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World Building Wednesday: What Your Characters Say About the World

Tweet of the Day: WIP Wednesday – Headaches and Confusion


You spent hours upon countless hours crafting a lovely world for your story. With gusto you created mighty deities whose power spans time and space, majestic snow covered mountains to take the reader’s breath away, dark mysterious forces to challenge the characters….

Wait, what is that sound?

Is that the sound of the wind howling through the empty meadow?

The rustle of leaves through the streets of an empty city?

Where are the characters?

It is easy to forget that all that wonderful world building is just a means to an end, and that end is to create a setting for the reader to dive into. But without characters the setting will be awfully empty. But what does that have to do with the act of world building? More than you might think, oh gentle reader. For you see, the characters no only inhabit the setting, they give life to it, and reflect it in myriad of ways, specially the cultural aspects of the setting, for the obvious reason that culture can not exist without people.

Take the twin archetypes of the Cultural Hero and the Cultural Rebel. The first is the paragon of everything the culture, and by extension, the setting aspires too. If a given culture puts the needs of the others above the needs of the individual, expect the Cultural Hero to sacrifice their lives or livelihood for another. The Cultural Rebel tends to do the opposite, seeing his actions as critique of said cultural norms. The same can be said about certain villains. Some exploit cultural norms to get what they want while others ignore them so as to be free to do whatever they want, or perhaps they seek to throw down the status quo to recreate the world in their image.

And it goes beyond behavior. How characters dress, the food they eat, their living spaces (if any), forms of travel, favorite pastimes, all reflects aspects of the setting.  Most of the time these are adaptations to the environment but other times they display a need to challenge it as well, such as people seeking bright colored clothing in a largely monotone environment like a desert or a tundra.

So, remember that a setting sans characters is a lonely place indeed and that said characters reflect the setting they are in.


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