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Worldbuilding: Technology

The original Star Trek series featured many of today's products from doors that slid open as you approached, cell phones, body scanners, and we are working on warp drive. In magical worlds like Harry Potter, there are cool gadgets and gizmos like the Pensieve and Hermione's time turner.

When traveling through the past, it helps to know who had what and when. Nitpickers will catch your errors.

What advances did the time frame, future world, or fantasy world have access to?

Did they utilize fire? How did they obtain it or keep it burning? What were the fuel sources and ignition sources? Did they worship or fear it?

What did they use for lighting: sun, moon, and starlight, firelight, candles, lanterns, gas, electric light, magic lanterns?

Early man rolled heavy objects over tree trunks. Then someone used a round stone, then carved the first stone wheel or the first wooden wheel. Did they have wheels: stone, wood, rubber, metal, other materials? Did things move by magic or new scientific methods?

How did they move things: pulleys, cranes, lifts, elevators, escalators, conveyor belts?

Did they have metal ore, blacksmiths, metalsmiths, coopers, mining, steel mills, smelting, or manufacturing methods?

Did they utilize windmills or wind turbines to generate power or power mechanical objects?

Did they have waterwheels or hydraulics to generate power or power mechanical objects?

Did they have plumbing: what type (copper, lead, stone, plastic)? Used for water and/or waste disposal? Did they use aqueducts or sluices to carry water?

Did they have individual or public water wells? Did they have divining rods or water witches?

Did they have stoves or ovens for cooking and/or heat? What type? Where were they located in the home? 

Did they have electricity powered by coal, hydropower, windpower, or nuclear reactors? How large was the grid and how vulnerable to attack? In Science Fiction and Fantasy, you can develop unique sources of energy.

Did they have engines: gas, diesel, ethanol, battery, electric, man powered, animal powered, solar, wind, water, or steam? Steampunk worlds utilize the steam engine in unique ways to power everything from carts to airships.

How did they calculate numbers: tick marks, rocks, sticks, or shells, abacus, adding machines, calculators, cash registers, computers?

What type of detection methods did they have: echolocation, radar, sonar, satellite, metal detectors, telescopes, compasses, cameras?

Did they have watch towers, viewing platforms, battlements, turrets, peep holes, spy holes, night vision goggles, periscopes, binoculars, observatories, satellites? Magical viewing?

Did they have photography or film technology? Did they have microscopes?

Did they have sound recording devices from Nickelodeans, to vinyl, to MP3 players? Did they have radio stations?

Whether you are researching the past or creating the future, all of these technologies played a part in day to day life, options for activities and movement, and the outcome of wars.

Suggested Resources:
1. Lengthening the Day: A History of Lighting Technology by Brian Bowers
2. Age of Reform and Industrialization 1896-1920 by Roman Espejo
3. About Time: A First Look at Time and Clocks by Bruce Koscielniak
4. The Telescope: Its History, Technology, and Future by Geoff Andersen
5. The Wheel: Inventions and Reinventions by Richard W. Bulliet
6. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony
7. Going up: An informal history of the elevator from the pyramids to the present by Jean Gavois
8. Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 by Michio Kaku

Next week, we consider dates and measurements.

For advanced world-building, the SBB Build A World Workbook is available in print and e-book.

Other titles in the series:

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistoricalHorrorLiterary
(Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at  

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