A way with worlds: 33 - Yin and Yang: Subjectivity and Objectivity
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 2
Last column I addressed the
fact that while some writers (including myself) are very aware of
what characters in our stories know, we often forget what our
characters don't know. The responses were good, and inspired me
to address another issue in worldbuilding and continuity, one
that I've been curious about, but one that's hard to address:
subjectivity and objectivity.
In the cases of knowledge and ignorance, it's easy to
forget what characters don't know and how that's significant.
However, there's an even more subtle problem - writing about
character objectivity and subjectivity.
Subjectivity and objectivity
of characters may not seem particularly hard to write. Wherein
you can forget what a character knows or doesn't know, it's all
to easy to assume that you know, at least, whether they're
subjective (really know what's going on) or objective. Besides, a
character viewpoint is one thing, not like a list of skills (or
lack of the same), and you, the author, know what's really going.
These of course, are the
problems, and they're real disadvantages to worldbuilding.
What problems? Exactly. It's
easy to miss - I know I've done it too.
Thinking you understand your world.
Wait a moment, a writer understands his or her
world, right? The answer is "yes and no." Sorry for the
legalistic answer, but trust me on this.
Yes, you built it, you
designed it, you know how it works. You know the currency, the
sorcery, the weather, the technology. But the problem is you have
one extra thing.
But you too have a
You will experience your
created world different than your characters, and different than
your readers. Perhaps you don't have children - then how well can
you relate to characters that do? Perhaps you never knew your
father - can you relate to a character who did? For that matter,
imagine the effort to relate to a sixty-year-old sorcerer when
you're a communications major in Sophomore year of college.
Being aware of your own
"unobjectivity" in writing your world is extremely
important in designing it and designing your characters. You need
to understand your own perspective, experience, and, yes, biases
in writing - otherwise they may color your work in unacceptable
ways. If you've ever read a story where you had the odd
impression the author was trying to say things that didn't jibe
with their world, you understand.
Worse, you can end up
deciding your viewpoint is the only viewpoint, dragging petty
issues into your world's reality. If you had a bad childhood
experience and so did everyone one of your cast, something isn't
going to feel right to the readers.
Viewpoint as a single thing
Character viewpoint is not a single thing. Treating
characters as having their subjective/objective knowledge of the
world fitting into easily defined
It's not. Ask how many ways
you've looked at a person, an occurrence, a piece of history. Ask
how your mind has changed. Ask how your emotions colored what you
saw and said and did.
Now look at your characters.
Real people (and thus real
characters) are not simply slotted into "knows reality"
and "subjectively deluded." Their experience is a
kaleidoscope of perception, bias, insight, changes, and personal
evolution. We all have our weird ideas and vast visions - so
should your characters.Next Page
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