Take a story you’ve already written. (Preferably a short story or a scene.) Copy the story or scene to a new document. Now, go through and delete all personal names. Now rewrite the story or scene, referring to your characters by description only.
When you’re done, look for patterns in your writing. What attributes of each character did you describe? Did you describe each character using the same features?
If you’d like to show us what you’re written, we would love to see it! You can tag it as #funprompt or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit it to us.
Creating a world from scratch can be overwhelming, but having an understanding of how societies form can be quite helpful. Here is a basic overview of how cities form.
So how do cities pop up? Humans were nomadic for thousands of years before they learned to domesticate crops and livestock. With this domestication came the ability to stay in one place to grow food rather than to follow food and good weather.
Agriculture gave rise to permanent settlements. Humans settled near water and built homes that were durable. They became larger and architecture became more widespread. With building permanent homes came the need for more resources. The architecture of your cities (especially in worlds without modern technology and transportation) will depend on the surrounding resources.
With agriculture and settlements came society. Nomadic humans needed to travel light. Sedimentary humans did not.
Elements of Culture & Society
- Clothing: When humans were nomadic, clothes were most likely animals skins and there was probably not a lot of it. Humans could only carry necessary items such as tools for hunting. Settled humans have the time and resources to create better clothes. Animals bones were sometimes carved into needles. Since humans could have more possessions when settled, they started making jewelry, more tools, pottery, and larger objects that could not be carried.
- Population: If a baby was born with a physical deformity, this baby was abandoned because it was weak and would not survive. Humans in nomadic groups could not waste their limited resources on someone who would die soon anyway. In cities, humans could rest more often and spend what time they would traveling to take care of their young.
- Economy: With agriculture came a large income of food. This led to the beginning of trade, especially when other groups of humans passed these new settlements (if they were friendly).
- Law: With higher populations, an economy, and morality came crime. To deal with crime, some sort of authority must be established. For the enforcers of law to keep on track and prevent falling to corruption with power, laws needed to be written down. This is where written language comes in. But you need people who are able to read and write that language, hence education arises. With education, you need people to teach and people to learn.
- Punishment: Given that currency may not have existed or that trade was more common as a form of exchange, the enforcers of law rarely gave fines when a law was broken. This led to the use of torture. Some cultures saw the left hand as the unclean hand and thus cut off the right hand as a punishment of stealing. The people who suffered this punishment then had to live their entire lives offending others by using their left hand for everything.
- Religion: Most early civilizations were polytheistic. Their gods and goddesses were based on what was important to them. These beings set examples for the morals and values important to these groups. With architecture being developed, temples and shrines started popping up. Animals that are important to the population often became an important part of religion as well. Some were involved in burials or sacrifices. For example, a culture in Africa buried cattle with their dead and often made paintings of cattle because that animal was integral to that culture.
- Marriage: Marriage is quite universal, though it may go by different names and have different laws depending on culture. It is defined, in its simplest form, as a sexual and economic union. With the rise of an economy and higher populations, this union became more common and often had a relation to religion, politics, or family influence.
The Evolution of the City
Over time, culture and society developed as the population rose. With higher populations came the need for more space. With enough people in a city, there needed to be some sort of organized power. Therefore, government buildings will be built. Also with higher populations comes more crime and the need for more enforcers. A military is established to deal with this and outside threats. Walls are built around cities for protection, though farms lay outside the walls. In times of war or threat, the population would hide within the city walls.
Also within the city will be a fort (called a citadel) for more protection if threats get inside city walls. Most cities that are over 1000 years old (especially in Europe) will have or will have had a citadel.
Over time, the population rises and more problems come up. Condensed areas are at higher risk for disease, especially without some sort of system for waste. Homes and other structures are built outside of the city, though sometimes the city walls are expanded.
Recap for Building Cities in Your World:
- Put them near water.
- Consider the resources available.
- Establish law, punishment, and enforcers.
- Religion and mythology explain morals, values, and the unknown and have an effect on laws.
- The building of a society is produced by a domino effect.
- Create a map of your city. Note important places.
- Create a general history of your city.
- Consider the population and its diversity.
- High populations in condensed areas will have more sickness and less resources.
- Don’t just write about the good stuff. Write about the bad stuff too, like the smell.
Can we stop shoving love interests together and forcing them to be in scenarios where they have to talk to each other? It seems like every book out there has “forced lab partners” or “had to escape together and hide together” or something of the sort that involves no choice from either character.
What happened to dating and going to places and websites specifically for hooking up? What happened to people asking each other out in settings where they aren’t stuck together? Is “trying to be romantic” really so much less romantic than “having to be romantic”?
For once, I’d like to see a story where both characters in the romantic subplot initiate and agree to every step instead of being shoved together by their setting.
Maybe he’s beginning to understand the fix we’re both in.
In stories, and especially in non-modern fantasy, there is a tendency to have a one-man government. There is a king (or, every once in a while, a queen) who seems to singlehandedly decide all foreign and domestic policy while also seeing petitioners and dealing with Court. This is the most impractical form of governance I have ever seen in my life. This is not how any government works. Ever. Here’s some stuff to think about when you’re making a government.
There are a lot of different forms of government. You can do a lot of reading about all of the many variations of the various types of governmental systems, but there are some basic things to think about. In this post, I’m going to cover types of heads of state/government, as well as means to gaining that title.
Who is the executive? (I am using primarily the modern European names as a simplification tool, as that is what most people know.)
An emperor/empress is the head of state of an empire. An empire is a group of states/peoples spread over an extensive geographical area who all fall under the same central authority (in this case an emperor/empress). Basically, that means that one person controls a whole bunch of groups of people (think: British Empire, which at one point had control over a fifth of the population of the world (1922)). While each individual state and/or colony and/or administrative territory, etc. might have its own leader, the central leader (if it is a single person) is the emperor/empress.
The one weird exception to this is the current Emperor of Japan [Akihito (明仁)], who is an emperor despite only being head of state (technically, sort of, because of Japan being a constitutional monarchy) of one state.
A king/queen is the head of state of a monarchy. It’s a little less clear-cut to define a king/queen than to define an emperor/empress just because of the looser definition of a kingdom and broader usage of the terms, but before modern times a king/queen was usually lower in rank than an emperor/empress. It’s harder to deal with because the Queen of England could technically could be said to be an Empress because of the weirdness of the Commonwealth Realms, but before fairly recently, the basic difference was that a king/queen ruled a singular state while an emperor/empress ruled a unified set of states.
This is not usually a useful distinction to make in modern times (in English), because it usually either referred to a subset of leader within the Holy Roman Empire (which no longer exists) or was used when translating from a language that didn’t differentiate between a prince-who-was-the-son-of-the-king and a ruling prince.
This is usually used to describe the head of state of a republic (for most republics), though it can generally be used to describe a leader of a republic, a democracy, or a dictatorship. In most cases, the president is the executive office.
This is the title given to the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch (in a parliamentary system of government). Depending on the system of parliamentary government, they may also be the head of the government and head of the executive branch.
This is where the head of state is also the head of the religion. Though this can go in the direction where the head of state therefore becomes the head of the religion (see: Church of England), this usually refers to a system where a religious leader (or the religious leader) is automatically the head of state. The Pope is an obvious example of this, as he is the sovereign (though not the President) of Vatican City.
In this case there would be no one head of state, but instead a council that decided (through majority, supermajority, or unanimity voting, or some other kind of decision-making process) matters of the state.
This is referring to the Ancient Roman version of a magistrate, who was the King of Rome, holding the powers of being head priest, lawgiver, judge, and commander of the army. Essentially, he (or she, if you were so inclined) was the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government simultaneously.
Princes/Princesses in this case refers not to the sons/daughters of Kings/Queens but ruling princes/princesses. With this, two would hold power simultaneously, which could go in a number of different directions. In some cases (i.e. Nubia) the co-ruling was between a King and a Queen. In other cases, no marital relations were needed. The two can have veto power over each other, or they could hold control over different areas (foreign policy vs. domestic policy, executive vs. judicial, political vs. religious, etc.).
Consuls (in the Roman Republic sense) were two elected officials who served concurrent one-year terms where they alternated holding power.
This is a head of state who holds a huge amount of person power who is (generally) oppressive and/or abusive.
How do they end up in that position?
A direct election is basically a popular-vote election. The results can be based off of a plurality (more votes than anybody else), a simple majority (more than 50% of the votes), an absolute majority (more than 50% of the people who could have voted), a supermajority (some cut-off higher than 50% i.e. two-thirds, three-fifths, etc.), or a double-majority (a majority of votes in a majority of states/provinces/etc.).
A representative election (or indirect election) is where a group of people are voted for who then choose the leader (by seniority, voting, or other qualifications). This is true in the US, for example, where each state gets a number of electors equal to the number of members of Congress they have, and the electors are chosen by popular vote in the state, and then go on to choose the President and Vice President. This can also be true where a legislature is elected and then goes on to choose the head of state.
In this case (which can be a representative election), the head of state is determined by vote by a parliament. In some cases (where a head of state i.e. a King/Queen/etc. exists) the parliament nominates a candidate, who is then appointed by the head of state (see: Japan). In other cases, the head of state chooses a candidate, who is approved by the parliament (see: Spain). In yet other cases, the head of state chooses a prime minister, who must then gain a vote of confidence from the parliament (see: Thailand). The new head of government may also be the leader of the largest (or second largest) political party in the parliament, or may be selected by direct election by the parliament (see: Greece and Pakistan, respectively).
A local soviet/council is elected for a city, and it holds legislative and executive power for the city. These council delegates then elect their delegates for the district council, and so on for the provincial council, the regional council, all the way up to the national council, with each council holding legislative and executive power for the territory it governs.
In this case, the new leader is determined based on heredity. There are a number of different ways for this to happen (virtually always codified in the law of the land):
In basic terms, the oldest child of the current head of state becomes the new head of state. There a lot of different types of this, which I will quickly summarize.
-Absolute primogeniture: firstborns inherit, regardless of gender
-Patrilineal primogeniture: eldest male child inherits, to exclusion of females, traced through the male line.
-Male-preference primogeniture: female descendants inherit only if there are no living brothers or legitimate heirs of deceased brothers
-Uterine primogeniture: firstborns inherit, traced through female ancestors. Sometimes only men can inherit, in which case the King’s sister’s son would inherit after the King
-Matrilineal primogeniture: eldest female child inherits, to exclusion of males, traced through female line
-Semi-Salic law (or agnatic-cognatic primogeniture): female succession only at extinction of all male descendants of male line
The succession is traced through the male line, but instead of the firstborn son of the King being the successor, the younger brother is.
Proximity of blood:
Succession is determined by closeness in degree of kinship, and as such usually plays a part in one of the other types of hereditary succession. For example, if a monarch has no children and no siblings, the “closest” cousin would inherit.
Similar to agnatic seniority, though after the last brother (whether the youngest or, sometimes, the fourth) dies or abdicates, the throne passes to the eldest son of the eldest brother who had held the throne.
The youngest child inherits rather than the eldest. This is really rare.
In this case, the new head of state/head of government is appointed by the previous head of state/head of government. The appointed new head of state/government could be a child, but wouldn’t have to be.
In this case, a set of children sharing the same characteristics could be found and trained, and then one is chosen when the time comes. Alternatively, one child could be found, as in the case of the Dalai Lama, and trained as the new leader.
It is important to remember that these are just options that exist now/have existed in the past. You can come up with literally anything as long as it fits these two criteria: it makes sense in the society that the government is for (or how it used to be, if it’s a relic of the past), and that you can give some logical explanation for it (in the logical of the society).
In the next post I will cover other parts of governments.
You’re not my concern, he thought, knowing his eyes expressed the thought.
This is Part Two: Drawing the Map. Part One: The Basics was posted previously and Part Three: Making it Fancy will be posted later.
I promise the pictures are better in this one because I had to take larger shots.
Again, a very image-heavy post.
In one sentence is the spark of a story. Ignite.
Mission: Write a story, a description, a poem, a metaphor, a commentary, or a memory about this sentence. Write something about this sentence.
Be sure to tag writeworld in your block!
Writing With Color Presents…
Part 1: How to Write Yourself (and others) out of your Story
Last week was just the introduction to the series about preparing yourself for writing diverse characters.
This week’s post doesn’t necessarily count as “writing” advice per se, but it does seek to unpack why writers might be hesitant to write about diverse characters. There are so many asks that have come into the Writing with Color mailbox from other people of color who are afraid to write about their own cultures. Heck, I fell into this trap because when I actually had a more diverse cast, people criticised me for it. Before I get into the nitty gritty of actually writing diverse characters (and fixing mistakes), I want to unravel why and possibly how we fall into the trap of writing ourselves (People of Color) out of our own stories or also why white people exclude People of Color from stories.
It’s always interesting when you see a TV show that takes place in a diverse area and all the main characters are white. The occasional Person of Color makes an appearance but is not included in the main cast. And of course, there’s the stereotyped token character.
It’s incredibly easy to write people out of their own stories, even to write yourself out of your own story. What does that mean exactly? It refers to a story that should conceivably have a diverse population of characters, but tends to only feature white characters. This can happen consciously or unconsciously, but it happens and this blog entry may be a little snippet of how it does happen.