You’re building a world, and hopefully at this point you have a map. What do you do with that map? Aside from using it as a reference point for where your characters are and where they go, of course. How can you use it to further develop your world? Well, chances are you’ve filled it in with landscapes (mountains, forests, deserts, craggy cliffs…), which is a great starting point. A town in the forest is going to act very differently and produce very different materials than a town in the desert. So, how do you tap into these landscapes to develop your cultures? Let’s find out.
What resources are nearby?
If you have a town in the mountains, they’re going to have easy access to stone, trees (depending on how high in the mountains they are, and the exact makeup of the mountains), probably some ores (what ores they have is up to you), and possibly some mountain-dwelling animals. What resources they have is going to affect what they trade, what they can make and what they have to have imported instead, what their architecture is like, what the insides of their houses look like, how wealthy they are… It’s going to affect a LOT. Let’s continue using this mountain town as an example. Their homes are likely to be made mostly of stone, possibly with some wood accents. They might build with some of the ores they produce, if they’re hard enough for building. They might decorate with metals. Their furniture is probably going to be made of wood, stone, or metal. Do they have anything they use for cushions? Maybe the pelts of a nearby animal? Keep asking questions and pretty soon you’ll have a well-developed settlement with a lot of really cool details you can call to play when you’re writing.
What’s the climate like?
This is going to affect what plants can grow there, what animals can dwell there, and how your characters dress. If you have a desert town, it’s probably surrounded by plants that can survive on very little moisture and probably cold-blooded animals who have protection mechanisms against sandstorms (among others). The people are going to dress for the weather, and also have ways to protect themselves from sandstorms. Their houses are probably built to withstand sandstorms and keep sand from blowing inside, while still allowing a breeze to relieve the heat when there’s not a sandstorm inbound. Shuttered windows? Windows with panels that slide into the wall or over the window as the situation dictates? Again, think through the what-ifs, ask questions, and let your mind explore the possibilities.
How isolated is the region?
If your town is stuck behind a mountain ridge, for instance, cut off from the rest of the continent, how does it affect them? Are they fully self-sustaining? If so, are they their own country or kingdom? Does their isolation make them wary of anyone from outside, or do they welcome a change of pace when a visitor arrives? Do they have fewer resources than they need and have workarounds for the mountains? Maybe they’ve dug tunnels through in order to reconnect with the outside world? Are they locked in on all sides, or just one or two? Do they go in different directions to trade, maybe heading to a nearby island kingdom off the coast rather than going across the mountains to their own continent?
Who are their neighbors?
Neighboring cultures are likely to affect the culture of a civilization, whether that’s a positive or a negative. Does the culture willingly adopt traditions, fashion, etc. from the neighboring civilizations, or do they shun it and hold strongly to their existing values and practices? Are they successful in keeping out the other culture’s influence, or do they still unconsciously adopt practices from their neighbors? Does their choice on whether or not to welcome influence affect their relationships with their neighbors for better or for worse? Do the neighbors respect and admire their steadfastness or try to force their beliefs? Do the neighbors welcome the culture’s adoption of their customs or would they rather hoard them? Is it even against their beliefs for other cultures to adopt their practices? Or maybe it’s part of their beliefs that everyone should eventually be like them.
I’m sure I’ve missed a lot–there are a lot of facets to worldbuilding–but this will hopefully give you a starting point and get your mental gears spinning.
If you need somewhere to store all of your worldbuilding information, there are several options (I should make that a post in this series). If keeping track of things digitally is your preference, I’d recommend World Anvil. It’s great for storing existing information, and it can prompt thought in specific areas that you might not have thought of before with its article templates. Is the existing template not quite working for you? You can also work according to your own categories using a “Generic Article” with headings.
What settlement in your world is most influenced by the landscape around it? What’s your biggest worldbuilding struggle? Your favorite thing about worldbuilding? How do you usually keep track of all the pieces of your world? Let’s chat in the comments!