It is the little things that count
By Steven Savage
Archives available at The Way With Worlds Home Page
Last week we looked at why it's worth creating a solid world for your original work. This week, we're going to look at what you'll need to "know" about your setting, and how one small question can define an entire plot.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
When building your world, what do you need to focus on? These are the basic areas I try to keep track of, and we'll explore these areas in columns to come.
Origin - Where did it all come from and how does it relate. Of course this can get pretty scientific/metaphysical, but you may need to think it over.
Ecology - How does the world "work?" Is it like ours? Are there tons of predatory nasty animals or hordes of tiny herbivores reproducing all over the place and eating everything?
Intelligent Life and Culture - Humans just like us or something more exotic? Why do people do what they do and what do they believe? If there are multiple intelligent races, how do they get along and can they interbreed?
Economy - How do the various cultures exchange goods and service? What traditions and limitations surround this.
Technology - How do people affect the world they live in? How is it done?
Whew! As you can see, there's some work ahead of you. And how to you fill all these categories? Research, of course, speculation, wild inspiration, and . . . questions.
THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS:
However, sometimes you can go overboard on details, or at the same time, not have enough. The rule for how much detail one needs doesn't exist in my opinion. You have to determine what you need to know. My advice is to have a little more than you think you'll need just to be sure you've got enough details straight, and enough to have fun with.
Here's an example of how getting the right details is interesting and necessary, especially in areas that will affect your story.
You've got a fantasy tale you're working on. In your world, a bandit lord has kidnapped the prince of the heroine's kingdom. His father is going to pay the half-million Royal ransom, but the resident evil warlord, with spies everywhere, plans to intercept the ransom, forcing the hands of the king and the bandit lord, both his enemies. Your heroine warrior, her thief sister, and a young wizard are your heroes, their lives further complicated by the heroines crush on the prince.
And . . . wait a moment, what exactly will paying someone a half-million royals entail?
You're no fool, you gave up on the overdone fantasy RPG coin of the realm - the gold piece. You figure silver royals are the "dollar" of your world. But if your characters are going to deliver some ransom, you need to think about money deeper. Come to think of it, money is something that would appear in lots of your stories.
First of all, you decided early on that a royal is 1/10 ounce of silver, the equivalent of a dollar on your world. Of course, there's probably a more valuable coin, so you then figure its the gold Imperial. Next, you need a "small change coin" and create the copper Thak (you like the name and you figure it's a corruption of some ancient word). All the coins are 1/10 an ounce, and the Imperial is worth 10 royals, and the Thak is 1/20th of a royal. Nice and simple.
Great, so the ransom is going to probably paid in a mixture of imperials and royals, you figure half and half. That makes 250,000 royals and 25,000 imperials. 27,500 ounces . . . about 1720 pounds.
Now it hits you that this is going to be a difficult ransom to delivery, difficult to steal, and difficult to protect. Its nearly a ton of precious metals!
Suddenly, the detailing of your economy gives you not just a better world, but an idea for a plot.
The ransom will be delivered by horses with several carts. Of course, you thought of having a fake ransom of lead ingots and a correctly delivered, real ransom to throw off the evil warlord. However, he does, as you noted, have spies everywhere, so that just won't work.
The plot finally resolves itself. The thief figures there should be two shipments, both fake, while the actual ransom is to be paid in rare gems. The wizard disguises the gems as more common precious stones. Your heroine risks her reputation (and revealing her hidden love) to make the delivery. Now they just have to avoid the warlord's patrols, and the dangers of the backroads . . .
Of course, now there's more to think on. Do the people making the fake deliveries know the danger? Do the thief and wizard resent being in the background? Will the bandit lord honor his agreement.
Those are further questions to ask, but that's part of the fun . . .
NEXT WEEK: It *is* the little things that count.