Worldbuilding: Striking the Right Note

Does your world have sticky notes?

Doesn’t have to be the bits of paper with extremely weak glue that we know and use. (Though that could be awesome.) Could be holographic computer icons, or color-coded feathers jammed into the rolled slats of an ancient bamboo scroll, or strands of beads bookmarking a roll of papyrus at certain layers. What matters is that someone doing creative or experimental work in your world has a way to do messy organization; to loosely tie together bits of info to look at later or compare, maybe when no one sane would ever mix those two or three (or more) sets of ideas. Maybe especially then. Creativity can’t thrive in either pure chaos or absolute order. There has to be a little bit of mess, of things unexpected. And there has to be a way of thinking about that mess. Fitting pieces that might work together, discarding what doesn’t, and possibly finding that the discard pile falls into a better order than the original idea. The kind of “does this work with that?” or “huh, if I put X next to Y, then what?” that works just fine when you have twenty or even forty bead vials to physically shuffle next to each other, but is more problematic when you start tossing around file-boxes of articles and several-hundred-page books.

(Note, a wise beader doesn’t just rely on shuffling vials. Tiny glass beads of one color all in a mass give you a different color impression than strung singly, and prudence advises stringing your color selection on a scrap thread for a better idea before you start really stitching. But that’s another story.)

Your sticky-note equivalent might just be a background note; story color, giving your world some depth by showing people working in it. On the other hand… those notes could be important. They could hold the formula to a vital antidote, speculations on the actual source of the Evil Overlord’s power, or the key clue to uncovering a dastardly murder.

…Or they could just have someone’s favorite quick-meal recipe. Or a bunch of exclamation points about how Historian X is wrong, wrong, WRONG about the Battle of the Ghastly Plains, and the note-taker is going to go dig around there personally… cue the Rescue, or the Chase!

The Saint (Val Kilmer) shows an interesting example of a scientist shuffling around notes for a knotty physics problem, trying to find the right order so it’ll all click. Worth checking out, even if its depiction of hypothermia is a bit off. (You don’t want to go hypothermic yourself, so you really need two warm people to warm up one frozen one. But Hollywood likely thought a threesome would be too kinky… ahem. Also note you don’t have to take your clothes off. Though if the victim’s garments are wet, you do want to strip them. Water absorbs too much heat!)

How do your characters organize their info to problem-solve? Make note!

10 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Striking the Right Note

  1. I had not thought of this yet! Such an amusing idea. I can just imagine an apprentice looking around the messy, messy workshop and feeling intimidated by all the colorful ribbons sticking out of various books and scrolls and stumbling across a note about the problem they are dealing with.

    …Maybe even, ahem, borrowing the scroll with the note to see if it’s useful, only to get in trouble when their teacher notices it’s missing because that one scroll happens to be cursed…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The other thing to keep in mind is that notes are personalized.
    They probably only have meaning to the person who made them.

    I pity anybody trying to interpret my notes, especially if I’ve been using one system for a while.

    It start off as incomplete fragments with half in my head, and progressively becomes a layered mess of obsolete fragments combined with new bits.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have a whole thing of notes on my phone, and when I had readings to discuss for a class I put scraps of paper in the interesting bits. Unlike everyone else I had direct citations and was able to back up my words. I think that was the only reason I got a C rather than the F I deserved.

    Also for hypothermia you (general you not specific) just have to get over your embarrassment if you have to help someone. My Mom got absolutely soaked turning doing something with someone’s water emergency outside when it was single digits outside. Thankfully the neighbor lived right across the street from us, so she came back home, stripped, and got under a blanket with my brother and I who were still clothed. With as shivery and stiff as she was the mere idea that someone would want to have sex at that point doesn’t make sense to me.

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  4. Beads are a *great* example– or anything else involving physical comparisons, tests, etc.

    Have you ever tried to find stuff in someone else’s shop?!?

    And don’t get me started on using the hand-written recipes for a relative, much less a stranger!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Shops, kitchens… any place that requires some form of organization.

      “Your dish cabinets aren’t right over the washer? And who in their right mind puts silverware in the middle drawer?” Etc, etc…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. St. Albert the Great’s manuscripts had bits of corrections glued or sewn into them, IIRC.

    The Greeks invented various of the punctuation marks, just for marking papyrus (the asterisk, for example). This has led to confusion, because apparently a lot of lectionary Bible texts are marked up in helpful ways, and a lot of modern scholars just ignored them until later scholars pointed this out.

    (It turns out that a lot of “these verses are missing or put into other Gospels” are actually, “There was a marking telling you where to go to the next bit, after the holy day reading; and the modern scholars weren’t going to the next bit.”)

    Liked by 2 people

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