A way with worlds: 34 - The Odds
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 2
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Three figures lurked in a dark alcove in Castle
They fit together like an strange puzzle: one was
burly human with shoulders like rocks. Another was a slender elf, his face and
body ethereal and thin. The third was a black-bearded dwarf with a body that
reminded one of a clenched fist.
"I find this quite disturbing," the human said
elegantly. His accent was clipped and very prpper, with diction so sharp you
could cut wood with it.
The dwarf rolled his eyes. "I swear, could you try
to act like a barbarian, Guthar?"
"Hush," The elf spat, waving his long-fingered
at his short companion, "You met his mother. I can't believe my sister is
marrying you, Coalsbeard. Now, how do we get into this place?"
"I suggest," whispered Guthar, "We apprehend those
three fellows and take their uniforms."
Elf, dwarf, and human focused on three guards. One
was large, one thin, one quite short - perhaps even half-dwarven.
"Ah," Coalsbeard rubbed his thick hands together,
"Everyone expects people to knock out the guards and dress like them from
legends, but no one actually checks, do they . . ."
OK, what seems odd about the above
- We have an oddly matched couple of classic
fantasy races - but we can accept that. There's even an odd chemistry.
- We have a cultured barbarian, but a hint as to
why he's cultured.
- We have an elf marrying a dwarf - but the
characters can accept it, so it must be OK.
- We even acknowledge that the classic
"take-the-guards' uniforms" routine is old and tired.
But . . . what are the odds of finding three
with the same sizes of clothes as our heroes?
In this case, the writer had people against the
odds - but then went and stomped all over believable probability. Odds are
important in your world and thus in your stories - and easy to forget.
Forgetting what is likely in your world is a quick way to make your writing
unbelievable and your world irrelevant.
WHAT ARE THE ODDS?
have the numbers in your worlds - population of a country, cost in gold coins
buy a horse, etc. But numbers reveal more than costs or fill a census.
Do you know the odds for events in your world?
Take a look at your setting and ask:
- What is the chance a person will be of a
- What percentage of people in your setting can
- How many people in your setting are
- What is the distribution of genders in your
Now you may not know the answers. You may not need
to know. But if your stories touched on these issues they could be
- In a world of multiple races, the odds someone
will be a race would affect how they may be viewed, their chance of being
alone in a crowd, etc.
- In a world with low literacy a literate person
- In a world with high unemployment there may be
increased crime - and who says all your main characters have jobs?
- In a radical distribution of genders, a
culture's attitude toward reproduction could be different than what we're
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