Alright, if you read last week’s post then you should have the beginnings of a world by now: a list of people groups/cultures, a list of nations, or a map of the portion of your world that you want to focus on. If you’ve been really busy, you might have more than one. However, any one of these is not a stable foundation to begin building your world, you must have all of them. Without people groups you have no idea who lives in your world, what they’re like, how advanced they are, etc. Without nations you have no idea how the political structure of your world is organized. Without maps you have no idea where anything actually fits in your world. So, today we are going to talk a little bit about filling in your world, and what is involved in each of these categories.
So: people groups. A people group is an individual, recognizably different race or culture. No one has come up with an agreeable number of people groups in the world today, but estimates range from around 10,000 to around 27,000 distinct recognizable people groups inhabiting the planet. You shouldn’t feel like your world needs this many. Generally most fantasy/science fiction worlds will have between three and twelve different people groups. You can find some that range outside of this (Star Wars for instance has many, many more than twelve people groups), but it is generally a safe bet. Remember that a different people group does not necessitate and different race. For instance, in the world of Avnul the Longminjong, Nemmi, and Yamakuni are all human people groups, and the Narut are nearly human. Similarly, the Neshelim and Yeter are both Habacheram. A people group could be differentiated by language, religion, culture, location, or any number of other things. So, when you are creating your people groups, consider how and why they are different. Also, a note on races, if your non-human race is essentially human, then ask yourself why they aren’t human. If the elves in your world are just short humans with pointy ears, why are you calling them something different? It is great to have different races and cultures, but there needs to be a recognizable and reasonable difference. A non-human culture shouldn’t look and feel human, and if it does then you have to explain why it does (i.e. they are similar to 19th century India and have been under human rule for so long that they’ve started to forget their own cultural identity).
And: Nations. Nations are going to vary depending on what kind of world you’re building. If you want a modern, non-earth world, then your nations need to incorporate multiple people groups and they should look like melting pots. Remember that a nation is simply lines on a map, everything inside them ruled by a central government. By and large the people can come and go as they please (although if you want to have a xenophobic North Korea in your world that’s fine too). However, if you are writing a prehistoric or early bronze age fantasy world, then it is completely reasonable to have nations developed around your people groups. Most nations of the time were developed around a certain people group, and even in the late bronze age this was largely true. While the rise and fall of empires like Sumer, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia saw a mixing of people groups, these nations were still generally dominated by a single people group who ruled others through conquest, and this is something that could easily be reflected in your world. In a futuristic, sci-fi world you might want melting pot nations, or you might want to mix the two concepts. For instance, in a young galaxy where inter-stellar travel is limited you very well might see the same kind of conquest that you did in the bronze age. However, as travel becomes easier, people will mix more and more, and your ‘nations’ will become less and less ‘pure’. When you are building nations there is a lot of room to play, but remember that your world needs to feel like a real place, even though it’s not. This is something that should always be in the back of your mind: does this look like it could actually happen?
Lastly: Maps. A few lines surrounding big, blank spaces. That’s probably what your maps look like right now. However, it is important to make sure that those lines look real. When making a map you generally want to start from the coastlines and then work your way inward (with cities you want to start with the same principle: start with the city wall or border and work your way inwards). The reason for this is simple, in making a map you always want to start with your outward boundary (think puzzle borders) and then fill in the middle. You also usually want to start with major landscape features (inland seas, lakes, major rivers – i.e. Nile or Amazon, mountain ranges, or massive jungles – i.e. central Africa), before moving on to cities. When you are designing your world’s topography remember to keep it realistic. Examine maps of our planet, you can also find photo maps of parts of Mars. Look at the way coastlines are shaped, the way mountain ranges lie on the landscape, where rivers begin, etc. Don’t just put things where you feel like putting them, put a lot of thought into your topography, and if something isn’t realistic, make sure that you have a specific and explainable reason for it. Once you have your topography (and make sure that you have your topography solid before doing this) you want to start placing nations and people groups in the world. Remember that topography and climate are major factors in shaping culture. If you put a ‘tropical’ culture in the far north it will feel wrong (unless they are somehow unaffected by temperature), and if you put a mountain culture in the middle of a plain then it will also feel wrong. This takes time and thought, so be careful and make sure that you do it well.
Good luck in your world building!