[This is another post stimulated by a challenge on RocNaNo: Worldbuilding: What’s Unique? The real challenge is not to describe a world that I’m working on, but rather to identify what distinguishes it from anyone else’s world. Is this another rehash of Camelot, or perhaps Star Trek? Or is this a truly unique environment for your story?]
Every story we tell takes place in a world that is somehow different from reality. It may be as simple as having geeks actually getting along with the pretty girl across the hall (like that ever happens in real life!) or it may be as involved as having faster-than-light travel to worlds populated by beings of energy or living on castles in the air. Whatever world your story inhabits, you, the author, have to define its characteristics and denizens.
In speculative fiction, the worldbuilding/character relationships usually fall into one of two categories: an extraordinary person in mundane circumstances or an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances.
This makes a lot of sense to me. There are many examples of an ordinary person facing extraordinary circumstances (and not just in fantasy or speculative fiction) and fewer in which the main character is extraordinary yet the world isn’t. It’s tough to write an engaging story in which both the world and the main character are extraordinary.
I’m not an experienced writer, so I’m focusing on having my MC be ordinary (at least in the beginning) and letting the world be other than ordinary. (I leave it to the reader to judge how extraordinary my world is.)
I currently have two worlds “in development”:
This is a world of magic hidden in the world of today. One of the things I explore is why the “Mundane” (non-magical) people are unaware of the “Mage” (magical) people living among them. To account for this I have Mundanes outnumbering Mages 10,000 to 1. If nothing else, lack of exposure leads to lack of awareness.
My world does not have an assortment of magical creature species to muddy things up, at least not intelligent magical creatures. Witches and wizards are simply humans who are able to manipulate magic. This is not an inheritable trait, meaning no “pure-bred” vs. “muggle” conflicts (but does have its own implications regarding that one child in ten thousand growing up in a society that doesn’t recognize their unique abilities).
To provide an overarching conflict I’ve created over half a dozen groups of Mages, each with their own drives and goals, including:
- The Silent Majority – Mages who wish to stay below the radar of Mundanes.
- The Urban Princes – Wizards (all men) who control magical crime organizations (i.e. “Magical Mafia”) in cities with a CSA of more than 4 million people.
- The Infiltrators – Mages attempting to bring magic to the Mundanes by way of technology. They are facing slow going, however, because they haven’t figured out how to mass-produce magic.
- The Witch Hunters – Mundanes who know a little about Magic, i.e. that it exists and is in the hands of a very few. They have individual motivations that range from trying to force Mages to “give up” Magic to the world (as if that were possible), to believing Magic is the work of the Devil and should be fought by bringing back Witch Trials and Burnings.
- The Outsiders – magical beings whose goal statement reads “Goals? I don’t need no stinking goals!”
How these groups rub together is the basis for the Wizards War.
Dropped into this simmering brew is James Scott Patton, a middle aged man who is “infected” with magic (rather than being born with it like all other Mages). There are hints of a prophesy regarding his appearance, but his challenge is to deal with the changes magic is suddenly making on his formerly ordinary life.
How unique is that?
My other world in development is:
What if, instead of collecting taxes of roughly 25% GDP through the current tax system, the country instead had a lottery every year? This lottery would determine which half of the population would be the Makers (who have to work for their living) and which half would be the Takers (who can own nothing, but have their needs provided for them). The quarter of the population who transition from being Makers to Takers would lose everything they own to the government, which would fund all the governmental services (that 25% GDP figure above).
Of course, another quarter would find themselves suddenly kicked off the dole and having to work or starve, and would have no savings or other financial resources to fall back on. These are the people transitioning from Takers to Makers.
As a Taker you would be forced to live in public housing, which (in my world) would be well maintained and reasonably comfortable, but nothing to write home about. Because of the next Lottery Day looming on the horizon you would be encouraged to develop the knowledge, skills, and relationships so that you could hit the ground running and be a productive worker from day one should you suddenly find yourself a Maker.
As a Maker you would find yourself in a world where labor is valued, but capital hard to accumulate since every Lottery Day you’d have a 50% chance of losing it all. No one’s going to give you a long-term loan because if you transition to a Taker you lose your debts as well as all your material goods.
I’m still working on the implications of this world. For example, since capital formation is a vital part of any economy, how do I allow that to occur under the above rules? Also, are there any portions of the population who are exempt from the lottery? Children, perhaps, or the elderly or disabled? How about essential service jobs, like police or military? What would the underground economy look like?
What do you think of my worlds? Do you have any suggestions that might make either of them better?