New? Begin with lesson one.
In the last lesson, we looked at how the sciences influence the formation of societies. Today we are going to look at how history, mythology, art, and politics can factor in to create well rounded settings.
No matter the age or advancement of the society you're writing about, these four factors will come into play in one way or another. Our experiences shape who we are. History is the combined experience of an entire family, clan, society, nation, or species. What is Mythology but a crude method of recording early history combined with an effort to explain phenomenon for which the author had no ready explanation. Such stories were and are often shaped and changed to meet the political needs of those within power at the time. The legends of King Arthur come to mind as an example. Shifts in politics, ideals of beauty and morality, and social mores influence the art created within their time. The same can be true in reverse.
Culture is in the details.
The secret to creating a lively culture is in the details. When you break it down, our culture is in the stories we tell. It's in a shared symbology. Politics shift and change. Technology evolves, and we move right along with it or make a conscious decision to reject it.
Now, this isn't to say you need to have every tiny detail of your setting's history worked out. It's not necessary to build an entire mythos and different genres or movements in art. You just need to know about the things affecting your story, so the easiest way to go about determining what you need to know is to think about the plot you have in mind and start asking yourself questions about the motivations of your characters.
Once again I'll be using my two universes as examples because they're the only ones I know the thought processes behind.
I knew I wanted Tricon to have some reason not to enjoy Maya's visits home, and I knew I wanted the Yekarans to be more or less an idealized version of Christianity. So, the idea of the valley where her family was settled being considered the Yekaran version of Eden entered my mind. From there, I got the idea of having Yekarans dream of the valley, whether they've ever seen it or not, as a type of genetic memory. From this bit of Yekaran mythos, Tricon has a good reason to feel uneasy about going so close to the valley, and I have a bit of political tension between Yekaran and Human that has kept the humans from actually entering the extremely fertile area to keep the peace.
Icarus is trickier. It's set only sixty-eight years in the future, so there shouldn't be any big changes in mythology. History, on the other hand, is another example. I knew the story had to be post-apocalyptic. Come on, the original idea came in the form of a city flooded out, abandoned, and rotting. How could it not be? So I figured the most likely scenario for this is that something finally triggered World War III, and we finally did just about wipe ourselves off the face of the planet. With the weapons available to us nowadays and under the right kind of confused and panicked conditions, such a thing would be fast and brutal. Any survivors would be equally confused, panicked, and desperate. Add in an unsuspecting, isolated group entering into that, and you have the makings of a spectacular and tragic misunderstanding.
That bit of history and the fear it still resonates with what remains of civilization is the most visible factor behind the politics in the Icarus trilogy.
Once you have the main elements of your setting and cultures figured out, it's just a matter of adding in the little details that'll bring it to life. You'll come up with a lot of this bit of world building when developing your characters or even just drafting the story. It's not necessary to get into these smaller details at this particular stage of "prewriting," but I decided to include this lesson here for the sake of coherency.
Subcultures play off the main culture and enhance it.
Adding subcultures within the main one adds interest and dimension. Once again, like a lot of the details, unless you're working with a counter-culture movement as a plot or sub-plot, these will most likely come in while developing characters. The process is almost an exact copy of world building as a whole, so this is all I plan to say on the matter until we get into description.
That's it for world building. If you have any comments or questions, please leave a comment. I try to answer all comments within twelve to twenty-four hours.
Continue on to character building.
A. B. England is a small business owner, mom of two, novelist, all around geek, and avid crafter. She loves mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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