This new Deviantart style is simply dreadful...
HOW TO BUILD A WORLD: A BEGINNER'S GUIDE!
O.k., you have an idea for a story. You want to write a story for a picture you've done. But, you'd like it to have some substance, some feeling of reality. What do you do?
First, you start with a core idea. For example, maybe you decide that in a sci-fi world, ships travelling at near-light speed is the limit. No warp drive, no star gates- nothing.
First of all, this would make casual travel between star systems all but impossible- it would take years, even decades or centuries to travel back and forth, or even one way. So for humans, with a lifespan of (let's say) 100 years, forget it. As far as I know, the nearest star to us is 5 1/2 lightyears away- so 11 years just getting there and back? Even if one ages slowly on such a trip, what about everything else back home, and where you are going?
Would the ship, to be practical, have to have suspended animation or at least be even bigger and have more than even a modern cruise ship, just to make being cooped up tolerable?
And if you are dealing with something that lives for thousands of years and has a mostly unchanging society, would that work? How would human/long-lived alien interaction work with such things?
Imagine starting a journey in 1900 courtesy of aliens who took an Earthman on a "little trip" which to him was a few weeks...but when he returned to Earth he found out it was the year 2000!
You must consider social and psychological factors. If the theory of "time dilation" turns out to be true then once you begin such a journey you must accept the fact that the world you knew, your family and friends...will all be dead long before you ever return. Heck, the world of 1982 was entirely different than the world of 2012!
If dealing with relatively slow ships and only journeys within one's own star system then, as with the wooden sailing ships of old, journeys could last for weeks, months, even years. Again, consider psychology and social aspects; what's more, how would things change? If I had started a journey in 1987 to the planet Neptune for mining or whatever and would have been gone for six years then by the time I returned a little change called the collapse of the Soviet Union would have occurred while I was away! Of course radio and video communications would work, news broadcasts, but it's quite different to actually RETURN to such a world!
Now, here you can work in other aspects based on that premise- why would someone want to go through with such things? You could have someone convicted of a crime whom could choose to work off his sentence in a mining colony, or someone with nothing in his life, or perhaps he was simply chosen as a slave by the state or some powerful corporate interest...and what would life be like on that world- strictly utilitarian, or for a price some amusements- and what kinds?
On our world any time there was a boom the local economy was almost freakish. Ordinary goods could run a small fortune simply because there was so much wealth around! Why not have the same in your story? Is there government regulation, or are government officials paid off not to impose such things? Could a worker find himself getting deeper and deeper in debt no matter how hard he works? Again, consider the social and personal aspects involved!
Incidently, one must consider the basic physics involved, as well as some obvious hazards. There is no gravity in space true, so an object will have no weight but it will still have tremendous mass- getting it moving, turning, and stopping will take considerable power- what will you use for fuel or power?- and maneuvering in zero gravity is NOT a simple matter, so building something in space is most certainly NOT like construction on Earth! Plus, what about meteorites, windows on a spaceship exposing one to unfiltered solar radiation, and the fact that if anything goes wrong one is out in the unforgiving ravages of outer space? "Abandon ship!" would not be like it is here on Earth!
Inertia is also a factor for the crew. In reality the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise should have been splattered against the walls time and again. Think of being in a car suddenly speeding up or turning, those carnival rides, imagine that many times over! A ship that can move very fast would turn, accelerate, and deccelerate slowly to avoid killing the crew! In battle robot ships would have an advantage.
Physical health would be a factor.
And how would "artificial gravity" work if you have it? If not, how do people move about? How do you keep bones and muscle from becoming weaker and weaker? That would apply to a moonbase as well. How would living creatures from Earth, with its particular environments, electromagnetic fields, lunar pull, gravity, etc. be affected in an alien environment? Growing plants in zero-gravity? Wearing weights and using exercise routines in low-gravity?
If a ship or colony or city is controlled by computer there are many ways THAT can go wrong! Imagine a spaceship using an Operating System from a certain well-known corporation here on Earth- can you say "blue screen of death?"
Ship's weaponry, anything a ship carries will be moving as fast as the ship and in the same direction, but what about turning while firing rockets- and "photon torpedoes," light-speed weapons fired from a ship moving faster than light? Guided missiles, but again maneuvering in space. In reality manned battle in space would have ships moving relatively slowly, and mirror armor to reflect away lasers. Crew would have to wear spacesuits in case the hull is breached, in fact during battle the air might be dumped to prevent sudden decompression.
For fast-moving ships what about the Doppler Effect?
Is it possible for a ship to simply move faster than light- if so how would such an approaching ship look to an observer, it is moving faster than the light that allows one to see it! In fact, a ship moving sub-light but still very fast, how would it look with the Doppler Effect? Inside the ship?
And one must also consider life away from Earth. Most science fiction stories have moon bases on the surface but without an atmosphere meteorites, big and small, continually pelt the lunar surface so in reality a moonbase or any such thing would more likely be underground. On the surface of another planet work is not going to be as it is on Earth. In the movie "Outland" an entire greenhouse section of a mining colony was destroyed by a single bullet fired at a huge window- in reality no sane builder would ever construct anything like that.
And actual mail delivery would take quite some time.
O.k., what if you have stargates? The only way to make interstellar travel workable? BUT- these stargates are naturally-occurring things; they cannot be built. What if one, for a whole section of space, is in an inhabited system? Is it their domain? What if they are friendly with some species, but not others; is that part of space closed off to the ones they don't like? How would the unliked ones take it? What about tolls? Maybe some bought-off ones from a liked race might smuggle unfriendly ones through- but how to escape detection once there- paid-off or frightened/forced security?
And of course if travel over vast distances is fairly quick then the problems listed earlier may not exist- but you could always compensate, such as, say, a living being can only go through such a warpgate a certain number of times before terrible health problems begin. Once someone simply cannot travel in such a way again then what, say he is a tycoon who must be places to keep things running to his satisfaction- might he hire a representative who has not travelled this way to speak for him? Might there be people who won't travel this way so they can hire themselves out in this way? What about robots, androids? Could his mind be "copied" and put in an android- if sophisticated enough how would the android feel?
Ah, but what of telecommunication, you may ask? Well- if a stargate can take you to a mining system twenty lightyears away fine, but combine the above problem with the fact that there is no means of communication faster than electromagnetic transmissions and they cannot get through a stargate- then what? For starters messages would be carried like a postal service in all starfaring ships because transmissions are much too slow on an interstellar scale! There might even be a sort of futuristic "pony express!"
A whole interaction can be built up from one idea!
Fantasy? O.k., you have the standard magicians and fighters.
BUT- what kind of magic? Anything goes type magic, or more mundane ones- fireballs, lightning, magic bolts?
Does it work anywhere? Maybe not in certain places? If so, why? A lack of "mana," like in Niven's books, or a positive factor, like a disrupting force- maybe a heavy concentration of iron and so a twisted magnetic field in an area?
Can anyone learn magic, or is there something "about" such people that lets them channel magic into something- do different people have differing levels of such ability?
Do such people, who have more such ability, have greater vulnerability to something, like the touch of naked iron? If choosing armor (assume they can wear metal armor- or if not, what protection can they use? Wood hardened into near-bronze strength?) must they use non-ferrous metal only?
If ANY metal can disrupt their magical channeling, what sort of weapons- if any- can they use? Maybe a rare super-strong, and light, stone, available only from one place? That would give the suppliers and makers of such great power- and problems, if one day someone wants to cut off the supply...
Can fighters retaliate in some way against magic? Maybe a crystal that can absorb a certain amount of energy? Maybe enough to let one get close enough to a magic-user to strike, before the crystal is full? Who supplies the crystals, where do they come from? Obviously, such a place or people would not be popular with magicians, but very much so with warriors.
Do warriors have havens, where magic does not work? Places where magicians are weak?
What if magic is dying- or on the rise? You can base complex stories on that alone, about how society reacts. When weapons more and more prevail, or become of less and less use against increasingly powerful magic. What of medical care? If flight depends on magic, or floating cities, and magic is dying? Either way EVERYTHING would change! How would the folks adapt?
Imagine our world if petroleum was suddenly running out, what would be the social, political, physical, and economic consequences?
If allies, then maybe there are places and monsters where magicians are mostly helpless, and need strong fighters to protect them, while in other places only magic can help? So- alliances out of necessity? How would that work out?
Maybe dragons, being so big, can only fly with the help of magic- so a non-magic zone would keep them earthbound, so what then? Maybe a "magic battery" that can store some magical energy to give them some leeway? Where would they get it, and who builds them- and why?
In my game world of Ayundell there are the "lesser dragons," which are dragonish pteradactyls- they do not need magic to fly, so in such areas they would have an obvious advantage. Their breath weapons work like bombadier beetles: In their mouths are two ducts that fire chemicals that mix and ignite, have a horrible endothermic reaction, heated acid, etc. In other words, non-magical means to mirror AD&D magic, but in a no-magic zone they'd still have their breath weapons!
What kind of magic? A world where song casts spells; are there different schools- healing/purifying, and disrupting/killing? Are there those who have taken an oath to only aid, and wander around doing that, where do they live? What do they do for food, clothing, shelter? Are they protected by law, or a god? What happens to one who does kill such a creature; is he forever an outcast? Can he redeem himself?
What sort of world do you have? A desert world, where water is so valuable? One where metal is rare, so a steel sword is like Luke's lightsaber? Think of what you can build from there; say a race of dwarfs live in the only land known to have an iron mine! What would that mean for them?
What sort of creatures are there? Intelligent? What sort of cultures? How to steer your way around a world where in one place a mother-in-law joke can make you money, while in another it can draw the death penalty?
This is just a sample of what you can do.
I'll go into this more in another submission, but here's an idea for using economics as a basis for an adventure or a story: in ny world where money is real and not fake (as on our world where money is just paper backed by nothing) whatever is used must not be common. So let's say emeralds are the basis of money in an empire. So far so good- but one day some hapless adventurers sailing find an unknown island almost made of emeralds- they're RICH! But then on their way back they notice a streak of bad luck, including "pirate" attacks, encounters with murderous "robbers" in a small island city, food poisoning that almost kills them...As it turns out that island is not unknown and wealthy financial interests along with secret allies in government and navy will silence anyone unlucky enough to bumble upon that island...Need I say more?
You can use real-life history. Science fiction or fantasy what about piracy? How would that work in a fantasy world with flying ships or outer space? If a nation or world sends out colonies might they one day want independence? Suppose those colonies supply something the mother world or nation needs? Then what?
And never forget good old-fashioned organized crime and corruption!
But THE THING to remember here is that basing a world on gee-whiz love of technology (I've read Star Trek books like this) or magic cannot satisfy. What works is the characters, and how they react and live within situations and how they interact with one another. It was strong characters one cares about that made The Secret of NIMH, Robin Hood, the old Star Trek, Blade Runner, Magnum P.I., and the original three Star Wars movies work so well.