The world-building panel at Miscon 32 moderated by Brandon Sanderson was crammed with ideas. This is Part Two.
On designing governments, Sanderson said he’s fascinated with the push/pull of who is said to be in charge versus who is actually in charge and who makes law. He recommended C.G.P. Grey’s Rules for Rulers.
He added that one theory is the belief that governments grow out of controlling violence.
I think when you add in who enforces law, you’ve got a rich background for jumping into a story. (no pun intended, Mistborn fans.)
Lee Moyer pointed out that government and power go together, which sounds obvious until you tilt your head, and then you find stories buried in the cushions –
For example, Queen Victoria marries Dracula. High society becomes vampiric. Then, the lower classes start turning. What happens to class structures and their inherent powers?
Peter Wacks offered up this idea: The government’s role is to pass cultural genes from the past to the future as an “organism.” (Does it eat labor? Eat wealth?) The individual risks the the organism’s growth.
SF&F is about observing the world and focusing on the places of conflict. Peter said he likes to watch people who are people-watchers. By watching their reactions to what they see, you can form an idea of their inner dialogue which reveals judgment outlining the edges of our social mores.
“People are fascinating. We like to know where everything and everyone fits.” – Brandon Sanderson
One of the best pieces of advice from this panel was to make the reader THINK there’s an iceberg by offering them “paintbrush strokes of character-focused detail.” An example was someone praying. You can give the barest outline of an entire culture’s religion by showing the details of a prayer routine.
If you think about the details you personally know about a religion’s routine – whether it’s incense, prayer mats, wafers, or clothing choice – you’ll probably realize you don’t know the why, but you still accept it. There’s a weight of ghosts and history lined up at your back, without you knowing the whole story. Writing a culture is the same way.
Another smart idea was how to write diverse characters.
- If you start with a character, not the diversity of the character, you can avoid pitfalls. Sam might be black, but you’re really writing about Sam because he’s a lawyer who needs to please his girlfriend who happens to be a thief.
- Avoid tokenism by having more than one character of color. Guess what? Those different characters will have different thoughts, beliefs, fears, dreams, etc.
This panel offered a lot to chew on and consider. I hope some of it helps you develop richer worlds and stories. Feel free to share your world-building tricks, obsessions, and ideas in the comments. We can all learn from you!