Wednesday, March 9, 2011

World-Building Questions #3: Family, Daily Life, and Childhood

An important thing to keep in mind with this series of questions: Not all of them need to be answered, necessarily. But at the same time, just because you’re writing YA (for example) doesn’t mean you should ignore the questions that aren’t about teenagers. To state the obvious, culture is complicated, and there are many aspects to consider:

What is the standard age range to be considered a “child”? When do they become teenagers? When do they become adults?

Are there any ceremonies, parties, or rites of passage found at any stage of development? What do they include? Are they religious, governmental, or tradition-based?

What is considered the ‘traditional’ family structure? How many children does an “average” family have?

How common are variations to this structure? How are they received by society?

What sort of work is available? How hard is it to make a living in one job compared to another?
(Naturally, the above ties back into economics)

What’s the education system like? When do children start school? When do they stop? What are they capable of doing once they’re done?

When is an acceptable age for a child to start work? When is the average age?

What does a standard work/school day look like for an “average” adult? An average teen? An average child? How does your protagonist’s standard work/school day compare?

Once a child has graduated, are they expected to stay close to home or leave?

What do kids do for fun? What do adults do for fun? What do teens do for fun?

About what age do people start dating? Get engaged? Get married?

When they do start dating, how serious is it? Is it treated as social experience, or is it with the intent of finding a potential marriage partner?

What sort of marriage rituals are there? Have they basis in religion?
(Note: Religion is a whole other kettle of fish, and it’s covered in the next list)

What sort of transportation is used to get around? What sort of obstacles (established by your geography) must be overcome?

What sort of vacation plans are common? Do people go on long trips, or do they stay close to home?

What is important to the community here? What is their singular most significant value? What do they fear? What do they despise?

Real World Examples:
The traditional family structure for modern America is a mother, a father, and a few children. Variations to this structure – such as single, divorced, or homosexual parents – are common, but some communities look down on them.

Coming-of-age rituals in various cultures include bar mitzvahs, quinceaneras, debutant balls, graduation, and receiving your driver’s license.

In one Columbian mountain community, children commute to school by riding a zip line 1200 feet above the ground. A second line wrenches the people back up the mountain; and very young children are placed in potato sacks while their older siblings steer the line.

Fantasy Examples:
In Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy, littlie children are consider Uglies until their 16th birthdays, when they receive radical surgeries to transform them into Pretties. The stages of their life are clearly defined and named accordingly.

In that same world, the “traditional” family of our time is mostly broken up. Parents (all of whom are “Middle-Pretties”) still get married and have children; but those children are sent to boarding schools when they’re fairly young and remain there until they become Pretty and enter New Pretty Town.

It’s stated in Hunger Games and Catching Fire that several of the Panem districts put their children to work at a young age, teaching them about their homes’ respective industries. However, because coal mining is dangerous work, the children in District 12 don’t work until they’re almost adults. Katniss realizes that this gives them a disadvantage in the Games.

Continue to Part 4: Religion, Faith or Lack thereof

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