16.48: Believable Worlds Part 2: Creating Texture

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, Fonda Lee, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Tayler

As we do our worldbuilding with similarity, specificity, and selective depth (per the previous episode), we should take care to apply these things throughout our stories. In this episode we discuss how these elements we’ve world-built can become “textures.”

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson


Free write your character with a day off to spend near their home. Where do they go? What do they see? How do they get around? What interactions do they have? What details do you learn from this exercise that you might use in the background of the story?

Jade Legacy, by Fonda Lee

3 thoughts on “16.48: Believable Worlds Part 2: Creating Texture”

  1. For me, though I know I’m biased as a person that majored in anthropology, the thing that makes things not so real are monocultures and cultures with no history to them.

    Monocultures would be things like the entire planet has one culture. That’s not realistic. Not everyone reacts the same way to everything. Even cultures have subcultures (instant texture, BTW).

    The other is cultures with no depth of history to them.

    This culture has ONE religion, no indications they have a religion before it and the religion NEVER CHANGES. (Maybe insert some protag). ONE Subsistence system. ONE government system. (Even the US has several… informal and formal). It always was and always will be this way, and it never ever changed in 1000 years. As if the clothes we wear haven’t changed by the decade…

    The reality is that even when Europe was under ONLY Catholicism, there were still Jews, Muslims, and versions of the religion.

    Superstitions, for example, tell about previous religious belief systems. The 7 years of bad luck comes from Greco Roman myths about the soul getting renewed (oddly also in US laws about debt). The more fractured a religion is, the more likely it’ll find ways to linger.

    Since religion often serves to reinforce government systems, suppression of old religions with a new government system isn’t unlikely. If not Henry Tutor and his children, think about other regime shifts that resulted in changes of religion.

    And lastly, I have issues with people thinking that industrialized food systems was how it actually worked. The whole subsistence systems in fantasy need to be shaken up. Not everyone operates under one subsistence system. Not everyone is agricultural or industrial. Have some imagination and put in other food systems like pastoral, horticultural, etc. And mind where things are likely to come from, be imported and how this affects the economy of what people eat and what products they use.

    Trade! Trade is how Europe got wheat, arches, oats, barley, (well all the cereal grains), most farm animals (Chickens, horses, cattle, goats, sheep), tomatoes, potatoes, all the major spices… chilis, turkey, maths, sciences (from the Islamic Empire), medicine (modern versions), metal working, glass making, boats, etc. So to suddenly not factor that into your food systems and think that everything works like an industrailized society where you can get avocados in the UK (and it not destroy Bolivia), I have issues. Also, remember that some materials were more expensive and took longer to make back in the day. Paper, metal, cloth, etc could be really expensive.

    People used to get upset that I said PoCs were always in Europe. But they were. And with them often came new ideas, innovations, and things they knew. So putting a forcefield around Europe makes no sense. How do you move your people from chewing on reeds to eat something and the occasional wildlife animal to agriculture? You need trade. Everyone traded. The idea that boats made it so people can’t travel–I don’t get that. Apparently our ancestors, Homo Erectus made it all the way to Indonesia. So you really think that our species which is much later than them also couldn’t travel because we had *gasp* boats? Makes no sense.

    If you tell me that someone grew sesame seeds in the Artic without extreme amounts of technology, etc I’m going to have issues. If you tell me that they traded it for an animal skin, from an animal they hunted and ate, that’s more realistic.

    So, those, I think would give more instant! depth to the world in general. Culture changes and has history, not only the individuals within it. This is because individuals interact with the culture and attempt to change it for better or worse, so culture also needs to show change better or for worse and often when the main characters aren’t looking or in ways they can’t always control. The lie culture tells you is always is and always will be. (Historians would scream–to what time period?) But think more clearly about how things have changed in your author brain and then sneak it in under the characters who think always was and always will be.

  2. This week, the unbelievable foursome, Dan, Fonda, Mary Robinette, and Howard, took another look at how to give your readers a believable world, this time by working with texture. Meetings in temples or at sporting events! Touch the puppets! Pub games and meat pies. Arcade games that remind the character of their teenage girlfriend. The mothball smell of Grandma’s dresser drawers. Hemingway! Go, read all about it in the transcript available now in the archives.

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