Monday, September 16, 2013

World Building Basics: Weaving Social Fabric

Last week we began the World Building Basics series establishing the importance of creating a diverse political system. Politics, if enmeshed with the primary narrative, will breathe much needed immediacy and urgency into your works. This is because real people, with real problems, experience government politics everyday. Having a realistic government process in your story makes the tale relevant.

Today we will talk about social fabric, and why having a fleshed out public order is important in your story. For those of you that don't know, what I mean by social fabric is specifically the awareness of social order, of hierarchy, class, and world customs. Every tale should have an awareness of class distinction and stratification. There should be in your tale, those who are homeless, those who are merchants or local businessmen, as well as higher class individuals in society like politicians, lords, or moguls. We see ourselves as individuals in a social ecosystem. Just like our own lives, your characters should be aware that they are poor, or rich, or doing just enough to survive.

Welfare, Well-assured?

Starting at the beginning, what do we know about social fabric? A basic approach can establish the dichotomy between rich and poor. How that translates into the book could be reflected in a poor district or a wealthy district, but those are the most superficial ways one can express social fabric. I encourage you to think of more nuanced approaches to this issue. What I do, usually is I think about our own world. For instance, older more conservative Koreans harbor feelings of bitterness for the Japanese that conquered them during World War 2, and this was because the invading forces imposed Japanese customs, names, and emperor worship on the Korean citizens and non-combatants. Here the social fabric was totalitarian, and it created for the Koreans a traumatic experience that changed the course of their country. In your book, having an awareness of more complicated issues then adds to the depth of your tale. What if you had a story with a society somewhat like our own? There are little rivalries, class distinctions everywhere. If you own an Iphone or an Android, there are subtle class distinctions there. If you shop, or buy certain products, or have a certain religion, you will be recognized as being set apart. How you want to express these nuances in your social fabric will determine the plot of your book. 

In the Details

Social fabric doesn't only consider class warfare. Think about everything else. Think about clothing, regional dialects, pets, customs, ethnicity, philosophy, dance, art, etc. These details overwhelm us whenever we visit different countries. Often we feel like we have entered into an alien world, even if the parent culture is similar to our own. I visited Norway recently, and went to a very isolated region of the Sognefjord. Even understanding and speaking Norwegian I felt out of place. I can remember many of the details that I found strange to me when visiting. Most of them were very unremarkable differences. For instance, I thought it was bizarre how clean the buses were for public transportation. Also there was hardly any litter on the side of the roads, but everywhere were abandoned lodges that were built hundreds of years ago by fur trappers. If your world is exotic, and takes place in a fantasy universe, consider creating a profession and having traces of that profession littering the world. It could be something as simple as iron working, and everywhere the protagonist goes he/she will see an abandoned forge. You could also get more complex and have large religious buildings, ruined and standing in solitary locales, waiting to be discovered.

Make it Worth it

So far I haven't given you really any step by step means of approaching this. I've done this intentionally, because I want to impress upon you that a social fabric is only as diverse as you make it. When developing a social fabric for your world, you can either emphasize it's importance or diminish it. The key thing however is this. Always link your social fabric to the plot. One of my biggest pet peeves is discovering that certain details in the narrative that were meticulously described have no bearing on the plot whatsoever. It drives me nuts! It's Tarantino Syndrome. Why do I need to listen to a 40 minute opening dialogue, only to see all those characters die in the following scene? Inglorious Bastards for instance features an entire cast that is utterly useless. They don't do anything, except thwart others that are trying to do exactly what they are trying to do. 

I recommend a book series called The Kingkiller Chronicle for the reason that the main protagonist is dropped into a world that is meticulously structured and described. Each detail in the story is completely integrated with the plot. Everything fits, and at no point in the story have I felt force fed superfluous information. I highly recommend it!



SW


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