WORLDBUILDING: MIND YOUR NEEPS AND TATTIES
#23, June 11, 2016
When you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, you have a lot of worldbuilding to do. Some writers dread this process or are even afraid of it. They doubt their abilities to create something so huge as a WORLD.
Hint: you just do it one step at a time. If you do test writings for your story (and shame on you if you don’t), that’s a perfect time to play with worldbuilding—make up terms for clothing here and there, stick in details about food your character is eating, note the weather, the color of the sky, terrain, local animals or lack of them, speech patterns, religious beliefs that affect what your character sees/hears/smells. Try out any and all ideas, but also remember not to get too bizarre—don’t make your readers work too hard. Like everything else in life, it’s a balance. Blend some familiar with the unfamiliar for the best results. Your readers want to enjoy your world not read a documentary about it.
Worldbuilding is a demanding task, but more than that, it takes focus and good record-keeping skills. Maintain a separate document of your worldbuilding terms and ideas so that you can easily evaluate them later and decide what to use and what not to use in your actual story. If you don’t record your ideas, you may lose them, especially if you think of them just as you’re falling asleep or while you’re in the shower. If I’m falling asleep, I rouse myself (and I hate doing that) to write the idea down. And if I’m in the shower, I just chant the idea over and over till I get out, dry off and can write it down.
Anyway, I’m building a very large galaxy at the moment (worlds aren’t enough for me, nooooo!), and I stumbled upon the term “neeps and tatties” while reading some reference. I had no idea what they are, so I looked the terms up (the article is here). Seems that neeps are turnips and tatties are potatoes. But hysterically enough, the definitions of these terms are argued about even within the cultures of their origins (Scotland, England, Ireland).
Read the neeps and tatties article. Study how British locals can’t even agree on what their food is called. This is the kind of thing to remember, if building worlds is important in your writing. Just as in real life, things shouldn’t always be cut-and-dry in your world. Reality isn’t neat and tidy, and people often disagree about their own terms and customs!
Why do they do this? Perhaps it helps communities to feel a sense of identity and solidarity. “We do it this way,” as in, “We’re better than those lesser folk over there.” It’s probably a leftover from earlier in our evolution when groups banded together for survival and, after awhile, identified so much with their fellow group members that anything different became frightening and dangerous. (Btw, I think that’s why racist people still exist. Anyone who looks different, lives by different customs, etc.—well, they must be inferior to “us,” right? Whoever “us” happens to be…)
Anyhow, have fun building your worlds! And if you’re not a worldbuilding-type writer, read the attached article anyway. It’s always good to know your neeps from your tatties.