The Starter guide is a series of steps that one should follow when beginning to create their first civilizations and articles.
What is a civilization?
A civilization is some sort of structured society often comprised of many cultures and governments. They are the apex creation of organic life, the very element that distinguishes sapient beings from animals. A civilization can range from a tiny village amidst a desert to a sprawling interstellar union of planets. Civilizations are your personal world.
Before you design your civilization, first, you need to create its environment first. First, let us design a solar system, beginning with the star.
A star is like a spark, the very thing that gives life to a world. A star requires several criteria to support life. The position of the star in the galaxy is also important. If is too close to the Galactic Core, the radiation from the galaxy's supermassive singularity will make life impossible. If it is too far away, its metallicity will not be high enough to form planets. Therefore, choosing what galaxy it is in as well as where in that galaxy is crucial.
Class M, K, G and F are all capable of forming life. All other classes do not live long enough to form habitable planets. Some star systems have multiple stars. They can be binary, trinary and even quadruple.
- Class F - A Class F star is an energetic white star which outputs more UV than a Class G star. They have a major effect on a planet's atmosphere, causing wind storms and plenty of cloud cover. Young Class F stars are far too volatile to support life, but as they mature, they become more forgiving.
- Class G - A Class G star is just like our Sun. They uncommonly have Earth-like planets around them, but are nonetheless, a good candidate.
- Class K - A Class K star is slightly smaller than a Class G star, yet still very similar. Sometimes, they can even be orange in color.
- Class M - A Class M star is either a red giant or a red dwarf. Red giants are in their final stages of evolution and will soon burn out into a white dwarf. Life around such stars are on the edge. However, habitable planets around red dwarves are different - they are tidally locked, and only the area in the twilight regions are suitable for life. Unfortunately, Class M stars are flare stars and regularly burst dangerous rays of UV radiation, but life can possible still survive. Scientists believe that red dwarves are the best candidates for having earth-like planets because the number of red dwarves in the universe increases the probability.
The configurations of a star system is also important in determining habitability. In binary system for example, a planet can orbit either both stars or just one. Its position relative to its parent star(s) will have an effect on many factors including temperature, climate and even the color of plant life.
Interestingly enough, the red dwarf stars can have their flaring reduced if it orbited another star. Thus, in some ways, binary systems have the potential to be more habitable than single star systems.
Other masses in the system
Once you have picked a star type as well as its location, the next step is to design the system itself. Stars form through accretion disks which in turn form into planets. Stars also have a life zone where water can remain stable enough to exist in all three forms. However, a planet in the life zone is not enough. A large planet such as a gas giant which is farther out from the system must exist to be able to catch any possible planet-killing comets that would make life impossible. Mother Nature is also quite picky as to where this gas giant is - it has to be just beyond an asteroid belt which can provide the habitable planet with organic molecules and water. The planet, if it isn't a moon already, would benefit from having a moon that would stabilize its orbit. Not having a moon could result in it tipping over on its side resulting in huge, volatile climate shifts.
Without these conditions, life can still exist, but will be a huge disadvantage when it comes to evolution. The most developed civilizations are likely to follow these criteria, and subsequently evolve the fastest. Habitable planets which do not quite follow these criteria are less likely to evolve sapient life, let alone vast civilizations.
- See also: Planet creation guide
Next, we now need a habitable planet. This is an excellent opportunity to get creative as planets come in many shapes and sizes. What it looks like will not only influence your species' appearance but also their culture. Your planet could even be a moon orbiting either a large terrestrial planet or a gas giant. Planets also come in many sizes, ranging from a tiny Mars-size planet to a giant rocky world several times the size of Earth. Depending on where it is in the system will influence its appearance.
Things to consider:
- Position in the life zone
- Surface temperature
Real-life planets that might be habitable
One source of inspiration for designing your planet is none other than real-life itself. We are constantly discovering new exoplanets, and some of which seem like good candidates for life:
- Titan - One of Saturn's moons, it has lakes of liquid hydrocarbon. It is far too frigid to support Earth-like life, but methane-based life could possibly exist.
- Kepler 22b - A planet that might be covered in a global ocean. It orbits a Class G star.
- Gliese 581g - A possible planet right in the middle of the habitable zone of a red dwarf star. It is larger than Earth, and is tidally locked.
- Gliese 667Cc - A planet in a red dwarf system around 4.5 times the size of Earth. It is part of a triple star system.
- HD 40307g - A planet at least seven times the size of Earth and may have liquid water. It orbits a Class K star.
The biosphere is the single attribute that makes your planet unique. Think about what life on the planet might look like. Rather than just plucking some Earth animals and putting them on your planet, try to create some new, fantastic creatures and design them based on their adaptations. For example, on a planet with a weak magnetic field, a creature would benefit from having a metallic carapace that would shield them from the radiation. Or in an environment with a thick, gaseous atmosphere, some enormous whale-sized creatures could take flight.
Secondly, consider the possibilities of alternate ways to metabolize energy. Carbon-based life forms are the easiest creatures to find as the types of environments they thrive in are believed to be in common. However, on Earth, we have found life forms which metabolize methane, rather than excreting it. On an environment like Saturn's moon, Titan, a truly alien ecosystem would be supported should we ever discover life there. Or perhaps on a very hot, cloudy planet, the flora could benefit from being thermosynthetic rather than photosynthetic.
You must also consider the atmosphere. Generally, it is accepted that carbon based life is the most practical and most versatile form of life. Therefore, creatures on the planet will primarily breathe in an atmosphere consisting of a mix of nitrogen and oxygen. However, this does not mean that the atmosphere is exactly like Earth, because varying amounts of these two gases might become unbreathable or uninhabitable to non-native species. For example, higher oxygen levels will result in regular wildfires - lower oxygen levels make it difficult to breathe for species adapted to living at sea level on their own planet. Throwing in other gases into the mix will also influence it. A planet with a lot of helium in its atmosphere might cause asphyxiation for a non-native species.
Next, consider the planet's topography. Planets with only one biome do not exist (with the exception of barren and ocean planets). The sun hits the planet at different angles causing temperature variations, the planet generally being warmer at the equator and cooler at the poles. More than likely, multiple biomes are going to be present. Life can exist in the strangest of places. We most commonly see them on the land and ocean, but underground caves will have their own ecosystems and even geothermal vents in the ocean's abyss.
An ecosystem needs a way of recycling energy throughout the biosphere. The easiest way to solve this problem is to have a food chain: autotrophic life forms which produce their own food, herbivores that feed on the autotrophs, carnivores that feed on the herbivores, and decomposers which break down the nutrients in dead matter. There must be more plants than animals and more prey than predators in order to have a balanced ecosystem. Of course, each of these life forms must have some way to adapt to their environment.
Let's look a simple food chain: A rabbit eating a carrot and a fox eating the rabbit. The carrot is extremely abundant. It is a common plant which can spread fast enough to prevent erosion. However, if the carrot gets out of hand, it can overtake the place of other plants and become an invasive species. Fortunately, there are rabbits which eat the carrots to control their population, but even they can get out of hand with their rapid breeding rates. That's why there are carnivores such as foxes which eat them to control their numbers.
Animals themselves have one goal: To survive to pass on their traits to the next generation. Because of this, they have formed adaptions that will allow them to survive. A rabbit evolved eyes on the sides of their heads giving them a wide range of vision, allowing them to spot predators. Their long legs allow them to run fast when they do spot one. The fox on the other hand has to be more cunning, evolving to rely on stealth. Their eyes are on the front of their head allowing them to zero in on their prey. As a result, predator species tend to be much smarter than prey species.
Sapient beings are the highest evolved forms of life on a planet. They are smart enough to build sprawling cities and establishments and defy their own instincts. However, they need a way to evolve to become intelligent in the first place. One of the key traits is being a predator. A rabbit only has to know how to run, but a fox needs to know plenty of tricks such as how to sneak up on the rabbit as well as how to catch it. As a result, sapient beings will likely be either omnivores or carnivores. Secondly, the sapient being needs a way of manipulating tools. After all, how will they manage to build their civilization? The answer is the opposable thumb. The thumb allows one to grip onto objects and use them to create and manipulate objects.
A sapient being will not necessarily look humanoid. In fact, one common mistake of amateur writers is to make their species look exactly like a human, but with forehead ridges. This stems from TV shows having a limited budget, but all other forms of media do not have this constraint. The only thing a sapient being needs are thumbs and an instinctive predatory nature: An octopus, for example, if given enough time could evolve sapience, because it has all the necessary traits: ways to manipulate objects as well as predatory nature. And of course, it looks nothing like a humanoid.
Your species also needs a means of communication. This can be achieved in a variety of ways. Humans have a very flexible mouth along with vocal cords and can form millions of discernible sounds just by shaping their lips, controlling pitch and tone as well as air output. However, another species might communicate through bioluminescence, subtle movements on the body, sonar, or if you want to go really extreme: telepathy. Of course, if your species was telepathic, that would mean it probably would not need other extrasensory organs such as eyes.
Now that you have an idea of what your sapient species looks like, your next step is to build the society. Given their predatory nature, your species is likely to begin by competing for resources. Your species will probably group itself into hunter-gatherer clans, forming teams in order to prolong their own survival. Naturally, they will form nations and cities over time.
The planet's environment will heavily influence how your civilization specifically develops. For an aquatic species in an oceanic environment, they may be slow to develop space faring capabilities. In a desert planet with plenty of mountains and valleys, your species would be jumpstarted into a metallic age fairly quickly. The species will have to not only learn to survive in their environment, but also use it to their advantage.
Now, let us fast forward to the early space faring age when they were creating their first starships. What does your civilization look like now? Have they had a unification war merging the world into a single state? Or does there still exist several superpowers with an uneasy peace treaty between them? Most civilizations generally form to only preserve themselves, though some may promote beliefs such as altruism. Also, a civilization is likely to develop some sort of religion, even if they do not practice it today. Having a religion at some point in their history helps them to understand their own world as well as find a way to live by certain morals. Either way, your civilization's culture will be shaped by their own environment as well as any past conflicts they had. Keep in mind that this is an entire planet you are working with. It is going to have more than one culture most certainly.
With your civilization developed a little bit, they need to start off with some form of slower than light travel. How did they manage to colonize their first planets? Maybe they used cryogenic stasis pods to wait years before travelling to another star system. What was there discovery of alien life like? Were they met with open arms, or did they wander into the wrong part of the neighborhood?
Optionally, you can go even further by giving them FTL which is certainly a good idea if you wish to get your civilization involved into tandem stories. It is true that Einstein says that faster-than-light travel is impossible, but here on this wiki, we bend reality a little bit for storytelling purposes. FTL travel allows one to visit a diverse amount of worlds as well as provide a diverse amount of settings all within a practical amount of time without making things seem too slow. There are several methods of space travel to choose from such as warp or Higgsium.
Now that you have a basic outline of your civilization, add some history to develop it a little more. Fill in the gaps between your civilization's time as hunter gatherers until the space age. What had happened between then and now? How did your civilization eventually reach the point it is, and how long did it take them to do so?
Try to remember that good and evil are only labels used to describe how others perceive another's moral values. In a real conflict, nothing is truly ever black and white, because there are always shades of grey. Remember that history is not entirely perfect. History books have a tendency to be biased quite simply because they are written by the winners. The winners might have left out some dark details that are usually best forgotten. What sort of dark, unforgivable times did your civilization go through? Having gray areas is what makes your civilization interesting.
Once you have all this information written down somewhere, you might be ready to make a pitch, and soon enough, you'll be able to start writing.
It is hard to get a civilization right the first time it is written down. You might find yourself regularly revising it. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Explain your technology - If you want to have some sort of incredible technology for your civilization, do a few Web searches first to see if your idea is actually plausible and believable. If you cannot explain a certain technology with sound logic, then you should not have it. Remember that just by saying that you civilization is "very advanced" is actually a hand wave, not a true explanation.
- Use real science - We don't expect you to have a PhD in Physics, but using real science is a good way to show off your own scientific understandings of things. We do allow some reality bends such as the Rule of Cool, but aside from that, keep it plausible. Anything that is blatantly inaccurate will detract from your civilization.
- Know the scale and scope of space - Space is something that many inexperienced writers get wrong. It is a huge benefit if you go off by how space really works rather than how Hollywood portrays it.
- Be creative and original - Try not to make your civilization a carbon copy of something else, nor should you make your species look like humans except with different colored skin. The more unique your civilization is, the more interesting it is.
- Use good grammar - Having good grammar and spelling will make your article much easier to read and therefore, easier to understand.
- Read the other guides - If you are brand new here, it may be wise to see Category:Guides.
- Ask permission before creating lore - This is a given with our pitch system. Creating lore without permission will almost certainly result in inconsistencies and will only create unneeded frustration.
- Don't base your civilization off your personal beliefs - This is especially a bad move in a setting with multiple authors who have multiple ideologies. If you base your civilization off what you think is the best government and best society that humanity should have, you'll likely take criticisms towards it as personal insults.
- Don't start off too powerful - Starting off as a vast, ancient civilization is hard to write about, especially if you intend it to be your main civilization. Having an overpopulation of mystical universe guardians detracts from the surprise of meeting one. A young to moderately experienced civilization is far easier to develop and much more interesting to write about.
- Don't involve divine beings unless it is for mythology - Divine beings tend to be the number one cause of deus ex machina. Don't have them directly intervene in character form.
- Don't overglorify your own civilization - Don't use superlatives or comparisons to describe your civilization. Instead, describe them without referring to anything else.
- Don't godmod - Don't write a story that involves other user's creations for the sole purpose of making yours seem better. Godmodding undermines the effort of other users, and does not get you anywhere.
- Don't have your civilization visit Earth - Simply put, if everyone does it, then it will seem like Earth is the center of the universe. We want to emphasize that there are other places in the universe that are just as interesting.