Thursday, April 4, 2013

World Building A to Z: Education and Environment

This month, I'm sharing examples I've seen of world building and establishment of setting in stories. 

Education: Do characters get the knowledge they need for real-life survival in a classroom or elsewhere? I find that the answer is often elsewhere. In Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, Bod gets his knowledge from the ghosts living in the graveyard. He goes to school but his real teachers are the ghosts that he lives with. Even in the HARRY POTTER books, although Harry and his friends attend Hogwarts, it seems their real life lessons occur outside of Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts. In Orson Scott Card's ENDER'S GAME, Ender  participates in a classroom simulation of a battle only to learn later that it is the real thing. 

Environment: Stephanie Cottrell Bryant, who wrote the Fantasy World Builder Guide, shares her knowledge on world building on a variety of categories, including the environment with regards to mapping, climate, and flora and fauna. 

I'm not doing Stephanie's exercises here, but I will give examples based on her linked posts-

The Map: Stephanie's idea of how water is never too far away from any settlement makes me think of Christopher Pike's THE SEASON OF PASSAGE. This story presents an interpretation of Mars I haven't seen anywhere else. Just reading an eight-page diary excerpt written by a Russian commander whose expedition team landed on Mars gives me the following information: the planet is red, it is cold, and the team uncovers a cave adjacent to a mountain plateau and inside the cave are canals, evidence of life on the planet. The canals carry water....or perhaps a very dangerous substance that looks like water.

Climate: Stephanie draws a connection between mood and climate, which makes me think of Ray Bradbury's short story, ALL SUMMER IN A DAY. In the story, children living on Venus get exposure to the sun for only two hours every seven years. It rains for the rest of the time. Although I've seen stories where rain evokes romance and peace, the rain in this story brings out vicious bullying among the children, who lock a girl up in the closet so she misses enjoying the sun like the others when it makes a rare appearance.

Flora and Fauna:  Stephanie asks about which plants are considered crops, which are considered delicacies, and which ones have medicinal value.  In Louis Sachar's HOLES, Sam's onions, presented in the back story of Green Lake, are considered a viable crop with healing properties.  Katherine Barlow's spiced peaches, which came from the peach trees along the shore, was regarded by the community as "food for the angels," so these peaches are the delicacies of that world.

Stephanie asks about which animals are considered dangerous and which ones are domesticated and used for work. If you are a character in HOLES, you wouldn't want to be bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard. In the story, the obvious pick for a domesticated animal used for labor  would be Sam's donkey. But I'm going to argue that the  boys in at Camp Green Lake in HOLES are also treated as labor animals- the children must dig holes all day long to "build character," or become as domesticated as juvenile delinquents could be. The reality is the people running the camp exploit the boys for their labor in the way that humans sometimes exploit animals.   

What other examples can you think of in these areas?

Did any of you read Christopher Pike books back in high school like I did? If so, which were your faves?  (I have so many...I really liked the FINAL FRIENDS series.)


baygirl32 said...

I loved the book Holes. Christopher Pike wasn't on my radar until recently when a friend suggested one of his books to me - its currently on my nightstand as the next novel I start :)

A to Z Ninja Minion

Ghadeer said...

I haven't read Christopher Pike but I have read the other examples you've mentioned here. I've never paid attention to the fact that characters in fiction almost always get their education from experience.

Jay Noel said...

Big fan of Ender's Game and Holes!

The movie for Holes was pretty good, and I'm looking forward to seeing Ender's Game.

Education...dear to my heart. I was a high school English teacher for five years before getting burned out.

Jessica Topper said...

Oh my, Christopher Pike! I was a YA librarian in the 90s and used to booktalk him. Good stuff!
Happy A to Z-ing!

Jess/Blogging on the Brink

Kathy said...

Interesting! I have never heard of that author. Visiting from the A-Z! Happy A-Zing!!!


John Wiswell said...

Flora and fauna make for some of the most fun in Fantasy education, though I could do with more characters who are familiar with the worlds they grew up in. It's a difficult balance.

Pat Hatt said...

Nice take on the real life lessons, as yeah that is where they are usually learned, real life.

Teresa Coltrin said...

I need to read Fantasy World Builder. I have Enders Game to TBR.

Anonymous said...

I love your concept for the challenge.
I remember reading Christopher Pike, but none of the titles still stick out to me, except Remember Me, which I bought but haven't read yet.
Fel Wetzig at The Peasants Revolt

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Some of that really didn't come into play for me until my second book, which was set on a planet.

Brett Minor said...

My daughter is a huge fan of Neil Gaimen. I read Christopher Pike when I was in junior high. The only title I remember is Chain Letter. Later, the movie I Know What you Did Last Summer used the same story line, but I never hear Pike mentioned. I kind of ticked me off.

Enjoy A to Z.

Brett Minor
Transformed Nonconformist

Nick Wilford said...

Makes sense that in a lot of YA stuff particularly the real education happens outside the classroom, as that's more appealing to the age group reading.

Karen Tamara said...

I think that the lessons happening outside the classroom in Harry Potter is true to life in general. Looking back, I never learned anything important in school. Not really. Even the things school "taught me" I forgot. The only things that stick in my head from my elementary days are the projects we had to do/research on our own, the ones we had full control over.

I still remember stuff about the trail of tears, which was a project I researched in fifth grade. I remember it because it wasn't some mindless fact being shoved down my throat for the purpose of a test. We had to make a diorama and write a paper and it was fun.I had the freedom to research it in my own way, so it became important to me.

Anyway, I am super off topic, but your post got me thinking about why we learn the things we do. Learning through life sticks with us, because life teaches us things that matter. ;)

I also want to say that I never read Stardust by Neil Gaimen, but I LOVED the world they built in the movie Stardust. That was a great example of awesome world-building.

Empty Nest Insider said...

I remember my son really enjoyed reading Enders Game when he was in junior high. I've never read any of these books, but they all sound interesting.


John Wiswell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I didn't read Christopher Pike until I was an adult. In high school I read grown-up books and it wasn't until I became a teacher that I read MG and YA.

I have a copy of Holes that I'd like to get to soon.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone!

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