Over the past few months, we've tackled several little ways novice writers mark themselves as amateurs. We've discussed how to give your readers a sense of the world beyond your story, build animals into your world, develop your side characters' motivations, and catch filter words in your writing.
Today we'll explore another aspect of world-building that is often ignored or not addressed in enough detail: how things are made and what they're made of.
If you're anything like me, this isn't something you want to spend much time on. You want to focus on building civilizations and cultures, not environments and economies. But your world's resources and the way they're turned into products touch every other aspect of your world-building. If you don't have at least a basic understanding of what's available, you can't keep your world realistic.
The resources of your world
In this article, we'll assume your world is based largely on our own. With that in mind, you only need to develop two things before you start writing:
What resources your world has that ours doesn't - What makes your world unique? What natural resources can they access that we can't? Have they developed man-made resources that we haven't? Where do those resources exist, and how are they delivered—or withheld—from the rest of the world?
What resources on our world don't exist in yours - Does your world lack gold or oil? Are there severe shortages of resources that are plentiful in our own world?
As you answer these questions, you should be able to draw connections between these resources and other parts of your world-building.
The Mistborn novels are a great example of this. Allomancy, the primary form of magic in the Final Empire, draws its power from a variety of metals. The most powerful of these metals—atium—is used to control the economy and plays a significant factor in the first book's plot against the Empire.
Your resources will similarly impact your world's economies, political structures, cultures, and even religions. Listing every resource available would take years, but establishing the essential ones early in your world-building can help ensure that everything else you create feels believable.
How things are made
Once you establish available resources, it's time to think about how they become products. Some things, such as fruit, are useful in their harvested form, but others must be created, such as your characters' clothes, furniture, weapons, etc.
Again, don't go into too much detail here, or you'll world-build forever. Instead, answer a few key questions about your world:
What is the highest level of manufacturing technology available?
What level of manufacturing tech is available to most of your world? Do all your nations have similar technology, or is there a clear leader?
Is magic used in any aspect of manufacturing?
When we commit to transforming an idea into a novel, it's usually because we've been sitting on the idea for a while. We already have a sense of what we want our world, our cultures, and our characters to look like. Taking the time to ask yourself these questions intentionally will often bring the answers out of your subconscious.
Other times, it's not so easy. You may need to study different technological eras and brainstorm manufacturing methods. This might take you an hour, a day, or even longer to really understand how things are made in your world. Be patient with yourself and remember that everyone's process is valid.
Resources and the logistics of manufacturing goods might not be the most fun aspects of world-building, but developing at least a basic understanding of how things are made in your world will help make it realistic. You may even discover something interesting during your brainstorming sessions that becomes your story's focal point.
Little Things Writers Miss is a series exploring common elements of world-building, character development, and story elements that novice writers often neglect. Every month on the 15th and 30th (or the closest weekdays), we will explore two of the little things writers miss, helping writers identify and eliminate issues in their own work.
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Dianna Gunn is the author of YA fantasy novella “Keeper of the Dawn” and the Write Plan content writer. She also blogs about creativity, life and books at The Dabbler.
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