writing tips

World Building 101: Creating Societies

Step by Brainstorming Step

So let’s say you’re thinking about a dystopian society. I’m using this example because it’s easier to dissect a world in progress than to talk about a pre-created world without dropping spoilers about the books!

You’ve got your brainstorm of loose ideas, some may be fairly well fleshed out already and others pretty vague.

Here’s some new questions to go through!

Step 1: What has been destroyed and what is left?

Some disaster, clearly, that’s taken out key cities in the British Isles. The main cities all have museums, libraries and industry based there, so that’s going to be an issue when rebuilding. Except that the National Library of Wales isn’t in Cardiff: it’s in Aberystwyth. No one is going to bomb Aberystwyth. Now here’s a thought. What if the main repository of history, culture, newspapers, etc, was skewed to Welsh interests?

Step 2: What does that mean for geopolitics?

Well, if the population of England was sufficiently decreased (sorry guys) then you’ve got Scotland going independent by default if London is taken out, and it’s likely that in times of crisis people get more tribal in their concerns – and we are already pretty tribal in Wales, especially, and I use the term here because it encompasses more concepts than ‘parochial’ does – and in times of crisis people flock to strong leaders, uncompromising viewpoints, someone offering structure and stability and shoring themselves up with historical examples and mythological or religious rhetoric, tapping into collective consciousness and ideas of identity.

Step 3: How do socio-political shifts affect the world?

Welsh Nationalism increases.

It’s our history they want to take from us, they say, as the tattered remnants of the government try to take some of the National Library’s resources. It’s a terribly minor thing in the grand scheme of things but, because it isn’t handled well (why bother? It doesn’t matter, not the way infrastructure and jobs and rebuilding the social order matter) it ignites a popular uprising filled with grievances dredged up from one of the many disputed dawns of English colonisation. People show up with the flags of Owain Glyndŵr and Llewelyn the Last, centuries apart but who cares right now, they started a war, they killed our kids, they took our food, now they’re coming for our very history.

And they win. And then they take over.

Step 4: How does this affect the cultural and political nexus of the world?

The history now begins its journey through the filter of current ideology. This is a given for any world. So when you know what the history is, and what the current ideology is, you have the way the history is used, taught and perceived. You know which elements are suppressed, which are exaggerated, which are revised.

In the current world of Cadair Bran, Fundamentalism creeps in regarding how you view the Age of the Welsh Princes, and the Black Book of Carmarthen and the Red Book of Hergest are taken as sacred texts in this new Reformation. Key to this = the Triads. With so much knowledge lost, Welsh law (the Law of Hywel Dda) gets restored, and people start thinking and teaching and ordering things in threes again.

What you end up with is a fractured England split along the lines of the ancient tripartite sections that looks good on a map but works differently in practice: the North, which was lost to the Cambric speakers long ago (the rulers of the Gododdin and the Rheged are long dead); Cornwall, which extends all along the south as far as Kent; and the rest is Wales.

Cardiff is gone so the seat of the Gorsedd returns to Anglesey. Aberystwyth is the seat of learning. The map re-orientates west to east: Aberystwyth at the bottom, power going upwards into the midlands, the wilderness of East Anglia now a place of revolt and outlawry. The emergent North and Scotland are left to fight out the border issues among themselves. Cornwall is returned to the Cornish, and that’s their problem now. Brittany starts agitating. Catalan and Basque separatists kick off. New Old Wales has new international allies.

If you’re brand new to world building or you just fancy reading what other writers have said on the topic, you could check out my Pinterest board, World Building Tips, which has collated content from around the web!


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