The physical environment addresses geographic and artificial structures in the story area. This is a part where the map building of your world comes into play. Even if you’re using real world cities, you’ll want to match the natural and artificial structures of your world. The following factors affect the physical environment: urban settlements, weather and climate, rivers, resources, bio-hazards, biosphere, topography and other environmental characteristics.
That’s a lot, and I don’t intend for these articles to take too long to read. So, let’s focus on urban settlements, weather and climates, and topography. If you want me to do a part two of this element, comment below.
We define urban settlements as a human settlement with a high population density and infrastructure of built environment. Sometimes my mind automatically envisions suburbia neighborhoods, but it can be towns, cities, conurbations, megalopolis, or a million city.
Why focus on urban settlements?
Urban settlements shape the people, resource usage, and social rules. A lot of these things we’ve talked about in previous posts. You can have cities like Batman’s Gotham, a fictional city set in southern New Jersey. The structure of Gotham shows the various levels of society and comments on each. Batman wouldn’t be the same story if set in a farm town in Montana. The structure of the city allows for high-class gloss and underground criminal rings. While you could still have both in Montana, it won’t go to the same depth as a in a million city. So with that in mind, how do you use urban settlements in your world-building?
Questions to ask:
Does the size of your urban settlement impact the story?
How would a town setting change your character’s arc versus a million city?
How can you use your urban settlement as a physical obstacle or advantage?
Weather and Climates
Weather and climates have different effects on the structures of your world. A quick reminder, weather is what you see outside on any day. For example, 70 degrees and sunny. Whereas climate is the average of that weather. When you’re thinking about climates for the story, you’ll use words like tropical, dry, temperate, etc. Climate gives the idea of what should be the expected weather for a certain area.
How to use weather and climate in your writing:
Knowing the climate (s) of the world your story occurs can create obstacles or advantages for your character. Sometimes areas, or worlds, have tundra climates like in Star Wars’ planet Hoth. The frigid lands force Han Solo to cut open a Tauntaun and shove the freezing Luke Skywalker inside for warmth. You don’t need to be that dramatic, but it should give you an idea of climate. Places constantly cold are going to be harder to stay warm in versus a blizzard in a temperate climate.
Weather can be used as diversions, delays, or to give one opponent an advantage over another. There are stories where surviving a storm is the fundamental conflict. One example is the storms in The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. The storms are dangerous and destructive, and play a key role in how structures are built, where people live, and where value is laid.
Questions to ask about climate and weather:
What type of climate does your (world/city/megalopolis) exist?
How did your world respond to the climate?
Do storms help or hinder your world? How often do they occur?
This is one that plays into the previous layers and is one that many writers might not consider. For a reminder, topography is “the arrangement of the natural and artificial physical features of an area.” (Definition from Oxford Languages) Topography will play an essential role in your world’s climate, weather, and suburban settlements.
How does topography affect your story?
Topography can create natural barriers between settlements and societies. Some topographical features in the right time setting can create two different worlds separated by mountains. On the one side you’ll have all the rainfall and flourishing plant life, and the other side often turns to desert from minimal rainfall. This can develop different artificial structures required to protect inhabitants from the unique elements.
Questions to ask about topography:
What type of landscape does your story exist in?
Are there topographical features (like damns, walls, mountains, etc.) that impact your story or characters?
Will topography help or hinder your character’s story? How can you use it to show different aspects of your theme?
The physical aspect plays a dynamic role in your story and I feel like I could dedicate a day to focus on one aspect each week. I may do that in the future, but today’s post is just to help you get your wheels turning in that world-building mindset. If you liked this post, or any of my previous PMESII-PT world-building posts, please comment on and share your favorite parts. Thank you for being a constant reader, and as always, stay fresh, my nugs.
PMESII-PT Part 6: Infrastructure
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