Worldbuilding: Striking Twice

Let’s take worldbuilding from the perspective of, you’re going to want specific environments for certain stories and scenes, and those settings will change what your characters are likely or able to do. I’m going to give you some examples from the Gulf Coast.

Swimming. Oh yes, great weather to swim here, most of the year. Unless it’s storming – if you can hear thunder, you should already be away from the water. But storms are dangerous even too far away for lightning. The winds and currents they cause make riptides more likely, and those kill far more people than lightning strikes. What’s worse is if you see waves crashing onto shore, except for a few spots where it looks nice and smooth? Most people will choose to swim there. Don’t do that. There’s no waves because the water is flowing right back out to sea. That’s a riptide. Meaning you could have your character observe great beach weather and not one local in the water. For good reason.

(Maybe several good reasons. Portuguese man’o’war, anyone? We get whole schools of them.)

Sitting in a car. Seems harmless enough. Only when the temps have already hit the 80s and the humidity is pushing the heat index into the 90s-plus, it doesn’t take much solar input to turn your harmless car stakeout into a life-threatening sauna. Complete with burns from the metal bits of your seatbelt. That sizzle you hear is you.

Car travel gets even more interesting, because the coast and the various military facilities on it combine to make sure there are often limited traffic corridors for getting from A to B. U.S. Highway 98 is one of the infamous roads; unless you can get to a turn-off and head north to I-10, your options for getting east-west are Slim, son of None. (And said turn-off is likely to add an hour to your trip. Just so you know.) So if you throw in one casual traffic accident, you’re likely to back up travel for hours, and everyone local knows all the possible alternate routes, so it’ll be backed up there too.

The sunny Gulf Coast is indeed that. But at least half the time it’s stormy, sometimes in patches, sometimes in lines of devastation that leave no trailer park standing. If you have characters here for a whole week and there’s been no storms… they better be here either April or October, we do get dry stretches then. Otherwise it won’t feel right.

Local environmental hazards are often very well known to the locals; and known to some better than others. AKA it doesn’t matter how much you paid for that mulch stacked out in the parking lot. If there’s a lightning storm, no one is going out there to load it. Everybody’s listened to years of news on the latest lightning fatalities in the area and they don’t get paid enough. Getting mad about this is only going to mark you as someone literally not smart enough to come in out of the rain.

It also means we have people paid good money to rescue golf balls from water hazards, and poke around recreational lakes, because alligators. Likewise we have various measures to hopefully bear-proof containers, and some of us curse out bird enthusiasts a lot, because black bears love birdfeeders. Nature is never too far away, and some of it likes to eat you.

All of which goes to say if you have a character living on the Gulf Coast in an eco-friendly house on a lake completely powered by solar panels, who walks out their back door onto their boat dock in their pajamas and slippers without a care in the world, anyone local is going to look at you askance, because that won’t work.

So when you worldbuild… think of what the local hazards are, and what they lead the locals to do. You can have your characters be ignorant, sure. But if so, they have to see the consequences!


18 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Striking Twice

  1. You all have bears too?? 😱 I know they are common all over the US, but for some reason I figured that Florida didn’t have to deal with them. Because of, you know, Alligators. And some of those storms you are talking about. Yeesh, I heard someone say that Florida is kinda the US version of Australia, and that makes more sense the more I learn… And this is really interesting info, one thing I have learned with writing is try to find a local who lives in an environment similar to what I’m looking for and ask them questions. Because there is stuff like this that you don’t even hear about when researching. Or in the “official” guidebooks. Ooh, I wanna use that idea, a smart character asking the locals for weather and/or hazards advice, the stupid ones thinking they already know everything. By the way, I was there earlier this year (around the middle of April) and holy crap you are not kidding about the traffic! We got stuck in some crazy traffic near the beach because of a concert that was being held at a venue on the beach and we could not believe how bad the traffic got. There were groups walking for literally miles, because parking was bad and traffic was bad. And we tried to stay within a certain distance of the airport so that 1 we didn’t get lost and 2 didn’t miss our flight.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Alligators tend to eat things smaller than bears, usually. We have lots of bears. Especially where they can get to palmetto roots – they love ’em.

      (You want fun, toss black bear biologists and red-cockaded woodpecker biologists in the same room and ask them to work out a burning schedule for pine flatwoods. Then stand waaaaay back. Bears want the palmetto roots that grow there, they want the woods burned every 5 years. RCWs want insects from fresh growth, they want every 1-2 years.)

      Yes bears. So many bears. And deer. Be careful driving at night.

      Though I doubt we qualify as Australia-lite. Though we do have black widows, and brown recluses, and several kinds of venomous snakes, and yearly fires, and then there’s the sea life….


    1. :laughing: K, I spent a good several minutes trying to figure out what you meant– not the insects, yeah, that’s obvious, but a paradise in Avatar?– then realized you meant the blue android movie, not the Airbender!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This brought back memories! My dad read a Harlequin romance that was based in a company town in the Amazon where he lived. He underlined everything that was wonky. I don’t think there was a single page without an underline!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I once skimmed through a mystery that was supposed to be set on Pensacola Beach. The end was a speedboat chase through mangroves.

      …Mangroves don’t grow north of about, oh, Cape Canaveral. I know, I’ve been down there to look!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Unless it’s storming – if you can hear thunder, you should already be away from the water.

    I :STILL: cannot get use to being able to see lightning, but thunder fades before it can reach you.

    Up in the valleys between the mountains, you get away from the water when you can see lightning. If it’s stormy, you do’nt go way out on a big body of water– you know, a whole like 1/4 of a mile across!– if it’s rainy, but that’s just being cautious. If you can see lightning, you get out of the field, too.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. You’re lucky to live in a region where all of your “specific setting” things are mainly nature related. All of mine are in the vein of “knock on effects of 30+ years of bad political policy”…

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Years ago I heard a story from a much older relative who had worked on the Alaskan Railroad. They kept getting people coming to work on the railroad from the cities. People that thought it was just a job but never really considered what it meant to work in the wilds of Alaska. The crew chief would give an impassioned speech about how taking food out to work was a Very Bad Idea. He’d warn them that wild animals like bears could smell food and would come looking for it.

    It took some serious effort to convince people not to risk taking food out of the base camp. Go figure the new hires from the city didn’t really understand how persistent and dangerous hungry bears were.

    Locals and long term railroad employees had “unique” views on the intelligence of new hires..

    Liked by 2 people

  6. OTOH, the main character shouldn’t notice many issues unless he’s a newbie. Preventing the bears from getting into the trash is not even a plot incident unless something else happens during it, on account of the way he does it ALL THE TIME.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. We don’t have quite so many local hazards here, but I can say that if your character is anywhere in northern Indiana during the spring, I’ll call foul if it doesn’t rain at least every few days. Or even for three days in a row, sometimes. Springtime is *wet* around here.

    Also, if you live here for any length of time you don’t think of it too much, but it is mostly farmland. One of my aunts who doesn’t live here said something about being amazed at just how many fields of corn there are. On the other hand, at the right time of year fresh sweet corn is amazing and you can get it straight from the farmers when they set up a stand.

    Liked by 1 person

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