Worldbuilding: Thinking About the Population11:00
The other day, I was thinking about worldbuilding. Obviously it’s incredibly important part of planning a book. All sorts of things go into great worldbuilding; planning the layout of towns, the transport, the facilities, and the climate to name just a few. Whether a book is set in the real world or in a fantasy one, worldbuilding is of great importance. But it occurred me that there is one area people don’t tend to address much when they’re planning their worlds. And that is the racial composition of the population.
Don’t run away on me just yet. I’m not here to rant about how there isn’t enough racial diversity in books and we should all be adding characters from different ethnic groups into our stories because they’re underrepresented in fiction. Other people have done that far more effectively than I could. What I want to draw attention to is the fact that most towns in books, at least in the books I’ve read, are mostly composed from a single ethnic group. Many towns in the real world don’t work this way. In fact, many places are surprisingly racially diverse.
For example, take the city of Birmingham in England. It’s English, so you might automatically think that it would be populated by stereotypical Englishmen called William or John. But in actual fact, it has quite a high population of Indian and Pakistani people. If you were to set a story there, it would be very realistic have an Indian family running the corner shop. Here in Australia, my dad works in a poorer neighbourhood with a lot of immigrants and indigenous people. So there are a lot of Pacific Islanders and families from the Middle East in that area. Not what you would automatically think of when considering an Australian town.
When worldbuilding for a story set in the real world, even if the location is fake, it can be helpful to think about the sort of place it is and what sort of people would live there. Is it a rich neighbourhood? If so, it’s likely to be predominantly made up of people from the native culture. Is it a poorer area, with a housing estate maybe? Then it’s likely you’re going to have a lot of immigrants looking for a cheap place to live. Considering what the population is like when worldbuilding can give your story world a boost in realism. It can be such a small thing, but it makes all the difference to how real your world feels.
In fantasy books too, it’s helpful to consider the different races or nationalities while worldbuilding. Border towns are likely to have more people from neighbour countries living there. And the density of fantasy races in an area will vary too. If you have dwarves in your book, towns near mountains or quarries might have a greater population of them than those near the coasts for example. But it’s not likely that the towns will have an even distribution of the different fantasy races. It’s a small detail that is often overlooked but it can make for a much richer, more realistic story world. And isn’t that what every writer wants?
This is not to say that you should force a lot of characters of different nationalities into your books just for the sake of diversity. Some characters are naturally going to live in places composed mainly of people from a single culture. But thinking about who would actually live in a town like theirs can have a big effect on the realism of your story world. It’s a little detail, but it can make all the difference.
What do you think about racially diverse populations in books? Do you think that this is something that gets overlooked in worldbuilding? Do you think it’s important to consider this when planning your world? Why or why not?