What's different about your world? (Or: an excuse to talk world-building & lore)

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Silenia

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(In all its possible meanings: ways in which your world is unlike the Earth we know? Ayup. Aspects about your world that are different from what's common in your SpecFic niche? Sure! Planetary facts you've changed to fit your aliens' or space troopers' lifestyles? Go right ahead. Things you've altered from your outline or an earlier draft? Absolutely.)

So...

What's different about your world?
 

Silenia

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Haha, fair enough. Am not in mine either. :p

What's probably the biggest difference between my current project's world and Earth, at least as far as humanity/culture/social aspects go is the presence of magic, and the resulting nature of belief-system (and all the impacts that has and had on the development of humanity). By and far most faiths in my world are based not on any sentient, sapient personifications of power (whether God, deities, spirits or otherwise) that can be prayed to, begged, pled with, pacified, etc. but not easily avoided, calculated, detected or circumvented; but instead on impersonal non-thinking forces that simply are, and can be calculated, made use of, avoided, circumvented or occasionally channeled, but not actually communicated with.
 

Chris P

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I only dabble in sci-fi, and my WIP world is real-life 1917 in real-life France and the very real-life war. What's different is behind the scenes, where an inventor is working on something that still hasn't become a reality yet, but folks are still dreaming of. By necessity, I've had to play with the laws of physics and the properties of light so some things happen that cannot in real life. The climax of the book will center around a real-life battle, and some of the events will have alternate explanations based on what needs to happen in the book.
 
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Cindyt

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I am in it, though you'd never know it, and my main character is a dead celeb, and that's all I'm gonna say about either. One of my supporting characters is a dog that circumstances forced me to rehome in 2012. I don't know if he is dead or alive, but he lives on the pages of my published book DRESS HER IN CHAMELEON and my current WIP A DEADLY SPILL OF SCARLET. I created my own federal black bureau big brother agency--DEADco (Drug Enforcement Administration and Dade County) so that I can make up my own methods and tactics and such.
 
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ChaseJxyz

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World-wise, there's multiple sapient species, and very few of them are "humans but [x]." They have different sizes, abilities, life spans and none of them are cultural monoliths. It really annoys me when I read a story and dwarves are just humans but short and they like to mine and also have Scottish accents, and all dwarves are like that, and they all live in those mountains over there, and they only hang out with other dwarves, and they hate all the other species because ????. That's not how reality works, members of a species will have different beliefs, live in different places, may have no cultural connection to their "homeland", but they'll still be different because of their bodies. A dragon is still going to grow really, really big and a human will never be able to fly (or see colors outside of the "visible" light spectrum), so any multi-species settlement will have to be designed to take these into account. Or, more likely, prioritize one species over another. Early on you see a bird city where there's these beautiful tall stone buildings and these well-designed aerial pathways....and on the ground is total chaos, houses and shops and carts and stuff being stuck wherever there's space, even if it's on top/in front of another building already there. The bird buildings are like gothic cathedrals, the human buildings are like cave swallow colonies.

In my other fantasy project, there's no magic, no one even uses that word, it's all alchemy. A unicorn's horn CAN neutralize any poison, but that's because there's some natural compound that is within the ivory that does that (like how silver and honey is naturally antibiotic). All the "magic" is handled in a Very Serious scientific or (materials science) engineering format. But the Noble Metals are special/inherently different than the other metals, the 3 constituent parts of the atom are sulfur/salt/quicksilver, the other "planets" are actually perfect crystal spheres...so (real world) alchemy is 100% correct, which does mean I can do some things that break the laws of our current understanding of science, but fits perfectly well with what we used to believe was true.

I love biology, chemistry, and physics, so a lot of my world/magic building is based around those. I've always been fascinated by our ever-changing models of the natural world, how they were all essentially true, for the world that we could observe at the time, and we had no way of knowing what they would look like in the future. I recently read Last and First Men, which is an early speculative biology book written in the 1930s. It correctly predicted WW2 and America being the dominant world culture, along with Mars once being wetter and habitable to life and genetic engineering....but it took humans something like 200 million years to finally figure out how to go to space. Everything about space travel in it is incredibly incorrect, but how could the author know? The 1930s wasn't all that long ago and so much has changed in such a small amount of time, there's a wealth of inspiration looking at visions of the future based on past scientific understanding.
 

Silenia

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World-wise, there's multiple sapient species, and very few of them are "humans but [x]." They have different sizes, abilities, life spans and none of them are cultural monoliths. It really annoys me when I read a story and dwarves are just humans but short and they like to mine and also have Scottish accents, and all dwarves are like that, and they all live in those mountains over there, and they only hang out with other dwarves, and they hate all the other species because ????. That's not how reality works, members of a species will have different beliefs, live in different places, may have no cultural connection to their "homeland", but they'll still be different because of their bodies. A dragon is still going to grow really, really big and a human will never be able to fly (or see colors outside of the "visible" light spectrum), so any multi-species settlement will have to be designed to take these into account. Or, more likely, prioritize one species over another. Early on you see a bird city where there's these beautiful tall stone buildings and these well-designed aerial pathways....and on the ground is total chaos, houses and shops and carts and stuff being stuck wherever there's space, even if it's on top/in front of another building already there. The bird buildings are like gothic cathedrals, the human buildings are like cave swallow colonies.

In my other fantasy project, there's no magic, no one even uses that word, it's all alchemy. A unicorn's horn CAN neutralize any poison, but that's because there's some natural compound that is within the ivory that does that (like how silver and honey is naturally antibiotic). All the "magic" is handled in a Very Serious scientific or (materials science) engineering format. But the Noble Metals are special/inherently different than the other metals, the 3 constituent parts of the atom are sulfur/salt/quicksilver, the other "planets" are actually perfect crystal spheres...so (real world) alchemy is 100% correct, which does mean I can do some things that break the laws of our current understanding of science, but fits perfectly well with what we used to believe was true.

I love biology, chemistry, and physics, so a lot of my world/magic building is based around those. I've always been fascinated by our ever-changing models of the natural world, how they were all essentially true, for the world that we could observe at the time, and we had no way of knowing what they would look like in the future. I recently read Last and First Men, which is an early speculative biology book written in the 1930s. It correctly predicted WW2 and America being the dominant world culture, along with Mars once being wetter and habitable to life and genetic engineering....but it took humans something like 200 million years to finally figure out how to go to space. Everything about space travel in it is incredibly incorrect, but how could the author know? The 1930s wasn't all that long ago and so much has changed in such a small amount of time, there's a wealth of inspiration looking at visions of the future based on past scientific understanding.
I agree with you there. Yeah, there can be perfectly valid explanations for separate parts of it*, but presuming a species has more than one remaining member and is not some kind of hive-mind system, they're still not going to be identical in action, thought and belief.

(Admittedly, I tend to just treat such cases as a form of 'unreliable narrator'--there certainly have been plenty of examples of such misinterpretations of different human cultures, races and ethnicities through the centuries and to this very day, frequently based in significant part on xenophobia and a sense of superiority. If humans can't be trusted to reliably recognize the individuality of other humans that happen to be different from them, I'm not surprised they'd have even more issues when it comes to sapient non-humans. So as long as I don't take the narration as facts so much as what the narrator believes to be facts, I find it helps with suspension of disbelief rather a lot. Though there's cases where even that can't quite help me.)

*especially stuff like location, because there's plenty of examples of non-sapient species bound to a narrow distribution range, and most of the causes for it can be applied to sapient species too--just from top of my head: little to no mobility; originating from an extremely isolated region and lacking methods to move beyond that region; in the process of repopulation after near-extinction; range reduction due to encroachment by/introduction of competing or predating species; being over-hunted; range reduction due to natural disasters; range reduction due to other changes of the environment; being on the brink of extinction; being parasitic/parasitoid on, symbiotic with, or otherwise dependent on, a species that fulfils one of the above criteria; and otherwise having extremely specific biological requirements that severely limit potential distribution.

Your alchemy-based non-magic system sounds fascinating, by the way!
 

ChaseJxyz

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...because there's plenty of examples of non-sapient species bound to a narrow distribution range, and most of the causes for it can be applied to sapient species too--just from top of my head: little to no mobility; originating from an extremely isolated region and lacking methods to move beyond that region; in the process of repopulation after near-extinction; range reduction due to encroachment by/introduction of competing or predating species; being over-hunted; range reduction due to natural disasters; range reduction due to other changes of the environment; being on the brink of extinction; being parasitic/parasitoid on, symbiotic with, or otherwise dependent on, a species that fulfils one of the above criteria; and otherwise having extremely specific biological requirements that severely limit potential distribution.

I've thought of a lot of these things already lol. One species can only be found in the northernmost latitudes because their metabolism would go out of control in warmer climates. Another is Very Big and lives entirely underground so they're stuck in an Australia-esque continent. The catalyst for the book was a (nuclear) disaster that affected some species more than others, fighting over resources, so the expanding inequality leads to some huge social changes. But with enough resources/tech/magic, these problems could be solved, it's just a question of if anyone is willing to put the effort into it. It's not like the worms have any want for spices or silk or fine art, they're happy being on their own (and it's not like they can really communicate with anyone else. But someone will pull an Arrival someday...).

Magic-granting parasites is on my list of ideas to explore one of these days. There's cat people and ground-based phoenixes and other Very Different Stuff on the other major continent I'll get around to one of these days.
 

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"A unicorn's horn CAN neutralize any poison, but that's because there's some natural compound that is within the ivory that does that (like how silver and honey is naturally antibiotic). All the "magic" is handled in a Very Serious scientific or (materials science) engineering format. But the Noble Metals are special/inherently different than the other metals, the 3 constituent parts of the atom are sulfur/salt/quicksilver, the other "planets" are actually perfect crystal spheres...so (real world) alchemy is 100% correct, which does mean I can do some things that break the laws of our current understanding of science, but fits perfectly well with what we used to believe was true."

Ok but the amount of effort that must have gone into your world building is insane.
 

H.L.Dyer

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I would say that my world in my current manuscript is different in that there are two distinct worlds that exist parallel to each other during the wake/sleep cycle. There's Diurna, the world we know when we're awake and Noctura, the dreaming world. What sets Noctura apart from any other cliche dream scenarios and what makes it not an Inception rip off is that it has a utopian-based caste system. There's the Unaware (terminology change tbd) which go along with the events in the dream world as inactive participants (sort of like extras in a movie), the Lucid which are actually aware of their surroundings and thusly can live a more enhanced lifestyle in their dreamstates by being able to control and alter their experiences. Then there are the Enlightened, Lucids that have formed a governing body to oversee that the natural balance of Noctura remain in check, and to punish those that threaten that balance by evolving the Unaware into Lucids.

These worlds and their natural order, however, become threatened when someone intends to converge Noctura and Diurna together to create the ultimate utopia where all can experience the wonders of being able to control their dream states while at the same time potentially bringing about an apocalypse as everyone tries to control the world around them and would cause power struggles to shape the world to how each individual would see fit and wars to potentially start from said chaos. Not to mention the horrifying prospect of nightmares becoming reality.
 

ChaseJxyz

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Ok but the amount of effort that must have gone into your world building is insane.
I like to think that most of it has already been done by reality and all my years of learning the sciences did the work for me. Like I didn't have to invent piezoelectricity or the unique optic properties of single crystals, but if I say "the reason he can swing a sword as big as himself and it doesn't break is because it was made special with magic" and obliquely reference material science then I seem really clever and original when all I'm talking about is the process used to make the quartz in your (analog) watch or the (sapphire) glass on your high-end Apple watch.

I wanted to be an exotic animal vet for the longest time, then a chemical engineer, so I've spent pretty much my whole life learning this stuff. I'm mostly just putting already-extant things together in ways that don't exist in reality. There's no reason to re-invent the wheel! (or even make a wheel in the first place, depending on the geography of the region, wheels aren't always that useful, and there's multiple reasons why no living thing has wheels).
 

Silenia

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But with enough resources/tech/magic, these problems could be solved, it's just a question of if anyone is willing to put the effort into it. It's not like the worms have any want for spices or silk or fine art, they're happy being on their own (and it's not like they can really communicate with anyone else. But someone will pull an Arrival someday...).
Yup, that's an important point to keep things realistic, too. Sure, some folks are perfectly happy to spend their entire life figuring out how to do something that has little to no (foreseeable) practical use or other benefits to anyone, but the majority of people will much prefer either the status quo or prefer to focus their efforts on things they believe will have some kind of benefit (and preferably to them or people close to them).
 

Albedo

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Cool thread. Basically, I love space opera, but a lot of its tropes make me grind my teeth uncontrollably, so I like to slay 'em. In the exceedingly loose continuity where most of my short stories take place, there are no traditional space opera tropes like galaxy wide human empires, nor space fascists, nor space libertarians, nor antagonistic AI overlords, nor all-consuming hive minds, nor other arbitrary threats to everything. There are no psi powers, no space swords, no reactionary goddamn space monarchies, no space fighters, and noone's trying to harvest the most abundant elements in the universe from planetary goddamn gravity wells. Humans are just one bunch of peeps amongst a thousand others and don't have any stand-out qualities like 'gumption' or 'individuality' or 'moxie' that other sapient aliens don't. The elder god-like space krakens are uncomplicatedly benevolent tentacle bros. Generally the more monstrous the aliens the friendlier they are. 'Humanoid aliens' ain't a thing. Also the race of sentient space raptors I first created when I was like ten (and have kept fleshing out ever since) keep coming into it, because I'm a grown-ass man who likes to write about space dinosaurs, and frankly I'd like to see anyone try to stop me.

There's no causality-breaking FTL travel, only wormhole-like transit between different universes. It's set far enough in the future (x,000 years) that the rest of the technology is completely arbitrary/space magic/whatever I think is cool. That said, I've got tertiary science qualifications, so I'm not always making up total nonsense, lol. I generally know whether what I'm writing is nonsense or not. The bioscience can be assumed to be diamond-hard except when it's not. Probably the biggest outlier is the linguistics: it's the far future and it's doubtful anything even recognisably Indo-European exists any more, so everyone's consciously written in colloquial Aussie English. Because swearing Australian-accented aliens will never stop being hilarious to me. (Although there are some vague hints that everyone's speaking various distant descendants of Mandarin.)
 

Silenia

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Also the race of sentient space raptors I first created when I was like ten (and have kept fleshing out ever since) keep coming into it, because I'm a grown-ass man who likes to write about space dinosaurs, and frankly I'd like to see anyone try to stop me.
Why would anyone? That sounds awesome. (So does the rest of your loose continuity, for that matter: even though some of the traditional tropes definitely are guilty pleasures of mine to read, it's always cool to see someone making the effort to entirely break away from them)
 

Albedo

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Why would anyone? That sounds awesome. (So does the rest of your loose continuity, for that matter: even though some of the traditional tropes definitely are guilty pleasures of mine to read, it's always cool to see someone making the effort to entirely break away from them)
I'm glad someone else agrees everything is in fact better with dinosaurs. And I've still got tropes-a-plenty, don't worry, haha. I think it's impossible to escape genre conventions completely, at least without ceasing to write genre in the first place. Much more fun to play with them, even mix-n-match with other genres. And I respect them all even if I don't want to use them. Even humanoid aliens. Mass Effect's still my favourite game series, even if the Asari are ridiculous to the point of the games themselves lampshading it.
 

Silenia

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I'm glad someone else agrees everything is in fact better with dinosaurs. And I've still got tropes-a-plenty, don't worry, haha. I think it's impossible to escape genre conventions completely, at least without ceasing to write genre in the first place. Much more fun to play with them, even mix-n-match with other genres. And I respect them all even if I don't want to use them. Even humanoid aliens. Mass Effect's still my favourite game series, even if the Asari are ridiculous to the point of the games themselves lampshading it.
Dinosaurs rock. I mean, I don't know if everything is better with dinosaurs--I don't know that I'd necessarily prefer being trapped in a bathroom with a dino over just plain being trapped in a bathroom by myself--but most things sure are.

Yeah, it's just about impossible to entirely avoid tropes (other than, perhaps, by not writing anything at all) and tropes aren't inherently bad, but there's tropes and tropes if you catch my drift. There's a couple of them that have been used as lazy way of signalling what genre one's dealing with/superficially flavoring an otherwise generic story a bit too often (though perhaps more commonly in visual than text-based media).

Doesn't mean they can't still be handled well or written in a refreshing way, and they became classics for a damn good reason--but does mean they need to be backed up by way-beyond-average writing to stand out and avoid the trappings of falling into Same Old Stuff territory.
 
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Autumn Leaves

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One of my best-loved (by me :)) and best-developed WIPs is a retelling of The Magic Flute, where I try to include some more world-building without having to change the events of the opera (the reasons behind these events, however, are a completely different matter).

So, with the world-building, I’m trying the following line: the presence of magic is low to moderate (I still haven’t decided who the three boys are); so everyone is aware magic exists, but it’s usually the craft of learned people such as Sarastro. The substance that provides magic exists in tiny quantities everywhere, but people can only draw from in the atmosphere and space, which is why people’s magical affinities are related to weather events or space bodies (hence, for example, Sarastro’s ability to defend his palace with nothing but sunlight). The few magical creatures that exist in the world extract that substance from other sources, such as earth or fire or water or metals.

The level of development is very roughly equal to the Late Middle Ages, but there’s been cultural and social stagnation in the past decades. To hide the fact, people in charge (like Sarastro and the Queen of the Night) have been enforcing the cutesy fairytale/Standard Fantasy Setting look and local colour of… well, basically every place in their kingdoms, so every city has a beautiful castle and a beautiful market square, every town a beautiful city-tower with a beautiful clock, and their names (Roselight, Sunflower Town and suchlike) would give diabetes to a Disney Princess.
 
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Autumn Leaves

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Doesn't mean they can't still be handled well or written in a refreshing way, and they became classics for a damn good reason--but does mean they need to be backed up by way-beyond-average writing to stand out and avoid the trappings of falling into Same Old Stuff territory.
One of the reasons I haven’t had much progress with writing original SF (fanfics are another case), even though I love reading it as much as fantasy. I can’t seem to avoid the Same Old Stuff danger.

Maybe the reason is that with fantasy, I read everything from George Macdonald to George Martin, but with SF, I’m mostly a fan of the older classics and rarely venture towards more modern stuff…
 

JJNotAbrams

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I mean, my current WIP is a post-apocalyptic story about a group of nomads traveling all over America trying to survive a world overrun with mutants.

I want it to be like a genre mash-up of films like Mad Max in how post-apocalytic settlements have their own distinct cultures and identities and the neon-drenched dark fantasy Mandy where the threats and enemies are all inhuman and horrific.

Is that different enough?
 

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