In storytelling, there are five basic environments:
- The wilderness
- The village
- The town
- The city
- The megalopolis
The wilderness is essentially one person against nature. It can be in a desert, a jungle, a frozen landscape, or the sea. (The story can even take place in the sky, above a wilderness).
Sometimes it’s a small band of people (a family, or a group of people connected by a common situation or interest). Even if they work together, they remain individuals. They’re not a ‘society’ as such.
The wilderness hero is often a lone superhero, or he or she leads a small band of heroes.
In the village, a small group of wonderers have come together and formed a society. Everyone has more of less the same power. Everyone is listened to. They may live in a camp, in tents, or in houses. The buildings are the same size. They are a community. People are there to help one another out.
The hero is a superhero who arrives from outside of the village, often from the wilderness.
In the town some people have become more wealthy and powerful than others. They exert a greater influence. They employ other people to work for them. They control more of the land and resources. They live in larger houses. They run the larger businesses. Not everyone in the town is listened to, or treated fairly.
The hero may appear from the wilderness or come from the city. If they have come from the city it is because they have fled from a traumatic experience that’s left a lasting impression.
In the city the divide between the powerful business owners and the poor has increased. The less wealthy and poor have less influence and power. The disparity shows in the architecture. The elite has joined forces to create a system that enforces their dominance.
The hero is an ordinary person who fights against bureaucracy, complacency, curruption, and injustice.
In the megalopolis, the gap between the rich and poor has become obscene. A tiny elite has turned the lives of ordinary people into virtual slavery. It’s a police state. Ordinary people have almost no rights. The system is perpetuated by the elite who use violence and repression to control the population.
The hero of the megalopolis is a downtrodden ordinary man or woman who fights the system. Or they are someone from within the system (like a policeman) who refuses to be corrupted.
Social collapse can occur in any of these stages. The megalopolis can be destroyed by pandemic, nuclear war, or zombies. The city and megalopolis are often destroyed and replaced by the wilderness. (A kind of environmental reset.)
Space is often depicted as another kind of wilderness. The wilderness of space separates different planets. Planets can exist at any stage of development between wilderness and megalopolis.
Each stage has to build up, stage by stage. A catastrophic event, or a social collapse, however, can return a level multiple stages down.