We’re in the third week of Summer Camp (more than halfway through!), so it’s time to take a look at the third prompt wave. This week’s wave is all about looking back at the history of your world and deciding how it has affected the present!
The Gold theme: Relics
The past may be gone, but its influence can be felt everywhere in the present. The traditions, legends, and items which are preserved after centuries represent what society considers important; that can beautifully illustrate a culture’s values! History is also used quite often as a justification for political or religious actions, which shows the intrinsic power that history has. When we talk about “relics” as this week’s theme we don’t mean just physical objects, but also traditions, people, cities, and generally anything that is old but still exists in some way in the present.
Janet wrote a deep dive into relics and history—use it to guide your worldbuilding for this theme!
These are the Gold prompts that follow the theme of Relics. To answer them, visit the Summer Camp challenge page!
Somewhere in your world, describe…
21. A tradition or behavior considered old fashioned [tradition]
Throwing salt over your shoulder, wearing hats, certain expressions used by older people
To answer this prompt, you can follow two steps. First of all, think about the tradition itself. Look at the values that a culture in your world used to have (but no longer has—it’s old-fashioned!) and make a tradition out of that. For example, throwing salt over your left shoulder is rooted in the belief that the devil was on your left, and you throw salt to essentially “blind” him. Even language is often based on cultural values: many old-fashioned expressions are based on religion, as well as practices that are no longer as common. Then, figure out what changed to make these traditions feel dated. Was that culture assimilated into another, more powerful one? Did religion or other beliefs change? Has there been a technological revolution that has rendered many practices useless?
22. An item of great cultural or religious significance to a people in your world [item]
Crown jewels, Sputnik 1, the Bands of Mourning (Mistborn)
We’ve talked about symbols a lot in this Summer Camp so far (they’re great worldbuilding tools!), and here’s another symbol-related prompt for you. Items with great significance can have a practical purpose (like Sputnik 1) or a purely symbolic one (like the crown jewels of the British monarchy). Practical objects can still be symbolic, and symbolic items can be just as important, if not more! For example, Sputnik 1 was the satellite that kickstarted the new era of research in space—but at the same time, it’s a symbol of how far humans have come. Similarly, the crown jewels (or any crown) are purely a symbolic item, but they symbolize the British monarchy, which, at the height of its power, led one of the most powerful nations in the world. And both are relics—even Sputnik 1, which was launched less than a century ago, could be considered ancient in terms of technological progress.
23. An ancient city that is still inhabited today [settlement]
Xi’an, China; Athens, Greece; Minas Ithil/Minas Morgul (The Lord of the Rings)
Cities are a great way to show history in your world, because you can quite literally see the changes it has gone through! Old cities have areas with modern architecture and other areas with older, more packed buildings—and even ruins from the first settlers. Athens (and other Greek cities) is a famous example of this, with many of their ancient ruins still in plain view, but you can see it in many places around the world, like Europe and China, for example. So again, the question will be how have social and cultural changes affected the city? Have wars and plagues left a lasting mark on them? What about political changes? For example, Minas Morgul (a settlement currently in Mordor) used to be part of Gondor and was called Minas Ithil, which is a great example of how city names change throughout history! And speaking about names, they often persist long after buildings have decayed and even entire cities disappear. Language carries a lot of history after all, so keep this in mind while answering this prompt!
24. A historical figure still venerated today, and why [character]
Alexander the Great, Albert Einstein, saints and prophets from all religions
When someone changes the world in a significant way (for better or for worse), they are often remembered for years to come. And while “venerated” might make you think of religious leaders, it definitely doesn’t need to be related to that! Einstein changed how we look at certain areas of science, and Alexander the Great changed the political landscape of a significant portion of the world. So start by choosing an area (politics, science, religion, magic…) and define an important event that happened within that area to assign it to that character. And since we’re focusing on a character, you’ll want to define their personality and backstory as well—did the character seek fame, or was it a natural consequence of what they did? And was it an accident, or were they trying to do what they ended up doing (and why)? Answer these questions and you’ll have your article!
25. A profession that has been rendered obsolete [profession]
Nightsoil man, lamp lighter, carriage driver
As technology and culture evolve, so do the jobs that are needed for society to function! Some professions, like lamp lighters, were rendered useless when electricity became ubiquitous—others, like carriage drivers, evolved into taxi or bus drivers. Of course, these changes don’t happen overnight, so you could interpret the prompt as a profession that has been rendered obsolete… in some places, but is still in use in other places (for example, electricity was usually introduced first in cities, then in rural areas). Think of the effects that this has on people. Working is how we can get what we need to live with at least some comfort, so if an entire profession is rendered obsolete, many people will have to either get a worse job or simply become unemployed. This can have a profound impact on society: if thousands of people have their jobs taken away by technology, they won’t exactly be happy with whoever decided to implement that technology.
26. A children’s tale or song based on a real event [myth]
Ring a Ring of Roses, London Bridge Is Falling Down, Little Red Riding Hood
Children’s tales, even simply nursery rhymes, are often based on real events, frequently something that isn’t immediately obvious from just reading the tale. For example, Ring a Ring of Roses may come from Pagan myths related to Freyja (and another theory links it to the Great Plague), while a certain hypothesis claims that London Bridge Is Falling Down is a reference to a Viking attack from the 11th century. Children’s songs can also be pretty dark in their origins—a popular song in Catalan and Occitan cultures (north-eastern Spain and southern France), called “Joan petit” (“Little John”), describes the torture and execution of a rebellion leader using an execution wheel. Of course, the modern version of the song isn’t explicit, but once you know what it’s about, you can definitely see it. So pick a real event and distort it as much as you can until you reach a state where you can see implicit references to the event but not much else, and you’ll have a realistic children’s tale or song!
27. A species now considered extinct [species]
Dinosaurs, Dodo, Sigillaria, Dragons (beginning of Game of Thrones)
Extinct species often feel fascinating to us because they were witnesses to an older, or even ancient, version of our own world. In fiction, these ancient creatures are often portrayed as bigger, more powerful, or wiser than humanity (or whatever your sapient species is) to instill a sense of wonder—take dragons, for example. No matter their portrayal, they are always powerful creatures, and, in some cases, they are only memories or legends of the old world. But you don’t need to follow this route! The dodo bird went extinct precisely because it wasn’t powerful at all! It didn’t have any natural predators so it lost all instincts and abilities to defend itself. Powerful or not, many extinct species have had an impact on certain aspects of society (especially pop culture and science!), so when answering this prompt, think about how society views that creature or plant.
28. A historical culture whose influence is still felt today [ethnicity]
Romans, Greeks, Babylonians, Númenor (The Lord of the Rings)
Empires rise and fall, but their cultures remain. Europe (and by extension, a huge part of the world) wouldn’t look the same now if Ancient Greece or the Roman Empire hadn’t existed. And while we might not specifically see the influence of older civilizations (like Mesopotamia) in our modern society, our modern culture is the result of thousands of years of cultural evolution. This influence can be felt in traditions (even with Christian influence, many European cultures still keep traditions of Pagan origin), politics (see how Roman Law influenced much of the world’s legal systems), or even things like architecture and clothes. If you watched The Rings of Power, you probably remember that the capital of Númenor shared some features with Minas Tirith, the more modern city (and later capital) of Gondor. If you’ve already built the modern culture of your setting, pick some elements that could be influenced by a previous culture and expand on them. Nothing wrong with retroactive history when worldbuilding!
Wild Card prompts
Every week, we also release two prompts that are not related to the theme, so you can answer them instead if you want to take a break from the main theme! Here they are:
29. A ceremony that represents a transition or transfer [tradition]
Coronations, funerals, hatsumode (Japan)
The most important times in our lives are usually related to change—the day we got that dream job or the moment we decided to live together with our partner. So it makes sense for us to celebrate them with traditions that are passed on from generation to generation! Now, change in your life usually affects more than just you. Of course, a coronation will affect more people beyond the new monarch, but if you got a new job, the entire company will change with you (even if only slightly for big corporations), and your environment will also change when you get your new salary. These changes don’t have to be rare though: New Year is an annual event and it’s all about the transition into a new year! Some traditions are celebrated while the change is happening (such as coronations and marriages) while others are celebrated after the fact, such as funerals and hatsumode, a Japanese tradition consisting of vising a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine shortly after the start of a new year.
30. A rare natural phenomenon that most people look forward to [natural law]
Warm winds, rains of fish, aurora borealis
When we think of natural phenomena that have a large effect on people, we usually think of negative stuff, like earthquakes and hurricanes. So let’s give this a twist! What about warm winds in cold places, rains in dry lands, or even just an aurora borealis? The reason people might look forward to it could be practical (rain means that your crops will grow), or simply because it’s beautiful, such as the aurora. Since you’re writing fiction, you could turn a phenomenon like an aurora into a practical event (maybe mages draw their power from it!), but there’s something charming about an event that is just beautiful and has no other inherent consequence beyond that.
Don’t miss the next prompt reveal!
Excited to get the second prompt wave? Because we’re excited to show them to you! Make sure to tune into next Saturday’s stream at 6pm UK/10am Pacific to be the first to know the 8 Communication prompts and two new Wild Card prompts. Remember that to get Gold, you need to complete any 24 prompts, not necessarily the ones in this wave!
What are your tips for this theme? Share in the comments—and go to the challenge page to answer the prompts!