Kitty's Writing Toolbox

After a brief detour to flesh out our main characters some more, we're back to dealing with the world-building, this time the socio-economic aspects. Also known as how much of an underdog are you.

11. Protagonists
12. Antagonists
13. Economics
14. Technology
15. Broadening
11. Describe your protagonist characters

Unless your novel is very, very self-contained (think No Exit), you'll need to have certain information about your main characters. Take your original paragraph about your protagonists and copy it to the top of a fresh page. For each of these write a short 3-5 sentence paragraph: Technology/technological knowledge available, which can be anything from the simple machines to AIs and robotics. Economic/social class, what resources does the character have access to and what resources does the character go through on a regular basis? Magic abilities or mundane skillset, which may or may not be job related; what kinds of skills and abilities does the character use or think about on a regular basis? Culture and hobbies, what does the character do during off-hours? Classifications, whatever points of diversity you determined above. And finally, vital statistics. Height, weight and build, coloration and physical description, health, age.

By the time you're done with each of these paragraphs, make a shorthand list for each category. One or two word summaries of the items in each category. Some of them you'll be able to cluster, depending on the characters involved, others will be more disparate. Either way, these are all areas you have now established as being in your world, genders, activities, skills, and resources. Put these in your characters section, and keep in mind that we'll be referring back to the lists and descriptions later.

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12. Describe your antagonist characters

Do the same for your antagonist characters. Consider that antagonists usually have slightly different skillsets than protagonists, because of different factors, different interests. Consider also that antagonists aren't always (aren't mostly, even) polar opposites in most day to day matters. The antagonist is the person who is working counter to your protagonist, your main character, setting up the conflict that drives the plot. They might not be evil. They might not even be overtly malicious. In fact, if you can forget that these are the antagonist characters, it might be better to do so. You're creating vivid, well-rounded characters, and which position they occupy in the conflict is not the focus of this exercise.

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13. Describe the economic and related social classes.

Check your resources section for economic classes you've outlined. You should have a designation such as "upper/middle/lower" or "working/ business/leisure", or you might have made up words in your first economics exercise. Whatever terms you use you should have a less-to-more scale of economic classes as you flip through the resources section of your binder. Take a pile of scratch paper and copy over each class or designation or term onto its own paper, because you'll be doing a lot of scribbling before this gets organized.

Find the occupations or other source of income for character in each class, and sort them. Use that as a jumping off point to jot down five or six other vocations in each economic class. These jobs might never appear in your work, but it gives you a more rounded idea of the sort of people who enjoy that level of economic wealth. Include volunteer or part-time positions if you want. For example, a person considered middle class in this world might work as a drop-ship maintenance engineer, a teacher at a government funded school, or a lab technician. Volunteers at the soup kitchen in this district of the city tend to be of this economic class, whereas clinic doctors tend to be of this other economic class.

This would be easier if we had transparencies that we could overlap, but since we can't we'll make do. Look at your list of occupations, vocations, and professions, then consider how many social classes there are in your nascent world. Go back to your binder and below each paragraph detailing the resources available in each economic class, write another 3-7 sentences paragraph describing who the people in these economic classes are and what they do.

Remember that while economic classes are more or less rigidly defined by earning power, cost of living, and other concrete factors, social class is more fudgable. Someone with title or an old family name might be very poor and trade on the sympathy of their title or name, while someone who is wealthy but has only been wealthy for a generation or less might have a different set of manners than otherwise. Add a third paragraph, 3-7 sentences, describing the hobbies, lifestyle, mannerisms, and noteworthy details about the lifestyle of each group. In other words, put the socio- onto socio-economic class.

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14. Describe the technology for each socio-economic class

Staying in your resources section, add a new paragraph about about the technology available. This technology might be as basic as the wheel and the simple machines, to iPods and netbooks, to as complex as small spacecraft and food replicators. If you're stuck for ideas, build off the lifestyle and expectations. Go back to the outline and see what this character would need to accomplish the things that character accomplishes. Do those things needed fit within the character's socio-economic class? Are they outside of it? If so, what is within the socially expected boundaries of that socio-economic class?

Keep in mind also that "technology" is here used very, very loosely. A peasant in a hut with access to a spinning wheel and a loom has weaving technology, it's just that the technology isn't what we think of in terms of it doesn't involve electricity and things going beep. More specific than 'resources' but less specific than "communications devices" or "entertainment," consider it "things with moving parts that can break and need to be replaced." Very nearly every socio-economic level has them. Shoes have moving parts that can break and need to be replaced. It's just a question of what, what parts, and how easily can it be done.

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15. Repeat steps 7, 13, and 14 until done

Remember when I said we would come back to step 7 if we had to? Now's the time. If you're working on a single-city or single and small-country scale, congratulations! You get a breather. If you're working on a multiple city, multiple country, or multiple-planet scale, congratulations! You get to do steps 7, 13, and 14 all over again.

One of the reasons this is a world-building Leviathan is because it is designed and intended to build off a skeletal structure, your outline, and create system on top of system that supports itself, your world descriptions. And that means digging into a whole lot of things that might never see the light of day in the final draft. Particularly if you're working on a planetary or galactic, epic kind of scale, you will run into the convention that everything must be described in vast and expansive detail. Think of this as filling in the detail beforehand, and doing it in such a way that it's consistent all the way through. Because of the tendency of sentient beings to behave in patterns and develop cultures in patterns, a lot of this will seem repetitive. It doesn't have to be. This is also a good place to compare your different cities or your different socio-economic strata and put in little quirks or vivid details so that when you finally sit down to write, it's less repetitive or monotonous to start with. Or at least less onerous.

You also might find it helps, if you're dealing with an epic scale work, to keep each planet or city or country or some other group, separate within your resources section. That's entirely up to you.

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