enismirdal: (Bee!12)
[personal profile] enismirdal
I imagine some other writery types on LJ can relate to this...

World-building is jolly good fun when you're shaping an original world - or even fleshing out one someone else made. But I've been finding lately it's very easy to get a bit carried away, especially if you have areas of personal academic interest or expertise. Unfortunately for me, a combined interest in the history of Normal People, and a job that is as much international development as it is research means I have had time to do a fair bit of musing about how a pre- or non-industrial village in a fictional fantasy pre-industrial (with or without magic) country might or might not work.

So you start with your character and their village. You decide the country will be temperate, perhaps cold end of Cfb climate, similar to the coldest and rainiest bits of the UK. Great. The character lives on the coast, in a small village. After some musing, you decide it's a limestone bedrock.

Fine, what does the village do to support itself? Well, it's coastal, so there's probably a fair bit of marine economy - fishing? OK, who goes fishing - everyone? Just the men? All the men, or just some? What do they catch - deep sea fish? Shallow water fish? Flatfish from the bottom? Do they just catch shellfish of some description? What do the women/non fisherfolk do - can they collect anything from the shore?

But people can't just live on fish, so what forms the staple diet? You've established it's pretty windswept, and limestone soil means alkaline, so anything acid-loving is out. The soils, you decide, are rubbish - along with the cold and wet climate, that probably means large-scale wheat cultivation may be tricky. So what's the main starch? Potatoes? Well, then you have to take into account that potatoes are introduced to Europe, so you're shifting the available botanical diversity and have to consider why potatoes and not quinoa/tarwi/tomatoes and so on... Maize won't grow (too cold), cassava likewise (same reason). Barley might - if your character is eating a lot of barley bread, does she cook it at home - can all the households afford a bread oven and the fuel to run it? Perhaps you should invent another sort of starchy root, like a temperate cassava, that works on poor soils?

What are they using to fuel their cooking fires? If you've got a windswept landscape and poor soils and have already decided there isn't a lot of woodland, firewood will be expensive, right? But it's alkaline soils so there won't be peat or heather to burn (indeed, Ericaceae in general probably won't be an option). Dung? Driftwood? Invent a plant that grows like heather, but on alkaline soil?

Do the people keep livestock? If so, how many, and where? If timber is expensive, what are houses made of? Where do people get cooking utensils - is there a smith or a wood-turner in the village, or must they trade? If so, what do they trade? How do they get new clothes - can they grow flax for linen? Are there are enough sheep to provide wool? Do they have access to milk, cheese, butter in any quantity? What do they eat over winter? What do they do for vitamin C? Do they drink water, small beer, tea or something else? Is anyone in the village literate?

Where else do they travel to - nearby towns? Do they have a road? Who else travels that road? Where is the next nearest village? Do they talk to the people there? Do they intermarry a lot, a little? Does the character have extended family in those other villages, or in her own village? In pre-industrial societies with large families, I guess it's pretty normal for families to be large - how far, in this one, would her parents siblings' or grandparents' siblings have moved away? How many family members would she associate with growing up - cousins? Second cousins?

...yeah, it all gets quite intense.

I'm starting to realise not all these things necessarily have to be dealt with in the text of a story. Perhaps I need to make a personal Wiki-style set of backing documents that deal with this stuff and then I can draw on it as needed where it's actually critical to the story to know whether or not they would realistically own an oak table or stuff their mattresses with heather, straw, grass or something else!
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