Character Development for Intelligent Locations

While being able to assign a personality to an intelligent landform or building is a wonderful thing, we can’t neglect character development. Just because they’re inanimate by our standards doesn’t mean they can’t grow and change in their own right!

Photo courtesy of pale from stock.xchng

Some of the character development undergone by sentient location mirrors character development in more standard, motile characters. They interact with others, then grow and change according to those interactions. What they know about the world and how it works bumps up against how the world really works, and is confirmed or revised accordingly. Events, whether huge or seemingly insignificant, shake up their actions and affect their outlook. I’d expect these to be slower than the same character development processes in shorter-lived creatures when it’s a building doing the developing, and slower still in landforms than in buildings, but the overall process, once you account for mindset, shouldn’t be too different.

But there are other factors, mostly based on the fact that these are very long-lived characters with close ties to their physical form, innate structure, and purpose. These are likelier to have stronger, more reliable results, possibly over shorter periods of time than ‘organic’ character development would take.

Consider the natural processes common in today’s world, whether gradual or immediate. Glaciers cover land and then recede; rivers’ courses change, or they dig out canyons. Caves form and collapse; rock formations are carved out and then undermined by erosion. The flora and fauna of places move out, move back in, evolve or die out. What effect might this have on the location’s personality? One important question to ask is how tied the landform’s personality is to its physical form; when it undergoes changes, are they to the surface personality or to the underlying core? Does a forest replaced by a desert remember its thoughts working differently when it was a forest, or does it think this is how things have always been?

Buildings, on the other hand, were designed to be a certain way, and processes like aging or erosion that would merely change a landscape tend to actively damage the intelligence and sanity of a building. If a building seems to have a screw loose, odds are it literally has a few screws loose. Burning, or being flooded, can do interesting things to a building’s mindset. And when its operation depends on complex machinery that has been destroyed or neglected, well, unbalanced may be an understatement.

What happens when a building is repurposed? It’s a similar issue to what happens when a landform changes; is a purpose change superficial or nature-deep? This might depend heavily on whether a building’s intelligence is based on its construction or its contents; if it was built to be intelligent and its contents change, it’ll probably keep its original personality, but if its intelligence comes from what it houses, the change is going to be far deeper.

For more ideas, check out my riff on how gods are affected by changes in their domains; the principles are much the same.

Character development in intelligent locations can serve a number of purposes, including giving depth to the story and occasionally providing a plothook. What do you think?

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