It’s the second week of the Worldbuilding Summer Camp, so it’s time to break down the second wave of prompts. This week’s theme is Frontier, a very nuanced theme that can be integrated into your worldbuilding in so many different ways!
The Silver theme: Frontiers
A frontier, in its modern usage, usually refers to areas that are at the edge of things. A military frontier is often the front line or a political border. A scientific frontier is the edge of what is known. And an explorational frontier (like the Final Frontier in Star Trek) is the border between known and uncharted territory. These are very dynamic and fast-changing areas of your world that you can use to add more life and conflict to your setting! If you are writing about geographical frontiers and swathes of land considered “unexplored”, but which are in fact inhabited by independent sapient species or different cultures, we suggest being very careful as this can potentially slip into a problematic colonial narrative. If in doubt, and especially if you intend to publish your setting, use sensitivity readers. Check out this interview with Basheer Ghouse about adapting real-world cultures for more information!
Check out Janet’s deep dive into frontiers in worldbuilding for more advice on this theme as a whole!
These are the Silver prompts that follow the theme of Frontiers. To answer them, visit the Summer Camp challenge page!
Somewhere in your world, describe…
11. An unclaimed, unregulated, or lawless region in your setting [geography]
Far West, Antarctica, Slum district, Astral Plane, Wood Between the Worlds (Chronicles of Narnia)
This prompt is all about a geographical area of your world that is located away from the center of your main civilizations—what that means is up to you! While some places like certain areas of Antarctica will be considered unclaimed by everyone (unless you’re a penguin), others, like the Far West, will be completely subjective (for Native Americans, that was definitely a claimed place). You don’t need to go that far though: to the eyes of the capital city, a rural town within the country’s traditional territory might very well be an unregulated place if they’re still following old laws rather than the new ones. If you have a sci-fi setting you could write about other planets, and in a fantasy setting, why not take a look at planes beyond the material one?
12. A settlement at the limits of the “known” or “civilized” world [settlement]
First European settlements in America, International Space Station, Osgiliath (The Lord of the Rings)
Similarly to the previous prompt, this can be approached from many different perspectives! For example, if you want to write about a new mining town, you could write it from the perspective of the settlers or of the people who were already there (or both!). A space station might not be built in a contested area (depending on your world’s space law), but it can definitely be located at the edge of the explored universe if your setting allows for it. Plus, space stations are a very cool type of settlement because they can potentially move around! You can even take this concept to “regular” cities too (like in Mortal Engines) for a super dynamic settlement. Another great example of twisting the prompt is Osgiliath: it’s located in known explored land, and it’s been there for centuries. But during the events in The Lord of the Rings, it’s the border between Gondor and Mordor—which, from the perspective of Gondor, could be considered uncivilized land.
13. A job that takes its practitioners to remote or faraway places [profession]
Sailor, Istari (The Lord of the Rings), Warders (The Wheel of Time)
We’ve talked a lot about places, but what about people? After all, if you want to build a city far away, you need to get there first! This is where sailors, explorers, and astronauts come in, so think about why would these people go there. Is it for trade purposes, for science, or just because of an insatiable drive to explore the world? Another example is the Istari from The Lord of the Rings (that’s Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, and the Blue Wizards), which are sent to Middle Earth all the way from Valinor. Another example is the Warders, the bodyguards of the Aes Sedai in The Wheel of Time, so, especially if their Aes Sedai travels a lot, they could fit this prompt too! These two examples are of people who are forced to travel—we can assume they agreed to their job, but someone is ordering them to travel rather than doing it because they want. Just another way you can approach this!
14. An animal found in a non-populated area [species]
Penguins, space whales, panserbjørne (His Dark Materials)
An unpopulated area can still be teeming with life! Even the most inhospitable of places (space) is inhabited in some settings, with tropes like space whales and other sea-based fauna being the most common. So look at the kind of place it is, and think about what kind of animal would live there. Then, if you want to give it a twist (space whale-style) and your setting’s meta allows you, come up with an animal that should not be able to survive there but does! Remember that animals can also be sapient. For example, the panserbjørne (or armored bears, living in Svalbard) from His Dark Materials are talking polar bears that are as smart as any human! So if the rules of your setting let you create talking animals, why not take this opportunity to introduce a new species to your world?
15. A useful plant found in a wild area of your world [species]
Curare, Ayahuasca, Kukui (candlenut tree)
When a society discovers and explores a previously unknown part of the world, they will find new useful resources. And some of these can be plants! Plants can have practical applications like medicine or warfare, but not all useful plants need to be “practical”. For example, if your world has flower-giving traditions, maybe the prettiest flowers are found in the wilder parts of your world! Another very useful feature of a plant can be its resistance to the environment: hardy crops that are edible can be useful just because they can be grown anywhere! Looking for a novel use for a plant is a way to make it more interesting, but so is making the plant more dynamic. I know, a plant, dynamic? Even in our world, there are plants that move relatively quickly, such as carnivorous plants and even bamboo (known for its growing speed). In a fictional world, you can go beyond that and create plants that can move in other ways—maybe they walk around to find sources of water, or they run away and hide from predators! Check out our blog post on creating fictional plants for more tips!
16. A material or natural resource that comes from a dangerous location [material]
Coal, Spice (Dune), Spores (Tress of the Emerald Sea)
Valuable resources that come from dangerous places are pretty common in fiction, as it creates a dramatic choice: should I get that and risk my life, or stay home and be safe? Coal mines were death traps, but it’s thanks to them that we got the industrial revolution! To make this material feel connected to the world, make it part of the ecosystem of that location. For example, the spice in Dune is a very valuable resource located in a very dangerous place (giant unfriendly sandworms!) and is part of the sandworms’ lifecycle. The spice itself isn’t dangerous to harvest, but you better have a quick retreat plan as soon as you go into the desert! Another way to approach this is to make the place dangerous because of the material itself. For example, in Sanderson’s Tress of the Emerald Sea, spores are a central element of the magic system, but they can also kill you if you’re not careful (and even if you are).
17. A character driven by wanderlust or the desire to explore [character]
Marco Polo, Neil Armstrong, Lee Scoresby (His Dark Materials)
Some people travel just because it’s their job, or because they feel forced to do so—but what about those for whom traveling and exploring is the point? These are very interesting characters because they let you write about your world from the point of view of a foreigner (a common trope in fiction to explain the world to the reader). Now, there still needs to be a reason for the character’s travels, even if they aren’t aware of it. Do they have a desire to prove themselves, severe burnout, or a feeling of not fitting in? Look at the character’s backstory and think about what could they have experienced in the past that makes them want to explore the world.
18. A cuisine from a sparse, barren, or remote region in your world [tradition]
Iceland moss, Bush foods from Australia, Iguana-on-a-stick (Fallout)
Food is something that many people skip in their worldbuilding, so now’s your chance to develop this area in your world! So, first of all, keep in mind that the ingredient your food uses will depend on what’s available—which might be obvious, but this should be the first step. Look at your answers to prompts 14 and 15 as your starting points, and think about how you would cook them (you can get inspiration from recipes to cook raccoons, squirrels, and other animals you wouldn’t normally eat). Then, think about other ingredients that go well with them. Remember that, especially if your world doesn’t have modern technology, trade routes are long and expensive. This not only limits the kinds of ingredients you can use, but it also creates a difference between wealthy and poor cuisine. For an extra twist, give this food an additional ability, such as powering magic! If your world is based on Medieval Europe, check out this blog post about medieval food!
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:
19. An iconic building or landmark representing a location [building]
Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, the Tower (Babel, or the Necessity of Violence)
We talked about symbols in the first prompt wave, and we’re back at it again! Symbols are very important in both fiction and real life, after all. Now, some landmarks don’t have a utilitarian purpose, while others do. Sure, the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower are great tourist attractions, but they aren’t needed for their countries to run normally. Other iconic buildings, like the White House or the Tower from Babel (by Rebecca Kuang) are very much necessary, as they hold offices necessary to operate the organization they symbolize. Babel takes this to the extreme, making the tower itself (and not only its offices) necessary for the country.
20. A letter sent in secret by a well-known person in your world [document]
Secret letters from Mary Stuart (Queen of Scots), Emily Dickinson’s love letters, Princess Leia’s R2D2 message (Star Wars)
Secret messages can have a huge impact on the world! Are they political messages that start a revolution, or are they of a more personal nature? Whatever the case may be, sending a letter in secret is much more difficult than sending it through normal means—so there needs to be a good reason for it! Look at your world and find a character that is currently involved in some sort of conflict, either internal or external. It could be a secret lover, misgivings about a public cause, involvement in a cult or movement, espionage, whistleblowing… Then ask yourself: does this character have any reason to send this message in secret? If the answer is yes, bingo! You got yourself a new article.
Don’t miss the next prompt reveal!
Excited to get the third 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 Relics prompts and two new Wild Card prompts. Remember that to get Silver, you need to complete any 16 prompts from any wave!
What are your tips for this theme? Share in the comments—and go to the challenge page to answer the prompts!