Season 2 Episode 5: In the Neighbourhood

In this episode I describe my first meeting with people outside of Ganhook’s fortress. I discuss how creating an interesting local population enhances your worldbuilding. And the Strange but True explains how the spirits in Dunari gained legal rights.

This episode is sponsored by Felgoya. I have no idea who or what Felgoya is. I got zero information about them. It might as well be the man on the moon for all I know.

Key Takeaways:

How to meet the locals in your world.

How to use the locals to enhance your world.


My first sight of the Bone Jewellers fascinated me, made me more confident that the world outside didn’t just contain terrors. I mean, what’s not to like about treasure. I would bring bags of it home.

Adequate compensation, I decided, for the ordeal I was going through.

I dreamed about treasure.

And when I woke at six AM, I went to the window to watch the jewellers again.

Although room zero wasn’t high enough to overlook the jewellers’ roofs, the glow from their fires was visible, and it gave me a sense of relaxation I hadn’t felt since I’d arrived in Dunari.

I watched that glow until it sank away into the dawn.

Stein Car arrived, and said, ‘It’s your lucky day.’

‘Uh oh!’ Shinytop hissed. ‘Coming from that sour puss, it sounds more like it’s your unlucky day.’

I choked back a laugh. The last thing I wanted was for those two to go at each other. Not so early, anyway. I said, ‘What’s lucky about it?’

‘Because,’ Stein Cat said, ‘You’ll be visiting the jeweller’s today to get your collar and chain.’

I glanced at Shinytop. But he remained quiet. I asked, ‘Collar and chain?’

Stein Cat puffed up her chest. ‘To stop you running away when I bring you for walks.’

I didn’t like the sound of that. I’d already been fed by a cat, lectured by a cat, and petted by a cat. Now I was going to be ‘walked’ by a cat.

Surely that couldn’t be legal.

‘Count yourself lucky,’ Stein Cat said. ‘The jewellers make the finest collar and chains in the world.’

I didn’t care if the chain was solid gold and dripping with diamonds. I’d only wear such a thing at rap concert.

To make matters worse, that blasted cat wouldn’t tell me ‘when’ we were going to the jewellers. She just told me to study a bit.

It was impossible to study. All I could think about was the idea of attached to a collar and chain. So, I practiced drawing cats for while—big, ugly cats, cats that looked like Stein Cat.

Stein Cat collected me at noon, led me outside, across the square, and in through a doorway cut into a building constructed from a humongous leg bone. We passed down a flight of wooden stairs into a room that was so dark it didn’t seem to have any ending.

I said, ‘This doesn’t look much like a jewellers.’

Shinytop said, ‘It’s their workshop.’

The place was so dark, a mountain of gold wouldn’t have brightened it. Before my eyes adjusted, a small woman clad from head to toe in a leather blouse type thing, appeared, and said, ‘You’re early.’

Stein Cat said something, and they both laughed.

Then, without a word to me, she raised my chin, measured my neck, and swivelled my head, before saying to Stein Cat, ‘Come back in an hour.’

She slipped away into the darkness. And, like I was caught in her wake, I drifted after her. The workshop fascinated me. I wanted to see more.

For a jewellers workshop, it was disappointingly empty of treasure. I mostly discovered walls full of files, hammers, gauges, and other tools. and shelves stuffed with an astounding array of rocks. Combined with the small of oil and metal, it reminded me of the crafts museum I’d visited once outside Dublin.

Blue fire lights illuminated thick wooden benches, their surfaces oiled and beaten shiny over countless years.

Farther back, I saw a girl hunched over a bench, using pliers to twist golden threads around a glass goblet.

A wispy grey old man stood over her, whispering in her ear. Only . . .

. . .  He wasn’t standing over her.

He was floating.

I gasped. Both of them glanced my way, the girl smiling, the old man frowning.

Of course I’d known human ghosts existed. Shinytop was proof of that. But actually seeing a unliving, unbreathing ‘what was once a human’ person, however, stunned me.

This man had once been alive. Now this man was dead.

And staring straight at me.

I stared back, stared through him.

He’d been instructing the girl.

My mind tried to make sense of it. And the only sense it came up with was that the ghost had been a jeweller and was now instructing an apprentice.

Actually, even though I wasn’t sure this was true, I was proud of my analysis. I was thinking more like a Dunari person day by day.

A ghost teacher. Why not? It made a perfect kind of sense.

I fled back to Stein Cat, who was examining a tray full of gold rings. 

We went outside and strolled along the edge of the square. Stein Cat said that every building, despite its shape or size, was a jewellers.

I’d never have guessed. There were no big signs, no big displays, or no big windows full of gold. The only signs were subtle marks over each doorway—squiggly lines, circles, and chunky, diamond shaped things.

Every doorway was packed with shadow, and within every shadow was a face. A real face. These weren’t ghosts. Whenever we stopped to look within these doorways, the face would smile, and a portion of the darkness would clear to reveal some gleaming treasure.

I loved it. I imagined a big black limo pulling up with some famous rapper like Tupac getting out to buy some bling.

Yet, I couldn’t fully relax, not with all the thoughts of what might soon end up around my neck. Whatever it was, I was pretty sure it wasn’t something Tupac would wear.

Stein cat knew the jewellers by name. And they knew him. Whenever we would stop in a doorway, the darkness would thin to reveal golden claw covers, or golden neck chain, or some other golden thing that would look cool on a cat.

As if hypnotised, Stein Cat stared at these wonders.

‘Simple, pathetic creature,’ Shinytop said, ‘Addicted to glittering things.’

Stein cat laughed, and said, ‘We should dip you in gold. You’d look well with a nice shiny cap.’

A uniformed man passed out of a doorway. Tendrils of darkness briefly clung to him. The darkness reminded me of Ganhook’s intruder detection spells, and I wondered if this doorway darkness was a similar security system.

We returned to the workshop. Wearing an undertaker’s smile, the jeweller appeared and fixed a silver collar around my neck. It weighed a ton and the gleam of it hurt my eyes.

‘No. No. No way,’ I said. ‘I’m never wearing this. Not even on Halloween.’

The jeweller smiled so broadly I thought her jaw would fall off. Stein Cat laughed too. And from farther back in the shop came a subdued tittering.

The jeweller sighed, and said, ‘Doesn’t fit anyway. I’ll find something better suited.’

The Bone Jeweller returned and fitted a wristband around my wrist. Made from a dull brown metal, and decorated with the same squiggly writing I’d seen over the jeweller’s door, it had a green stone set into it.

A sliver of bone sat within the gem. 

It was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen.

I said, ‘This is . . . mine.’

Shinytop said, ‘Yes. That’s what you were always going to get. That Cat was just messing with you.’

Right then, I was glad it was dark, because the others couldn’t see me blush.

Stein Cat patted my shoulder, and laughed again. The jeweller patted my shoulder, and laughed louder. The girl appeared from the rear of the shop, the ghost man beside her. They laughed, too.

So, there was nothing else for me to do but laugh along with them.

Yes, I’d been pranked good and proper. More importantly, I realised that both Stein Cat and the jewellers had set me up to see if I could take a joke, or freak out.I knew then I was going to get on quite well with the Bone Jewellers.


Now a little bit of context about understanding locals in your secondary world.

If you look outside your front door, what do you see?

Something nice, I hope.

If the protagonist in your secondary world looks outside their front door, what do they see? Something nice. Something ugly. Something weird or something that would scare the smile off a statue.

It’s up to you what your protagonist sees. It can be nice or ugly or weird or dreadful. Just as long as it’s interesting and adds mood to the world.

And even more interesting, who are the people they meet when they go outside?

Creating a local community will help you to create the broader society in general.

Although my introduction to the local population in the City of Bones was relatively straightforward—by Dunari standards anyway—when you’re building your world, it’s an idea to take some time to understand how the local population exists.

Yes, heroes and warriors are great.

But don’t forget the everyday folk.

After all, it’s the everyday folk that affect our lives most, and it’s the everyday folk that make up the vast majority of our world. While a ruler can enable great changes that may affect us in the long term. It is the activities of the people around us that shape our lives from moment to moment.

That’s why it’s important to know what makes the ordinary folk tick.

What do they desire? What do they fear? What social rules do they operate under?

Whether you live in China or Iceland, a palace or a shack, your basic daily needs will be similar—food, shelter, security.

Likewise with the population of your world.

Even if they’re not human, they need to display some human characteristics in order for your audience to relate to them. While the Bone Jewellers ‘were’ human; before I understood them they were as alien to me as Santa Claus.  

Playing a joke on me demonstrated their humanity and helped me get to know them better.

So, after you create your wonderful city and populate it with wonderful locals, how do you get to know those locals as humans and not cardboard cutout characters or clichés.

Spend some time developing some interesting local characters. While these characters may be simply walk on character, or play no role in your story, they are incredibly useful to have around.

Think of them as advisers.

One such advisor could be a local gossip who’ll tell you all about the juicy, scandalous underbelly of the society. Or create a whinger and pop them in the local tavern. Fill them with drink and listen to their complaints. Why are they whingeing? What turned them into whingers? And what solutions do they have two fixed the problems in the local area.

Develop these characters as thoroughly as any major character.

But keep the details relevant to the locality.

The attitude of the locals will influence the atmosphere of your locality. If the local football team is in a cup final, the buoyant mood will be infectious. Conversely, if the local balance is threatened or upset, then the atmosphere will shift dark.

And what could threaten the locals way of life?

Once I got to know the Bone Jewellers, I discovered that their priority was fighting off those who wanted to muscle in on their prime properties surrounding Ganhook’s compound. This led to heightened tension and suspicion in their locality.

If you want to get some inspiration about the people in your world, walk around your neighbourhood. Or better still, recall your childhood neighbourhood.

Take notes on the people you see. What do your neighbours look like? How do they construct, modify, and individualise their homes? How do they interact with others? Who are the kind ones? Who do you avoid, and why would you avoid them?

When you were a child, how did your neighbours behaviour affect your perception of your environment? Use some of these people and their homes to base your otherworldly neighbourhood on.

Have a bit of fun, and maybe ‘hint’ to your neighbours about how you got inspiration for the neighbourhood in your world. But be warned. Avoid personal details. Otherwise, all the millions you make from your creative project will be lost in libelous lawsuits.