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World Building — Society Norms
Whether the setting is a starscape world or a medieval or primitive one, whatever is in the world's setting must suit the world not distort the world and make it seem like something unbelievable.
A story world may be different from reality. That world might ghosts, gods, myths, dinosaur theme parks, the supernatural, wizardry, the metaphysical and surreal, the oneiric (suggesting dreams), or the unlikely. A story world might be a cosmos of a stage for a universe or star system. A story world might be hidden in another dimension or beneath the earth above it. However, the narrating character and all the characters who inhabit the story stage will find nothing surprising or unusual or odd in that world because they were born into it. They will not stop to explain things.
Let me say again — The narrating character lives in their story world on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute, second-by-second basis and have done so for their entire lifetime. Where they live is "ordinary" to them. So, think about their "everyday" life and make sure nothing counters the facts of that character's existence or the existence of their world.
Never forget that readers are logical people. To get them to suspend their disbelief and go along with your story world and its inhabitants is never easy.
So logically, when world building, everything begins with a setting. A story's setting is the story's environment, its physical environment. That setting is a stage on which the story is enacted.
Although you as the writer need to know the big picture of the planet or universe or realm or country where your story is set, the reader needs only a fraction of that data because your story will be focused on a particular place on that world or in that universe for a scene.
Nonetheless, you'll likely need a notebook or file folder with all sorts of details of flora and fauna, sketches and maps of the planet's terrain (or that planet's proximity to other heavenly bodies), and data—real facts and extrapolations of facts that will pertain to science, industry, agriculture, and technology.
Such records help you avoid mistakes. You can reuse the information for other stories set in that same universe. Thus you maintain a logical order of time and history.
In keeping with the world, there will be layers ranging from the simple to the highly complex. Here are questions to ask and think about for those layers (these are in no particular order):
What is the landscape—the actual, physical terrain?
What type of society developed and how?
What in the past now affects the present or will impact the future?
Are there any ethnic groups?
What religions evolved and now hold sway over society? (More on this in May's post.)
What wars have been fought or what affect did past wars have on society now?
What are or have been the priorities of society when it comes to the safety of its people?
Are there laws to enforce obedience? Govern magic? Govern trade? Govern travel? Are there penalties for going against the reining society or government or deviating from a status quo?
Is there justice for one and all or justice at any cost?
As to a new war, is it to be avoided? Is it peace at any cost?
What level of dissension is tolerated?
Think about the infrastructure of the society. Think about food sources, shelter, and clothing. What do the people eat? What do they wear? What's considered valuable or a luxury item? What happens to the garbage and bodily wastes? What about medicine and health care practices?
What's the mode of transportation being used, being developed?
What is the economy based on? What type of money or barter is the norm? Who holds the money and why? What dominates the marketplace (Agriculture? Technology? Magic? Guilds? The Military?)
What is the technological advances that have shaped the society or the world?
What are the politics? Do dictators rule? Is it a democracy? Who sways the masses? Is free speech and news controlled?
In this world, what will affect the characters the most? (Think about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.)
Remember a world is never static. Civilizations rise and fall. It's survival of the fittest. Greed and dominance over others drives change — things are always changing.
But remember, people hate change. What is it about the world in which your Protagonist lives that they love and hate? Will your Protagonist defy the value system of his or her society or government? If not, why not? If so, why?
Bear in mind that story worlds which capture reader's hearts are ones where details— specific details— make the world seem alive and very real. Present the specific details through the eyes of ones who live in that world—your Major Story Characters—and readers will be drawn into the story.
Continue to write well, tell a story well, and strive for a strong sense of place when you develop all your world and scene settings so the society is believable.
Next Month: Part 5 - May—Religion and Belief Systems
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