5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #10): Other Systems
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is other systems. You can read more in Chapter 10, “Creating Other Systems,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).
Tip #1: “Simplify Monetary Systems”
Audiences don’t care about our monetary system or want to remember it. We’ll seldom be mentioning it anyway. In the U.S. we just say “dollars” and “cents,” never mentioning pennies, nickels, etc., so do the same in a fictional world. It can even be smart to say that an $100 item here is a 100 credit item in SF, for example. Why figure out what everything is worth?
Tip #2: “Invent Some Crimes”
In a world with magic or new tech, we have crimes unknown to us on Earth. This is a fun imagination exercise, including deciding punishments. Be reasonable about why the laws exist and find ways characters can be constrained by them or run afoul of them. This is likely with traveling characters.
Tip #3: “Know Your Units”
In commerce, units of weight mean the amount of gold, for example, determines the value. But units of value mean the item has no value beyond what’s printed on it, like paper money; the paper itself is worthless. Units of value become worthless when the government backing them collapses and may not be present in fantasy settings as a result.
Tip #4: “How Educated Is Everyone?”
In fantasy settings, educational levels tend to be lower, as in the 1500-1700s on Earth, while SF often suggests people are more educated, but they needn’t be. Ignorant people can drive a car well, and maybe they can fly a spaceship, too, especially if it has an A.I. they just need to command. Either way, we should work out how much education is expected and whether characters met that expectation or not.
Tip #5: “How Informed is Everyone?”
Regardless of education, information flow can be compromised. In fantasy, it’s typically word of mouth and prone to some inaccuracy. In SF, it might be better, but that’s assuming people have access to data; they may not, and for our story needs we can choose how ignorant they are. This helps us create biases that place them at odds with those who bring more info, creating conflict. This is a good reason to restrict information flow in both genres.
Summary of Chapter 10—Other Systems
Other systems exist in our setting and warrant development. Education systems will determine opportunities available to characters, including employment. We’ll examine educational systems and their impact on employment, plus where and how people are getting educated or being disqualified from it. Health systems include medical and mental, and they range from great to terrible, each having significant impacts on lives. Information systems aren’t just for SF, because fantasy settings need to disseminate information, too, and have their own ways of doing so. Understanding monetary systems and how to keep them simple is another focus and includes how to determine the value of time, labor, and materials. And no world is complete without laws, crimes, and punishments, so developing a legal system is a critical world building task we breakdown into a manageable task.