Third of three posts recreating workshops you may have missed at Un-Con 2019.
What shaped you into the person you are today? Your experiences, certainly, but I’m talking about your foundation, the bedrock of who you are. Certain things about you are fundamental and unchanging. You are rooted in influences that you didn’t choose. That foundation comes from factors beyond your control, that are bigger than you, and that you probably don’t question. Probably you don’t want to. You simply are who you are.
Why? Three factors shape us more than any others: family, faith and where we come from. Family sets our view of ourselves, our way of operating, our limits and expectations for ourselves. Faith is what we believe, not only about cosmology but about people, society, civilization and the nature of things in general. Place, though, is the least understood and, in manuscripts, the least utilized of our shaping influences.
Science fiction and fantasy writers have a keen understanding of how different worlds shape different assumptions, limits and behavior. When you live in a world with different rules, you’re a different person. But here’s the thing, we all in our everyday realities come from different worlds: different hometowns, different regions, different histories, different educations, different value sets. We are products of our places.
You can hear those differences in the ways we talk about ourselves. In my family we used to… Mama always told me… Where I come from, the way things worked was… There are differences with every neighborhood, town hall, school, sports team, police force, doctor’s office, racial group, social strata, sense of history, local heroes, legendary villains, bogeymen, and more.
Those differences put boundaries around characters’ thinking, limit what they can do or cause them to rebel. They are facts and forces, and for each one there can be a character who represents that dimension of place. Protagonists, too, are subject to the influences of where they’re from and where they find themselves. Building the world of your story, then, can both enrich it and make it more realistic. Place can become a character.
So, how is that done? SFF writers start with what is different in their worlds and then work out the logical consequences. Change one thing about landscape, climate, civilization, history or living beings and there will be cascading effects. SFF readers love that speculation and the immersive experience it creates. Technology and magic are frequently the basis for different SFF worlds, but there are many other ways to make a world particular and unique.
Even if the world of your story is our everyday “ordinary” world, start with these questions: In the world of your story, what is the one thing that is the most unlike anywhere else? What difference would tourists notice the most? How does that difference (positively) condition or (negatively) constrain your protagonist?
More ideas: [Read more…]