MBTI is a Tool, Not a Justification

MBTI is a Tool, Not a Justification

Occasionally, as a writer and a complete and utter smart-ass, I trawl through the deeper corners of the Intarwebz in search of information, funny meme images, and to find other writers who, for whatever reason, have decided to remain trapped in the Twelfth Circle of Online Hell known as Tumblr. One thing I’ve started noticing over the past year or so is the obsession therein with the MBTI.

The MBTI is a temperament assessment tool. It measures four “areas” of cognitive processing to determine how, in general and on average, a person will react to common situations and how they will process them. It doesn’t tell you if a person is an asshole, a saint, a liberal, a libertarian, a genius, or a twit. All it says is “this person is, on average, processing things in this manner.”

For instance, I’m an INTJ. That’s the rarest of all types for a woman (and yes, I am a woman). On average, that means that I rely heavily on introverted intuition to process things, I tend to plan ahead in everything, I value efficiency and effectiveness, I’m great at abstract concepts and theories, I like to learn, and I can be about as blunt as a sledgehammer to the head. It also implies that I tend to avoid most social situations, I get worn out in crowds, and I prefer to live in my head.

It does not mean I’m rude. My mother beat manners into me, y’all. It does mean I’m oblivious sometimes (like the time I walked right past the preacher in her church because I didn’t know it was him and, frankly, didn’t really care that much). It means that I tend to have better control over external expressions of my emotions and I tend to control them instead of letting them control me. It doesn’t mean that I’m heartless — though I can come across that way sometimes. It does not give me any excuse to be an asshole just because. No, if I’m an asshole towards someone, I have a reason for my behavior. Generally, though, I’m not much of a jerk to anyone. If I don’t like or don’t trust a person, I just avoid them entirely. I don’t make a big deal out of it.

I’ve written characters who are INTJs (and NTs of all types as well as a lot of NFs). They’re not always the bad guys or the heroes. They’re not Machiavellian-esque. They have no plans to take over the world and rule it with an iron fist. For the most part, they want to be left the fuck alone to chill with their friends (and yes, INTJs have friends. Few of them and only those who can keep up with us but we have them, dammit). Occasionally, one of them will get tipped over into extraverted sensing, go a bit off the rails, and Bad Shit Will Happen. However, they always have a strong moral and ethical code and they will not violate it. And do you know what part of that code is for almost every last INTJ?

It’s don’t be a dick for no reason. Honestly. It’s not so much because we care about how people will feel (though there is some of that to us). No, it’s more the fact that there will be fall-out and we’ll have to spend longer dealing with that than with the actual damned problem. Not being a dick to people for no reason is simply more efficient than being an ass just because we can be. We also don’t need to be dicks to people to get them to leave us alone. Avoiding social situations is something we can do without much effort and being a dick is often counter-productive to that since the person will want to know why we’re being such assholes towards them.

We also generally will plan out how we would, hypothetically, take over a government/nation/the world or destroy a city with minimum/maximum fatalities but, for God’s sake, most of us will never actually get pissed off enough to put those plans into action. After all, if we did that, we’d have to deal with people and, for most of us, limiting our contact with the rest of the world is simply part and parcel of our nature. We don’t hate people (though, in general, most of them annoy us a bit) and we have friends. We can be quite social and even charming at times. But, for the love of Cthulhu, we don’t want to have to do the thinking for everyone and world rulership tends to involve just that.

However, assuming that we’re all Machiavellian sociopaths isn’t the worst offense that writers, Tumblr, and others make about us.

No, the major thing that people get wrong about us is our emotions. See, we have them. We do experience them. We’re not cold, callous, and robotic. Hell, the other day when a man indicated he was interested in me in a manner beyond merely platonic, I felt an honest-to-Cthulhu ten minutes of pure exhilaration, a sharp upward spike in contentment, and enough happiness to actually make me smile for longer than a couple of minutes. However, yes, I did revert back to a slightly-higher baseline level of amused neutrality (more amused-leaning-towards-content than normal). The difference between me and a more normal person is that there were very few outward signs that I was feeling anything in the moment and it actually took me some time to realize that I was feeling something and analyze what I was feeling and trace the cause. Then, and only then, having come to a logical explanation for it did I allow myself to enjoy and indulge in the sensation for a reasonable amount of time.

After that, it was back to normal (albeit a slightly higher baseline level of normal).

I do feel flashes of emotions. I can get angry. I can feel sad. I can feel happy. However, yes, my normal state is neutral and calm. I also know that, for physiological and biochemical reasons, I cannot permit myself to be caught in the grip of a strong emotion for more than a few minutes unless I feel like going to the hospital for a powerful painkiller to rid myself of the migraine that will happen. Most INTJs will show little to no outward expression of an emotion and, if we do experience one strong enough to overwhelm our control, we will excuse ourselves from public view and try to reason our way through it or come to a more logical understanding of just what the hell is going on. That’s how we survive. That’s how we function. It’s not how most people do things and, frankly, I don’t recommend they try. It would be extremely unhealthy for an NF, SF, or ST to attempt to manage their emotions the way an INTJ does. The converse is also true — if we tried to “feel” things the way an NF does, we’d go insane.

That means that yes, powerful emotions can unseat and unsettle us. Especially if those emotions are our own (shit, just witnessing someone else’s emotions tends to frighten us a good bit because we’re not tuned into that, it takes a lot for us to manage to tune-in emotionally, and generally we’re better problem-solvers than we are shoulders-to-cry-on). It means that we can, if it is logical, be driven by an emotion. There have been times when I have been driven by annoyance, anger, outrage, sadness, or joy to do something. *shrug* Not often and generally the emotion peters out and I’ll either continue the action (if logical) or drop it (if I merely needed to exhaust the emotion so I could return to baseline).

INTJs, emotionally, tend to be like very deep rivers, guys. We’re calm and placid on top but the currents down below can be fatal. Unlike a river, we can analyze what is going on “down below” and we will spend time trying to trace the cause and determine if the emotion is logically justified or if it is superfluous. While we’re doing that we will come across as calm and rational because we’re so used to being in that state that it really and truly is no energy for us to maintain (certain rare exceptions aside). When we feel something, it’s generally quite intense.

This is also part of why we tend to be so blunt. Without taking the time and energy to consider that our processing methods aren’t universal, we’ll generally assume that someone wants what they asked for. Over time, we learn better but we do tend to prefer honesty over flattery. Some of you value that — some of you find it annoying. That’s okay. We’re an acquired taste.

— G.K.

Inosculation Updated!

Inosculation Updated!

Holy crap on a cracker — three posts in one week? I know, right?

So, I’ve dusted off my old serials and started working on my Voyager fanfic Inosculation. I posted two new chapters this week and will be adding one every Friday from now on. My current original work — Book One of Cycle of the Eternals — is progressing well and I occassionally need a break from it so I either work on something completely silly that I may eventually post or I work on Inosculation.

Anyway, enjoy! Two chapters for you!

May Cthulhu bless you with his noodle-ly tentacleness from his house in R’lyeh where he lays dreaming!

— G.K.

Ah, my old friend…

Ah, my old friend...

So, recently I decided I was a bit sick of being overweight and out of shape. So I decided to 1) go on a ketogenic diet (it’s working), 2) start hitting the gym (thank God I can download Sherlock to my Kindle and have something to watch while I’m killing myself on the elliptical), 3) stopped taking OTC sleep aids since they screw up metabolism.

Number Three has resulted in the return of my old friend insomnia.

Now, a lot of people think “oh, I have trouble sleeping from time to time so I have insomnia” or “I didn’t sleep last night (but I normally sleep every night). Must be insomnia.” When I hear that kind of talk, it takes a lot of will power not to start a murder spree.

Insomnia is not having trouble sleeping once in a while. For me, it’s the normal state of affairs wherein, even when completely exhausted, I cannot fall asleep or remain asleep for longer than an hour. Currently, this acute bout has been on-going for almost a week and I’m beginning to reach the stage where punch-drunk becomes a permanent thing. Yes, I have cut out caffeine after noon. Yes, I have filters on my monitors, phone, and Kindle to make them more amber and less serotonin-inducing blue. Yes, I have tried every home remedy, every relaxation technique, and even considered sacrificing a goat to Cthulhu just to be sure I’ve covered the ‘praying’ base adequately.

And yes, cat naps are about the best I can do.

Long-term, I’ve been like this since college at least. This is why, when I do manage to get some “real” sleep, it’s usually around 5 am and I will stay crashed until around 11 am (or later!) Bear in mind, I will have been in bed since 11 pm (though, to be fair, I do get up at 1 or 2 am out of sheer frustration and go smoke and let my dog use my hand as a chew-toy).

Why haven’t I gone to a doctor and gotten back on Restoril or tried Ambien? Oh…you really don’t want to ask me that but since you made that mistake…

I have insurance. I have it through the state exchange since I am, to be precise, skint. However, the insurance offered through the exchange is not accepted by any doctors in my state because said insurance won’t pay out anything. Therefore, I’m paying around $200 a month for a card that will, at best, allow me into a hospital in the event of a catastrophe. It won’t pay for anything — that’ll all come out of my pocket, natch — but it will let a bunch of morons clustering together in easily-targeted regions feel better about themselves.

So, yeah, I can’t exactly go to a doctor and get on something that will let me sleep.

God, you have no clue just how much I want to sleep, either. Probably the only person on this planet who knows what I’m like when this happens is my ex who had to deal with me working long hours on little sleep back in the era when Talent Calculators had to be translated by hand (apparently I once slept-tanked a Naxx 10 raid after pulling back-to-back sixteen hour days for four days straight — I vaguely recall pulling Anub’Rekhan. After that, nothing. The next day I woke up thinking I had missed the raid which amused my husband who told me I’d gone, done well, and we had cleared three wings before he realized I was playing with my eyes closed and told my guild that I was asleep and had been for several bosses).

At any rate, at least I’ve had a lot of extra time for writing.

Yeah, so, toodles!

— G.K.

Dear Fellow Fanfic Writers…

Dear Fellow Fanfic Writers...

First of all, I want to compliment you all on actually writing something. Some of you have actually written works that are better than the stories told in canon. I salute you and hope that you continue your endeavors. Reading your works has been entertaining and enlightening, not to mention gratifying as it reminds me that there are people out there who can speak and write English properly. Yes, you may have the odd spelling mistake, typo, or minor grammar error here and there but that’s only because proofreading your own work is nigh on impossible.

However, there are very few of you in the category above. The rest of this missive is directed at the vast majority of you hanging out on AO3, FF.net, and Tumblr who have kindled my ire to such a degree that I have spent hours watching YouTube videos on how to operate a backhoe so that I can dig a deep enough hole to find fissionable materials in hopes of either 1) escaping the planet we are currently forced to share or 2) blowing up said planet as an act of penance to any superior lifeforms out there who might have stumbled upon your crap.

Let us discuss a few things frankly, escritor a escritor, shall we?

1) Spelling matters. I don’t care what you think. Spelling matters. Word choice matters. I have put down stories because the first paragraph had five or more spelling mistakes that rendered it nearly incomprehensible. Oddly enough, those of you with the worst spelling are the first ones to wonder why you don’t get reviews and to get offended when someone tells you that it’s because you need to use spellcheck.

You don’t want to be this guy, do you?

There is no such thing as “alot.” There is such a thing as “allot” which means “to give or apportion something.” “Of” is a preposition, not a form of “have.” “Accept” means “to welcome, great, or take something in willingly” as in “I accept your apology.” “Except” means “excluding this” or “other than this” as in “You are talented in everything except the ability to use a spellchecker.” Effect is the impact an action or ingredient has upon another thing. Affect is to have an effect. Water has an effect on fire. Fire is affected by water. The difference is subtle but important. You offer apologies in order to apologize to a person; you don’t apologies to them. You lose the love of your life; you let loose the dogs of war. You wait with bated breath. If your breath is baited, then you’ve been eating worms.

A few more before I finish: “it’s” means “it is.” “Its” is possessive. “There” means a place like over there. “Their” means a possession belonging to them such as “their house.” “They’re” means “they are.” “Your” is possessive. “Yours” is also possessive. “Your’s” doesn’t bloody exist. “You’re” means “you are.” “Your welcome to this house of yours shows me that you’re sincere in your desire to make peace.”

If I can get them right, then so can you.

2) Typography and formatting matter. If your idea of formatting is a great big block of text, I’m not reading it. Break it up into paragraphs. A paragraph generally covers one central idea. Also, you may notice that your words appear on a screen and not a sheet of paper and that word-wrapping happens automatically without you needing to hit “Return” at the end of a line. That’s because you are typing on a computer, not a typewriter! That also means that you put only one space after terminating punctuation (and if you don’t know what terminating punctuation is, you are either too young to be reading this blog or you need to go and apologize to every teacher you have ever had).

In electronic publication (meaning “online posting”), there are no indents at the start of a paragraph. Instead, you add an extra linebreak between paragraphs. If you have a change in point-of-view, perspective, or locale within a chapter, you indicate the break in scene with a centered scenebreak. Some writers use “###” but I prefer “~*~*~*~” or “* * *” because the first one is also used at the end of a manuscript to indicate that it is the end.

If you don’t know how to center text, it’s Ctrl + E in just about any word processor I know of. For HTML, if there isn’t a WYSIWYG bar for formatting, it’s <p align=”center”>text to be centered</p>

3) If you write a sex scene, I will be able to tell if you’re experienced or at least consulted with someone experienced. If you aren’t experienced, for the love of Cthulhu, ask someone who is.

I’m fairly certain that this one needs no further explanation. If it does, don’t write sex scenes.

Seriously, if you ask me to explain this one, Godzilla will facepalm and I will headdesk

4) Pick a POV style and, for the love of Galileo, stick with it. The same goes for verb tense, by the way.

If you start off telling the story in first person, stay in first person. The narrator is telling the story from their personal point of view and the reader is only privy to such things as the narrator would know, think, or notice. The narrator is not omniscient and cannot tell what another character is thinking directly. They can, at best, intuit it through facial expressions, body language, or tone of voice. Unless you are writing a psychic or telepathic character, the narrator cannot read minds.

Don’t write stories in second person. Just. Don’t.

If you are writing in third person, decide if you are doing third person limited (deep included), third omniscient, or third limited changing POV. Limited means that the point of view narrator or narrators are limited to one or a few characters. In deep third, you’ll do away with immersion-breaking dialogue indicators and generally will stick to one character as the narrator per book or per chapter. The reader will know only what that character knows but will be privy to information the character does not directly observe or to the intention behind other character’s words, actions, or expressions. In third omniscient, the author shows the motivations and internal monologues of all or most characters. In third limited changing, the narrator is always a character but the point of view character can change from scene to scene.

I myself usually write in third limited changing.

With regards to verb tense — past tense, please. Do not write stories in present or future tense. All action in narrative should be past tense. The characters might speak of something they are doing or they will do. They might have an internal monologue in present or future tense. But the actual action of the story should be in the past tense. If you’re not certain of how that works, here’s a sample:

Frank watched as Mitchell prepared the slide. They both wanted to know what had killed their neighbor.

“What do you see, Mitch?” Frank asked after Mitchell had studied the sample for several long, silent moments.

“I see trouble,” Mitchell sighed. “His blood was clean. No poison, no toxins.”

“But there wasn’t a mark on his body. No signs of asphyxiation or strangulation. Healthy men do not just keel over dead!” Frank protested.

“Well, it will take an autopsy to tell you more, Frank. There is not a damned thing on this slide that says he met any kind of foul play.”

Putting that in present tense would be very immersion-breaking. Putting it in future tense would have the reader wondering if you had lost your damned mind.

5) Don’t build in tension needlessly. This one I sometimes have trouble with myself. I’ll want my readers on edge for something but, if you build up tension, there needs to be a release. If you keep people stewing for too long, they will put your work down. If you never have a pay off, they’ll be rather upset. That doesn’t mean you need to rush things; it means you need to check the pacing. It also means you don’t throw in a bunch of tangential tragedies or misunderstandings just to keep people on tenterhooks. And yes, it is “tenterhooks” and not “tenderhooks.”

Pacing matters. If you’re writing a slow burn love story, you don’t have the characters get together in the second chapter. You also don’t have them get together in the very last chapter (at least not for the first time). If you’re writing an adventure, your heroes do not beat the Super Villain at the end of chapter one. They also don’t beat him in the penultimate or ultimate chapter. If the last damned line of your story is “the good guys won over the bad guys,” I will personally hunt you down and beat you within an inch of your life.

6) Beta readers are not all editors and editors are not beta readers. Yes, good betas will generally point out typos, misspellings, and grammar errors. However, their job is primarily to give you feedback on how well the chapter progresses the story, how plausible the actions and inner monologues are, how in-character things are, and to help you with internal consistency. Editors, on the other hand, are going to focus on grammar, spelling, word choice, and the way that paragraphs flow and transition. They may not notice internal inconsistencies or your characters doing things completely out of character for them. I can and have done both but they are different processes so I have to focus on one during one read-through and the other during the second.

7) Content labels are fine. Trigger warnings are stupid. It is fine to label your story with content warnings such as “swearing,” “non con,” “M/M,” “F/F,” “F/M,” or the like. Certain people may not want to read a story with a lot of swearing or a lot of sex or certain kinds of pairings. That’s fine. But trigger warnings are stupid and show that you are ignorant about what PTSD actually is and how it works.

If someone is “triggered” by words on a page, then they probably should be institutionalized. Most people with PTSD will never be triggered by mere words on a page. It will be sounds (such as explosions or gunfire), smells, or conditions that are physically occurring around them that trigger them to have a flashback episode. This is why concert venues, movie theaters, and other live performances will sometimes give warnings that the event taking place will involve gunfire, explosions, pyrotechnics, or sudden loud noises. Treatment for PTSD involves gradually re-exposing the person to the things that trigger them so that they will become desensitized to them and will no longer be triggered to have a flashback whenever a car backfires.

So, unless you are embedding video in your story, it doesn’t need a trigger warning. A content label will do fine for those who wish to avoid certain types of stories. Putting a trigger warning in it only diminishes and makes light of actual PTSD.

How do I know this? One, I have read up on PTSD and treatment for it. Two, I have friends who have gone through it. Three, I have dealt with a mild case of it myself in the months after I was carjacked and kidnapped at gunpoint. That’s how I know.

8) Again, for the love of Cthulhu, learn what certain idiomatic expressions actually are as opposed to what you’ve misheard them as. The phrase is “for all intents and purposes” not “for all intensive purposes.” “Irregardless” isn’t a word — you’re looking for “regardless.” “Literally” means that something could actually happen the way described. “Could care less” means that you do care to some degree.

This list is, of course, not comprehensive or all-inclusive. However, it covers the most common mistakes I’ve seen. Please try to do better in the future because I am very frightened that some of you might represent fan-writers to the general public.

Hugs and kisses!

— G.K.

I Know, I Know… But I Have A Really Good Excuse This Time

I Know, I Know... But I Have A Really Good Excuse This Time

And no, I haven’t been wasting all my free (non-work, non-school, non-writing) time watching Sherlock, Doctor Who, or playing Diablo III (don’t even mention Mass Effect Andromeda — we split up and it was not amicable. I’m planning to sue to try to get those hours of my life back). Nope, I have been studying calculus and numeric theory. Oh, and string theory physics, standard model, and quantum mechanics.

It took me two solid weeks of studying but I actually get this joke and think it’s hilarious.

By the way, have I mentioned I have been hired to teach high school English next year?

That’s right. I will be teaching English. Not science. Not math. Not any of the things I spend my free time studying. English. I have a degree in history and I’m teaching English.

My Scrivener research section looks like an odd mix of math and physics notes that even I can barely make sense of. When I started trying to parse chemistry and biochemistry I realized that regardless of what my IQ is, I can’t handle atoms and molecules. Leptons, bosons, fermions, strings, vibrations, and my pet theory that gravity isn’t a proper force — it’s the result of another force spanning multiple dimensions: that’s all relatively simple for me to sort out. Start mixing those together in atoms more complex than hydrogen and my head does this really interesting number that makes a migraine feel like a love-tap.

So, why am I doing this? No, not just because I’m a very special kind of insane. Not just because it interests me, either. And not just to make my lovely ex-husband send me a War and Peace length list of corrections. Nope, this is actually for a series. It’s probably the weirdest thing I’ll ever write but it’s one that just won’t leave me alone until I finish the thing (other writers will understand what I mean).

Seriously, it’s like this story — which started out as relatively simple — decided to throw a lot of challenges at me and, for some reason known but to Cthulhu, I am too much of a masochist to stop accepting them.

And that, my dears, is why I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’m good with history, languages, tactics, logistics, encryption, and computers but math and chemistry will wipe the floor with me every day of the week. Lately, I have just been either too busy trying to wrap my head around concepts that ought to make sense but just won’t or recovering from the headache that this effort invariably brings on.

That said, I will try to get better.

— G.K.

So, Hugos?

So, Hugos?

This year things have been pretty quiet on the Hugo front because, frankly, no one cares anymore. DragonCon started up an actual fan award that’s been about ten thousand times better than the Hugos and it’s only in its second year. WorldCon, on the other hand, seems to have managed an almost 50% loss of paying membership in the past year or so since they pulled out the Asterisks and booed every non-SJW pick.

Hopefully, in about a decade, WorldCon will be bankrupt and there won’t be anymore Hugos. Yeah, sure, it’ll be just a little bit sad that such a long-running award died out but, frankly, it needs to die. It’s been nothing more than an industry-insider thing for the past thirty years. In the past ten, seeing that something has won the Hugo is a guarantee that it’s crap. It’s become the Palm d’Or of the writing world and not in a good way — in a “we’ll give it to Michael Moore who couldn’t film a documentary about pouring piss out of a boot with instructions on the heel because he’s got goodthink” kind of way.

I just thought it was funny because of Declan Finn’s post on the subject. It’s true that Toni W. only got nominated because of the Puppies. All of the non-Puppies swore blind that she would have won if it hadn’t been for being a Puppy Choice. Well, this year they got their chance to show that they weren’t full of shit and guess what? Toni W. didn’t even get nominated.

For the rest of the categories, there are maybe two picks that most people will have heard of. The other three in that category are all obscure authors or works that, if you’re lucky, Amazon might have. I’ve scanned through most of them and, aside from one or two picks, they’re all pretty much the exact same story. Evil Man With White or Pale Skin Oppresses Everyone Until Black/Latino/Latina/Latinx/Lesbian/Gay/Trans/Muslim (which isn’t a race, btw)/Otherkin Person or Womyn Stops Him and Brings About Utopia. Nothing you haven’t read at least a hundred times. I’ve read porn with better writing.

At any rate, sorry for posting being bad last week. I got hit with a series of migraines.

— G.K.

World Building 101: Human Universals

World Building 101: Human Universals

Yes, Virginia, there are some common universal traits that go across every culture, every religion, and every civilization in human history. These are things that are so ingrained into us that we will tend to obey them without thought whether our skin is as pale as an alba blossom or dark as pitch, whether Dr. House would call us danglers or say that our genitals are aesthetically pleasing, or even which particular deity we do or do not pray to when we’re in the foxhole with a grenade sans pin.

Some of these are taboos that we don’t even really have to think about: don’t have sex with your kids, your parents, or your siblings (and stfu about the pharaohs because that’s the sole exception I can find that was practiced with regularity). Don’t kill your immediate family. There is a mystical being watching you so nothing you do is perfectly hidden and if you make this being mad, things will go bad for you. Other universals have to do strictly with the fact that, on average, males and females are different in a biochemical sense. Social differentiation tends to follow this biochemical lines where men in tribal to late-Industrial societies tackle jobs that require use of their raw strength while women tend to go for jobs that maximize their dexterity and are within their (somewhat lesser) raw strength (and believe me, it takes some serious strength to be a farm wife. Most of those ladies could probably bench-press and dead-lift more than an Army Ranger today!) You don’t see a lot of women in African tribes running out on the savanna chucking spears at antelope and you don’t see a lot of men sewing altar cloths or weaving rugs.

So, those are the general universals. That doesn’t mean you have to use them in your story. Instead, look at them. What are they? Two of them are “don’t screw with your family” and one is “there is something beyond you.” Finally, the physical differences simply say “if there are differences, society will tend to do its best to find a way to make maximum use of it; if you want everyone to be identical and interchangeable, society will treat them as such but you had better be prepared for real equality in this case and not the cobbled-together crap we have right now.”

I’ve seen the last one turned on its head. Probably the most well-known example is the society on Angel I in Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is a world where women evolved to be larger and stronger and men were shorter and more dexterous. Another example is from the Wheel of Time where, since men who channel go insane, women have generally played a larger role in both channeling societies (the Wise Ones, the Windfinders, sul’dam and damane, the Ayyad, and the Aes Sedai) and in ruling in general (Randland runs heavily towards queens since there’s always a risk that any given man could turn out to be a channeler — especially if he’s from a bloodline that has practiced cousin-marriage). This works out to the entire civilization tending to trust women before men.

In economics, there are also some universals. I have yet to find a religion that says “ya know what, if your neighbor has something, it’s cool to beat the shite out of him and take it.” Since religion tends to be the first highly-developed aspect of human culture (even government tends to stem from religion early on), yes, religious views of trade and ownership are important. We can see that there are several religions that out-right forbid things like interest on loans or that regulate, quite strictly, who can be charged interest and how much can be levied. Religions also develop and under-gird most early tax systems (tithing, for instance). However, every religion that I have been able to find has established that trade has to be somewhat voluntary and that equal value has to be exchanged. Yes, yes, religions also teach that a bounty is to be spread around and that the poor should be given charity — usually that stuff comes from the institution itself using the wealth it has taxed (or tithed) from its followers. This giving is generally voluntary (meaning that there’s no punishment beyond shunning for failure to do so). So, when setting up an economy that is more advanced than bartering, you might want to consider what particular universals you’re going to have and where they’ll stem from.

Don’t you dare judge me over the kinds of things I store in my brain.

Economics is one place where gaming things out can either be an eye-opener or can drive you stark-raving mad. For me, I usually do myself a favor and just use one from history. Trust me, when you’ve had three different systems with three different underlying assumptions turn into “Geez, this makes Stalin look like a Boy Scout,” you start to appreciate how great a job history has done of bug-testing and shaking the major problems out of economics for us (not to say it’s perfect yet but the systems we have now are fairly robust).

Yes, you will have to handle these situations in any system. You cannot ignore them if you want to write characters that people might actually understand. If you want to write about perfect angels, may I suggest LSD and starting your own religion?

Next week we’ll go into a bit more detail about workable ways to come up with different social institutions (things like marriage, the family, religious institutions, and basic local government) and the kinds of questions you need to consider in order to determine if something is going to work out the way you want or if you’re going to wind up with one of the aforementioned “Good Lord, even Stalin would consider this a bad idea” kind of situations.

— G.K.

World Building 101 — Story Drivers

World Building 101 -- Story Drivers

Once you’ve finished asking yourself the major questions I mentioned in last week’s post, you’re in a fairly good place to start working on writing the story in your world. That said, though, before you get into writing too far, you will want to take a few minutes — maybe even an hour — to think about what events drive your story.

Yes, yes, there’s all kinds of cool things happening in your story. Otherwise, it’d be about as interesting as watching paint dry or grass grow. Still, all of these things that are going on in your story — battles, wars, arranged marriages, kidnapping, OMGEXPLOSIONS, whatever — all have their origins in things that happened before the story begins. Your characters will probably make references to historical or mythological events that are part and parcel of their culture but may not mean anything to the reader unless you take a second to explain it. You’ll want to develop these things well and have the shorthand references down before you have your characters do things like swear that they should pull a Seostaz* and claim the hill in the name of Zara**.

Robert Jordan was awesome at doing this with Mat Cauthon. After Mat went through the doorway in Rhuidean, he started making all kinds of references that even scholars in Randland wouldn’t have gotten. However, Jordan could weave those and the explanations into his story in a way few others can do — myself included — without data dumping.

If you get this reference, you are awesome

So, what do you do? Well, instead of having your characters say something like “This is another Antietam” and then going into a long explanation about what the Battle of Antietam was, try having them say “I feel like the Spartans at Thermopylae,” “But they won, didn’t they?” “Nope.” That right there tells your readers that the character feels like the underdog in a fight who did well enough that another character (unless that character is a moron) would think they won. No need to go into the whole history of Greece and Persia. Just a quick explanation that covers the high points.

You do want to be careful, though, when coming up with cultural references, historical events, and mythological references that you don’t find yourself going down too many rabbit holes. I generally keep to a rule of five — no more than five of each. If I find myself needing more than that, I know that I need to spend a lot more time building the history because I’m writing a story that spans at least five hundred years. Now, there are times you do want to do that. One of my sci-fi series I’m working on here and there is set 10,000 years in our future. I do have to develop a full history for that filled with wars, societies, religions, scientific advances, Dark Ages, and more. That’s not because every detail I sketch out in my backstory is going to come up but it is because I need to have all of this down cold so I can explain why two different groups diverged as much as they did.

Next week we’ll talk about the very basic universals found in religion, politics, and economics and why studying human history can help you develop a workable world.

— G.K.

*Made this up. No clue what it means.
**Ditto the above.