Writers as Sociologists

In Sociology, one learns that societies are bound together by a series of ongoing and dynamic relationships each with their own set of rules. Societies have also interesting subcultures which may operate in opposition to and be hidden from the larger world.

Rather than studying worlds, writers create them. From a blank page, they build societies and subcultures with very clear sets of expectations on how members treat each other. These norms may be written down or stay in the writer’s head just under the surface. When a rule is revealed or violated can add drama to a story.

As a person moves between societies whether as a transient or more permanent member, they go through a process of assimilation, learning what is desired of a good citizen. So it is in a story where we are introduced to a character in a new situation. Through their eyes, we assimilate and conform to their world’s expectations gradually as well. In the Amazi Series, I captured the immigrant process in 1890s America but with a steampunk twist. Creating such a work could not be done without an intensive study of the time macroscopically including economic trends. You see the characters over time dealing with basic needs such as housing, language, social acceptance, work, leisure, new technology, and love. Along the way you learn how people thought and acted at the time.

One thing that can be jarring is working on two series at the same time with different sets of rules. For me, it would be tough dealing with The Corporate Intent Series (a dynamic and sometimes violent world which is no holds barred) and Olivia Plymouth Series (a much safer world where certain things cannot happen) at the same time.

One interesting writing exercise is violating the rules in the early edits. This gives insight into what is possible for a character or a scene. Then the later edits return to what is expected. This is what I have done in the Olivia Plymouth Series. The original version of the current book was darker and more violent. But leaving the book like that wouldn’t be an Olivia story.

So the next time when you are thinking of creating a world of fire-breathing plants or flying puppies, perhaps crack open a sociology book to learn how a society really works. Study subcultures of the past and present to learn the rules of the page. The result will be a richer work.