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30 Days of World Building

30 Days of World Building is a writing exercise tagged with Teraum.

30 Days of World Building, Day 1

The exercise for this first day is this:

Get out a map or go to an international website like National Geographic. Look every- where. Antarctica. Saudi Arabia. The rainforests of Brazil. The rainforests of Central California. Look at how the different climates behave and appear.

The first fifteen minute exercise is to write down all the different climates you can think of– if you need to just say a city name, do it. Sometimes “Seattle” is more evocative than “northern damp temperate climate.” Write these names down in a list.

Then, go through that list and write one or two words that describe how that climate, either the word itself or the way the place itself may have made you feel, if you’ve been there before. Try to stick to abstract adjectives; emotional words, if you can, but nouns are also okay.

Simple enough - though I think they might mean “biome” where they say “climate.” And I’m not sure all of what I’ve listed are biomes, “officially.”

Climate Description
alpine mountains divisive
badlands sanguine, ironic
bayou calm, saturated
chaparral endurance, commitment
coral reef childishness, riddles
equatorial archipelago allegorical, precise
fen playful
floodlands folkart, communion
freshwater lake plain-spoken
grasslands eternal
holler sneakiness
lowlands historic, homely
mangrove swamp consuming, decaying
marsh honor
meadows betrayal, beauty
moors treason
ocean introspection, philosophy
old growth forest treacherous, ebulent
piedmont prosperity, equality
pine forest snide, caustic
rainforest aggrevating, inspiring
redwood forest weird
river delta rigid, eternal
sandy desert barren, spiritual
savanna funny, excited
sea opulence, reservation
shield hardworking
steppes stagnation
taiga enthralling, catatonic
thicket surprise
tidewater creativity
tundra challenging, introspective

30 Days of World Building, Day 2

Before I get to today’s exercise, I want to express a concern, of sorts, I have about being able accurately complete this challenge. I read through future days, and it seems that the challenge comes from the assumption that you have a vague idea of a story, and not a clear idea of what sort of world to have.

I am coming at this from rather the opposite perspective: I have a notion of the world, but am looking for more stories to tell in it. This may mean that, going forward, I’ll have to adjust how I respond to certain exercises.

The exercise for this second day is this:

What role do you anticipate weather playing in your story? Do you have a lot of travel that you want to complicate with bad storms? Are you going to snow in your mighty heroes? Will there be a mighty battle, determined by sudden flooding? You actually don’t need to know right now. Your exerise for today is to jot down ten plot devices that relate to weather, and what you think they do to the story (for example: a snow-in can turn the mood very claustrophobic… or very intimate).

Okay, ten plot devices related to weather, and what they can do to a story.

Device Effect
calm at sea Slowly building desperation. It’s hard to know how long a calm will last when it starts, and so it becomes a point of anxiety, as it stretches on.
flash flood Sudden emergency. You’ve got to make choices about what to rescue, where to go, right now.
fog Obfuscation, opportunity for invisible things. Unseen murders.
weeks of rain Discomfort, duldrums, break from routine. Canceled parties, missed opportunity.
heat wave Concern for the future. Will it kill the crops? You’ve got time to plan.
thunderstorm Natural fears. They’re just… scary.
dust storm Confusion, isolation, lasting destruction.
spring shower Opportunity for romance, as two seek shelter from the sudden downpour.
very sunny Noticing things you might otherwise not. The glint of a bracelet as a thief removes it from an aristocrat’s wrist in the market.
snowstorm Holiday special! Or other community-based things.

I feel I could dive into any of these to turn them into an adventure or story set within Teraum. One reminds me of an idea I had recently, for an adventure set on a transoceanic cargo ship upon which the party has bought passage. Instead of scenes being defined by area, they’d be defined by what the main challenge each month is, and one of those months would be the calm month, in which the ship is becalmed, and the party has to figure out how to remedy that situation, by getting the ship to move or stretching the supplies.

Just for example.

30 Days of World Building, Day 3

The exercise for the third day is this:

Read over your list from Day 1 and then turn to a blank piece of paper. Close your eyes and think about what kind of feeling you like to have when you write or read. Write down four words that fit into that feeling: two adjectives, a verb, and a noun. Now return to the page with your list of climates and emotions. Do any of them match up? If they do, you have your climate. If not, try to find closest-match words.

If you spend 10 solid minutes thinking about this and still can’t decide, pick two climates that express moods you like. You can make up your mind later, and you can even build your world with both climates containing equally probable sites for your story.

What kind of story do I want to tell? One where people are desperate and innovative; one where reactive decision-making ruins plans; one where even the heroes are covered in mud, but probably not blood:

So looking at the table from the first day’s exercise, a few biomes stick out to me:

So, where should the story be set, following this logic? Sounds like someplace that’s normally subject to the tides, with lots of little bits of forest to hideaway in.

There’s one part of my world that is very much like that: Arathel County, a coastal region north of humanity’s largest city. A mix of wetlands, the whole region shifts with the tide, and again with spring flooding.

30 Days of World Building, Day 4

The exercise for this fourth day is:

For 15 minutes, jot down some of the Really Big Land Features you want in your story and just think “what if that were made by….” Write down a couple of causes for those features and scars, and stick it all into your notebook. Which scars are slow-force scars (like plate tectonics), and which are fast-forces (anything that takes less than 10,000 years is medium-to-fast in geological scales).

In yesterday’s prompt, I was led to decide that Arathel County would be where I’m setting the stories and world-building these exercises are bringing me too.

That might make this challenge a bit tricky, since it’s catered around world-building, not small region-building. In talking about this hallenge with a couple friends doing it, they also expressed some difficulty - the challenge seems to be drifting between “develop a world” and “develop the area of the world your story will be set in.”

Anyway. The biggest land feature in the region is the region itself. It’s on the eastern (and only known) coast of the Old World, north of the Green River, in a part of the world known as the Green Delta.

The Old World, as written so far, has four major tectonic plates. The Green Delta and the Central Plains to its east exist on one, which is subducting the Optic Ocean, the ocean to the region’s west.

To the southeast, the Central Plains are obducting over the Unseen Sea, a massive desert which now exists a couple thousand feet under sea level; the tectonic border has formed a massive cliff known as the Falling Coast.

To the east, the Central Plains and Unseen Sea meet with the Worldkeepers, converging to form that mountain range.

So, four plates: under the Green Delta and Central Plains, under the Optic Ocean, under the Unseen Sea, and under the Worldkeepers.

That brings us back to Arathel County, which, despite being part of the Green Delta, is not on the same plate. The region was formerly a coral reef and archipelago of sandy shoals, in the Optic Ocean.

As the plates shifted, the region got obducted - I’m not sure if that’s the proper word anymore, but “moved to be ontop of,” - by the shifting of the Green Delta plate.

An aside: it’s interesting not having names for these plates because the people in my setting wouldn’t be aware of them. Also, I should point out, while I’m using “plate tectonics” as the term, and the world does exist as a crust of plates, the plates’ cause for movement is not like Earth’s. Underneath the world is, basically, a zoo, called the Worldkeep, for all sorts of magic creatures. It’s quite old by now and parts are collapsing in, and this is causing the world above to form plates and for them to move.

Anyway, Arathel County was a coral reef, but shifting of the plates caused it to end up above the shoreline. The coral got filled in with sediment over many years, and the sandy islands got worn down to dirt.

This has led to a region that’s mostly gravel and sandy, with complex and often inter-connected cave regions. There’s lots of ferns that grow in the region, and moss, and those sorts of things.

There’s a river that runs through the river, the Kaiper River, though “runs” is an over-ambitious description. Fed exclusively by rainfall and springs in Arathel County, the river is low-volume and full of silt, slowly oozing toward the coast.

That’s about it for notable geographic features in the region. The town of Arathel is built on the coast of the Kaiper River, and over time the area directly adjacent to the road leading to the town from the rest of the Green Delta has been cultivated into small scrappy farms.

30 Days of World Building, Day 5

The exercise for the fifth day is:

[T]oday’s exercise is to draw out the physical contours of your map, and then identify at least three places that your people might live. You don’t need names for them yet– we’ll worry about names next week, when we give our people language. Just draw a dot on the map or maybe sketch a little “house” symbol to indicate that people have settled that area.

I use Inkarnate to make my maps, but I haven’t made one for Arathel County in quite some time. Now’s as good a time as any.

This is a bit abstract, I know, but it goes with the other maps I’ve done for the setting. The big brown blob in the lower left is the city of Ack. The big blue blob on the left is the Optic Ocean, and the smaller blue blob going to the bottom is the Green River. The skinny blue line starting near the top-right is the Kaiper River, and the brown blob in the middle of it is the town of Arathel. Other brown blobs are towns and villages. Grey and light brown blobs are hills. Light brown lines are roads. Green blobs are areas with more trees.

I’m not sure what the scale is. Plot-convenient, at this point.

30 Days of World Building, Day 6

The exercise for this sixth day is:

Spend 10 minutes figuring out what people who evolved in each major area of your world would look like. Then spend another 5 minutes asking “what if this group encountered that group?” Would they fight? Trade? Both? Inter-marry and blend their genetic types? Would they remain largely separate, with pure strains of both racial groups co-existing (not necessarily peacefully)? How would that encounter be brought about in the first place?

Hmm this one is tricky for me because for the past few days, I’ve been looking at one county of my world, and also, because of the origins of humanity aren’t in evolution and natural selection.

[At this point, I stopped doing these exercises.]