Random Thoughts – Worldbuilding Through Architecture

Worldbuilding can be tough. Creating new cultures and civilizations. I’ve talked a little before on how to add a little flavor with the 3 Ms (Merchants, Mercenaries, and Mauraders), but today I want to look at how architecture and environmental design can inform the reader about your society.

There were a few books that made me really think about this. The Bobiverse series has an alien species that build massive ships with large cargo holds and compartmentalization. In Children of Time, the spiders build with silk and their structures are in a constant state of change. But what really made me think of architecture as a worldbuilding aid was in Space Team. In that book, when the main character first arrives on the alien ship, he sees what he describes as “chairs and not chairs.”

Now many creatures have the ability to change their environment to better suit their needs. Any creature capable of creating a complex society would have to have this as well as the logistics of providing for large numbers require it. This environmental change can be as complex as creating weather machines, or building cities, or it can be as simple as irrigation or making a boat. Even making a chair or not chair is a level of environmental change.

But the question is how do these changes and designs inform the reader about society? Well, let’s look at some of our previous examples.

In the Bobiverse series, the aliens use giant ships with compartmentalization. They also travel from planet to planet, stripping it of its metals to return to their homeworld. The function of the vessel is to carry large amounts of raw material, hence the size. The compartmentalization is reminiscent of life we find here on Earth…insects. Bees and ants tend to have compartmentalized structures. They are also hive minds, a trait shared by the Bobiverse aliens. That little detail draws a parallel that the alien physiology did not.

In Children of Time, the spiders build their structures with silk, a material naturally produced. They designed their homes as large chambers to house several members of a peer group. They also change the layout of their homes and other structures at will and as necessary. This shows that not only is their society based on biological technologies, but it is also highly adaptable. At several points in the story, the spider’s society changes completely to adjust to new developments.

Even in our own history and societies, we can see examples of how building design can inform us about a society. When I think of ancient Greece, I see open plazas and forums that promote the exchange of ideas and thought. The courtyards and lack of walls, while not historically accurate, give a sense of community.

Rome was a mix of military function and highly developed social forms. A vast bureaucracy and military power, many of its buildings were designed to be standardized. A Roman fort was a Roman fort, regardless of if it was located in Germany, Britain, or Carthage. Its temples, however, were quite elegant due to its observances of highly developed rituals.

The Roman Catholic Church has amazingly designed cathedrals full of some of the best paintings and sculptures in the world to both show glory to their God and to display its wealth and power. American skyscrapers reach towards the heavens as a symbol of industrial might and independence. The Japanese developed intricate joints to connect support beams due to a lack of metal for nails that offer the feel of precision and discipline. Russian towers have a distinctive bell shape to prevent snow accumulation, hinting at their hardiness and resourcefulness.

How you design your world’s buildings and furnishings can offer a lot of insight into the culture and can give the reader clues as to what that society generally feels. But what other examples can you think of? How do you use building design to add not just distinctiveness, but character, to your world? Let me know in the comments, and as always, I mustache you to stay fantastical.

Random Thoughts – The 3 M’s of Worldbuilding

World building is hard. So is figuring out how to have fantasy creatures interact and engage with that world. But how do you introduce those creatures early if they don’t play a role until later in the series? The 3 M’s answers that question.

So I am in this awesome writer’s group on Facebook. The people there are great. They are also super helpful, always willing to offer help and advice on story issues. Occasionally, though, you get some random jackass who has never published a book who tries to speak with authority and offer their two cents…Well, not being content with being just a jackass on Facebook, I have decided to expand on one of my ideas here for you fantastical people.

There have been a lot of question on Fantasy Writer’s Support Group on worldbuilding. Not just how to create a new world and populate it with interesting peoples and creatures, but also how soon or late to introduce these elements. Many of these writers have plans for a multi-book series, and they want to keep book one very mundane and ordinary with barely a hint of fantasy creatures, only to introduce these different races in later books.

Initially, my advice was always to get the creatures out there as soon as possible in book one. It’s fantasy. Fantasy creatures are allowed to be there. Besides, you don’t want to have book one feel like some type of historical fiction story only to do a genre bait-and-switch in books two or three.

Now, this is still my advice. To quote Martin Luther (the theologian, not the civil rights leader) “Here I stand. I can do no other.” I never really gave a lot of thought to how to actually do this, though.

After all, it is easy to say “toss those creatures in there.” It is harder to do. Where do you put them? What if you have a xenophobic government? These were questions I did not have an answer to…

Until now.

The 3 M’s of Worldbuilding:

Merchants, Mercenaries, and Marauders was the answer I needed.

There are certain groups that are pretty much ubiquitous in every society, especially medieval based societies. These groups are merchants, mercenaries, and marauders. Let’s break it down.

Merchants are one of the few groups of people who are pretty universally welcomed. They bring new and exotic items from across the globe…or a new tray to bake bread on. Either or. Either way, merchants have a lot of freedom of movement. They are also a group that is easy to have other races fill.

After all, in our own history, you could get raided by a Viking ship today and tomorrow another Viking ship will show up to trade with you. (Ok, it wasn’t that extreme, but you get my point.) Merchants can show up anywhere and be accepted. Maybe not trusted, but accepted.

Mercenaries are another group that is all over history. There is the famous story of the Anabasis where 10,000 Greek mercenaries traveled to Persia to fight for Cyrus II. They typically tend to show up more in later history as gunpowder led to strong, centralized governments capable of raising the taxes to pay for them, but fantasy loves its mercenary bands.

Historically, these mercenary bands travel all over the place. The Vikings (geez, again!?) sent a group of mercenaries into Asia, these mercenaries became bodyguards, then these bodyguards took the crown and established Russia. (Slight exaggeration on the timeline, but still a true story.) So it is easily possible to have a mercenary group of a different race, especially if your fantasy has a war going on.

Finally, we have marauders. These are your raiders and pillagers. (Vikings strike again!) But in this sense, I use marauders more to represent criminal organizations because I am an author and alliteration is awesome. (Also because MMCU or MMG doesn’t quite flow off the tongue.)

Any xenophobic society is going to attempt to push outside races away from good, societal jobs. This leads those groups to have to find some means of surviving. Raiding, stealing, and selling secrets are all good ways to earn money for those who don’t have the burden of living up to a society’s moral codes. (Granted, it also leads to stereotypes, but that’s not the point here.)

Now, the other awesome thing about the 3 M’s of Worldbuilding is that you don’t have to focus on these groups. There doesn’t need to be a whole lot of explanation behind them or a deep dive in their cultural history. These groups are just there. They form the background.

They also get your creatures in the story easily. You can explore them later at your leisure. They can impact the plot whenever you want. But they are already there and you don’t have to worry about them coming out of nowhere.

So what do you think? Are the 3 M’s helpful to you? How do you like to build your worlds?

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As always, I mustache you all to stay fantastical.