August 19, 2008

Thoughts on World Building: Considering Architecture

Ten weeks ago, I looked at how geology and climate play a role in world building and influence each other. Today I'd planned to explore architecture, travel, and technology. What difference do they make in a story? How does one influence the other? And is the geology and climate of the setting important in determining which way to go when deciding what each is like? However, the post started becoming a monster sized, so I decided to break it into two or three chunks.

How does a culture develop architectural style? A look into our own history shows the foundation of it is largely laid by the local climate and materials available. Wooden structures are popular in forested areas, and some form of stone or mud brick is largely preferred in arid regions for example. Towns built in areas prone to flooding are generally built on higher foundations and from lighter materials than those built high above sea level and far away from flood plains. Homes in regions prone to frigid winters or scorching summers have thicker walls and more insulation than those in more temperate areas.

Technology sets the limits on what can and cannot be done. Some method of adding structural integrity must be known for buildings to rise above a certain height or to take on odd shapes, especially in regions where seismic activity is prevalent or violent storms come in cycles. Would the pyramids still stand today if the Egyptians hadn't cut the stones comprising them in such a way they pack tighter together, all pushing toward the center and leaning on each other like the stones of an arch, as the pyramid itself settles? Yet, if you have a society advanced well beyond our capabilities, where are the limits to what can be done?

The culture also plays a role in architecture. Are your characters nomadic, settled, or is there a blending of the two? Do they place value on ornamentation or simplicity in all things?

What difference does architectural style make for a story anyway? Stories are about characters, not the buildings they live in. It's true, but isn't it also true that the world we live in plays a large role in shaping who we are? The whole purpose of world building is to know the setting and society molding our characters. This holds as true for the "back drop" as it does the government, religions, and history. Imagine the difference to The Lord of the Rings if the Golden Wood was exchanged with New York City and Helms Deep was a small village of wooden huts with only a thin stone wall protecting it.

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