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Are you ready to build a world? Good!

Magic Gateway Wallpaper by jerry8448

The Magic Gateway, by jerry8448. This is what we want to do with worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is a complex process, because it is essentially creating the base of a different reality from our own. An author must pull together all the elements of a 'world', and capture that in text. This applies in any genre of writing. Even non-fiction has aspects of worldbuilding because it has setting and world details the same as fiction. In any genre, if the world is flat, the story will be flat and one of the best ways to build a fictional world is to know about one's own. Stories and readers both require an interesting and engaging place to go to, and our world, as well as any imagined one, can provide this! Because our world is the base of most human experiences, it is a great place to understand for both personal and writing reasons. If the author understands the setting, there is much less of a chance of the world having obvious holes in its workings. The stronger the base reality that is created, the stronger the story will be, and the more the author understands the world they are trying to capture, the richer and more believable the world will be!

Two of the most noticeable aspects of worldbuilding are Environment and Social Structures. The Environment is the actual biological environment or environments that the story is placed in, and Social Structures are the workings of the society or societies that the story deals with.


How does Environment contribute to good worldbuilding?

Environment is the stormy night, or the sunny day the story exists inside. It is the deciduous trees turning gold in the autumn, the stunted evergreens on the snowline of the mountains and the creatures emerging from the canvas of red ocean at sunset. It helps set tone, and characters can, in some cases, be dealing with it constantly. Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road opens with a description of the book’s environment: “When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him” (1). The dark unknown of the woods is the first thing the reader sees, and it sets the tone for the entire novel. The characters interact with their environment constantly, and through the book nothing jumps out as out of place, or strange within the parameters of the story. Consideration of the story’s environment aims to make a strong world for the story to exist inside.


How do Social Structures contribute to good worldbuilding?

Social Structures are the bustling city, full of veiled men and tall ladies, or the little village with eyes peering out of mud brick huts. It is how the city treats the people in the mud brick huts, and how the people in either place are ranked from most to least important. It is the lattice on which the society grows, and knowing how it works makes navigating world details easier. China Mieville’s novel, The Scar creates multiple societies, all complex and interconnected. It leaves no glaring gaps, but instead leads the reader to the social marvel that is “Armada”, a pirate, flotsam-city on the ocean. Each culture has different values, ideas and levels of technology that when put together make an alternate earth that feels very real. Having a world that seems real to readers is one of the ultimate goals of worldbuilding as an exercise, and the consideration of social structures within a story can be one of the key elements that makes it so.


Constructing an Environment: Basic Biome Principals

A Biome is basically one system of plants, animals and the conditions they can live in. It is a specific ecosystem. One story may traverse many of these, or stay solely in one. If a story takes place in a specific location on earth, it is fairly easy to research the biome it is in. However, if the story is alternative earth, a non-earth, or a different planet biomes can be a daunting thing to capture in text. Here are some guidelines to creating your own ecosystem:


  • A biome starts with water. Because most of the life in any given ecosystem (on earth, anyway) is vegetation, water is the main thing to consider, and water is often dictated by weather and geography. Is this place dry? Is it very rainy? Does it go through a dry summer and a winter full of monsoons? Do the mountains drain off all the rain? Does the water collect in peat? Is there a lake/river/delta/ocean/oasis/ground water? Thinking about the way water enters and leaves the system is a good first step.

  • The second step is flora. Plants adapt to survive in the conditions they are in, so the two biggest limiting factors on vegetation are water and light. If there is very little water, they tend to become succulent and cactoid to conserve it. If it rains often, plants tend to grow quickly, have a short lifespan, and large leaves that repel water. The more vegetation in one ecosystem, the more sunlight becomes a limiting factor; plants can only live if they can photosynthesize. How a plant adapts to overcome the obstacles in its environment can be a fun, inventive process. Even on earth there are plants with bizarre adaptations that let them live in harsh environments, so as long as something fits its ecosystem, it is a viable option.

  • The final step is fauna. The limiting factors on fauna are food and water. How an animal obtains both is how it lives its daily life. Creating a food web is a good way to check to see that the animals in a created biome fit in with their ecosystems, because everything both eats and is eaten. Animals also have to be bodily adapted to survive in their ecosystems. If it is cold, they must have an adaptation that lets them deal with it. If they only eat a certain food, they need a specialized way of obtaining it. This is very flexible. As long as the system works, it can be increasingly bizarre, and is not limited to mere ‘creatures’. Intelligent races can be made up with the same principles as any other animal. 

Toxic Birds by NocturnalSea

Toxic Birds, by NocturnalSea showcases some really cool adaptions found in our world in wonderful colour.

Things to Consider:

All of these things and more need to interact together to create a working ecosystem. How much does an author need to know to make a convincing system? What if the story is largely removed from the natural environment?


Constructing a Social Structure: Noticeable Social Building Blocks

There is no right way to create a society, because there are no “rules” to how they work, and the human understanding of a society has only human input. Because every reader has lived in a society, they all have a basic understanding of how they work. People intuitively understand some of the workings of interpersonal relationships, the connection between actions and consequences and morality within the limits of their culture. This means that a created society must have real depth to be rich and convincing. However, there are some consistent building blocks that can guide the creation of a society, no matter what form it takes.


  • Values are one of the key elements of any given society, because they are what is important to its public. These are the base elements of potential religions, laws and customs. When someone embodies cultural values, they are likely to be praised and given high status. When someone breaks or discards them, they are likely to be demonized and given low status. In North America, there is a high cultural value on money; the rich are high status people, and the poor are low. This is not the only value, because there are almost always more than one set of values in a society. The younger a society is, the more likely it is that the values of its people will be homogenous and the older, the more likely it is that there will be polygynous sets running through the culture. Values will change the more societies interact with each other, but will always be the driving force of behind status and morality.         

  • Spirituality/Religion is how the people in a society deal with the divine, death and many of the ‘bigger’ questions in life. It may become organized, and form a religion, or stay private and keep society secular. Religion is specifically when spirituality becomes organized. If one particular religion dominates society, it will probably become one of the structures that society uses to keep order, because it is one way of expressing values. However, this does not mean it has to eradicate all other religions. The Roman Empire (before the Holy Roman Empire) did not quash the religions of the people they conquered. Instead they supported them, by allowing worship of local gods and building temples to them, as well as their own. Roman religion still dominated Roman daily life, but it was not structured in a way that competed with others. On the opposite side, an Assyrian King has been recorded saying he would smash his enemies to death with the statues of their gods. Religion is separated from spirituality by the scope. Where religion is a structure in society, spirituality is a structure inside a human being. The two may be joined very closely, or be very separate, both having different effects on the societies that encompass them. 

  • Customs are, in part, how people live and the rituals of everyday life. They are the actions that are considered polite, rude or weird for a person to perform in any given situation. There are greeting rituals, eating rituals and ways in which one treats members of society above or below oneself. Ritual performances of customs, like the handshake as a greeting, can often have strong links to what is polite or rude. One origin story of the handshake, is that it was to show the person being greeted that one was unarmed and friendly, and it is still considered a polite greeting today. Some customs are more important than others, and have greater consequences for being disregarded. It depends on what values and what institutions support the custom. Refusing to shake someone’s hand is rude, but indecent exposure could get someone arrested. Both actions are breaking a custom, but one has much harsher consequences than the other, because the rules it breaks are backed by cultural values. 

:bigthumb200533986:
Enchanted Forest II, by Blinck: I bet the people here value their trees.

Things to Consider:

Values, Spirituality/Religion and Customs are big building blocks of a culture, and they are not easily separated. Do values inform religion, or religion values? Do all customs reflect the values of a people?


Constructing Social Structure: Concrete Traits

Certain aspects of societies are "concrete" in the sense that no matter where the culture is, or what it looks like, it is moulded by these two things. Technology and Environment can have far reaching affects:

  • Technology is a changing trait of society, but an important one. Technology is ways people have invented to overcome obstacles in their lives and especially in the earlier stages, is related to what people need to accomplish. The level of medicine in a society is a level of technology, as well as things like plumbing, electricity, or microchips in people’s brains. It can be either a subtle or overt mediation, depending on how public specific inventions are. In a steampunk or cyberpunk novel, the levels and nuances of technology are often important to the story, and require a lot of attention. In a Fantasy novel, this is not necessarily true. The difference in story attention comes from the difference in the societies within the stories. It has the ability to utterly change a society, or force it to stay the same.

  • Environment has a very real effect on society, as well. Environments are where societies are born; they provide the food, building materials and locations, all which help shape people and culture. If the climate is dry and prone to flooding, without any hardwoods to build with, what kind of dwellings would the people construct? Would it be mudbrick cities that create hills as they are washed away every season, or would they find a stone quarry and build raised cities of stone? That would probably depend on if they have the materials to make stone building tools. Are there animals that they can make antler or bone chisels from? Do they have the resources and the know-how to make metal tools? Environment also can have a hand in the art of a society, depending on how much it is valued. The Minoans were famous naturally motifed frescoes, while the Assyrians had a more warlike focus in art. However, not all societies are made to fit their environments; the environment only informs society if the culture is endemic to the area. A colonial society will carry many of its architectural, culinary and cultural preferences to new lands that may not easily support them. As societies advance in technology, there is a greater chance for people to be apart from their natural environment as well. 


Things to Consider:

Technology and Environment are involved in every society, but to what extent are they connected with each other? How do they affect customs, religion or values?


Environments & Social Structures: Putting it all Together

To construct a world that mirrors the complexity of our own requires a lot of thought. Everything: water, flora, fauna, values, spirituality, customs and technology, is interconnected in a real society, because they all exist in the same space. The complexity of both nature and human (and nonhuman?) behaviours are limitless, but this is what lets authors create convincing worlds for readers to get lost in. 

Beacons by SnowSkadi

Beacons, by SnowSkadi is a glimpse into both a society and its environment in a way that has always made me wonder who lives there.

Final Things to Consider:

How much worldbuilding is required to write a good story? Can you have too much? What other aspects of worldbuilding are helpful to think about?


Online Resources:

Making Places: This blog doesn't update very much, but what's there sure is cool!

National Geographic: Explore the natural world; the weird, the disastrous and the beautiful.

The Secret Door: With exciting google-earth technology, explore some really neat places for inspiration.

Al Jazeera: The human and society aspects of worldbuilding found here! Though this is one of my preferred news sites, other news works to the same effect.


Recommended Reading:

Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner: This book takes a very literal approach to worldbuilding. On earth, with a "future" society taken to interesting limits. Also, in a weird way, it predicted twitter.

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin: This book takes place on a planet far outside the reaches of the earth we know, inside a society just similar enough that we can still understand it.

Abarat, by Clive Barker: Very vivid and creative fantasy for young adults. Get the version with the paintings included, so you can see his monsters as well as read about them.

The Scar, by China Mieville: I already talked about this one, but wow. Mieville paints Bas-Lag with a vividness that lets you see.





A Kind of Trail-Mix approach to making a world, relying on learning about our own to create a new one! I hope it helps you along the way to becoming great writers!
Add a Comment:
 
:iconthe-story-spinner:
The-Story-Spinner Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
This is a very helpful article with great resources. Thank you.
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2014   Writer
Happy to help!
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:iconlupizora:
Lupizora Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
The article is really well written and informative, which makes it a great reference! Thanks a lot for putting this together for us. :hug:
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2014   Writer
Thanks and you're welcome! I hope it helps you out.
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:iconsingingflames:
SingingFlames Featured By Owner Jun 23, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Excellent feature and superb recourses! Thanks for sharing! :dance:
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 23, 2013   Writer
No problem-- glad you enjoyed it!
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:iconxxxxzz:
XxXXzZ Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so much for making this! It brought up and explained a lot of things that I hadn't really considered for my worlds.
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013   Writer
no problem, hope it helps you out!
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:icontheubbergeek2:
theubbergeek2 Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013
Thank you sire, I (try to..) work on a pet fantasy world of mine.... this may help me.
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013   Writer
Happy to help, if you do end up using it.
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:iconeuxiom:
Euxiom Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013
This is just what I needed, since I'm in the process of world building. :D And you showed some of my favorite artists, yey!

I absolutely loved your point here: "Religion is separated from spirituality by the scope. Where religion is a structure in society, spirituality is a structure inside a human being." So very true. I was also surprised how you started from quite literally, the bottom up, with water. It makes sense. I've been meaning to look up biomes again, anyway, haha. I had forgotten about the food web too(too many years since my biology course).

Your recommendations look so interesting too, I'll have to visit the library.
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013   Writer
Heh, you might need a bit of persistence to find Stand on Zanzibar. It won the sci-fi award in... 1968? Brunner was never that popular as far as I know, so I found it mostly because it was in my father's sci-fi library. It's a it of a difficult read, but well worth it!

If you can't get ahold of that just ancient bit of writing, maybe try John Varley's Titan. I wouldn't praise it for it's excellent worldbuilding, but it is almost as antiquated and very fun.

oh god books. run while you still can or I will go on all day
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:iconeuxiom:
Euxiom Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013
Oho, alrighty then! Who knows, maybe I can find them.

FEEL FREE TO GO ON ABOUT BOOKS. I can't promise I'll get to them, but its always nice to hear and know little tidbits and hopefully read more things. (We could blabber about them in notes if you'd prefer? :shrug: )

(also, your username/avatar. it is the best.)
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013   Writer
My avatar is the result of well placed blackmail. :V

Feel free to note me about books/writing/whatever. I will get to it in a few days once I'm not working so much/have all this feedback from this article! :)
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:iconeuxiom:
Euxiom Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013
Oh dear. :noes:

Sure, sure!
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2013   Writer
:yawn: It will happen, though!
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:iconriemea:
Riemea Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
A really awesome article! :love:
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013   Writer
thanks!
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:iconriemea:
Riemea Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome! :)
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:iconpica-ae:
pica-ae Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
if the world is flat, the story will be flat… Unless it's a discworld :iconrimshotplz:

But srsly this is a very very useful guide :nod: Easy to understand and to follow. I have more often wondered about worlds from a reader's/viewer's point of view than created my own, but if I ever was to create my own, I know that I would spent a lot of time making up this world the story is set in. (Sci-Fi or Fantasy stories in this case)

And there is so much to consider and it actually makes me angry if a lot of it is not considered.

I see most Fantasy stories doing the easy thing and just using medieval elements to create their world. Or sometimes they just write what they think is interesting and come upon holes later on, the more they write.

Personally I was just thinking of "Lost" and how people went mad when the final explanation came… And I can see why, the viewer thought that a world was created with a lot of thoughts, while really… it totally wasn't. Everything eventually was just random and "of the moment" things that happened. I totally understand why people got mad :lol:
Think the same thing happened with "X Files" – the writer's were just making up small bits at first and later decided "oooh we need some big context". So of course that failed.
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013   Writer
Thanks!

And I dunno, man. If you count the turtles, it's less flat that it is something-that-has-edges. :lol:

I do think that certain genres of fantasy (read: swords and sorcery) are getting so overdone that as a genre they are cliched. This makes it really difficult to have a 'good' world, because to even avoid cliche, your story has to be over the top. The saturation of really awful swords and sorcery novels in the fantasy section of any given bookstore is probably just compounding the problem, too. If that's all there is, then that's all that people know. That being said, I am trying to write a fantasy story that addresses these problems. Real Worldbuilding, NO FEUDALISM. Fish people everywhere...

I was really disappointed at x-files. I have such great memories of the early seasons, but they just wouldn't let it die and it kept going until it sucked. :(
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:iconpica-ae:
pica-ae Featured By Owner Jul 9, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
Haha, it's hard not to forget that the opposite of "ball shape" is not flat :giggle:

Cliches are annoying, especially if they "work"… well, work so far that people buy it and someone makes money of it. I think a "good world" makes it a lot easier to shape characters into more unique form, if you let the world take influence on them. It is normal for people to be results of their environment and certain areas you come from bring certain characteristics, basically stereotypes based on nationality in our world. If you add environment to a character, it is more likely that your characters will be different from one another and from other stories. At least in my head :lol:
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jul 9, 2013   Writer
There's a really good ted talk about 'the dangers of a single story'. It talks about how stereotypes are based off of a single story of a people who have all together many more stories, that make them unique and diverse within the same culture. That's kind of how I see good worldbuilding factoring into stories on a society level; it's making sure that you know more than one "story" of any given people. It forces you to avoid making stereotyped or cliched characters.

That was fancy for "I agree", haha.
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:iconpica-ae:
pica-ae Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
Yeah, I feel like when you have enough character stories it's like the "real" storyline almost writes itself. :) 

Fancy is gooood La Fancy Version 
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:iconbalunstormhands:
BalunStormhands Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2013
Gotta be a little careful with world building, you can get caught up in the world building but never write a story that takes place there.
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2013   Writer
People say that to me a lot, but I have never managed to have a world without a story. What do you think is it about worldbuilding that keeps people from actually writing their stories?
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:iconbalunstormhands:
BalunStormhands Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013
That's good, I knew a guy in college who was like that.
I don't know, but it may be analysis paralysis or they are just having too much fun playing with the geology, weather and so on to remember to populate it with people and motivations.
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013   Writer
Yeah. I tend to try for the middle road and only worldbuild where my story requires it and then some. If you use your story as the baseboard for worldbuilding, I find you answer all the 'questions' your story needs, and don't spend too much time on things that don't concern it.

Good call on the analysis paralysis thing, too. I would tie that in with the fear of failure I see in less experienced writers, too. It can't be bad if it never gets done because you're busy making it perfect. :U
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:iconbalunstormhands:
BalunStormhands Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013
Indeed. I just develop as much of the world as I need for the sake of the backbone of the story.

Once I have the arc for the main character, I have a good idea of the supporting elements needed for the story to work, then I can do some world building and stuff.

I have no idea what perfect looks like, I just try to create a complete story: A problem for my main character, the motivation to solve it and the solution.
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013   Writer
A story is perfect the moment you post it, and from there it becomes more and more flawed as time passes. Hahaha.
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:iconbalunstormhands:
BalunStormhands Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013
No, you posted that was the best story you could make, but you have changed as an author and a reader.
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 13, 2013   Writer
Haha, I was being kind of flip. I meant in essence what you said here.
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(1 Reply)
:iconbeccajs:
BeccaJS Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2013   Writer
I know from workshops I have been in off dA (real people workshop!) that worldbuilding has always been a hot topic. I think its so so significant, whether you're building a small world or an entire planet! Good Article, thank you for writing it :D
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2013   Writer
thanks!

And yeah. I think worldbuilding is always a big topic(in my non-DA workshops, too) because it's something the reader notices almost right away, and really requires a middle road. Too descriptive? Burdensome and awkward to read. Not descriptive enough? No sense of presence. It doesn't really matter how short or long the story is, it ends up in there somehow.

The range is so diverse, too. On one side we have Tolkien; gorgeous, description heavy and still good, but on the other side there's something like Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk; plot and character heavy and gets away with almost no physical worldbuilding. Both authors are awesome, and totally different. So "advice" about worldbuilding as a term, covers a lot of ground. Haha.
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:iconelandria:
Elandria Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2013  Professional General Artist
Really great article!!
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2013   Writer
thanks!
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
All the info :dance:
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2013   Writer
Densely packed into a convenient trail puck for your travels!
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:giggle: I just had this image of someone nomming on this journal amidst a grueling Nano session.
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2013   Writer
YES.

hahaha!
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:D
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:icongoldfish-in-space:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2013   Writer
:lol:
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