Monday, August 29, 2011

On Climate

Whoa. Okay, I seriously did not expect to be dead for quite as long as I was. I'm about to be incredibly busy again, but hopefully healthier, so posting will hopefully get more regular.

Had a hard time deciding what to write for this rant. I have this great long list of things I need to write, so here's a worldbuilding one as sort of a warmup. (Yes, it's a "things the writer thinks would be interesting to see" rant, alas.)

Remember the weather rant? Weather's a good plot device, moves people around, screws things up, all that good stuff. Zoom out, a bit, though: weather happens in the context of the local climate.

Climate is a pretty big deal.

Climate affects what food will grow, what animals will inhabit the area, how people will work and play and eat and dress and move and live. Climate is a factor in what people consider to be lucky or unlucky. It can affect the way religious beliefs form. Climate can determine how hard or easy it is for a culture to live or die.

For the most part, people write the climate they're familiar with, and the cultural elements that come with it, with maybe a couple of "stock" climates thrown in for good measure (desert heat, polar cold, etc). The main setting is usually in the familiar climate. From the standpoint of not getting things horribly wrong, that's a good thing. I think it misses some interesting opportunities, though. With a little research, an unfamiliar climate can make for a very interesting setting.

If you're working in a fantastic setting with a climate found somewhere on Earth, look at how real cultures have adapted to it. Then consider some more implications-- if there's magic or advanced technology, how do those elements interact with the climate? What are people working on? You're more likely to see inventions or spells to cool the air and provide water in a hot desert climate than a temperate one. What does your culture think of the climate? If they depend on the rainy season to keep their crops alive, rain is probably not seen as the nuisance that it is in areas that rely less on it. If you're inventing a set of religious beliefs, think about how the climate affects those. For example, in the Earthsea books by Ursula K. Le Guin, the desolate afterlife that the people of a world of small islands and vast seas believe in is a desert, the Dry Land. If your setting is bitterly cold, a belief in a "good" or "bad" afterlife may result in a cold Hell or a warm Heaven, and in a hot climate there may be the opposite belief. How the climate affects daily life even affects a culture's perception of good and bad, and thus the way expressions of speech form: look at the common ideas of a rainy day as something that needs brightening, a nuisance to be put off until a later time. In a dry climate, that idea may well be absent, and rain is likely considered a blessing. You can get some good ideas for all of this by looking at real-life cultures, though if you're not trying to make an obvious counterpart, be careful how much of a mirror you create. Climate can even drive conflict, if the inhabitants of a harsh climate decide to expand into a friendlier area (think Ganondorf's ambitions from Wind Waker), or characters are stranded in an area without the ability to deal with its weather every day, rather than a single storm.

Climate is very rarely the focus of a story, but its functions shape the world and drive how it works. Paying attention to the climate is just another way of making a setting deeper and more interesting, and it would be cool to see more people using climate as a tool to shape their settings.

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