding

Making up a whole new reality can be overwhelming, particularly for those creating a non-Earth world. But we can break it into three categories you can tackle separately.

Magic & Technology

While technology and/or magic (technomagic) is technically a small part of worldbuilding, it’s of central importance. For one thing, storytellers and audiences care about it. You probably already know whether you want magic in your setting and how advanced you’d like the technology to be. For another, the technomagic of a world has an enormous impact on the plots of stories set there. The technomagic you create will determine how your characters solve problems and what kind of problems they can solve.

For that reason, poorly thought-out technomagic is also the most likely aspect of the world to cause plot holes. While wondrous technomagic is fun, it quickly makes problems too easy for characters to solve. That’s why the most essential thing you can do for your world is puts limits on how powerful your technomagic is. The deeper you get into worldbuilding, the more you’ll find that less is more.

If you are including magic, you’ll have a lot of fairly arbitrary choices to make. For that, we have some articles on creating magic systems. If you are including advanced technology, the best thing you can do is use the lowest level of technology that will meet your worldbuilding goals. Then think through all the ways an entire society of clever people would use that technology. We also have a handy list of common technology mistakes.

Physicality

Next, you can think about what stuff is in your world. Is it an alternate Earth, a huge galaxy that includes Earth, or some other place where no one has ever heard of Earth before? If you like astronomy, dreaming up alternate planets that have rings, or rotate around multiple suns, or hold extra-thick atmospheres can be lots of fun. If you like biology, studying evolution and making up new creatures is a great way to go.

If you want to go easy on the science, you can assume that your world features a planet much like Earth that has life forms much like those we encounter. This is easier if you are writing fantasy. With fantasy, your audience will accept things like horses even if there are two moons in the sky. Science fiction requires a higher level of plausibility and scientific rigor. Even so, you can get away with a lot by saying the life forms in your world are descended from life on Earth.

Sooner or later, you’ll probably need some maps. Otherwise it’ll be difficult for you to keep track of what is where. If you’re artistic, your can make beautiful maps that your audience will enjoy looking at, but that’s not essential. Making a good map does take some basic knowledge of how terrain and weather works. We have some articles to help you get started with maps.

Society

This is probably the part of worldbuilding that’s neglected the most. That’s too bad, because it holds incredible opportunities for making your world stand out. It’s also easy to include in stories. While your hero might have to journey to a specific place to see the great glass forest, their culture will influence everything they say and every action they take.

There are two common mistakes worldbuilders make with culture:

  1. Treating culture as if it’s arbitrary. You can’t simply make up whatever gender roles or religion sounds fun if you want it to ring true to your audience. Culture is the result of a society’s long history, its power struggles, and the efforts of its people to survive. It has its own logic. We have more on creating realistic cultures.
  2. Leaving culture untouched. If your story takes place four hundred years in the future, it’s going to be weird if everyone exhibits the same cultural quirks as people do today. Remove those handshakes and replace them with some other gesture. Forget those white wedding dresses; maybe people don’t get married at all. What your society acts like is up to you, but if your world is different from this one, the culture should be different too.

We have many more articles on fictional cultures. The minutiae of culture aside, the biggest things to think about are the governments and religions of your civilizations.

Ramifications, Ramifications, Ramifications

This is the most difficult but also the most rewarding part of worldbuilding, both for storytellers and for audiences. It’s one thing to decide that your world has a feature, and another to envision what a world with that feature would actually be like. Let me give you some examples.

  • Andy Weir’s novel Artemis takes place on a moon colony. In the story, Weir describes how because of the low lunar gravity, every step on a standard set of lunar stairs is three feet high. People can jump super high, so why would they have normal stairs?
  • If you introduce powerful offensive tactics like gun powder or dragon mounts to a medieval setting, the castles will largely disappear. Why? Because castles aren’t an effective military tactic if there’s the magic or technology to easily tear them down or get past them. People won’t have a practical reason to build them anymore.
  • If one group of people has magic or technology that no one else has, they won’t be persecuted because of it. That’s because their magic or technology will make them more powerful, not less, and persecution happens to groups that are vulnerable.

You can quibble with my examples if you’d like, but there is no question that thinking through these kinds of ramifications makes worlds stronger. Not only will it reduce the number of plot holes or other unbelievable elements your audience encounters, but it will also push you to make your world more unique and more detailed. That results in better entertainment for your audience. And as any worldbuilding enthusiast will tell you, there’s nothing so satisfying as watching your creative choices ripple through every other aspect of the world.

Worldbuilding Is Political

If you’ve been reading Mythcreants for a while, you’ve probably caught on that no story is without political ramifications. Every choice a storyteller makes for their story broadcasts their values to everyone who consumes that story. A storyteller who tries to ignore the political implications of what they are writing will just end up sending political messages they didn’t intend. The best we can do is expand our awareness of what we’re implying by the stories we create, so we communicate only what we want to.

Because worldbuilding can be heavy on science and ideas that we correctly or incorrectly believe to be factual, storytellers can be tempted into thinking their worldbuilding is politically neutral. But in fact, worlds often make even stronger political statements than the stories set there.

As an example, let’s take The Wheel of Time series. In the world of Wheel of Time, men are more powerful magic users but can’t cast magic in groups like women can. The writer of this series, Robert Jordan, might have only intended to make a fun magic system. But in doing so, he also made a statement about what the inherent characteristics of men and women are. If he merely made the male characters in his stories better at magic but also less cooperative, a reader could say it was because of the traits of those individual characters. With it built into the world, there’s no doubt.

Your plot and characters can’t erase the inherent messages your world sends. No matter how badass the women in The Wheel of Time series are, it won’t change Jordan’s statement that they are not equal to men. No matter how friendly the men in The Wheel of Time series are, it won’t change Jordan’s statement that they are inherently less social.

So think about what you are saying by your choices. When in doubt, do some fact-checking. The statements you make will look a lot worse if they are based on obvious misconceptions.


While a large, complex, and rigorously thought-out world is the holy grail for most worldbuilders, it is possible to overbuild a world. Short works can be crushed under the weight of a unique and complex setting. Improvisational story forms such as roleplaying campaigns can benefit by leaving the setting flexible. If worldbuilding isn’t fun for you, you don’t have to make it into an extensive project. Just spend a little time on research, critical thinking, and notes about the aspects of the world that are important to your story.

P.S. Our bills are paid by our wonderful patrons. Could you chip in?

 

Comments

  1. Michael Campbell

    One thing that can be considered world building and usually isn’t; is, rereading your work as you add to it.
    If everyone can teleport and your characters walk across the country with no justification, rereading will usually allow the author to spot such an obvious “refrigerator moment”.

    Thus rereading is yet another component of world building.

    • Bunny

      That’s an odd way of putting it. I’d say it’s more like rereading is a necessary /part/ of world building, but not part of the world itself.

      Unless you mean it’s a step in building a world, in which case, yes. Your comment is confusing because “world building” can either mean the act of building a world or the world that the author is building. I’m fairly certain this article was discussing the latter? Maybe both?

      Gah! Now I’m confused. Terminology!

      • Michael Campbell

        No, I meant knowing the world you’ve created; lets you be consistent which itself, engenders verisimilitude.

        E.g. My guys teleported before.
        I reread.
        I realise that people will ask why they didn’t want to teleport across the nation.
        I write some discussion before their departure about traveling on foot to avoid being tracked by the government teleportation registry.
        Now I’ve added yet more to my world…a government that keeps tabs on its people’s moments. I have done some more world building.

        As to “build first” and “build as”
        Q) Do you know what happens when a scene in a movie is shot with a window in the set and no work has been done to answer the question, “what lies beyond the window”?
        A) If you’re lucky…a re-shoot…which is very costly. If you’re unlucky it stays in the film and people notice that the set is on a sound stage.
        So ultimately what matter is “build before release”.

  2. Shamanka

    As a minor tip, if the ramifications of something butterfly away a part of your world that isn’t vital but you kinda wanted, see if you can turn it into a status symbol. For example, in a world I’ve been working on, several branches of the magic system rendered castles and walled cities unworkable from a defensive standpoint, but I still wanted a few around for the more militaristic societies. So a material was born that could resist the magic, but was expensive enough that you would need real money to make more than a house with it. Voila, not only could the 1% show off their wealth with grand but ultimately useful defensive structures, but I now knew how to build a prison that could hold a criminal magic-user as a side-effect.

    • Bubbles

      That’s a very good tip. Although, in cases where the problems with an idea would be extremely damaging, it can be difficult to use (if there are powerful dragons who actively hate large buildings, go out of their way to destroy them, and can easily do so, for instance, even the rich probably wouldn’t build castles and anyone who tried would die quickly.

    • Michael Campbell

      Arcane-Kryptonite. I love it!

    • SunlessNick

      Nice example!

    • SunlessNick

      Some mages might want that material to build clean spaces. A structure where magic inside caanot interact with magic outside would be a boon for experimentation.

      • Shamanka

        Huh, I hadn’t considered that. Given that absorbing ambient magical energy is a prerequisite for using magic the chamber would have to be constructed carefully, but it could well explain how Blood and Lightning mages can learn their craft without killing themselves due to poor control.

        • Michael Campbell

          What about Uru* shields and suits of armour? Do you need to be completely enclosed or only worry about direct lines of magic rays from caster to target???

          * Yes, I’m referencing Thor’s hammer…or maybe that should be Beta Ray Bill’s. So yeah, I jumped from DC to Marvel.

          • Shamanka

            Given the way the magic system works, line of sight is all you need to worry about, but the anti-magic material is a type of rock. This means it has terrible mechanical properties for a suit of armour/shield, and you couldn’t even use magic on it to try and help. I’m not going to totally rule out the possibility of a metal with similar magical properties existing, but it’ll be even rarer and harder to refine.

          • Leon

            Tiles on a shield. Or grind it into enamal and paint it on to shields and armour.

          • Leon

            A clever scientist could probably figure out how the elements in the rock interact and electro plate (one element at a time, in the right sequence) onto mail.

        • Leon

          I had some ideas for magic proof shields and armour in your universe;

          Tiles on the inside of a shield.

          If the stone has a small field of protection it could be worn in a head band or a pendent to protect from basic telekinetic attacks – think New Zealand Maori.
          Poorer soldiers could use small bags of stone chips or tiny stones in the knots of fish net type garments – it would be fun if these were more effective than big expensive intricately carved stones.

          You could grind the stone into enamel and paint it onto shields and armour.

          A clever scientist could probably figure out how the elements in the stone interact and electro plate mail – one element at a time, in just the right thickness. You could even have scientists innovating with the inactive spacing/filler minerals.

          I hope you have some some fun with this

  3. Bubbles

    An article on the “big” parts of worldbuilding is quite useful. I particularly liked your discussion about world-first versus story-first and how the level of detail given should be different for each type. Also, the discussion about realistic cultures is especially important; as you say, far too many authors, even if they make the other parts of the setting sensible, have completely implausible societies. I would say that all too often, the level of thought put into an feature of a setting (not even necessarily how much it is like our own world) is proportional to how “hard” science it is; for instance, physics gets the most attention, then biology, then sociology. Sure, the “softer” sciences may have more leeway, but there are still a few limits to what is plausible.

    I’ll just talk about my personal take on worldbuilding now. I like world-first, but in practice, the few pieces of fiction I’ve actually written are short, so I suppose I’ve been going story-first for them. I do have some worlds I’ve been developing for a very long time, but I’m still trying to iron out some problems with them. I’ll give an example (I also mentioned this in a comment I made on the article about rational magic systems, but no one has replied to that one, so I suspect no one may have seen it because the article was too old). I wanted a universe in which there were lots of nonhuman species that were mentally and physically very different from humans, because I was fascinated by that idea. I also wanted to keep most of the large-scale structures similar to real life (stars, planets, etc.) but have some magic so I didn’t have to worry about sticking purely to real-life constraints. To summarize, my magic system ended up being based on common ideas about psychic powers combined with interactionist dualism violating the conservation of energy to an extent. Basically, minds in this world are definitely a different kind of things from bodies, and more than that, telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation are possible due to minds being able to produce energy. This also helped introduce the first part (nonhuman creatures), because telekinesis allowed even creatures without hands or similar to use technology, and teleportation included FTL travel (using a preferred reference frame to avoid time travel). Unfortunately, I’m still trying to work out how, if possible, to include the magic system as an logically consistent alteration to real-world physics.

    I would also argue that you don’t need a “theme” for a world if you don’t want one. Everybody has a purpose for creating a world, and of course the world should conform to that purpose as long as it the world is still internally consistent. However, internal consistency is what matters; as long as it is logical, you can include anything you want in a world regardless of what “genre” it nominally is. For example, the world I made has both magic and modern-like and futuristic civilizations, combining fantasy and science fiction. The SCP Foundation, a collaborative wiki (which I read, but don’t participate in), has many objects called SCPs that seem to run on many different principles rather than one overarching theme (there are a few in and out of universe attempts to find one unifying principles, but none of them have been canonically proven). I have written more about this in a comment (that no one responded to) on the article “Why You Should Theme Your World” (probably because the article is also old).

  4. Michael Campbell

    You need to work out how to create a logical basis for magic in a universe of super-science?
    Okay. Once upon a time, scientists tore a hole in the fabric of the universe and elements from the chaos dimension leaked into our universe.
    Or. Powerful living energy beings dwell in hyperspace and seek order in the universe. Once our scientists made contact with hyperspace, we found that the beings would aid & abet us in making our world a more just place. Suddenly our prayers were answered so to speak.

    • Bubbles

      Are you replying to my above post? If so, thanks! However, I think to make that this is a reply clear, you should click on the “Reply to” link to indent the post. As for what I meant by “logical,” I meant mathematically consistent. I already know the cause for my magic: it is just a natural part of my world as the laws of physics in our world are. But it can be difficult to change even a single law of physics and still keep things working. See the “Universal Fire” and “Universal Law” posts on the LessWrong website just for starters. I will say that I actually did have a previous idea for something akin to the “hyperspace beings” you mentioned; basically the deities of my world. I’m not sure whether to actually include them in my world or not because introducing powerful beings, if done incorrectly, can mess with your story (you don’t want a deus ex machina, for instance).

      • Michael Campbell

        Yeah, I got a little lost.

        I’m not sure what you mean by mathematically consistent magic.
        If you mean that if it takes a virgin sacrifice to make a zombie then it’ll take ten virgin sacrifices to make ten zombies…well to a certain degree it is magic and your magic, so maybe it only takes two and a sacrificial bull.

        • Bubbles

          Well, I’ll give you some examples of mathematical inconsistency. Then, I’ll give other examples of inconsistency that aren’t mathematical per se, but still illustrate my point. Unfortunately, the physics ones are fairly complex, but you don’t necessarily need to understand all of the math details to get what I’m talking about. (How do I know this? I don’t understand all of the math either! In fact, I won’t provide equations in my comment, although you can and perhaps should look up the things I mention to find a more detailed explanation.)

          First will be about relativity, faster-than-light travel, and time travel. The key here is that in any universe, due to the math of relativity, if you have unrestricted FTL, time travel will occur. This is regardless of the method of FTL – even if it is literally magic.Having magic that allows for unrestricted FTL without time travel in a relativistic universe is like having magic that makes 2+2=5 – something that even a fiction creator generally can’t get away with. In one of my fictional universes, as I’ve stated in previous posts, I get around this by ignoring relativity – but only for faster-than-light phenomena (so the universe can otherwise be similar to our own) – which use a preferred reference frame, so time travel doesn’t occur (Time travel isn’t necessarily inconsistent itself – it just personally doesn’t fit my ideas for that particular universe). The problem is that I’m not sure whether even that would work (someone claimed it wouldn’t, and while I suspect they made a mistake, I’m not 100% sure).

          The second is Noether’s theorem, in which conservation laws are connected to symmetries in a Lagrangian system. For just one example, conservation of energy in such a system is equivalent to time-translation symmetry, basically that physical laws don’t change over time. Again, even if, say, magic allows for creating energy out of nothing, that still means the physical laws must be changing over time somehow if the system is Lagrangian. I actually do have violations of the conservation of energy in my fictional universe, so I will accept that physical laws must change over time. Unfortunately, I’m not sure to what degree the change must be; I’m hoping it doesn’t have to be to an extent that, say, destroys everything.

          The laws of physics are all tightly interconnected (indeed, finding the one thing that ties them all together is essentially what the physicists’ search for a “theory of everything” is). Changing even the seemingly most minor of them is likely to change everything in an almost totally unpredictable way. One analogy that has been given for this is that of a sock; pulling out even one thread can unravel the whole sock.

  5. Sam Victors

    One of my first worlds was inspired from reading the Narnia Chronicles, only much more expanded; talking animals, mythical creatures, Gods, Goddesses, cultures and countries based on real world civilizations (Indigenous, European, Scandinavian, Slavic, Celtic, Mediterranean, African, Middle-Eastern, Asian, Romani, Irish Travelers, and even politically modern America).

    (The politically American-based country is an antagonistic nation with a totalitarian city-state, called Muricca, that has two political parties (both which are terrible in their own ways), and with a culture that thrives on nationalism, slavery, child labor, xenophobia, corporate factories, silver mining (their [Wall Street-like] Bank has a pit of ravenous wolves to threaten their diggers with), warmongering, religious fervor, propaganda, shallow entertainment, confections, anti-intellectualism, and damaging the environment).

    • Bubbles

      Sounds pretty interesting! I would like to mention some things to be aware of, however. You may already know about them; I’m just saying this in case you don’t.

      Basing a fictional culture on a real one, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, especially if you aren’t a member of that culture, be prepared to do a lot of research and make sure it isn’t based on stereotypes, because that could offend people and makes your world unbelievable (in a bad way).

      Even if you do your research and make sure your portrayal is respectful, there’s still the a problem of believability in that cultures are diverse and the exact same culture shouldn’t arise if the circumstances are different, especially if your world is not our own and has no contact with our own. Note: To some extent, cultures are based on outside features such as the environment, so especially for humans, some similarities between your culture and certain Earth cultures in similar conditions are realistic. What you want to avoid is everything being the same, especially the names, which should be different.

      Sorry if I’m promoting my ideas too much now. (They’re probably extremely flawed at the very least; I’m hoping to find feedback to improve them). In one of my worlds, for instance, there is a country somewhat based off the United States, in that there is a lot of value placed on freedom and democracy. However, the recreational activities and foods are very different, as well as the human language (which is tonal and has a more flexible word order than English does, for instance). Another nearby country is very, very vaguely based off Scandanavian countries, as it’s in a cold region and (especially among some of the descendants of those from our world) has been considered highly “progressive.” But there is a significant tradition of martial arts, and the human language does not resemble European ones much, either.

      About “Murrica” in your world: I know it’s supposed to be a bad place, but the list of faults seems a bit excessive for any real country to have (although maybe that’s just my opinion). Also, why would a totalitarian government have more than one political party?

      • Sam Victors

        Thank you for that.

        I always do my research, a lot of it. I also do research on the culture’s mythology and folklore, and kind of syncretize/culturally blend them.

        For example, apart from my Muricca country, there is a southern country that is modeled after Middle-Eastern, Indian, and African civilization and folklore. The country is also egalitarian in that, although modestly dressed with either veils or headscarves, women have autonomy and more job opportunities, such as doctors or soldiers. Sure there is some ‘Arabian Nights’ influence here and there, but the country is more expanded and progressive, in that there are male belly dancers, priestesses, no flying carpets (that would go to the Slavic/Scandinavian country), no harems (although both genders could be polygamous should they choose so), slavery is outlawed, etc.

        • Bubbles

          Thanks for the reply. Note that while something like a historical culture but more egalitarian is perfectly fine if you put thought into how it came about, your societies don’t need to be egalitarian. There is a different between writing a story about bigotry and writing a bigoted story. Also, I’m still not sure why a totalitarian country would have more than one political party.

          • Sam Victors

            Perhaps Totalitarian was the wrong word, sorry about that.

            The Muricca City-State (the country its in has a different name) is very much a loud, obnoxious, and aggressive place to be sure. The two political parties are obviously the Republican and Democratic Parties, but very corrupt in their own ways:

            The Oliphant Party stands for honor, tradition, merit, and the wealthy/upper classes, but are truly decadent alcoholics, stuffy and no-nonsense snobs who are phobic of mice and crazy about nuts.

            The Onager Party stands for opportunity, freedom, liberalism, and the poor/low classes, but they are truly stubborn fools, lazy idlers, and dirty cowards who don’t do much to help. They are all lip service and bumper stickers, so to speak.

            There were other political parties in the country, but they were wiped out centuries ago.

          • Bunny

            Wow. I’d absolutely, totally read whatever book you’re writing. That world-building sounds amazing. Depictions lesser-shown cultures such as African and Indian, talking animals, mythology, and not to mention male belly-dancing. I’d go for that any day!

            . . . But hoo boy, Muricca sounds depressing. Clever (I guess?) name, by the way. Took me a minute to figure that one out. Interesting concepts, but I gotta say I have a few problems. The underclass being idle and dumb, for example, strikes a tone awfully similar to the dismally murky waters of bothsides-ism. It’s like that whole “the poor are dirty and lazy, that’s why they’re poor” mentality which causes so much damage today.

            And, well, I guess I’ll just come out and say it. It hurts on a personal level, seeing people who’re currently fighting for societal improvement be portrayed as mindless, corrupt, lip-servicer idiots. The message it sends is that we’re all a bunch of phonies who don’t really care and aren’t really helping and don’t really want to. I think the problem here is that the parallel isn’t a parallel at all; it’s much too direct. I think you’re trying to make a statement, but you’re falling towards the “Bright” trap of direct substitution. Not to mention how you’ve chosen the most obvious and frustrating American stereotypes and amplified them from this direct substitution. It makes one feel . . . hopeless, really. Especially during one of the most frustrating and horrible administrations in recorded history. Basically you’re showing that there is no good to be had in America, anywhere.

            Then again, I don’t know much about your story. I don’t know if you’re trying to send a message – such as, say, “watch out, this is where this country’s heading.” I don’t know whether you plan to develop this country, or show how change can foster improvement, or something. Maybe your tone is jokey and self-referential. I don’t know. These are just a few first impressions. Correct me if I’m wrong about anything!

            Sooooo yeah. Like Bubbles said, there’s no problems with not making a society egalitarian, but this is just so insultingly obvious. Basically, watch out for parallels that aren’t really parallels but direct substitutions. I’d suggest making it more subtle, not such an obvious America “parallel,” but one that could be interpreted that way (or could stand in for any developed country turning towards internal corruption). It’s just so blatant. Honestly though, it sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into your world, and I could see some truly interesting stories coming out of it. I’d love to know more.

            Where does your story take place, by the way? Now I’m curious which of all these rich cultures you’ve placed your protagonists in!

          • Michael Campbell

            “Basically you’re showing that there is no good to be had in America, anywhere.”
            What was the tag line for Easy Rider?
            https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064276/taglines

            For what it’s worth Murrica sounds like a post nuclear holocaust place name. Indeed it sounds a lot like Mega-City One from Judge Dread and the Cursed Earth.

  6. Sam Victors

    Thanks for that Bunny, for your criticism and showing the flaws in that idea.

    Maybe I should throw out the Political Party stuff?

    Maybe I should change it and give it a different spin. Like how the City-State of Muricca is reserved for the upper and wealthy classes, and outside in the rest of country is reserved for the underclass and the slaves.

    I wanted to make Muricca represent the worst aspects of American history. Like what if the America ended up like a dictatorship, but in an American way? similar to the Republic of Gilead. Muricca started out good and fair but later became corrupt and hungry for power, control, and domination. Like its heading down for the wrong path.

    My main country, which most of the series takes place, is Narnia-esque, but with Deities from many different Pantheons. Its also more feminist and egalitarian than Narnia (which was written in the 50s, so there’s that). Not to mention my protagonists are also mixed with children of color (not many fantasies have children of color).

    • Bunny

      I don’t think you need to drop the political stuff entirely, just . . . tone it down a bit, in regards to the existing parties. And yeah I’d say definitely take out the part about the poor and underprivileged being lazy. Always punch up, not down.

      The political parties could maybe work if everyone involved in them was rich or upper class, and the poor and lower class were oppressed. Maybe you need to be “old money” or something in order to join a party, thus the poor are except from the corruption but unable to do anything about it because there’s no wiggle room (it’s totalitarian, after all). I think you definitely have some good ideas, you ought to just play around with them more. I liked the literal “wolves on Wall Street” idea you mentioned earlier, that was fun.

      You could also make these Muriccans corrupt in other ways, which don’t have direct real-world implications. Maybe there’s a black market trade for lower-class people who are born with magical bones (or something) whom the rich kill to use the bones as weapons or illegal medicine. That’s pretty bad, and it doesn’t have a real-life counterpart. Maybe they’re gathering forces to overthrow the gods (or take control of the gods’ minds and force them to do their bidding) and reinsert themselves into that all-powerful position to rule unopposed. Maybe they brainwash powerful young mages from an early age to follow their orders without question and use magic to enact their laws upon the poor. You could even use magic as currency, so that being rich literally means being more powerful. Who knows? I don’t know how many of these suggestions are useful, since I don’t know a lot about your story, but there are lots of options. I think magic as currency could be a good all-around solution . . . how do the powerful keep the poor oppressed? By requiring a magic tariff wherein they take away their magic power and make themselves stronger while doing so. Then, when the magic has had time to “heal,” they take it again. Just an idea.

      It makes me super happy to see how these stale 50s tales are being diversified! I loved Narnia as a kid, but yeah, the lack of black people and the whole “here’s a bow for you to use but don’t use it because you’re a girl” thing sat wrong with me. Time for some fresh takes!

      • Sam Victors

        I did had this thought, like Muricca secretly hunting down talking animals from other countries to both sacrifice to their gods (btw, human sacrifice is common in the Muriccan religion) and also to eat as a delicacy.

        I’ve head that thought for quite a while.

        For the religion of Muricca, I guess you could say its a demonized version of Christianity, with a Satanic-looking God with twelve minor (though still important) deities as his courtiers. They’re like the wicked Titans to the other countries gods and goddesses, they even had a Theomachy one time before (in my story that is).

    • Michael Campbell

      “Like what if the America ended up like a dictatorship, but in an American way?”
      To a degree isn’t that exactly what happened!?!

      One of the problems for America (and yes I recognise that there’s colossal generalisations being made here) is that Republicans are basically 20% of the population and vote 100% of the time while Democrats are the remaining 80% but only vote 25% of the time.
      So the dividing line of the political parties is actually a long way to the right of where it is for most other developed world countries.

      So the bulk of the population get this weird feeling that the country doesn’t represent the people. And they’re right, it doesn’t represent the people…it represents the voters.

      There’s an old saying.
      There’s the right way to do something.
      The wrong way to do it.
      And the Indian way to do it.
      And I think you can also replace India with America in that saying.

Leave a Comment

By submitting a comment, you confirm that you have read and agree to our comments policy (updated 9/3/18). We send comment data to outside parties for spam filtering and other services. See our privacy policy for details.