Tuesday, September 16, 2008


When it comes to world-building, it’s the bigger picture that we see: the system and how many planets or what the main body is. Dwarf star, M-class, binary and so on. Then we get to the world itself: flora, fauna, atmosphere, land and sea masses, axial tilt for the seasons, how a moon or two will affect tidal shift. Then it’s down to the aliens or the characters and how they interact with their world, what they look like, the history, social and cultural structure, religion and its’ taboos.

But what about the micro-climate? This affects all characters whether they are modern earth, or an alien subspecies, or the eight-legged miniature dragon a boy called Henjak has for a pet.

A micro-climate can be as simple as the area between skin and leather jerkin, inside a domicile or how close the pet is to the ground in relation to its’ master.

If you bundle up against the cold with six layers of clothing to keep warm on a frosty morning, what about the pet you’re taking for a walk that is much closer to the icy ground. Your climate is warmth and comfort, well-being; the pet’s climate is chilled air reflecting off the ground and crunchy ice between the claws, unhappy without fur. Does your character even think about such things or is he/she feeling too smug about being outdoors getting some much needed exercise?

Further out from your own personal climate: how will the cold air affect an arrow in flight, if your walk is interrupted by the ravening hordes pouring over the hill toward your village? Or the fireball shot from a trebuchet mounted on the castle walls in a rain storm? Will hurricane winds be enough to subdue a tactical strike from orbit or will it cause a ten-fold debris field? Will the missile be blown off course and destroy the capital?

In War of the Worlds a simple virus wiped out the invaders. The Martians had advanced technology and weapons and yet it was the smallest thing that brought them down. In X-men and Heroes genetic alteration has global implications. At the battle of Stalingrad during the Second World War, thousands died because they couldn’t keep warm during the most bitter winter seen in decades. The Black Plague – both in the 14th century and 17th – killed so many because of a lack of personal hygiene. If King Henry VIII had eaten pottage – a porridge made up of grains - like the poor peasants, he wouldn’t have had digestive problems and become obese.

Micro-climates are just as important as macro-climates. Compromise a micro-climate and the results can be just as catastrophic as changing the macro-climate.

Most authors write about micro-climates without realising it. A character catches a fever is the most used; poison is another.

So when you’re writing, don’t forget the small stuff along with the world at large. One small virus, one fed-up and cold small dragon, can ruin your day.

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