Some old guy at the very first Geek Fest (it was somewhere between a writer’s conference and a convention for fans—yes, there was some dressing up going on) I ever attended spewed forth a piece of advice that I will never forget.
A member of the audience, an aspiring writer I’m sure, asked the question, “Where do you get all your ideas for world building?” If I recall correctly the old guy to whom the question was being asked had written some fairly epic fantasy novels. So he had some experience at world building.
Well, instead of a long explanation from a scholar (which this man seemed to fancy himself), we got this bit of writing advise. “Find something that sounds interesting and steal the Hell out of it.”
I’m pretty sure he wasn't just saying to look at the spot where the damned go in someone else’s world. Although I could be wrong, I don’t always get smart, old people jokes. To me they’re just not funny.
However, this is good advice. I’ve traveled a lot, but never before to the Middle East. I just returned from 9 days in Israel, and I have to say that the place is teeming with bits of world building to steal.
Seriously, think about it, first off, there have been multiple sets of people claiming this land for more generations than anyone can actually remember. Good thing for the Bible, right? So that particular conflict runs really deep. And frankly, after driving through most of the country, I didn’t get the whole “bountiful, promised land” thing. The place is mostly a desert. I live in a desert. You have to work hard to get crops to grow and to get water where it should be. So who came up with the land of plenty angle? And why are all these people so keen on keeping the land for themselves?
Good question. Make some answers and take your world building from there.
Let’s look at a different angle. Jerusalem has been completely sacked like 8 times.(I didn’t Google, sorry, I’m on a plane, so that number could be off.) What does that do to the land? Maybe the place itself is cursed, or blessed, or alive, or a crossroads to more than just trade routes, and all of the fighting is causing imbalances on a different plane or in a different part of the world.
We had an interesting discussion within our tour group. Basically, both the Palestinians and the Israelis (or maybe Jews and Muslims would be better to cite) believe that at the end of days, the other group will be wiped out by God because they are not worshiping the right thing or in the right way. (It’s a long, long story that I’d rather not go into here.) But as we were discussing this, we thought about trying to negotiate a truce between the two peoples, and how fruitless that would be because both sides think that the other will eventually be gone. Why not start the annihilation now? Why wait? There’s immediate conflict that can get both broader and deeper.
This is just a few ideas about world building. If you can’t travel, view some documentaries and glean some ideas off of those. Take what you see and twist it. Steal the Hell out of it and make it your own.