Monday Muse: Giving Your World Layers

Heyo! Welcome to today’s Monday Muse!

First off, WordPress has been advising me I should tell y’all to register to vote, so I guess I’ll do that here. As a student of American history — and American POLITICAL history in particular — I have spent my adult life studying the way America has grown and changed. The way low turn-out and high turn-out affect the way elections work. The way, over time, a series of small changes can lead to real, substantive differences. A vote is never unimportant. A vote is never wasted. A vote can be un-strategic. But, whatever the case, it’s vital that we, as Americans, vote. In fact, voting could be said to be our duty as citizens. After all, what is our end of the social contract if not to follow the laws and be civic-minded citizens? The privileges of being a citizen are that: a privilege. And privileges must be earned. Now, I’m all for acting like a moron to get out of jury duty — they don’t pay you NEARLY enough to not work for days on end if you get chosen — but voting? You can mail it in, vote early, show up day of, etc. It takes ten minutes. There’s really no excuse. So… make sure you’re registered.

Happy now, WordPress?

OK. I want to talk about something I experience pretty often. As I mentioned, I’m a historian. I enjoy studying the past. For me, it isn’t just a bunch of things that happened; it’s the greatest, most epic story of all time. It is every decision and every action every person has ever made. It is their passions, their fears, their moments of exquisite poignancy and their decades of irredeemable squalor. It is religion used as a tool of conquest and for building communities. It is political systems begun in glory and ending in corrupt vitriol. It is humanity. It is the purest example of humanity at its best and worst. And I love it.

What I really love, and this is as a storyteller rather than a historian, is to put myself in different places in that narrative and realize just how much of our thought and our feeling is the same. Sure, there are huge differences like our tendency, on the whole, to not blame everything on supernatural influences (a witch didn’t curse my cattle; they died of hoof and mouth, or something like that), but we are the same species. We are the same people. We want the same things for ourselves and our loved ones. And we think of ourselves as the latest, the last, the pinnacle. Our reality is the ultimate reality. (Ultimate in the sense of last, not best… though we often regard ourselves as both, except for the tendency to think of the past as ‘the good old days’.) But the fact of the matter is that, barring the complete extinction of our species in our lifetime, we are just another chapter in the narrative. We aren’t the end. The story is still going. People in Medieval Europe were visiting the Colosseum as ruins the same way we are. There are pictures of flappers staring out over the Egyptian desert from the pyramid of Khufu. Videos from WW1 of bright-eyed soldiers marching off to war, living and laughing. There are pictures of their bodies, riddled with bullets. All of that is part of the story.

And in writing, especially in world building, it is important to understand that. Our story isn’t in the ultimate version of our world (unless, of course, you’re writing the destruction of that world entirely, but most of us have a few survivors); it is merely the most recent (you know, unless we go with the all time is happening at once theory, or something). Your characters, your plot, are just part of the narrative of that world. So when you’re creating your world, don’t create it JUST for your story, even if you never write another one in it. Don’t tie everything up in a neat bow, because then there’s no sense that you’ve created a world, just a setting. Just a canvas or a stage on which your characters act. Breathe life into your world and it, in turn, will make your story seem more alive.

Well, that’s it for me today! I’ll be back on Friday to pair something. Don’t know what yet. I’m re-reading Middlemarch, and I’ve already paired that…

C

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