7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding

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    How do they eat? What do they eat? Who takes away the garbage? Who deals

    with their bodily wastes? How do they get around? What do the majority of

    people do to survive? You're not just constructing a society, you're creating

    an economy. People don't oppress each other for fun — usually, systems of

    hierarchy and oppression have an economic component to them. Maybe you

    need a lot of peasants to grow labor-intensive crops, or maybe you need lots

    of cannon fodder in your space war. Maybe your only source of protein is a weird fungus that needs to be tended by specially trained people. Maybe

    everybody's eating algae. In any case, there's nothing worse than a fictional

    world where there are elaborate social structures, which seem completely

    separated from the realities of food, shelter and clothing.

    2. Not explaining why events are happening now.

    Chances are your story revolves around all heck breaking loose in your

    fictional world. (Or your fictionalized version of the "real" world.) One major

    worldbuilding flaw is not explaining why heck is breaking loose now, as

    opposed to 20 years ago or 20 years from now. Why is the dark elf army

    showing up now? Was there something preventing them from showing up,

    which has been removed? Will it be too late if they wait another year or two?

    Often, if your plot is swinging into motion for reasons that feel purely

    arbitrary, that's actually a failure of worldbuilding. You haven't fullyaccounted for the things that kept your villain in check, and probably also for

    the factors that keep other political actors in your society in check as well.

    And that's a larger issue — every society has checks and balances. Even an

    absolute monarchy has invisible lines the monarch can't cross. Sometimes

    you can't figure out how these checks and balances worked in a particular

    era, without reaching beyond the official history as sanctioned by the people

    in charge.

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    On a related note, if you're drawing on real-life history, for

    your fantasy world or your future history, don't just read

    works by historians from the dominant culture, or worksfocusing on the ruling class. Historians have done amazing

    work on discovering what ordinary people and marginalized

    groups were doing during a lot of eras, and there's plenty of

    resources on what was going on in, say, the Middle Ages

    outside of Western Europe. To the extent that you rely on

    actual history in your world-building, you should reach

    beyond the Kings and nobles of a few Western countries.Image by Frederic St-Arnaud/CG Society.

    3) Creating fictional versions of real-life human ethnicgroups, that never go beyond one dimension

    This is a huge problem that tons of creators seem to struggle

    with. But as a rule of thumb, if you want to have Belgians in

    your novel, you're going to have to try and create an accurate

    view of Belgian society. If you decide that instead of Belgians,

    you're going to have an alien species called the Bzlgizns —

    who are basically Belgians except they've got antlers — youstill have to try and make them well-rounded and as nuanced

    as possible. Ditto if you're creating a secondary world where

    there happens to be a land of magical creatures called The

    Belge, who are still basically Belgians. Really, you should

    make sure that any cultural or ethnic group you create has

    multiple dimensions and a sense that its members have their

    own subjectivity, and a believable culture. Whether it's the

    Gay marriage in the year 100 ADGay marriage sounds like an ultra-contemporary

    idea. But almost twenty years ago, a Catholic…

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    culture that your main characters come

    from, or a culture that they see as the

    "other." But it's also a really good rule of

    thumb that the more your fictional group

    resembles real-life Belgians, the more you

    ought to worry about being true to life.

    Changing "Belgians" to "Bzlgizns" doesn’tactually let you off the hook for presenting a

    true-to-life portrait of people from Belgium.

    4) Creating monolithic social, political,cultural and religious groups.

    Everybody in a particular ethnic group

    agrees about everything. Every member of

    the ruling class, or the working class, agrees

    about everything. Every citizen of aparticular nation holds exactly the same set

    of opinions. There is one version of history

    that absolutely everybody agrees on. Every

    member of a religion interprets the tenets of

    that religion in exactly the same way. That

    sounds plausible, right? Maybe if you've

    never been around actual humans. In reallife, if you get three members of a particular

    in-group together, you'll probably hear four

    different opinions on most of the group's

    major concerns. Asserting that all Christians

    agree on all matters of doctrine is probably a

    good way to get laughed out of the room. So

    when you imagine the ruling class of your

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    world, it's safe to assume

    that no two members of it

    will agree on much — and

    when you retell your

    fictional history, remember

    that nobody's likely to agree

    on what actually happened.Image by MacRebisz/Deviant

    Art.

    5) Inventing a history that istotally logical

    In an imaginary world, the

    strongest side always winsand the people who are in

    charge are always the

    descendants of the people

    who were in charge 100

    years ago. But real life isn't

    like that — history is full of

    odd quirks andhappenstances, and

    powerful people often make

    huge miscalculations that

    wind up costing them dearly.

    Just think about weird

    happenstances like Ireland

    being divided in half. Or

    20 Great InfodumpsFrom Science Fiction Novels

    A truly great infodump is a work of art. The best sciencefiction authors can brief you

    on…

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    Korea. Or

    Germany,

    for nearly

    five decades.

    Why is

    WashingtonDC

    the capitalof the

    United

    States

    instead of

    Philadelphia?

    Why did the

    Portuguesehave their

    own colony

    in India

    until 1961?

    History is

    weird. And

    things thatseem

    inevitable in

    retrospect

    usually

    seemed

    anything but

    at the time.So a totally

    logical

    history will

    never pass

    the "smell"

    test. And

    speaking of

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