Thursday, September 29, 2011

Folkways as world building blocks

Hi friends!

On my past couple of visits here I've shared a bit of my methods for building fictional worlds. Back in May I talked about functional requisites and how any real or imagined society meets its basic needs.  Then last month I shared some tricks about using elements of social structure to imagine how your world works. I thought I'd make it a hat trick with this post and talk a bit about one of my favorite worldbuilding toolkits: folkways.

Folkways are values, customs, and meanings that drive behavioral expectations in any society. Of course, those expectations themselves vary from time to time and place to place. That historical and cultural relativity is critical in world building, but the values, customs, and meanings that cluster around how we -- and our characters -- live is what gives layered credibility and consistency to our lives and stories.

One of my favorite approaches to folkways comes from historian David Hackett Fischer (his Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America is amazing). I try to know something about all two dozen folkways listed below for any world I write in any sustained way. For example, my Sister City world is an old industrial town where my Haven / Tadeo and Paulo / Preston stories take place. Those stories aren't set in the distant past or in some fantasy setting. In fact, if you've spent time in New England mill towns you can probably picture Sister City pretty accurately! Still, I have a working knowledge about all of these elements of Sister City as a unique system of folkways.

Here's the list:
  • Speech ways
  • Building ways
  • Family ways
  • Marriage ways
  • Gender ways
  • Sex ways
  • Child-rearing ways
  • Naming ways
  • Age ways
  • Death ways
  • Religious ways
  • Magic ways
  • Learning ways
  • Food ways
  • Dress ways
  • Sport ways
  • Work ways
  • Time ways
  • Wealth ways
  • Rank ways
  • Social ways
  • Order ways
  • Power ways
  • Freedom ways
What do you think? Share a favorite example in the comments! (A randomly chosen commenter will win a $5 Torquere gift certificate in a week's time!)

Lee xo


Syd McGinley said...

Hee, you said Seed... is 12.

What a great way of world building.

They have childrearing, but I'm always curious about the persepctive from the children -- what are their play ways -- the play ground structures?

Liz said...

Reading the first part of your post, I thought, "Wow, this is interesting, but I don't think I could approach worldbuilding from such a technical perspective..."

But then I got to the list of ways, and I laughed... because in my most well-developed (and favorite) world, I have indeed at least considered almost all of those aspects -- and for at least three or four of that world's cultures. In fact, I can remember sitting up late arguing aspects of these things with a friend who was helping me -- how the puzzle pieces fit together and how much a culture's approach to, say, gender division/equality affected (for instance) the way they dress or raise their families. We also argued at length about education, which I think deserves a separate mention on your list apart from child rearing - academic or practical? right or privilege? private or state-sponsored? secular or clerical? All these options can have a huge impact not just on the child, but on the society.

(Dang it, I was about to go to bed, and now my brain has been all spun up...) ;-)

Lee Benoit said...

You know, Syd, that's a great point -- especially as regards writing a world. To write from the inside out requires something like a life course perspective. Hmm. Cool!

Liz: I feel I ought to apologize for disrupting your bedtime, but your point about education (as institution as opposed to process) is such a fascinating one, and one so tied in to power and privilege, that I can't be sorry you're up too late!

Lee Benoit said...

Liz is the winner of the gift cert! Watch for an email from me, hon, or get in touch yourself at leebenoit at charter dot net.

Yay for comments!