Character/World Exercise: Give Us a Tour

“So this is my place….”

I’ve done a decent amount with characterization exercises, and every now and then played with worldbuilding exercises, but sometimes you don’t want to do them separately; at times like that, it’s better to get the world, whether it’s your creation or just one you want to understand better, properly interwoven with the character. One way I’ve found to do that is to take one of your characters and let them give you a tour of the places they generally frequent, occupants and all. It doesn’t need to be long, but it can go for quite a while if you’re constantly coming up with ideas.

What’s it do for you?

There are several pretty self-explanatory benefits, to start with. For one, it’s voice practice for use of that particular character; good for if the voice is still hiccuping in places. For another, it’s a chance to look at the world from a resident’s eye view rather than a creator’s. And needless to say, it’s a chance to throw a bunch of things in front of the character and get a hopefully non-varnished opinion. But that’s not all!

The justification, on its own, can be amusing. Who’s this person talking to, and how are they getting across the sights? Is this a travelogue, personal narration for one’s new biographer, showing a visitor around, running around with a camera and talking about the pad? Is the character trying to prove or disprove rumors, create a new public image, get people to stop treating her like she’s a goddess incarnate? (“These are my pants. I put them on one leg at a time.”)

It gives you a sense of the character’s priorities. There’s a lot out there to keep track of, so nobody’s going to discuss every little space (all right, almost nobody, but if you get someone obsessively detail-oriented enough to cover everything in depth, that says a lot about the character right there). That means that some things are going to be skipped, and others not; some emphasized, some glossed over. What the character chooses to emphasize—or who, if you’ve got other characters involved—will say a lot.

It’s a chance to grow the world in somewhat more mundane directions. I find very few characters who really have a sense of their own places; they don’t have homes, their homes are far away, or they almost never exist under their own roofs. Or they’re too busy with world-changing plots and incidents to have routines to fall back on. Either way, if those features of normal life show up in the character’s situation, they’re often glossed over, to the point where there’s a stronger sense of orientation in a pocket in the world than there is in the character’s bedroom. (And yes, this is something I know myself to be guilty of.)

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t already know the world. Instead, consider the exercise a chance to poke around a bit and explore the limits of your own knowledge, or your character’s, and most particularly the places where they overlap.

In sum, if you’re looking for a better sense of how the character fits into the world, consider asking her for a tour. There’s plenty to learn, and not much reason not to try.

3 comments

  1. UZ says:

    I have one character who is almost entirely characterised by how she prescribes medication…


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