Worldbuilding: Filling It Out
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a big RPG fan. Whether it’s some good ol’fashioned table top D&D or an open-world video game like Skyrim, Fallout 3 or Red Dead Redemption (three very different settings), I can’t get enough of them. They’re a huge inspiration to me when it comes to creating my own worlds, seeing a particular scene play out in my head, or just flat out escapism. But, for as inspirational as these games can be, they can be very misleading – video games especially!
Say, for example, you’re playing a game and doing your exploring thing. Before you go dungeon-diving, you pop into the nearest town to stock up on supplies and get some rest. There is always a tavern and/or an inn to visit, you can grab some food and take a nap for a few gold pieces right? Wake up refreshed then do some shopping. Head to the weapons shop, stock up on weapons, hit up the armor shop and then finally the items guy. Phase I complete, we can now move on to Phase II, dungeon-diving, right?
For a video game, yes. For your book, great bacon god, no!
Some things are staples, yes. There will probably be somewhere to eat, sleep, and stock up on basic necessities, simply because a community needs those things. But an inn, tavern, weapon/armor/item shop, maybe a stable if you’re lucky, are not the only things that make up a successful, well-rounded and FUNCTIONING city.
In a video game, you don’t notice it. You’re focused, you have this goal at hand, you need to get these items, and then go kick some troll butt. More often than not, when you’re writing, you don’t notice it because your character has a goal. Meet some secondary characters, get plot developing info, and move on.
But your readers will notice it. Some will be looking for little clues to help them build up a city in their head, a stable, mention of a blacksmith, maybe the guards are grumpy because their shifts have been thrown all off whack due to a new regiment fresh out of the training hall – hey, it could happen. Others won’t be looking at all, but they’ll notice it when it’s missing. You want your readers to be able to subconsciously build a mental map of the area in their head as they go; no effort, no thought behind it, just steady progression. What you don’t want is for them to finish a chapter with a sigh and realize, while the dialogue has been riveting and the plot captivating, they have to go back a chapter just to attempt to parse where the hell everyone is. What if you have that character that’s new to everything so key points of the plot or backstory can be told in a (hopefully) not-too-expositional way? Well, then logically wouldn’t they be a little lost to the area? Wouldn’t the sights and sounds of the city be new and overwhelm them? Maybe they’ve never seen a bathhouse before?
Today we’re going to take a look at some, SOME, of the things your city could and in some cases, should, have. This is going to be broken up into several sections, although some of the locations may be able to cross over into other categories. (A livery stable, for example, could be part of the shopping, should your character need to purchase a means of transportation to their next destination, or, could be part of day-to-day, maybe the city has a carriage that can be rented or hired much like a taxi, to go from one place to another within the city limits.) This list is actually much longer and I wound up cutting information out just to get the darn post up on time, but everything will be included in the Kingdom Kreator. :)
Shopping: general store, marketplace, clothier, blacksmith, inn, rooming house
Food: kitchen, tavern
Religious: cemetery/graveyard, shrine, temple
Night life: brothel
Day-to-Day: training hall, livery stable, bathhouse
General Store: Pretty much what it sounds like; a general store is where you’ll find a little bit of everything, such as: dried foods for traveling, trinkets, souvenirs, and probably very basic weapons and armor such as daggers, simple helmets or leather/hide armor. If your world has things like healing elixirs, potions, magical stones to cure ailments, whatever average-joe medicinal product is on the market, they’ll have a few of. Your general store is your fantasy realm’s Walgreens. There’s maybe a rack or two of clothes, food, drugs, etc.
Marketplace: The marketplace can be something that is set up year-round or temporary for a particular time of year, like just after a harvest or during a week long celebration in honor of royalty or a deity. What will be available will either be a wide sampling of a great many things or a specialization in one, such as food or weapons. The marketplace is almost always depicted as being the center of town around a fountain or statue or statue-fountain and it’s done this way for a reason. Such a large gathering of people will need a large, open area. Being the center of town that already hosts some sort of prominent feature will only make it more prominent with the addition of stalls, guards and people shopping.
Now don’t box yourself in to this image of a sunny, open area at the center of town around a golden statue of a dolphin riding an albatross spitting water – or something. It can be dark, gritty and even underground (think the troll market in Hellboy 2). Your marketplace may only cater to a specific clientele such as thieves, it could be wholesale for store owners to update their stock, it may be a farming town and most of the market consists of livestock and various farming tools.
Clothier: Essentially, a tailor. A clothier makes and sells clothing. Their shops can range from a cozy hole-in-the-wall type shop to an expansive, hoity-toity two-story establishment that sells exclusively to the upper class, the finest of clothes. They may not make their own fabrics and may instead purchase them wholesale from a market that serves their needs. They’re liable to take on special commission jobs or may specifically make attire for a certain group of people, like clerics. A clothier that specializes in leatherwork may be of particular interest to one of your characters, they may need to commission a piece with all sorts of hidden compartments and pockets for their…extracurricular activities. I mean think about it, where do you think places like the assassin’s guild get their spiffy, uniform leather outfits for every member?
Blacksmith: Not just the guy (or gal) you go to when in need of a weapon or heavy armor, blacksmith’s can and often do make tools, nails, horseshoes, and the like. A blacksmith can be found in busy cities that have adventurers traveling through frequently or in a small village that has need of someone capable of repairing broken farm items. Unless they’re at a time of war, blacksmiths probably don’t spend all of their time making swords and daggers and axes. In fact they could make a very basic ‘template’ works, like a rough dagger or sword and then a specialized sword maker or weapons maker will fine-tune it into something ornate and awesome. (Which even then could be passed on to any level of mages to enchant the item, who knows?)
Inn: One of the ‘staples’ that most people fall on, an inn is where people go to sleep. Right? Well, generally. An inn can provide a multitude of services. They may have a separate eating area or be attached –or at least nearby – a tavern, they maybe have their own stable and stable hands for people that are traveling from other areas, a bathhouse or a means of obtaining hot water, they may provide at the very least information on where an adventurer can deal with a clothier, blacksmith, courier and the like, if not then they may have their own or a means of delivering a message to the establishment for their customers. A proprietor of an inn wants their customers to feel comfortable in a strange area, but more than anything they want them to come back. Ideally they’ll have some hassle-free means of taking care of just about anything a customer will need so the customer can concentrate on what’s most important to them at the moment : sleeping.
Another thing you’ll want to bear in mind, always, is the location. Are they located within a bustling city that is a major tourist attraction, are they stationed conveniently at the midway point on a road between two cities, are they situated near a natural hotspring or by an awe-inspiring waterfall? All of these things will affect the services they offer. During the winter season, or if the setting is particularly known for the cold (yay Skyrim!) they make a point of providing hot meals, hot drinks, a fireplace in most, if not all, of the rooms available, etc. That will require wood, or whatever you have established as your primary, inexpensive fuel in your setting. So the inn may have a storehouse to hold such items, they may make weekly trades with a nearby lumber mill or hire a lad with nothing else better to do.
Rooming House: This is the alternative for those that don’t have a large and heavy coin purse weighing them down. A rooming house can be anything from affordable apartment housing (or rather one-room housing) to a flat-out slum. With multiple rooms, sometimes being shared between patrons, a rooming house will provide you with only the very basics. A room, a bed, breakfast and dinner if they’re feeling magnanimous, although perhaps only at certain times (you miss it, you’re out of luck) and at least a common area for laundry, eating or bathing.
The establishment could be run by particularly difficult landlords that may lock the front door after a certain hour, or won’t allow certain rough-on-the-edges types because they want to avoid problems. Alternatively, the landlord could have a fancy house somewhere in the Gilded District and really doesn’t give a damn what happens there so long as he gets his money. Your rooming house could be the grounds for all sorts of unscrupulous meetings and activities to happen.
Tavern: The other ‘given’ of your fantasy setting. This is the place we always picture as loud, crowded and full of drunk people laughing, punching each other, brawling, playing daring and often stupid games to display strength or agility, and the like. Although that doesn’t mean you can’t have a tavern run by someone with a particular distinguishing taste and they would rather only serve the most established and higher-class.
Taverns are usually depicted as spots where people meet to discuss deals or jobs and with good reason, because of the noise, crowd, and general mayhem, you shouldn’t stand out. They may maintain 3 or 4 small rooms on the upper level for the particularly inebriated to sleep it off, or they may put a lantern in your hand for a few pieces, point you in a general direction, and push.
Kitchen: Picture your junior high cafeteria. Bam! Done.
The kitchens are the less expensive, stop-and-go versions of a tavern. They serve very basic, fairly unimpressive meals for a few coins and people eat then leave. You’re not likely to find an environment here that resembles the boisterous, drinking group, telling jokes, brawling, or being generally raucous. Like the clothier, the eatery can vary from a small shop to a large structure that can seat dozens. There may even be stalls just outside to catch passerby or one at the market to help advertise.
Cemetery/Graveyard: Surprise! This is where the dead people go. Note that there is a difference between the two. A graveyard will most likely be associated with a church with some means of worship located on the premises such as a shrine or even temple, while a cemetery will be the public establishment that is not associated with any religious aspects.
Graveyards will probably house families of those that were followers of a particular religion (or god/goddess) and were known within the community to do so. Simply walking up and saying ‘Sure, Uncle Arthen was an avid worship of what’s-his-face’ probably will not suffice. A cemetery however, will be run by your average citizens and will consist of someone who prepares the bodies as well as a gravedigger and a grounds keeper.
Tombstones and markers will vary for both set ups. The religious outfit associated with a particular graveyard will provide a marker but they may vary depending on the deceased’s status in the community or class, it’s also possible the family may have no say in the matter as they understand this is how it will be done. (Picture a family insisting their children make something of themselves lest when they die they wind up with the undistinguished and nonspecific marker that befits all of the lower class.) Meanwhile a cemetery may have the same separations but here money will play a larger factor than social standing (possibly). If you can pull together the coin for it, then sure they’ll give you a bust of whichever god pleases you.
Bear in mind the government you have chosen for your city. What if the lowerclass are buried in a totally different location altogether, no choice, no markers, just tossed in a ditch with a few inches of dirt to cover them? What if the society doesn’t believe in burying them at all and would prefer them cremated? Last thing you want is for your character to walk past a cemetery, spooky atmosphere established and all, and then make a comment later about tradition and having their ashes spread.
Shrine: A shrine will be the most commonly found means of paying worship. Usually simple and small, they can vary from an altar itself to a modest chapel that may offer specific services such as weddings or funerals. They are used to pay respects to anything from major deities to minor housegods or can be used for a customer that is specific to a location. They can be found in personal dwellings, public places like taverns or inns, or just in the middle of the street.
Generally, some form of shrine can be found somewhere. Unless you have a race that has very particular rules about just how they pay their respects and shrines are a no-no, you’ll probably find at least one in every town. Forget it if you’re dealing with a polytheistic community, you may need a chapel just for all the many different shrines.
Temple: This is where all of the more official business goes down in terms of religion. If there are weekly services, if there’s a special festival the main feast may be held here, weddings, funeral services, sacrifices, exorcisms or blessings, all of that will take place here. The temple may have multiple shrines to multiple gods/goddesses if you’re working with a polytheistic world, or shrines to various saints. Unless you have a theocracy, where the major religious figures are integrated with the government, you’ll have to stop by the temple to find the priestess of so-in-so or a vassal for a particular god. On the outside, the temple can be a huge structure, with great archways, spirals, spindles, reliefs, carvings, statues and the like.
Now, don’t be afraid to tackle those ‘evil’ gods as well. You know the ones, they like their sacrifices to come in the form of virgins in white dresses on stone altars? Seriously, you’ve got your goody-good MC McGee strolling through the countryside and they come across an out of the way village that still practices some of the ‘old ways’. What do they do? Would they keep walking, whistling with their eyes on their boots? Or would they stop the proceedings? Better yet, MC McGee is your dashing swashbuckling pirate rogue, and they walk into the wrong town. Now they’re the virgin sacrifice.
Brothel: Or one of my favorites, Den of Iniquity. They exist. And let’s say you’re not writing a ridonculously epic fantasy or a dark fantasy, what if you’re writing an erotic fantasy? I can’t give you much advice on that besides point you to writers far more skilled at it than I, and suggest a setting.
Depending on your setting a brothel may or may not be illegal, so you may want to decide on that first. If it’s illegal, then they would be operating under the radar, probably in the slummy part of town, and the women (or men, or goblins or satyrs, y’know different strokes) may not be there willingly. On the other hand, if it’s legal, then they could operate in either the slums or the fancy part or both! They’ll also pay taxes, have inspections and the like. A brothel, much like the inconspicuous tavern or the dilapidated rooming house, are very likely to have some sort of shady dealings going on. Corrupt officials, meetings for revolutionary plots, congregations for the League of Evil Machinations, who knows!
DAY-TO-DAY: Unlike the tavern or inn, these don’t have a huge possibility of being in the forefront of your work, and are more likely to be in the background. Your characters may not have any need for these at all and will instead only pass by them, hear them mentioned in idle conversation, or visit off-screen. But they are one of the things you need to know if they exist or not within the city. And don’t write off their usefulness plot-wise just yet. In Karen Miller’s The Innocent Mage, the main character spends the first half of the book working at a stable!
Training Hall: Depending on how you want to utilize it, a training hall can be used specifically for new guards, soldiers and the like, or can be a less official establishment and open to the public. They can specialize as well. Maybe they only train in melee combat while others are specific to ranged weapons?
Livery Stable: Simple enough, where your characters will be able to purchase or rent some means of transportation. Generally speaking, stables take care of all that needs to be taken care of for their mounts, feeding, grooming, general health and the like. Not all stables will outright sell their merchandise either, they may only rent them, such as carriages. Also, don’t limit yourselves to horses. What about dogs, camels, elephants, griffins, cockatrices, etc.! Consider what makes the most sense for your terrain and setting.
Bathhouse: Unless you’re working with a highly civilized and advanced setting where every home has a bath, you’ll want to include bathhouses somewhere. Like most establishments the bathhouse has the possibility of being located either in the slums, the rich part or both. You may have separate ones that cater to either gender, one bathhouse that is merely segregated for those purposes or perhaps your society has no qualms with me and women bathing together. Some utilize natural heat, likehot springs, while others have manmade means built into them. (I would recommend doing a little research onhot springs, how they work, where they’re located to see if it works for your setting.) While the city itself may have one large bathhouse for its citizens, or several bathhouses, it is also possible for a single establishment to have its own, private one. Inns or brothels are good examples.
Now, I don’t want insinuate that all of my readers have never considered these things. What about those of you that have a completely blue-printed and outlined city, you know where all the stores are and who runs what, but you haven’t mentioned it because you don’t want to info-dump? That’s fine, great even! No one said your characters have to actually deal with all of these places. Maybe they run past a restaurant or the gallows, maybe someone wants to meet with them all inconspicuous-like at the tavern but they’d rather meet at the rooming house, just as shady and a lot less people. In all likelihood you won’t ever have to expound most of these places in any great detail, it just helps to know if you’re city has one, what they do and where they are.
The Speculative Fiction group I’m a part of at AQC just has labeled January as the month to critique high and epic fantasies. (Next month is horror and dark fantasy, my category! I’m so nervous!) I had the opportunity to read several chapters of different manuscripts by different authors all varying in topic, setting and even age bracket. It was a huge amount of fun and very educational. Several WIPs stood out to me for various reasons: one had amazing dialogue and characterization through that dialogue, with an interesting plot to boot, another caught me by its concept and voice alone, and yet another had great dialogue, plot AND worldbuilding, pretty much the holy triforce if you ask me. It didn’t take much either, mentioning a gallows, a restaurant, characters making comments, non-convoluted, info-dump-ish comments about their culture and society, very little things that amounted to anything from a few words to a sentence or two. But it was those ‘little things’ that made the setting that much more real to me. As the character was running through the streets, I was right along with her.
Next time on Verbose Veracity (hopefully): Guilds! What they are, how they work, how can you utilize them in your story. We’re almost there folks! After the Guilds discussion will be a post on various job classes that, much like these facilities, will be needed in your setting that you may have overlooked, and along with that – I hope – will be the Kingdom Kreator in all its glory! So that’s what, two weeks and then you shouldn’t have to hear my mouth about Worldbuilding ever again? Whoo!