The Sociological Prospects of Character Creation and World Building
By Grace Lynn
Sociology is the study of culture: how it’s structured, develops, changes, and functions in human society. Culture is the building block of every human being. Culture affects every aspect of a person’s life from their religion, to who they hang out with, to what they eat. When writing fiction, the character is defined by their culture. Is a character part of a shifter society, or a Vampire clan? If so, they have their own unique views on the world passed on to them by their pack/pard/coven. Each of these groups should carry their own culture with acceptable, normal behavior for its members. With designated societal norms, characters develop deviant behavior that is unlike the members of a collective group when separated from it.
The first part of character creation is finding their culture. Who is this person? What are they—human, vampire, shifter, elf, etc.? What does their culture consist of? Are they vegetarians, or meat eaters? Does their species believe in Gods, or a sole creator? Do they fight constantly with other species? What myths and superstitions are associated with their culture? Each aspect of the character’s species changes who a character is, even if the character doesn’t share these traits with his species. Some culture is still passed on to the character, no matter how hard they fight it. Once you have the basic culture of a species planned out, then the question of how this species interacts with their surrounding world needs to be addressed. In turn, how does the character react with the environment? Which parts of the species’ beliefs have transferred onto the character, and which ones haven’t? This not only changes the character, and the environment, but how the character reacts to future situations. Though the character may not eat meat, if he is placed among shifters where eating meat is a big deal, can the character forgo his/her morals and join in?
“Is there a universal symbol held among high regard that implies station? This will help allow the reader to understand the basic motivation of the characters themselves.”
After a good, basic culture is applied to the character, and the species in general, then you can either write the story or continue creating the character’s world. If you continue to play with world creation, you have to figure out what other groups of people/species interact with their environment. By placing and defining each species, including location, you get a good basis of what type of world you are looking at. Be wary of species’ histories, beliefs, etc. that are alike. Even if the species has passed ideas and beliefs onto another species, every culture makes things their own. Much like how original Babylonian religion was based off Sumerian religion. They do share the same basics but the Babylonians twisted the myths to reflect their own thoughts and beliefs. They made it theirs, regardless of where it originated. The same would apply with a created world. Each species should have their own unique culture, talents, and social norms (norms are a behavior that is accepted among a group of people).
Another major point is skin tones. Skin tones can be controlled by the amount of sun a person’s descendants received, the environment, or various other factors. It also can be considered a species trait. In my Guardian series, Sun Elves have a caramel complexion because of their species. Griffons have their own culture and home in the mountains next to Guardian City and are golden haired. This is something that is unique to their species. If a person is born in Griffon Heights that isn’t golden haired in both Griffon and human form, then they are albino. This is a stigma in Griffon Heights, and is frowned upon by their culture. Vampires tend to be pale in many myths throughout the world because of lack of sunlight and skin pigmentation. This is something to consider when creating a species. Is there a universal symbol held among high regard that implies station? This will help allow the reader to understand the basic motivation of the characters themselves.
“Another point to remember is when a person from one culture is exposed to another culture they experience shock.”
Once you have the basic culture established, along with the physical traits that may or may not accompany a species, then the world needs to know how it interacts with each other. In Guardian City, the shape-shifters lived for years only concerned about themselves and their species. Vampires only want to be concerned with Vampiric affairs. Other species were only important if they affected their own species. Because of this, I was left with an issue of how to tie them all together. Which is where my main character came from; I needed to tie more than one species together without involving an immediate war. So, when creating, keep these issues in mind. The culture may change your original character into something more or less than anticipated. It also changes any books that may be written in the series. Do Vampires love or hate each other? Why? Is there any type of alliance established, or is this species alone in a world of humans trying to survive? Each answer shapes your world’s culture, and in turn affects your species’ culture.
Another point to remember is when a person from one culture is exposed to another culture they experience shock. For example, when a person from America speaks to someone, they stand around eighteen inches away from the person. That is considered acceptable in America. In other countries, it is considered rude to remain that far away. Some even stay within six inches when in a conversation. This is comfortable to them, but to an American it is rude, and uncomfortable.
The main point is to understand that culture is not a unique idea. Every species/person has one, and it will be different from other cultures. Each culture eventually comes into contact with another culture. When it does, the good, basic foundation of a culture can tell you more about a character’s reaction than the situation. As the world is revealed through the narrative, the world’s cultures will be exposed more and more to the reader. This is what is unique about writing and creating cultures in fiction. The world envisioned by one person will not be the same as the next because we, the readers, are also affected by our culture.