Cultures and Architecture In Your World
What kind of architecture is there in your world? For most people, when you hear the word architecture the first thought is big buildings: pyramids, skyscrapers, Gothic cathedrals and the like. Architecture, however is so much more than big landmarks. Architecture is a part f everything that is built by people. This includes such things as streets, street signs, board walks on the beach, houses, home decor, landscape gardening, etc. So, when is comes to architecture in you world, have you given it any thought? What will it look like?
Architecture doesn’t have to be big. Even a primitive tribe of cave men will have architecture. Just think of the cave drawings. How does one cave woman lay out her furs? Is it different than how cave woman #2 does it? Even the tiniest home decorating details are part of the architecture found in your world.
Don’t forget that each city/town/village is going to have different styles, tastes, and culture too. A common failing in world creation is to have every village in every realm of your world be nearly the same. How many times have you read about a wandering wizard who goes from one village to the next and every village has the exact same tavern with a different name? Than he finds the same style blacksmyth in each village and the king always lives in the same style palace.
Does every village he visits have the same cobblestone streets? Why are some of them not brick? Or gravel? Did you know that many old time fishing villages paved their streets with ground clam shells? (Some still do, esp in Maine. These beautiful glisten white roads are rare, but amazing when you see them, and boy do they stand out and tell a story of the village.) Are any of your fishing villages paved with remains of the local shell fish?
Does every village in your world have the same tiny thatched roof houses? Are they always the same size and laid out in the same order? It’s a common mistake, and few writers even notice they do it.
Now let’s take a look at the real world. Say your wizard lives on earth. First he leaves England and heads to France. He’ll probably travel through a few sheep farms and farming hamlets to get there. These are not likely to have taverns in them, and may not have more than 4 or 5 thatched roof houses. Once in France he’ll have to cross pass a few dairy/cheese farms and grape vineyards, long before he ends up in the village. And once he reaches a French Manor-house (castle) he’ll be dwarfed by the shear magnormous size of them. Now lets say he leave Europe and heads to China. He’ll have to go past several cultural and architectural changes before he reaches China. Once in China he’ll see such things as Pagodas and Shrines. Your wizard may very well suffer from culture shock.
Now let’s take your wizard back to your fantasy world. How many cultures are there REALLY in your world? One? Two? Unless there has been a massive Armageddon event of some sort, it is not going to be believable that your fantasy world has anything less than two or three hundred cultures in it, at the very least. Now granted you don’t have to mention all of them in your story, but neither should you at like they are not there either.
Let’s look at that wandering wizard again. He has finally come home and settled down. Four or five years have passed since his traveled the world and now it’s the time of your story about him. His young apprentice is looking around the house and spies a shelf filled with strange nick-knacks: a jade Buddha statue perhaps? Maybe an Eiffel tower shaped trinket box? A Aboriginal boomerang? These are all strange and odd architecturally shaped items, completely out of place and out of culture for your wizard, but they are things which he brought back with him from his travels around the world. They not only represent your wizard’s lifestyle, but they tell a little bit about the various cultures in the world as well. They also tell your reader a little bit about your world’s architecture without your story having to go to each place. All you wizard has to do is retell a quick two or three sentence long tale about what the item is. You now have far away places for your apprentice to dream about.
Take a look around your own bedroom. What do you see? I’ll look around my room. You know what I see? A French Louie style chair. A tapestry from Persian. Several kimonos from Japan. A Mongolian sheepskin coat. Bamboo curtains. A Spanish model pirate ship. A bright colored charger (plate) from Mexico. I live on the Maine coast and a lot of local sea shells and drift wood are all over my room too. In my room you see local culture as well as culture from all over the globe. The architecture in my bedroom is influenced by many cultures. I’ll bet your bedroom is a mix of influences too. Now look at your main character’s bedroom. How has the cultures of his fantasy world effected the architecture of his bedroom?
What this all boils down too, is, do not forget when creating your world, that a planet is big and will have hundreds of societies on it, each with it’s own style and habits, and those cultures will affect your characters even if your story never leaves your main characters bedroom. So know your world’s architecture and make sure it’s blended in.
A Place To Live?
Let’s think about your characters and the world they live in for a bit. Where exactly do they live?
If they are a tribe deep in a jungle region they may live in straw hut or tall tree houses. Or do they carry their houses on their back, sleeping in a hammock hung each night in a new spot?
If they live on a planet who’s temperature is so hot that the rocks melt, than your people may have to take to living miles below the surface in order to avoid being burnt to a crisp.
Are they sea folk living at the bottom f the ocean? Than they may live in clam encrusted caves, or maybe they carve palaces out of coral? Or do they bed down in a patch of sea kelp at night? Or do they live in fishing shacks along the shore, sleeping there at night and swimming under the sea by day?
Are you characters royalty in palaces built of gold?
Are they sailors living on a ship?
Are they merchants who live in the apartment above the mercantile?
Are they farmers living off the land?
Are they tiny pixies living under toadstools and mushrooms?
Are they homeless and living in a cardboard box behind the gold palace?
Why are these things important? Because where your character lives effects who they are and how your reader imagines them when reading your book. Where your character calls home, tells your reader wither your character is a master or a servant, a king or a slave, a white collar worker or a blue collar worker, a wandering nomad or a solitary hermit. Where your character lives tells your reader the type of lifestyle you character has.
Where your character lives may have a great effect on your story. For example, in my Twighlight Manor series, most of the stories take place inside the Manor itself. A huge haunted mansion tells the readers that these characters have enough money to live in this massive fortress. It also tells the reader that these characters are pretty strong willed to refuse to move out of a house that one by one is eating members of their family. The house in effect become a character in the story and is very important to the plot and effects everything that the characters do and say.
Now granted your characters probably don’t live in a house that eats people, but still where your character lives effects how they live and how other characters react to them and more importantly how your readers react to them.
Remember, when you are creating your fantasy world, to create houses to match the local. Your characters have to live somewhere, even if they are a family of squirrels living in a tree. Remember too, that in a fantasy world, just like in the real world, every one will live in different types of places depending on income and climate, so take those things into consideration as well.
Types of Houses:
What about your population? How well do you know them?
For this section you should focus on one specific area and not the entire planet. Say the city/village where your story takes place.
What type of peoples live here?
How long have they lived in this place?
How did they get here?
What do their homes look like? Are they small grass huts or huge stone palaces or something in between?
What is the economy like?
What is the average income level? What percent of the population is poor? What percent is wealthy?
What type of currency do they use? Shells? Beads? Gold? Nuts? Livestock? Coinage? Paper?
What are the local trade goods? Timber? Fish? Eggs? Weapons? Corn?
What is family life like? Large families with lots of children? Small families with one or two children? Multi-generational families with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousin all under one roof?
Do Your Characters Match Where They Live?
Here is something that not every writer thinks of: Do your characters match their environment? Your world effects your people. You are a human, thus you require oxygen to breathe and certain proteins and energies to live on. You need sunlight and water and fresh air. Without certain things you will die. Without certain things your body changes. If you live on a diet of nothing but carrots, eventually your skin will turn orange and your eyes and teeth turn yellow, this is a scientifically proven fact, and has happened.
In a similar light, flamingos are pink because they eat shrimp. Take the shrimp out of their diet and they lose their pink color. Flamingos on a fish diet grow white feathers. Flamingos in zoos feed other shell fish, grow out orange feathers. Likewise you can turn a canary from white to yellow to pink to red depending on their diet. The same is true of goldfish and koi carp.
Animals that live deep in dark caves turn white and evolve to give birth to not only blind, but completely eyeless babies.
What does all of this mean to you the writer? It means that when you change your world, you may be changing your characters too. Taking out certain plants and animals means altering your characters diet and thus changing their skin color. Move them underground and they not only turn white but they a born blind. A very important part of world creation is creating characters who are physically able to live in the world you created. It is important that you keep in mind that when you create a world different from Earth, you will need to create creatures that are equally different from humans as will. Humans can not live in certain places or under certain conditions and your readers will not be willing to suspend belief in reality if you suddenly have regular humans in your non-earth like world.
How you design your wrld will effect how you should design your characters living within that world.
Here are a few questions you could ask yourself when creating characters and matching them to your world:
Do swamp people have green frog like skin and moss filled hair?
Do your undersea characters (mermaids, sirens, etc.) have a way to breath underwater? Lungs for air breathing? Gills for water breathing?
Are your subterranean people pale skined and blind? Or at least blinded by light?
Are your lava dwelling creatures tough skilled and able to withstand the burning heat?
Are your winged sky dwellers able to fly or do they just have wings to look good? Did you remember to give them sponge like bones (like birds) so that they could fly? Can their lungs deal with the challenge of cloud life? Clouds are wet, are your characters always soggy clothed?
This article was originally published in October 2007, is copyright to Wendy C. Allen and The Twighlight Manor Press, and is reprinted here with permission.
To read the complete article: Creating a Fantasy Realm (The Complete Article – All 21 Pages from the Series)
NOTE: If you would rather read each section individually, you can follow the links below:
Creating a Fantasy Realm: Part 1: Level of Reality
Creating a Fantasy Realm: Part 2: What is Your World Like?
Creating a Fantasy Realm: Part 3: Landscape
Creating a Fantasy Realm: Part 4: People and Places in Your World
Creating a Fantasy Realm: Part 5: Culture and Rituals in Your World
Creating a Fantasy Realm: Part 6: Does Your World Have Fantasy Creatures?
Creating a Fantasy Realm: Part 7: How Important is it to Create a Magical System?
Creating a Fantasy Realm: Part 8: Things You Can Do to Bring Your World Alive