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WORLD CHANGEBy workshop member Joshua Palmatier
Everyone knows that in a good piece of fantasy or science fiction, the main characters are supposed to change by the end of the story. They have some kind of revelation about themselves, and this alters the way they behave or react. In most cases, the character grows and becomes a better person for that change (although this isn't always true and isn't a requirement).
But what I think is sometimes lacking in good fantasy and science fiction, and should be treated just as importantly as character change, is world change. The world is, after all, simply another character. In most stories, there are cataclysmic events -- wars, famines, battles -- not to mention spectacular magics or new scientific advances. Often these events don't seem to change the culture of the people involved or the world around them. The society carries on as if nothing has happened.
I much prefer a novel where the world changes just as significantly as any of the characters. War, battle, death -- all of these will force mundane changes on any society. Cities will have been attacked and destroyed, and afterwards may have to be abandoned. Trade routes may have shifted during the course of the war, altering the economics of the area. Alliances and treaties may have been affected, rearranging the political arena. A population that loses over half of its male population in battle -- or a region who has lost all of its children younger than ten due to a bio-engineered virus -- will have to shift to take that into account in future generations. People will not simply be able to pick up where they left off, as if nothing has happened.
Similarly, any new magic or science will also alter a society. A magical wall of fire passing over everyone in a city or region, leaving them untouched, should profoundly affect those people on several levels -- mostly spiritual and religious. If enough people in a culture are being affected, then the culture itself is going to have to shift. Those people are going to bring their troubles and questions to their leaders, both mundane and religious, and those leaders are going to have to react. There may be panic, especially if no one knows where the fire came from. Spiritual leaders are going to have to incorporate that wall of fire into their teachings, either by finding a way to explain it with some tenet they already preach, or altering the religion to include the fire in some way. The same is true for a new scientific advance. A device that can destroy a planet is going to subtly alter the societies of everyone who must deal with this potential threat. Those who witness such destruction are going to have to incorporate that terror into their psyche and learn to cope with it.
In essence, the events are so momentous that they must affect the society as a whole, and the authors should incorporate those changes into their stories in order for the stories to have the impact they deserve and to make their world more realistic. In my books, my worlds undergo significant changes at all levels. Societies, cultures, sometimes even entire landscapes are altered by the events in the story. When I read other works in the field, I find I enjoy those books with mutable societies the best. So the next time you sit down to write, ask yourself how the events in your story might change the society of your world, and then incorporate those changes into the book. It will bring added layers to your worldbuilding, and may just provide material for even more stories to come.
(You can learn more about Joshua Palmatier at either of his web sites: www.joshuapalmatier.com and www.benjamintate.com)