Writing Tips

World Building: 4 Questions to ask When Thinking Through Technology

I have been slowly working through a rather long series of blog posts about world building for speculative fiction (e.g. fantasy, science fiction.) Any time an author builds a new world, a certain amount of newly imagined technology is involved.

For the sake of world building, I define technology as the aspects of your world that are character created and not naturally occurring in their current state. For instance, a water mill would be something a character would create. However, also for the sake of this post, I am also going to limit technology to items and methods that do not exist in the real world. So a watermill no longer qualifies, but a magical flying broomstick does. This is simply because we see the effects of real world technology while we have to theorize the effects of imaginary technology.

Hopefully, you gathered from my examples above that technology is a lot more than lightsabers, flying cars, teleportation devices, and other science fiction items. Technology also exists in fantasy worlds– and is most overlooked there!

Four questions to ask when thinking through technology

So, as you create the technology for your world, here are four basic questions to ask yourself about your newly invented item. The first question can be asked before you have thought up your technology, but the follow three do require that you at least have an idea of your imagined technology.

1. What was your technology originally intended for? (What problem did it solve?)

Everything is either done or made for a purpose. Your technology must solve a problem in your world. Magical dancing table topper might be fun, but what problem do they solve? Actually, they can solve the problem of bored royalty or the upper class wanted entertainment during dinner. But you should know the reason why something was created or else the your world loses its illusion of reality.

*Please note that the place of origin of your technology can and will affect the answer to this question and the following ones. You might want to make a note of where your technology was created.

2. What is your technology now used for? (Did it solve another problem, too? Is there another use for it?)

People are creative (and your characters should be, too.) We don’t always follow the rules, so technology originally created for one purpose might be used for something else. For instance, Coca-cola, the soda pop, was originally invented as a thick syrup which helped cure headaches and stomach aches. Now, it is carbonated and is one of the most popular drinks. Now, this won’t always be the case for your technology in your novel, but you should always think about it solving another problem.

3. How has it evolved/been made better?

Technology is almost always improving, so it is unlikely that your world’s dragon saddle or teleportation device has remained the same for a thousand years. This is very evident in the real world– all you have to do is look at the history computers or cameras. Test out your fictional technology if you can, or at least, try and find its flaws. Make your technology better!

Recently, I have had to do this in my own writing. I created a new type of weapon, which I call a “Ven,” for my characters. Essentially, it is a double edged sword that it bent into a complete circle (this character interview talks about it in more depth) with two guards on each end of the grip.  By thinking about the weapon (and working with a hula-hoop prototype), I discovered that an opponent sword could slice open the Ven user’s hand if the sword was looped inside the hoop (as it often is.) So I changed to guards so that they connect, forming a protective guard over the knuckles. However,  I had my characters figure this out themselves and develop the Ven 2.0.

That is one technique to have your own character improve their own technology. However, you can also have this improvement happen in the past if that suits your needs better. Just remember that technology is almost constantly improving.

4. What are is far reaching effects in your world (especially economy and socially)?

Inventions change the world. The compass changed sailing, and suddenly, sailors would go far out into the sea. The chariot revolutionized warfare and brought new powers into control of the world. Selling inventions brings in money, and people want money. How are people profiting off of your inventions? In your fantasy world, are there ranchers who breed dragons for riding? Are their elite dragons which have pedigrees? How about that teleporter? Who makes them? How do people view those who sell and make the inventions? Is there one nation which specialized in making a certain invention?

Now that you have thought through these four questions, you will probably want to include all this information in your story (if you are anything like me.) But you should not have all of this information inside your story (it will overload and bore your reader), but the thought that you are putting into your technology will be apparent.

Back to the weird magical dancing table topper example: you won’t blatantly state that it was created for the bored upper class, but it will only appear on your upper class’ table. See? Or you will mention that your prince character bought their dragon from some famous breeder and that is why his dragon is faster than your peasant character’s. It is these little details that will appear in your story and make a difference.

If you have a “story bible,” then I would highly suggest making a page for each of your intended technologies and answer these four questions for each of them.

So what technology do you have in your novel? What questions do you ask yourself about them? I’d love to know!

God bless,

Gabrielle

World Building Series:

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18 thoughts on “World Building: 4 Questions to ask When Thinking Through Technology”

  1. Definitely see what you’re saying! I write sci-fi and all the inventions must have a purpose. The biggest technology jump is I have an experimental squad in the navy with robotic suits. And what was really exciting was when an article in popular mechanics said that might happen sometime in the future… 😉

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    1. That must have been really cool to find an article about that! I love science fiction and thinking about science and technology, but I have never written any sci-fi (besides a few short stories when I was little.) I have always thought that my next novel project would be a sci-fi book or series– I actually have the whole premise already thought out.

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      1. Cool! Yeah, it’s fun coming up with the gadgets and everything. I like explaining how they work. Some sci-fi just come up with some gadget out of nowhere that makes no sense and has no use. My sci-fi pet peeve… 😛

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      2. I know. Those books drive me crazy– especially when the technology conveniently appears and disappears as the plot needs it. Ugh. The other day, my family watched Pacific Rim, and I tried to enjoy it, but the plot hole, technology issues, the lack of political explanation, and the formula following drove me crazy. I literally could predict if and when a character would die the instant that they walked on screen. Anyways… I took a bit of a bunny trail there, but I definitely know how you feel about sci-fi technology.

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      3. Oh, definitely. Other pet peeves. 😛
        Big Hero 6 wasn’t bad, but didn’t go into technicalities as much as they could have. Fred’s suit… um… how…?
        But, that was also kinda fun because the MC, Hiro reminded me of my main cyborg suit guy, Cobalt, on quite a few fronts. Hair being the obvious visual. 😉

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  2. This is great! After I finish my current WIP, I’m going to go back to a “fantasy” story I made a while back and tweak the world – as in, make it actually fantasy instead of a contemporary other world. 😛

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    1. Good luck! There are contemporary fantasies (I believe they are called Urban Fantasies.) I have never been attracted to that sub-genre, but it could be very interesting. I have always started my stories as fantasy, but it would be interesting to add fantasy in later– like you are doing. You will have to let me know how that turns out for you!

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