Monday, November 12, 2012

Building a World, Part Three: Social Classes

Okay, so continuing my series on building a world, we're here today to talk about social classes. You can see the posts on government and textiles here.

I think no matter what world you're building, whether that be a science fiction world on this planet or another one, or a fantasy world, there are social classes. Your main character falls into one of them, and there's usually some jostling between these classes as the story progresses.

Whenever I'm thinking of what kind of social classes I'd like in my books, I think of the movie In Time. Yeah, it has Justin Timberlake, which isn't as bad as you might think. *wink*

It wasn't my favorite movie ever, but it set up the social classes really well. There's part of the movie where Justin Timberlake -- Salas -- moves up the social ladder, so to speak. And it's very literal, as he passes through the different "time zones" of the world.

I love thinking about that part of In Time, and it helps me build my social classes in a way that makes sense to A) the plot, B) the main character, and C) the government I've already established.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What class is my main character in now? 
  • How did they get there?
  • How can they advance? Is that even possible? What would have to happen? (In the movie In Time, Salas only advances through the time zones because someone died -- oh, and he's been accused of causing that death. So yeah.) 
  • What are the advantages of each social class? The disadvantages? 
  • Why would someone want to be in a position of power in this world? 
  • Why would they want to remain in their lower class? 
  • What are the consequences associated with moving classes? (Loss of family connections, loss of friendships, loss of freedoms, etc.) 

I find social classes fascinating, because you don't have to be writing speculative fiction to find them. You probably have them at your office, in your schools, or down the street in your own neighborhoods.

That's why the social classes in your novel need to be well developed -- because they have the power to truly resonate with readers.

What questions do you ask yourself about social classes when building your story world? 


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That movie wasn't great, but it did have an interesting concept.
With my books, the social classes are more military rankings.

Christina Farley said...

Excellent points!

S.P. Bowers said...

Perfect timing as I've been trying to figure this out in my current novel. Thanks!

Stina said...

Great stuff, Elana. I'll admit I don't really ask myself this question though I obviously should be.

Stina said...

Great stuff, Elana. I'll admit I don't really ask myself this question though I obviously should be.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Haven't seen the movie but these are great points. Another area to focus on is the classes/discrimination between two enemy nations for world building.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Although these are all awesome, How did they get there is a fabulous question. Answering that one can answer so many other questions and tell us much about that particular character. Thanks, Elana!

JeffO said...

I'd never heard of this movie before, it sounds pretty interesting. In thinking about it, both of my completed manuscripts deal a fair amount with social structure, as my main characters struggle with their place in the world. Their world is our world, so at least I don't have to invent something totally new!

Anonymous said...

Great details to consider as I work on revision. The class aspect is a subtle contribution to my MC lack of self-esteem. Maybe I need to play on that a bit more.

Juliana Haygert said...

IN TIME was a nice movie and I loved the premise, the idea, but I think it was under-explored. But you're right. The different social classes are easy to understand there.
Great tips. Thanks =)

T. Powell Coltrin said...

This is great information.

I haven't seen IN TIME, but may do it now for the information.


Matthew MacNish said...

Even if you're not writing A Brave New World, class and caste system is still important to consider.

Angela Brown said...

Love the questions you present. Certainly gives a lot to consider regarding the social classes. Honestly, I'm not sure I ever fully thought it through on this deep a level. I try to keep things close to established expectations depending on the genre. But for something that is a bit new, I'll need these questions to help build something very intriguing.

Jemi Fraser said...

I really do need to write some sf one day - I love world building! Love thinking of the nuances :)

Nicole said...

Great questions. My friend and I watched In Time one rainy night - it was a neat premise...and kinda fun to chuckle at too. ;)

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