3 Things about Worldbuilding You Don’t Know You Know

How’s THAT for a title??

Today I thought I’d give y’all a presumptuous post. I’m going to assume that you don’t know you know these three [pretty important] elements in worldbuilding, and if you do, well, nothing I can do about it! Just enjoy this random post that I came up with after sitting at my desk for 10 minutes trying to decide on a post subject!

It’s been a while since I wrote about worldbuilding, so here goes…

#1: sometimes people speak different languages in different parts of the world

I am not Tolkien. You are not Tolkien. No one will ever come close to Tolkien. I get it. I understand that. It makes sense.

And sometimes, adding the immense spiderweb of complications and nuances that we call multiple languages just won’t work for the story. I understand that as well. Sometimes just using or mentioning one language will work better for the story.

The thing with languages is that they’re so complex, so distinct, and so nuanced that they automatically contribute to the speakers’ culture. Few authors want to go through the pains of creating an entire language, so they avoid mentioning them altogether. I don’t think that’s properly addressing the situation. You see, you don’t actually have to write in a different language to include multiple languages. It can be fun, but it is way too complicated for simple people like me who have enough trouble dealing with human languages as they are chances are your readers won’t be able to read a language they’ve never seen before reading your book. That’s just the way it is, you know?

Now the thing is, in stories covering more than one kingdom or nation, it would be pretty natural to have more than one language. If not entirely different languages, then at least consider dialects, which can in some places sound like another language even to native speakers of that language. The thing is that languages are constantly evolving. If you were to move to China, would you begin by learning modern Chinese–which would actually help you in life–or archaic Chinese, which might be somewhat useful but will earn you a lot of weird looks? Same for English–do modern retellings of Romeo and Juliet read anything like the original?

So for an entire group–or an entire world— of nations to speak one language, it’s nigh on impossible for the language to sound exactly the same across every culture. British English, American English, and Australian English are one obvious example. Furthermore, having only one language doesn’t even make sense realistically. Think about history and the origins of man–no matter your worldview, everyone speaking one tongue does not work. It can be different in fantasy and futuristic worlds, but it’s something you’d do well to consider.

My last point is that languages do a very important job of creating and shaping the relationships between different countries and people groups. And on an even smaller scale, they’re integral to developing relationships between individual people. Language barriers are not little things. They’re kind of a big deal to many, many people, and even if they aren’t to you personally, they are practically the heart of communication! Give the linguists, interpreters, and struggling language students some appreciation!

One last thing: it’s not unrealistic to have one common “global” language. I’ve seen it used several times, but not often enough! You know how English is.

#2: people disagree on some pretty important historical/geographical/theoretical stuff

This is why it’s a bad, bad idea to info-dump. Other than dragging readers’ attention through the mud, you also miss out on the opportunity to establish different versions of history. Everyone knows that history is vital to good worldbuilding.

We also know that history is usually written by the victors, ain’t it?

This isn’t actually a big problem in any particular genre of fantasy except portal fantasy (unless, of course, you play the info-dumping game). And you know how it is with portal fantasy–MC gets dumped into a totally unfamiliar world, and not only is the history/geography/etc. of this world generally revealed in one long info dump, but it’s also gonna be an info dump that everyone agrees on. Guys, that just isn’t a thing. History is too controversial; even if this other world claims to have all the secrets about “what actually happened,” not everyone is going to agree with it, especially if it’s widely held.

Another thing is that just because people disagree with each other on some angle of history or politics does not mean they’re death enemies. There are plenty of friends who disagree with each other! In fact, wouldn’t most people agree that going to arms when encountering someone who holds the opposite belief about the government than you is usually taking things too far? (Unless, of course, it’s an undeniably tyrannical absolute-despotism government, in which case we shouldn’t even be having this discussion.)

Now, geographical disagreements are a huge thing too. So let’s let this lead into my last point…

#3: geography is not just “put a mountain here, a river there, and maybe add some deserts for good measure”

Am I a geography whiz? No, actually, I am not. I was never “that kid,” I assure you.

But I think that authors really underuse geography in spec fic, specifically in stories that have action or fighting. I mean, we have mountains and caves and whatnot sometimes, but like. Think of all the other possibilities.

As someone with an e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y l-i-m-i-t-e-d knowledge of anything related to geography, I don’t have much to say on this matter. I can only give a few examples of when characters duel on clifftops and get hurled off the edge into the gaping sea below, or whatever. Climate is generally counted as more useful than geography. Which doesn’t make much sense because they’re kinda almost the same thing.

here the geography whizzes come to take my head off

I can confidently state, however, that besides the more obvious fighting/action sequences, geography plays a pretty important role in your oh-so-controversial history as well. There can be a lot of value in a city that’s fairly inland, surrounded by mountain ranges on nearly every side, and leads to the sea at some point (again, my geographical knowledge sucks, so just pretend you understand what I’m trying to say). There are like a million ways a strategic location can be manipulated to suit someone’s needs. Unfortunately I am not privy to any one of those million ways.

I’m like the mentor in your typical YA fantasy adventure. I can only give you very cryptic, profound-sounding instructions and turn you in a very vague direction. Geography is not my strong point. If you are a geography whiz, please don’t hurt me.

So… that’s all for today! Sorry for not posting last week… I’m not sure what happened there xD I’m thinking I should maybe change my posting schedule to every two weeks instead of weekly, since it seems I’m definitely having trouble keeping up with blogging on every single Tuesday!

I hope everyone had a happy Easter!

Until next time,

~ Merie

6 thoughts on “3 Things about Worldbuilding You Don’t Know You Know

  1. I mean…I knew about these things, but I hadn’t *thought* about them. And now I have a lot of food for thought! Your point that history is considered differently in different places is a) perfect, and b) MASSIVELY underused in fiction!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The world building in my Sci-Fi is soooooo lazy…BUT, it’s intentional! Like, I only have one language and climate and all because that’s what the government made it. The idea is that everyone is equal, so therefore everyone has to have the same culture…you see where I’m going with this, right?

    Liked by 1 person

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