Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Social Stratification and Class

Stratification is a word geologists use to describe the way rocks build up in layers. It’s also a word that can be applied to sociology. In worldbuilding when we discuss social classes, we’re discussing exactly that: social stratification.

Unlike layers of rock however, social stratification isn’t so clearly defined. Part of that is because of the nature of intersectionality. People belong to different social groups, and often we belong to multiple social groups. Often those groups are determined by things outside of our control, with some exceptions of course.

While I could write (and have plans for) an entire post on intersectionality and how it works, today we’re sticking to the basics of social classes, starting with how to define a social class.

One of the first things to determine is whether you have a class system or a caste system. Although moving up in a class system is difficult, it can be done. Caste systems however are locked, barring entry from one class to the next—both up and down.

At a bare minimum you’ll likely have three social classes. That is the upper, the middle and the lower class. However, in reality you can have far more. Typically the additional layers in social hierarchy are built around the middle class, forming into ‘upper middle’ and ‘lower middle’ classes. You can further differentiate the other classes—upper or lower elite, or even adding a difference between lower-working and working-middle classes.

Regardless of how many classes you have, you’ll need to understand what the difference between each one is. To understand that, take a look at where your power is held. This includes political power, monetary power and physical power.

Depending on your governmental system, the people holding political power could very well be based on either heritage like a monarchy, or elitism such as wealth. Those who hold more power will fall higher in the social ranking than those who lack it. With power comes better access to resources.

Other defining factors for social class include things like education and occupation. Jobs deemed to be somehow unclean or low-skilled won’t net much in the terms of resources (such as wealth or political sway) and as a result, aren’t likely to provide better opportunities either for themselves or their families.  Opportunities to better oneself and as a result, better your social class, can be barred because of something like gender, disability and nationality among a dozen other factors.

The tricky part of this is that there’s rarely a clear cut off between one class and the next. When working with measurable things such as acreage of land owned or money it may help to define a range for each class and keep in mind that there will be bleed between each layer and the next. Also keep in mind that even if two characters have the same access to resources such as wealth or education, other factors such as health, ability, gender and family reputation will affect where they fall.

How do your social classes break down? What does social stratification look like in your worldbuilding?

Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Language

If you’ve decided to include fictional languages in your fictional world: congratulations and good luck.

Language itself is an altogether different beast than any other type of worldbuilding. The evolution of language is a little bit of a convoluted process. It’s not always logical and in some cases, it’s outright insane and seemingly impossible—English being the prime example of how very bizarre some of our language rules can be.

When it comes to creating a language, you do however have a couple of options.

You can, of course, create an entire lexicon for your language. This includes things like grammatical rules, conjugations, subject-verb agreements and yes, the dictionary of your language. While it might seem like a lot, this can be a rewarding task because you’re able to see how your characters would naturally communicate and what might be stumbling blocks for those who learn it as a secondary language.

Alternately, you can shorthand this and keep it to a few of the more common phrases or words. This makes it easier to keep track of, which in turn makes writing easier.

Either option is valid and fully dependent on what you as the creator and writer feel like tackling. The biggest question you might have is where to start.

Alphabet. I highly recommend starting with your alphabet. It can strongly inform how the language sounds, especially if you’re pulling letters in or out of a real-world language. Case in point: the z sound most English speakers are familiar with isn’t the same in Spanish. Z there tends to be softer—more of an ‘s’ than our buzzing ‘z’ sound. Think about what would happen to your language if you dropped similar sounding letters like b, p or d from its alphabet. How would those words change and sound?

Common phrases. Often starting with the common sayings, idioms or even endearments your characters might use is a good starting point.  This gives you a handful of words to work with and start forming the core rules of your language. What’s something someone might call their lover? How would someone address a respected authority figure instead of sir or ma’am? How do you say ‘I love you’? What’s a common greeting?

Grammatical Rules. Even if you’re only using your language for a few phrases or names, it can help to have grammatical rules established. This isn’t just about comma placement, this also includes things like spelling—i before e and all that. This in turn helps you establish how most words are supposed to be spelled. Be careful here though, as grammar can get tricky. English is again, the worst and best example of how complicated even simple rules can get when applied to individual words. Again, i before e unless you’re leisurely heisting eight beige sleighs from a caffeinated foreigner.

What are some of your favorite tricks for creating a new language? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in Exercises, worldbuilding

Building the Backstory

For most stories, we don’t get to see every moment of a character’s life. We certainly don’t get to see every moment of every single character. Often the parts of a character’s life we don’t see are referred to as backstory. That is where they came from, what their home life was like, their personal biography up to the point of the story.

Backstory is a powerful thing. It informs character actions and helps us as writers figure out how, why and what makes our characters tick. It’s also rife with other smaller stories we might not consider.

Take your main characters parents. Even if they don’t know or never met their parents, they had to come from somewhere. How did their parents meet? What made them have a child together? What were their hopes and dreams for their son or daughter? Are they proud of them or dismissive? In the case of those who grew up with their families, what did they struggle with when raising your main character? For those who were orphaned or abandoned, what made their parents do it?

Those are all questions that can be answered by looking at the backstory of the parents. Even if it’s just a brief summary, having that on hand sometimes helps when trying to help develop and flesh out your characters.

It might also help to think about other people your character would have interacted with outside of the main story. Childhood friends, teachers, extended family members, neighborhood bullies—all of these are people who might have an impact on your character before they come into the story and before your readers meet them. While they most likely won’t show up in the story, it bleeds into your writing.

The nice thing about backstory is that it’s not limited to people, especially when you’re attempting to world build. Think about particular holidays or events your character would witness during their lifetime. What makes those holidays important? How did their traditions come about? If there’s a particular event such as an annual balloon race, how did that come about? How long has it been occurring? What significance does it have for participants today?

As an exercise: Take fifteen minutes and write out a biography for your character or characters from birth up to the start of the story. Then go through that bio and highlight people and events that don’t show up in the story. Work out brief biographies and histories for each item.

Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Religion

At some point in your worldbuilding, the question probably comes up about religion. The good news is, as you build your world, you have pretty much free reign when it comes to religion. The how, why and what are entirely up to you, whether you want to borrow a template from an existing religion or create one on your own.

A huge part of creating a fictional religion is keeping in mind that there is a purpose behind religion. Most religions started to provide answers.

Explanations. A lot of religions and spiritualities have a way to explain things: why the seasons change, what created the world, why the mountains are formed. The truth behind these explanations is entirely dependent on your world. Perhaps your two warring gods really do create mountains when they fight underground. Perhaps it’s only partially true—they may have fought once and created a pile of stone somewhere.  This is often where your myths and stories are created.

Ethics and Ideals. This isn’t as simple as ‘do good things’. This also encompasses things like what their diet should contain, how marriage is viewed, what happens to those who do wrong. For instance, is someone who chooses to adopt viewed more favorably than someone who chooses only to have their own, biological children? Are certain animals and creatures considered sacred or holy? This also applies to sites that might be considered special.

Rituals and holidays. Many rituals have a basis in meaning somewhere. Wedding veils for instance, can be traced back to Roman and Greek traditions as a means of preventing ill-willed spirits from disrupting the bride’s happiness. The same thing goes for holidays. While history muddles things up, Halloween has its basis in the Celtic Samhain.

Reinforcement. Any belief system can be tested, but the key part is how it gets reinforced. Is there an offered reward after death? Does completing a specific ritual offer you protection or additional abilities?  What happens to those who don’t follow the ideals and requirements of the religion?

Organization. Consider how the clergy would organize themselves. Do they have a ranking hierarchy? Or is it much looser, with certain members being considered holy and passing on the stories and knowledge of their beliefs to the next generation?

Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Politics Intro

Anywhere civilization starts to crop up people tend to group together. The exact definitions of a group of people can be a little vague. You might have people who are grouped together in a town, or in an occupational group. And how a group is managed and how they make decisions together is where politics comes into play.

Politics sound somewhat complicated, but they don’t have to be. In essence politics is how a group makes decisions. This ties partially into how they’ve organized any governing system. Are they held by a single leader, or do they follow more democratic or oligarchical structures? It also ties into cultural beliefs. Places where politics and religion aren’t separated may have some of those choices heavily influenced by a religious group or influence. And where there is a separation, any clash between differing beliefs can cause smaller political problems, even within the same group.

To start figuring out politics, it may help to start with the large picture such as your kingdom or country. The group decisions there are often about how to keep the kingdom and country running. This covers everything from who can become a part of the governing body, to how laws are agreed upon and who can trade with who.

From there take another look at how your group can be divided up. Consider things like religion, social and economic standing, educational level, age, gender and race. Smaller groups within a larger may have different views, and some of the political issues that crop up are the result of conflicting views. How do these smaller groups make themselves heard to the larger group they’re contained within? How do they influence the choices made by their governing body?

Once you have an understanding of how the large group works, consider how it interacts with other groups of the same size. This is where your different countries and varying types of government come into play. Even between groups with the same type of government system, their politics may change; one place may allow certain things where the other bars them.