Worldbuilding: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Leather

Purely by coincidence, I happened to see a fragment of a commercial for that new gameshow, “Generation Gap”. The bit where a rather famous picture is flashed up, and the gamemaster asks, “What famous model is this?”


Oh Fabio, how easily the younger generation dumps you for the Twilight clones.

Ahem. But then my brain started in on, “okay, what if Fabio did play Thor?” The God of Thunder, with an Italian accent. Oh, the chaos.

“Excuse me, I need to go adjust my ahrmor.”

“Loki, do not fall to evil. Just be the best of yourself.”

“And now we all – how do you say it? Get hammered!”

I mean, given the existence of Allspeech as instant translation convention, we don’t know what home accent Asgard really has. Maybe it sounds Norse. Maybe it sounds Italian. Maybe it has clicks, like the Khoisan languages. Who knows?

This is fertile ground for coming up with story idea-bits. Look into what “everyone knows”, or history as it’s recorded, and then say, “but what if it’s something completely different?”

One interesting example is found in the Korean historical zombie drama, Kingdom. In real-life history, the Pyesagun (Four Abandoned Counties) were abandoned and settlements cleared out because Ming-Joseon-Jurchen politics, and particularly the ginseng trade, made it safer for Joseon to have a depopulated buffer zone in that area than people and trade cities. In Kingdom? The ice caves in those mountains are the ecological home of the resurrection plant, and there’s been at least one freaking zombie tiger hunting people in the area for decades. You don’t want people living anywhere near there. You really don’t.

(And then of course someone goes plant-hunting for ways to cheat death anyway, and… yeah. Things get ugly.)

So. What odd, quirky, or reasonable but just plain strange things are present in your story’s background or setting? What’s the normal explanation for them – and what could you create as an alternative? “We didn’t build in this area because it’s all limestone and either prone to sinkholes or you need a jackhammer” is a normal explanation. “We didn’t build here because the local earth elemental thinks it has a sense of humor”, not so much….

13 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Leather

  1. Well, in The Princess Seeks Her Fortune, Alissandra sees a carpet being borne by flying swans and doesn’t think it worth of mention. A fact I did not notice myself until someone singled it out in a review.

    Perhaps more in the theme, The Maze, the Manor,
    and the Unicorn
    , Cecily was set to
    Clearwater for her health. Why the manor’s waters are clear, and why it’s regarded as good for health, I leave you to deduce.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The impression I’ve always gotten from mythology is that the Asgard native speech was entirely made up of some variation of “Hold my mead and watch this!”

    Liked by 4 people

      1. You also need “Stop that Loki or I’m going to punch you to the middle of next week,” and whatever tall tale you’re telling.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “We didn’t build here because the local earth elemental thinks it has a sense of humor”,


    I may have to steal that one, it’s a terrifying idea.

    My weird thing is an entire planet of snake-aliens who are, legally, human.
    They got adopted, and the children of a human is, of course, a human….

    Liked by 4 people

  4. “We didn’t build here because the local earth elemental thinks it has a sense of humor”, not so much….

    There was a location in the — I think, Midwest. Beautiful river valley. No inhabitants. Local tribes said a demon lived there. Whites laughed.

    Whites learned that valley positively attracted every tornado in the vicinity.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I don’t know why but this is making me think of the hand lotion they hand out to everyone at work.

    To explain; my workplace assembles electronics and regular hand lotion has stuff in it that would damage the wires and other parts. So to deal with this they found an electronic safe lotion which we get free bottles of to use at work.

    My workplace has a lot of government contracts.

    If the supernatural is real and you wanted to protect your employees from at least the low level stuff, hand lotion laced with anti-supernatural stuff that employees are required to use would be an easy fix.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A Short List of Weird Ass Shit in The Chronicles of the Kencyrath A Series I Highly Recommend

    1. Trocks. They are rocks. They eat rocks. They will also eat your shoes, get into your camping supplies and possibly try to snack on you.
    2. The Anarchies a region that is full of weird shit and the land a) does not like you. b) will actively try to eat you. c) is full of homicidal carnivorous murder-unicorns. d) is full of other weird animals and even weirder plants
    3. Changers: For when you want your terrifying shape-shifting bad guys with extra body horror
    4. Step forward/backward stones. Stones that are so closely metaphysically connected that you can use them to teleport.
    5. The City of Tai-tastigon, which is basically a huge, literal puzzle box to the point where residents often need to hire guides to get from home to work.
    6. The Feast of Dead Gods. This is a holiday. It is also a night where you do not want to be out in. Because of aforementioned Dead Gods. Who might want to eat you, if their worshippers were stupid enough to feed them people.
    7. The homicidal murder-unicorns a) are covered in armor that continues growing until it kills them b) the males are technically bi-corns. c) when they scream they pretty much produce a terror-field. d) sentient by the way–they still want to eat you.
    8. Aboreal. Drift. This means “the trees move so as to avoid danger” You know, like forest fires, lumberjacks, flooding rivers…
    9. Also have Wyrsa! Though in the Kencyrath setting, wyrsa are more like small wolflike creatures that can dig like badgers, swarm like army ants, and have the temperament of a rabid wolverine.
    10. Wolvers! They are much like werewolves, except in reverse. They are wolves that eventually acquire the ability to shift into a human as they mature.
    11. Jewel-jaws. These are butterflies. That predominantly feed on carrion.

    Off hand weirdness in worldbuilding is the BEST.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. P.C. Hodgell is a freaking genius writer. She’s not prolific (although she’s sped up a lot in recent years), but she sure packs in the fantastic elements. She’s got a new book in the series coming out in October, so this is a great time to jump on board.

      Liked by 2 people

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