Welcome back friendos!
This Wednesday we’re looking at world building from a perspective we haven’t really dipped into before. We’ve talked a lot about the thing we can find in our worlds, ways we can shape them and systems of all kinds.
But what about our characters? Sure we have mentioned how useful certain aspects of world building can be to character building. But what about the way our characters see their world?
There are many instances throughout fiction of characters whose unique perception of the world around them made it different somehow. And in this fortnight’s post, we’re going to be looking at a few examples to inspire some creative character thinking for our own narratives!
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is perhaps one of the most famous examples – the protagonist Alonso Quixano reads so many stories about knights and quests and maiden’s fair, that he decides to become a knight himself. And off he goes, roping others into his wild fantasy as he plays out his own story. For the whole first part of the novel, Alonso sees the world exactly as he wants it to be, regardless of the realities or truths around him.
When Cervantes wrote the sequel (Part 2 of the complete published work) he put a new spin on this element of building the world around a character’s point of view. Employing a little bit of meta-fiction, the second part of the work investigates how a the world might seem to a character who is aware that they have been written about.
Together both parts of Don Quixote show the same world, in two different ways, all thanks to the perception of its characters.
Alonso Quixano is regularly referred to as having lost his mind throughout the narrative. Any one afflicted with a mental illness will tell you that it can affect their world view. While much of Cervantes work has a farcical element to his investigation of this concept, the second part treats the idea with a bit more pensively.
But this idea of exploring how problems of the mind can alter the world around them is not unique to Cervantes. It’s been explored by many writers in many different ways.
My next example is perhaps a little more somber.
The Yellow Wallpaper
Written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1892 The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story about the way a woman sees her world. A piece of feminist literature that investigates issues of women’s power and rights, especially with regard to the medical profession.
The story follows that of a young woman and her well-meaning physician husband. It is told through a series of journal entries which the narrator writes in secret.
Gilman’s narrator, while not a prisoner in the literal sense, is still held captive. Her husband’s diagnosis ‘temporary nervous depression’ results in their moving to a new and unfamiliar place in the country side for fresh air and exercise. The very best treatment, to his mind. Here, alone and forbidden by her well-meaning husband from taking trips to see others she knows, or even writing in her journal, she becomes trapped in her own mind.
Even though reading this work today, the fate of the nameless narrator seems clear from the outset, the way Gilman uses the characters perception of the world around her to illustrate her slow deterioration is hauntingly beautiful.
The story definitely deserves its place amongst the literary classics, and as a nice bonus you can read it for free over at Project Gutenberg!
Confession time, I haven’t read Wallace’s book (I didn’t even know it was a book until I started researching this post!) so everything I discuss here has only the movie adaptation for context and apologies if some of it doesn’t apply to the written word.
The thing that I loved so much about the film was the way it turned a tall tale on its head by the end.
The story begins on the wedding day of Edward’s son, Will. After Edward tells one of his tall stories at the reception, Will becomes frustrated with his Father’s lies and the pair have a falling out. Three years pass and Edward discovers he has cancer. Will and his wife return to spend time in the family home and then each of the tall tales of Edward’s life is shown through flashbacks.
We meet unbelievable characters like Ringmaster Amos Calloway of the Calloway Circus and Ping and Jing, the North Korean Siamese twins
The way Edward chooses to view the world, and narrate that to the people around him replaces the humdrum of reality with a place filled with magic and wonder, and if the movie adaptation is anything to go by, the source material should provide a wonderful example for how we can use a characters view point to build the world we want our audience to see.
Edward Bloom’s stories seem larger than life, but at the conclusion of Burton’s adaptation the viewer is gifted with the understanding that sometimes the world can be larger than life, if we choose to let it be.
I feel like Christopher Nolan’s 2010 sci-fi flick barely needs a mention when it comes to looking at world building from the character’s perspective.
After all, this is literally a film about people who can shape the world the way they want it to be.
Through the futuristic dream-sharing technology that exists in the film, the ability to literally bend and manipulate the world of people’s dreams has become a reality.
While the technology was initially used by the film’s protagonist Dom Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio) to infiltrate people’s secrets from their subconscious during a dream state, the movie follows his attempt to try and flip the process and implant an idea within someone’s subconscious.
One of the greatest aspects of character perspective world building to take from the movie is it’s antagonist. A villain that only Cobb can truly understand because they are apart of his world.
Without giving away too many spoilers or diving into too many fan theories, Inception provides plenty of inspirational material for world building. It provides some beautiful visual cinematography that illustrates the ways different personalities might express themselves as they create the world they want to see. But it also investigates a deeper aspect of how our own emotions shape the world we see around us, and gives us an insight into how some emotions could manifest in a world where your thoughts can create or do anything.
Well, that about wraps it up for this fortnight folks. I hope these examples inspire you to get a little creative with the ways you’re using your characters to showcase your worlds!
Until next time, happy world building!