It’s been a little while since my last world blip, so I thought I’d take this last post of the year to go back to this sort of tradition and wrap up the year. After all, I started out with a prose blip so it seems fitting to end with a world blip. What a year, am I right? Anyway. I’ll be sentimental on Monday instead of today.
There are four things people tend to think of when they think of worldbuilding: creatures (alien races for sci-fi, mythical beasts for fantasy), magic/advanced technology, maps, and weird settings.
Today, I’d like to look at the fourth of those things.
What makes a setting… weird?
Quite simply, a weird setting is one that’s different from anything we experience in our daily lives. People who live in England or Canada will find a desert planet more “weird” and foreign than people from New Mexico or Saudi Arabia will. People in Alaska and Russia won’t find snowy tundra odd at all, but people in Brazil will.
Therefore, any setting can be weird in a broad sense, depending on your readers.
However, one of the simplest ways to create a “weird” setting is to make it other. Make it distinct from our planet. This is where weird foods, new creatures, different races, other countries, and many more aspects of worldbuilding come into play. The goal is to create an immersive setting.
There’s one thing, however, that I didn’t just list, but it’s what I’m going to talk about today: flora.
Why Plants Matter
What do you think of when you hear the world “flora”? Myself, I think of elementary school where I had to write a report on a country I was learning about and had to include the types of flora and fauna that country had.
For a while, I hated that word, because the flora and fauna were my least favorite parts of those reports and the research I had to do (encyclopedias… yeah).
Now, however, I’ve come to appreciate the power of the word and it’s summation of such a wide topic.
I mean… who cares about plants in novels? If someone cares about plants, they’re not reading a fantasy novel to read about the plants. No, they’re actually experiencing the plants, right?
However, there’s a certain beauty in portraying the new forms of flora created for your novel. There’s this thing about plants: they’re everywhere. If your character steps outside (all sci-fi city-planets excluded), they’re going to be around plants. Even in deserts, there will be the occasional cacti-like strugglers and maybe even some dead-looking gray lichens on the underside of rock outcroppings where they’re hoarding water.
There are always plants. (Which brings up an interesting idea: what if your planet has no plants? What if your character has never seen plants? The implications are certainly interesting… anyway.)
What makes your world’s plants different? What makes them weird? It’s such an odd idea we have, that every other world has the exact same plants. They all have oak trees and green grass and wheat and corn and petunias.
Why? After all, we tend to assume that other planets will have other races and other creatures, but not… other plants. It doesn’t make sense.
One of the best examples of flora development I’ve ever seen is Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives. These books take place on a world where these massive storms hit the mainland regularly and they’re so powerful that nothing but bare rock remains. There’s little to no dirt, and your average flora and fauna are non-existent for the most part. However, new sorts of plants and creatures have adapted to the weather.
There’s grass that retracts into a hard shell when touched, there’s trees with exoskeletons and leaves which fold up inside when dampened. There are vines that curl into tight balls when touched, and more. His world is so vibrant because of these things.
Here’s the deal: it’s okay to have normal plants. Really, it is. There can be oak trees and green grass and wheat and corn and petunias. At the same time, never having new plants can make your world duller. If you don’t have the time or ability to expend the effort to develop flora, you’ll be fine. Your world won’t be awful if it lacks new flora.
At the same time, there are zero cons to developing flora (aside from time spent).
How do you develop new flora? Start with your world. Start with the geography and location of the place your developing. Is it equatorial? Arctic? Desert? Jungle? Prairie?
Context is always a good place to start.
Then, you have to decide what kind of plant you’re creating. Is it a tree? Vine? Bush? Grass/grain? Flower? Something else entirely?
Kind gives you a basic structure.
Once you have the basics of context and kind, you can begin to let your creative side take over. Let your imagination describe your new flora with all five senses. What does the plant look like? Feel like? Smell like? Taste like? Sound like?
Sensory information paints a vibrant picture.
If you’re artistic, you can draw the plant. That’s optional, I don’t. Finally, what makes this plant unique? What’s its name? Why is it weird?
Final details make it come alive and seem real to your reader.