I’ve noticed an underlying trend in a couple responses to Beginning with Origins that have prompted this post. In both cases, their thoughts slip into the realm of character perception, going beyond what is to what is perceived to be.
World building is an ever deepening development of what is. It is the establishment of the framework upon which everything else stands. This is the realm of the author. The author is god of this realm, establishing the laws, the absolutes, by which his or her world functions.
Characters are a part of the world we create. It is imperative that we remember our characters do not understand the world that is. Not completely. They are limited by their culture, their experience, their knowledge. They are bound by time and space. They are wrapped up in their own personal bubble of identity, and that identity does not always recognize the fullness of what is. In fact, there are times it stands in outright denial of it.
Story is the realm of characters. It is forged of their perceptions of the world. Perception shapes culture, shapes religion, shapes what we view as important, as beautiful, as powerful, as weak, as valuable. A character responds to the events in the world according to their perception. The word, even when acting as a character as a good world does, is the stage upon which the story takes place. Their are rules, just as in life, that are inviolable whether we understand them or not; that are true whether we deny them or accept them.
Let me illustrate. Let’s say I’ve created a world in which the currency of magic is life energy – all life energy. The only means to power spells is to take life. That is the underlying framework of the system. That is the world. Now, into that world we place people and nations. One group is deeply reverent of nature and life, worshiping this energy. They may wield powerful magics, but they do so with great care for the balance of nature and rarely use their power. Sadly, their history has shown them that magic can be worked from human life and blood sacrifice, but because of their reverence for life, they view this as disgusting, as taboo, despite the potency of the life energy contained in a human being. Even animals are used only in the most dire of circumstances. Another group, seeks the end and destruction of the world. This is the will of their god – the ever living man. They view blood sacrifice as a beautiful thing and worship power. They destroy all life without thought to bring about their goals. Fortunately, they are a very small sect due to their barbaric and fanatic nature. To make it more personal, maybe one character is a small child who has stumbled into the world of magic using small grasses and flowers. As far as that child is concerned, these are the sources of magical power. He does not yet perceive the greater truth.
So, an author must understand the truth of the world. We must be able to mark the difference between what is and what is perceived to be.
That said, remember, the building of a world is a quest of discovery and development of what is. The story itself is an exploration of motives, desires, struggles, and pursuits shaped by what is perceived to be.