Worldbuilding, Part 5: Shelter

This is the final world building section on necessities: Shelter. Where your characters live and the upkeep they expect are important and tone-setting background information for readers.



While many things about a society’s homes and buildings have to do with protection, materials, and environment, this is also a category where you’ll find yourself making arbitrary decisions about things like building shapes and sometimes materials. However, here I’ll be giving some guideline for thought and issues involved with buildings. There are many Lupa examples, as I can explain why they do particular things.


What kind of structures do they use for shelter?

home -outside-2

If you have already done your seasons, weather, and environment, getting started with shelter should not be difficult–they will inform your basics. Choose appropriate shelter for deserts, high mountains, or lush valleys. If caves are readily available, perhaps they live there. Do not choose types of structures that do not make sense for the world or environment.

A modern Western style house will not work on an electricity-free planet unless you come up with substitutes for modern plumbing, lighting, and appliances. Lupa, for instance, can build Western style, houses, but pair it with wooden piping, candles, and an open fire cooking area. Cabins are more common in wooded areas; desert people may live in tents or caves. Some live in the ground like Hobbits.

Do some people in your world live in castles? Space stations or ships? Do they prefer certain types of land? If you’re dealing with different worlds or planets, where and how people live is a good way to make differences. Make sure to do some research, especially if you’re getting into castle or enclosed space vessels of any sort: these are very large and complicated communities and may not function the way you think.


How do they build, and who does it?


Some cultures live entirely in tents or outside in rougher huts or lean-tos. Other have a guild of stone masons or wood workers. Do communities come together to help as the Amish do? What are their methods for building?

Lupa, for instance, have building teams that travel in their sector once or twice a year to make major repairs, additions, and new buildings. Most teams specialize in the types of shelters used in their area, such as wood in the woodlands or stone in cave settings. They rely more on people, strength, and ingenuity to fell trees and transport materials when needed rather than machines, and aren’t afraid to ask residents to help.

When building a residence, they will plan out the plumbing so that the least amount of piping is necessary; the same sets of pipes will deliver water to both the bathroom and kitchen. The same set of pipes will take all waste out to compost. The fire pit will be carefully situated in the kitchen end of the store room to keep air from affecting the fire. The other significant feature in Lupa residences is that any structure higher than one level will have a half-way roof, allowing residents to exit and enter their private rooms directly.

With anything very important to your people, consider how it will be incorporated into their homes. Household gods need somewhere to be honored; people who work in the land need somewhere to clean off so as not to track dirt and grime into the home.


How much shelter do they need? Does it vary throughout the year?


Some elements of residential structures will be determined by the types of shelter needed. People who don’t necessarily use much shelter may only build extremely strong emergency structures. In the Dragonriders of Pern books, the Pernese build primarily out of stone to prevent a substance which can get through other materials from reaching them. While metal also stops it, their low technology level doesn’t lend itself to using metal in that fashion, thus the reliance on stone. The dragons and their riders live in extinct volcanoes in caverns hollowed out of rock, quite a unique setting

Most of the Xcheamo year it temperate, so Lupa spend a great deal of time outside and don’t need much protection from the elements. Winter and summer, however, require a great deal of protection. Windows and doorways generally don’t have any pane at all, just an open space. They use these to get in and out easily, and for the most part use cloth hangings over doorways.

However, they make use of heavy-duty wood “fillers,” significantly secured, during both of the extreme seasons, as well as extreme bad weather. They are designed to be jammed in place when needed. Different hangings are also used in winter and summer, to let in less heat or cold. Wood panels may also be used to stop incursions of insects or animals into the home.


How do they decorate? How much customization is there?


The final element in homes is, of course, decoration. If you’re working with a people group, determine how people with their inclinations may decorate. If it’s particular characters, take clues from all that you know about them. If they love a particular color, it will be reflected in their home. If your native tribe finds great expression in intricate geometrical patterns, it may show up in rugs or pottery. When creating a species, you’ll get into some territory of really trying to “listen” to what they like to surround themselves with in some cases, such as any favored patterns or ideas repeated in their architecture or decor. You may go back and change things as you get deeper into it. This is okay.

Remember that some decor requires meticulous work if there isn’t electricity or a machine to make it. Also remember that there is great difference even among the same people. Melinda may love anything with flowers on it, while Vera will only decorate in solid colors. Practical people will have more simple homes and furnishings than those who have a great love of aesthetics, art, or fashion.

The common threads in determining decoration come from environment and general attitudes. Lupa are nature people, and while they may decorate in all kinds of colors or patterns, they love nature and being surrounded by it. Their products will be made from natural sources. Metal is not so common in their culture, and so you won’t find much metal in their decor or furniture. They feel very at home around nature paintings, wood pieces, real fur blankets, and wide open windows. You’ll never find a lumpy pillow, mattress, or couch in a Lupa home, as they highly value comfort.

Customization may depend very much on the availability of homes, and how many residences are built to order. Historical structures may not be allowed to be changed, as in Philadelphia. Societies with free or easily attainable builders may often make additions or modifications. Many societies will have much more customization in their furniture and decor than their structures.



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