What Did We Leave Out?

In any group of world-building exercises, there's going to be something left out, something the person posting the exercises (me) forgot or neglected, or just doesn't think about much. I've tried to keep an eye on this forum and be alert to topics that people bring up, but I'm aware that I've probably forgotten something important.

So, what did I forget? Some of the topics I can think of off the top of my head:

Clothing: What passes for fashion in your world?

Food and Kitchens: Is food substantially different? What about food prep and kitchen areas?

Sanitation and hygiene: We don't read speculative fiction to read up on people going to the bathroom, but how clean is your world? What do large concentrations of people do with their waste (biological waste as well as regular ol' trash)? A world's history can change when its sewer needs change: polio wasn't a serious problem until closed sewers meant children weren't exposed to it early enough to ward off the disease. Not to mention hygiene and bathing.

Disease and Treatment, Medicines: Similarly, how does medicine work in your world? What do people do for pain? What do they do about disease? How do people heal? Are there hospitals, healers, infirmaries, medics?

Treatment of the Elderly: A related issue: do your elderly drift away on icebergs? Do they get put into an old folks' home? Do they shift to hyper-productive imaginative lives in a VR world? Are they revered? Reviled?

Law Enforcement and Incarceration: Long-term incarceration is a modern phenomenon, and one that doesn't seem to work very well, given the overpopulation in prisons. What happens to criminals in your world? Fines? Feuds? Eye-for-an-eye mutilation? Microchipping? Do you have prisons?

Pets: Something that many humans believe is a distinction of humanity (KoKo the gorilla being an exception) is the desire to care for a pet. And yet, the definition of "pet" wasn't always the same, and the desirability of certain animals as pets changes when one is or is not able to have them "fixed." Do the people of your world keep pets, and if so, what kinds?


Spend 15 minutes thinking about two or three of the above "left out topics" and post in the comments any other world-building topics that come to mind that you haven't seen addressed in these threads and would like to.

Reader Comments:

Dreamway Posted on: 2005/1/17 1:46

As I face building an idea of a middle-tech city:

Where are the tectonically active zones? In short, is this in Shaky Town? How many noticeable earthquakes a year, or month, do you have? Is it like Pompeii, where in the memory of humanity there the mountain covered with vinyards had smoked now and then but never erupted? Or is this an area where they watch the hills nervously for smoke, as in Iceland? Earthquake and volcanism can strike anywhere around a ring of fire, or other tectonic joints with subduction of sea floors. This may well affect things like architecture (Japanese disposable housing, LA earthquake safety codes after the 1932 quake) or it may be ignored and lead to disaster when it does (rigid flimsy houses that collapse on the inhabitants, etc.)

Architecture: does it reflect pure utilitarianism or are there fossil features, like a neo-Tudor split-level in Malibu that does not need steep snow-shedding roof, or an office building in neo-Gothic with non-spouting gargoyles? What is it made of, and does this vary by status? There's the old line about "found Rome a city of wood and brick and left it a city of stone" or however that goes. If it's multi-storey, how do you get between stories? Ladders or stairs or ramps? Note that trad Japanese buildings use very narrow steep accesses about halfway between stairs and ladders, going through the floor above with a relatively small hole. Does architecture channel fashion? That is, is the concept of narrow steep stairs so ingrained that something like hoop skirts could never come up? Does this vary by status? What fills the windows? Casements of bullseye glass? Sashes with oiled parchment in the frames? Shutters?

City planning: I have some lovely books on Greek, Roman, and Medieval cities, not to mention archaeological site plans of more ancient and non-European ones. The major determinant seems to be: walls or no city fortifications? In medieval cities. they tend to channel development along the streets between gates. Did it just grow outward from a ruler's house like Tara or a ceremonial site like a Mayan centre? Is it forced on a grid no matter what like a Classical colony, or is there a messy zone somewhere, older primitive form or bad terrain? History can be reflected in this.

Where's the water? Do you have to go to the well/stream outside the village/town gates to get it? That's a long haul for the women folk who in most cultures get this duty. Do men do it in yours because it's dangerous: raiders try to steal women while they're out there every few years, if you let women do it. Is there a stream through town, getting progressively filthier as the gutters and sewage dump into it? Do the high folk live at the upstream end? Why not, if they've got the money and power? Are there natural fountains spotted here and there? Piped-in fountains in every neighborhood? Running water from cisterns on the roof? You need a pressurized water system to get piped-in water above the level of the source, remember, which is why water-closets were so late in developing.

Heating the place: or cooling it. The ancients used braziers, with attendent constant light smoke inhalation. The Romans had hot-air warmed floors (the most civilized system). Chimneys were invented about 1100, but as anyone who has moved into a house with a poorly built one knows, they must have taken time to perfect. We think of early 19th houses relying on fireplaces, but in Germany they only had them sometimes in grand houses, or very poor ones. Everyone else used closed heating stoves, tended from a special corridor where the fuel was kept stacked. In hot weather, are there punkah-wallahs pulling a cord to operate the big flap from the ceiling waving back and forth, or is it all passive cooling, like Hawai'ian houses? Note that only crazy Europeans like tons of sunlight streaming in through big windows in the summer. Trad hot-zone buildings have small windows, or ones up high under the shade of the eaves. As my Granny Orbe taught me, sunlight IS heat.

FIRE! How do people handle outbreaks of fire? How frequent or dangerous are they? In Colonial Williamsburg, they point out that kitchens are detached buildings so that when they burnt down, rather frequently, they didn't take the main building along, and this was in the 1776 capital of Virginia. Is it something simply ganged up on by the neighbors? Are there private fire companies like the early ones that will only put out a fire on a building with the tag that shows fees have been paid to their company and not a rival? Without hook and ladder trucks or horse-drawn pumpers, the Japanese had fire companies in Edo that threw water when they could, dirt if they didn't have water, and mainly pulled down the burning building and any immediately in danger to break the fire.

Passage: is it legal to wander around at will? In Renaissance England, commoners needed passports to explain why they were away from their home parish. Are borders between places guarded or permeable? Do they really care if people come and go as long as they can get all the wagons and sumpter beasts carrying cargo for entry taxes? How is this policed? Great Wall? Hadrian's Wall? Guard patrols? Wait until the people have to buy food somewhere?

Cgarrett Posted on: 2005/1/17 5:13

The big one I noticed was morals in general and sexual mores in particular. A culture's attitudes towards sex can have a profound effect on how their culture develops the way that it does. After all, the Victorian view of modesty and obscenity resulted in such strange things as the use of tablecloths to cover up the "limbs" of furniture. So, what partnerships are permitted, which are slightly scandalous, and which are considered taboo? What hapens to people who ignore the societal rules?

Also, what are their views on killing? Lying? What words or concepts are obscene?

And how do their views affect their language, whether slang or idiom or basic speech?

Reader Links:

WritingLife Posted on: 2005/1/21 19:30

Patricia Wrede has a long, long essay on worldbuilding on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America sitehere. This page has the links to all the sections. Many, many things to consider!