What’s the fiberglass of your story’s world?
Every plausible world has at least one; stuff that can be ugly and prickly and hazardous to handle without proper gear, yet just too useful not to keep around. Janet Kagan’s Mirabile has recessive genes as engineered genetic backup as part of all Earth-import plants and animals from their colony ships’ storage banks. Meaning sometimes you get useful surprise fireflies from red daffodils, and sometimes you get biting cockroaches – or deadly Frankenswine. The Roman Empire had concrete.
Yes, concrete. It’s way older than most people think. And by incorporating volcanic ash, the Romans came up with a mix that would harden underwater. We didn’t figure out how to replicate that until fairly recently.
Your world should have things in it that are wonderful, awe-inspiring, and just plain pretty. But if you want it to feel realistic, it should also have things that are… eh. Useful, but not usually seen bare-naked in public unless there’s a major project in progress or something has gone interestingly kaboom. Like fiberglass.
Note, this is a detail to be used sparingly, and with careful attention to the tone you’re setting up. Bare fiberglass is okay if it’s part of a new building going up (things getting done! Improved on!) or if it’s blown to bits over the landscape by a bomb or tornado (oh no, horrible disaster – your heroes are going to do something about this!)
If it’s just… leaking out into view because the siding’s cracked and worn out, or people have prized off the building A/C for salvage, or there’s a hole in the roof nobody’s bothered to fix….
Then it’s a sign of decay, of humans gone feral, of society breaking down. This is treading the edge of Grimdark territory, people. Unless that’s what you’re actually aiming at, steer clear.
You can tell a lot about a society from how much of its nitty-gritty details you don’t see. Keep this in mind when you’re scene-setting. Also keep in mind what POV character you’re using to show readers the place. The hero who sees scattered fiberglass tufts and tenses, because Something Has Gone Wrong, gives an entirely different impression than the barefoot street urchin who just steps around it, as they have for as long as they can remember. And that’ll be different again from the construction worker picking up after a superhero/villain battle, c’mon guys, couldn’t you have waited until the roof was on and we all got paid…?
(Yeah yeah, empty warehouse site, no people, minimal collateral damage, sure. But my paycheck, man. The project’s gonna be over budget now and it’s not our fault!)
And if that’s bad, imagine the construction workers looking at the aftermath of Godzilla.
So when you’re building your world, spare some thoughts about what it’s built with. Your readers will appreciate it!
(BTW I highly recc’ Mirabile. Great setting, wonderful characters, and an excellent model if you’re trying to figure out how short stories should work. And you can’t beat the story hooks. “This year the Ribeiros’ daffodils seeded early, and they seeded cockroaches.” That line got me to outright buy the book when I was a VERY broke college student….)