Monday, September 3, 2007

Rules For a New World

I'm working on a project idea that has a lot to do with scavengers. As a result, I'm reading Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. The book was published in serial form, and the pace is glacially slow. As one of my friends said, you can tell Dickens was paid by the word.

As I recalibrate my brain to accept the rhythms of this particular work, I've found I have a lot more time to think about the structure of the piece.

Our Mutual Friend, in combination with the scavenger project has me thinking about the concept of "rules of the world" in a slightly different light. I use the term "rules of the world" to refer to the conventions, practices, and behaviors that define the narrative logic of the piece. For an easy example: if you have wizards zapping each other with wands, then one of the ROTW is that magic exists.

Most of the time, I think of ROTW as having to do with fantasy, sci fi, or visions of the future. Our Mutual Friend is set in the past - and I've been reminded that ROTW applies to every play. Even ones set in a time or place supposedly familiar to the audience.

As I work through Our Mutual Friend, I'm going to be posting questions inspired by the world of the book. These questions, taken together, might form an interesting exercise for a writer trying to create their own new world. I suppose its worth noting that "world" in ROTW doesn't need to refer to the entire globe. It can of course refer to the immediate culture your characters inhabit.

Set A
1) Where do the bodies end up? What happens to the dead in your world carries a huge amount of information about economics, value of life, religion, etc.

2) What is the value of education in this world? What type of education is important, how it is attained and who attains it also shape the world.

3) What are the approved libations and intoxications? This also begs the question of what are the illegal intoxications.

What other questions would you pose when crafting your world?


Amy said...

What is the role of women in the "world?"

(God I love reading Dickens -- I find him, in places, hilarious -- but because of the ROTW of whatever Dickens I'm reading it's often impossible to explain to someone else what's so funny.)

Anonymous said...

Pookie said...


Is it compressed, Like in a soap opera when a child ages 15 years in 18 months.

Is it expanded like in those same soap operas when someone has one intense relationship after another and the whole intense affair, maybe even marriage, runs it's course in about a week.

And my favorite "modal time" (my phrase) where a child ages 15 years in eighteen months but the parent hardly ages at all.

I find soap operas fascinating

I could go on, but I suspect you get the point.

Erik Ramsey said...

Language is always a key rule of the world for me. Doesn't have to be Mamet in order for diction (both as word choice and as intonation/accent) to change the world in ways that extend into every other aspect of a play. Sometimes the subtler the language choices, the more important they can be.

For instance, I always find it uncomfortable when I read or see a play and every single line is heard perfectly by the character responding to that line. And I'm not just referring to a character perfectly understanding the subtext of the line he is responding to; often in life we answer questions that weren't asked and quickly develop remarkable drama that way at our own supper tables.