One Writer’s Writing Secret 9: Deeper Characters

            What is your character’s worldview?  What is yours?  Do you know?  Do you know what a worldview is?  Basically, a worldview is the lens through which we see the world, and often, like fish in water, we are unaware that our perceptions of reality are being colored (rose colored glasses) or even distorted.  It is essentially an unconscious thing having to do with the way we were raised, things we were taught when we were very young, and the pervasive view of the word as exemplified in the culture around us.

            Right now in America we are transitioning between two competing worldviews.  Most people over, say, 40 are moderns.  The key to understanding modern thinking is to think of the word “progress.”  Modernists see the world as progressing on all fronts, particularly in science and technology, but not exclusively so.  Religious thinkers of the past 400 or so years of modern thinking have talked of moral progress, for example.  Evolution is a very modern idea.  Karl Marx imagined society and politics as progressing in a certain order; but so did Thomas Jefferson.  I have always thought of the modern worldview in relation to Isaac Newton.  He discovered the laws of gravity and motion and invented calculus to prove his theories.  Thus the world advanced.  How very Newtonian of him.

            If you are under 30 though, you are likely to be what they are calling a post-modern thinker.  Here, I think of Einstein, because one of the key words of post-modernism is “Relative.”  Everything in the post-modern mind is at least potentially relative.  Cultures?  Relative.  Western Civilization is no “better” than any other.  For the modernists, a tribe of hunter-gatherers in the jungle were “primitives” (not progressed), but for a post-modernist they are simply different without regard to such terms as better or worse.  Cultures, civilization, morality, truth, it is all relative, opinion, preference, subjective.  Even science and the very laws of the universe are not spared.  Nothing is considered absolutely true.  According to Einstein, the very fabric of time and space are relative.

            Why does this matter?  Well, because you don’t want your characters behaving in a way that doesn’t make sense.  An old person is not going to be a radical post-modernist unless they are trying to be young and cool.  A young person who believes in absolutes and the universal nature of things (generally) and in making appropriate and reasonable judgments between better and worse as opposed to simply having preferences, is probably going to need some explaining.  Behavior, and in particular dialogue is going to be determined to a large extent by the character’s worldview.  That is where they are coming from.  That is their point of view.

            You know, the last time there was this kind of clash of worldviews, a fellow took a long hard look at the medieval view (the medieval ideals) of chivalry, damsels in distress, love conquering all, nobility and the whole social structure.  He wrote a book called “Don Quixote” which made a mockery of that whole od way of seeing the universe, though to be honest, he was no great fan of the new “enlightenment” way of thinking that was replacing the medieval worldview either!  Today, Don Quixote bores almost as many people as Moby Dick, but in its time it was a radical, mind boggling commentary of life, the universe and everything.

            This is important, now, in our place and time, but also if you write historical fact or fiction.  It is important. as far as possible. to see things through their eyes – through the eyes of history.  If you write science fiction, well, how will the human race view the universe and our place in it 400 years from now?  Then again, our whole worldview might change in only a hundred years given the way we are progressing.  (Oops!  I’m showing my age).

Writing Tip 9:

What is your character’s worldview?  It is the point of view that will motivate and drive behavior and color dialogue.  And I didn’t even mention the religious worldview – the joker in the deck – where millions of people (sincerely) try to view life, the universe and everything through God’s eyes.

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