Saturday, May 05, 2007

Thinking Bloggers and Thoughts

The incomparable Thomma gave me a Thinking Blogger award! I don't know why (she must have been desperate), but thanks, Thomma!

I don’t do as much thinking and posting here as I probably could, but I’ve been mulling over a worldbuilding issue for awhile, and now is as good a time as any to commit my thoughts to pixels.

Any fiction setting requires some degree of worldbuilding, although the term is used most often in conjunction with science fiction and fantasy because of the complexity of the undertaking. But creating a future version of our own world poses its own set of problems. And setting my stories in a low-tech, post-peak oil future presented some special difficulties for me in terms of character development.

Each of us in American culture makes certain cultural assumptions about the people we meet. We assume a shared knowledge base that includes at least a passing familiarity with Romeo and Juliet, World War II, Gilligan’s Island, the Rolling Stones and pizza, just for starters. There’s a shared understanding that nearly everyone you meet attended a school where children sit at desks in neat rows and learn math, history, science and English. We take it for granted that everyone has been to the movies, watched TV, talked on the phone, ridden in a car, and used a computer.

But in my fictional world, none of these things can be taken for granted for any character under the age of fifty. Now what?

For some of my worldbuilding, I’ve been able to draw on the past: how did people go about growing and preserving food before electricity, for example? But placing such things as iPods in the living memory of my oldest characters posted a dilemma no writer of Victoriana ever faces. Not since the collapse of the Roman Empire in Europe has there been a loss of technology on a grand scale. What would it be like to live through such a happening, or to be the grandchild of someone who lived through it? What would it be like to never have been to school and to never be sure if your radio will pick up a signal today, knowing that your grandmother went to university and had hundreds of TV stations broadcast into her home by satellite? Would you be capable of understanding your grandmother’s experience, or would it sound like a fairy tale?

It’s been a constant challenge to develop characters who are smart, competent and savvy, yet distressingly ignorant of things we take for granted in our own world. In some ways it would be easier to create a true fantasy world because I wouldn’t then have to wrestle with questions like: Should he know who Abraham Lincoln was? Would she recognize a zebra when she saw one, or would she think it was a striped horse?

What would a young, uneducated person raised in the desert think upon seeing their first picture of a lighthouse or the ocean?

Will and Diana found scorpions and birds' nests in the room, but were more interested in the dusty pictures on the walls. "Here's what we need in this country," Diana said, examining a seascape. "Look at all that water! Where do you think it came from?"

"A flood, maybe?"

"Like Noah and the Ark?" Diana considered. "It looks even bigger than the lake we camped at last year. You think it's a real place?"

Will shrugged. "No telling. If I had paint and knew what to do with it, I suppose I could make a picture of anything, whether it was real or not."

I have no words of wisdom on worldbuilding. It’s tricky. It’ll make you crazy. But it can also be fun because it’s your own world and you’re in charge. Shut off the computer, walk out the door, and all bets are off. But right here, right now, the world is yours.

Blogging Writers Who Make Me Think:

Written Wyrdd
Paca True
Allie Boniface
December Quinn
Paperback Writer

Note: I'm not tagging anyone, per se, since so many folks in my circle have already been tagged and I can no longer remember who got tagged and who didn't!


Crabby McSlacker said...

As a reader I find the kind of world you're writing about to be the most fascinating. Worlds that are in some ways so similar and familiar, yet from a perspective that makes us see the ordinary in a totally new way.

I'm not a big fan of SF or fantasy where everything is up for grabs, and most of what I read is set in worlds that are very familiar. But I really enjoy the sort of in-between reality that you're talking about. (Just finished The Childen's Hospital, an amazing book, that is sort of like this.)

bunnygirl said...

Thanks, Crabby! My "Diana's Diary" blog takes place in this same world. I had a lot of fun exploring it with her on a journey that ended up being about 1500 miles when all was said and done.

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Thinking Blogger! :) The award is well-deserved. And what a great post about worldbuilding. Writers always build worlds -- whether rooted in reality, totally fanciful or somewhere in between, they are always the stuff of imagination, and making them consistent and coherent is but one of our many challenges as tale-tellers.

Alice Audrey said...

Frankly, I could easily see your older characters grumbling more about the loss of technology. You know it's an incredible inconvenience to not be able to go on the Internet or flip on a light switch.