Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Worldbuilding From Reality Part 3: Creating Future History

Worldbuilding From Reality Part 3: Creating Future History by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

But first I have to point you at the new story-driven, cross platform, science fiction RPG Ambrov X -- there's a constant stream of news about it on the Facebook Page,

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About Ambrov X

A story-driven, cross-platform Science Fiction RPG set in the award-winning universe of Sime~Gen®! Join us on Kickstarter on Sept. 3, 2013! ambrovx.com
Set in the award winning Sime~Gen® Universe by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah, Ambrov X casts players in a far distant future as leaders of an unlikely but elite crew tasked with planting space beacons which allow for faster than light space travel. The Ambrov X saga unfolds into an action-packed story of first contact. Complete with epic battles and emotional decision making, Ambrov X brings to life the single-player, story-driven RPG through a thrilling space opera adventure. Releasing cross-platform for PC, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android.

-----------Worldbuilding From Reality Part 3------------

Previous Parts in this series and a Link List for Worldbuilding posts:




Have you ever explored biorhythms?  They graph like this image above from

Note that an astrology chart or a biorhythm chart has no beginning and no end. 

Astrology takes BIRTH as the beginning of a sequential process that is endless, but there's conception before that -- and the parent's origins -- and after you, your descendants and the echos of your actions in life.


We just arbitrarily stipulate "the beginning" of "the story" and the "end of the story."

We cut a "novel" or a "story" out of an endless sequence of interwoven events -- like the waves of the ocean, without beginning and without end.

So when you set out to write a novel, that "beginning-less and endless" vista has to be part of your worldbuilding -- the building of the world your specific character must navigate.

It isn't enough for a writer to create a world with a history of it's own.  That world, in which your characters work and live, has to have a future, too.

A story or a novel is a POINT -- two points and you can draw a line, but a line isn't a direction or trajectory.  Three points - maybe a triangle.  Lots of points (my Sime~Gen universe has 12 large points, novels, and several small short-story points with a videogame extending it into it's "future history) create a curve.

To get the sine-wave of History, you need points extending over years and years.  Whether you write those endless years into your novel or not, they need to be in your head somewhere (not necessarily consciously). 

To know your character, you have to know where he/she came from -- but to know that character's story, you have to know where that world is going and what that character has to do with that destination.

Look again at that pattern of interwoven sine-waves.  There is a way to graph the planetary movements that is used in astrology to understand influences in play for a particular life over a particular stretch of years.  It looks exactly like that biorhythm chart.

It doesn't matter whether you (personally) "believe in" astrology, Tarot, Romance, biorhythms, or whatever else.  To become the best writer you can be, you must be able to look at data-sets from all kinds of points of view, from within every sort of belief system, so the characters who disagree with each other, who argue and conflict to generate story, who oppose each other, can SPEAK to each other in ways that will ring true to readers who live within one or another belief set.

You don't have to believe it, but you do have to understand what the world looks and feels like when you do believe it.  You need to walk some miles in the moccasins of various belief systems.

My blog posts here are all about how the writer's mind works, inside itself, and how to train your mind to work like whichever sort of writer you want to be.  More than that, whatever sort of writer you are now -- to be "professional" at writing, you must be able to produce ALL the other sorts of writing.

Professionals (i.e. those who make a living in a field) spend most of their time mastering their tools.

You can tell a professional in any field by that versatility of mind, the ability to improvise with whatever tools are at hand, and the ability to know which tools can do which jobs most efficiently.

The difference between "amateur" and "professional" is basically attitude, but the result that others see to judge professionalism is "efficiency." 

So the writer's career is spent LEARNING -- constantly and forever learning, every day something new, and every day another stage of mastery of a tool of the trade.

Today's exercise is in PERSPECTIVE.  Today we look at the world readers live in, and attempt to replicate it's shape in a fictional piece of worldbuilding.

OK, one thing readers live with but never notice is that "no beginning, and no end" effect of biorhythms. 

To cope with that scope of the world around them, (being human/ -- non-humans might do this differently) humans IGNORE what came before, and mostly don't think about "the future."

People used to think about "the future" more than they do today.  Our temporal horizon in this culture has shifted to a more "now" focused view.  Writers must, however, worldbuild with the unseen past and unforeseeable future in mind.

How do you go about doing that? 

Energy.  Kinetic energy and potential energy. 

You analyze what is now in terms of those interacting sine-waves in that image to find the amount of available energy -- the potential being stored, the potential stored from distant history, what has been released and is moving now, where that motion will lead.

That's very abstract.  How do you apply such an abstraction to the task of worldbuilding for a novel?

Watch the daily news -- and watch some TV series fiction.  Watch some specials.  Read some biographies.  Maybe watch some really old movies on Amazon or Netflix.

Let's look at a set of data from an exercise of that type and see how to apply this "no beginning/no end" model.

Focus on SOCIETY.  Personally, I regard "society" something that doesn't exist.  It's rare to find two people who mean the same thing by the word. 

But let's look at FOUR "periods" in social-history.

A) 1940's-1950's
B) 1960's-1970's
C) 1980's-2000

Take for example the 1940's, just after Rosy The Riveter won World War II for the USA.

Yeah, women moving into men's jobs (jobs "society" reserved only for men) freed up most of the able bodied workforce to go fight a war. 

After 1946, the repercussions of that never stopped.  The men came home but the women didn't want to go home. 

The women were forced to "go home" as the baby-boom exploded.  With the technology available at that time, there was no other way to have and raise kids than to have a family structured with a breadwinner and a homebody to raise the kids.

In the 1940's, there were still many homes with no telephone, or if they had a phone it was a party-line where the neighbors could hear what was said from your house.  People generally had electric lights, indoor flush toilets, many had a car but they didn't work very well, and there were no interstate highways (there was the U.S. Highway system, not very good).  Everyone had a radio, and radio drama and news wove the country into a single culture. 

They had refrigerators, but usually only a tiny compartment of a freezer that had to be defrosted weekly.  Women cooked and did laundry and cleaned (even in an apartment that was 30 hours a week at least) and shopped every day.  Clothes had to be hand washed on a washboard, hauled outside and hung to dry, then IRONED (another 10 hours a week for a family of 3 or 4).  Shopping was usually done at a local market, DAILY, bags hand-carried home or rolled in a "shopping cart."  Milk was delivered in glass bottles which were collected for refilling not recycling. 

There was no such thing as a diaper service for cloth diapers and no disposable diapers.  Diapers (cloth) were washed by hand and then boiled.  Baby formula was only beginning to exist, and many made baby food though Gerbers existed.  Babies were nursed for years (as is coming back into fashion today).  While nursing or pregnant, women had to do all that hand-housework so "exercise" and "gym" didn't exist as an activity.  Everyone was too tired.  In fact women were cranky and tired when their husbands demanded attention. 

So the returned soldiers set out on a concerted effort to create "labor saving devices" and "convenience" became a marketable commodity. 

The returned soldiers were eligible for school grants and housing loans.  Housing was built fast (you've seen some of those 1950's houses, maybe live in one).  They had good jobs and worked specifically to buy a house for their wives to raise all those kids in. 

In the 1950's working-class homes began to have television sets and clothes washers (no microwaves, but power-appliances for kitchens), and freezers to store lots of food, and the TV dinner, and other frozen convenience foods.  And cars. Everyone had a car or was saving to get one.  Houses and cars were suddenly "within reach" and that generated the suburbs and the commuter.  


This was the do-it-yourself generation, the home-handyman/woman, the rise of "kits" and every manner of repair or build-from-scratch project.  People didn't pay others to do things.  They did it themselves -- gardening to roof repair.  They did it themselves to SAVE MONEY, and the saved money was indeed saved (in a bank). 

This next period saw the wild post-war success of Rosie The Riveter at home raising kids as an opportunity, a hope, a rising joy with no end.  (remember that no beginning, no end)

Women could now spend less vital energy just keeping house and raising kids. Clothes washers and permanent press clothes, the freezer and frozen dinners, VACUUM CLEANERS!!!, and a myriad labor saving devices and products gave women spare time they'd never had before.  Ever.  In all history and before that. 

Girls could aspire to college and majors other than teaching or librarian.  Secretaries didn't need college, and neither did waitresses. (today waitresses need a college degree in business because they're really just working their way up to owning the franchise!).

And this was the era of Star Trek (late 1960's TV Series) where people focused on the future, and the sky was no limit.  Here is the origin of the computer, the internet, the world wide web (two different structures), and today the smartphone/tablet/phablet and beyond. 

So women awoke, and demanded equal pay for equal work.

Previously, women who worked were secretaries or teachers and that was considered a temporary phase in a life destined to bearing and raising 12 kids.

Birth control options changed that, big time, but let's focus here on the part of the society-dynamic introduced by the notion of WOMEN WORKING PROFESSIONALLY (potential energy -- remember, go look at those sine-waves again and think ENERGY).

Here's the argument from the 1960's, which originated in the 1940's.  Prior to the 1940's this argument wasn't in play because women had no options. 

Employers MUST pay women LESS for their hours of work because MEN MUST SUPPORT A FAMILY, and any money an employer pays a woman is money taken away from a man.

Women were not "bread-winners" and not responsible for SUPPORTING DEPENDENTS.  Being female meant being dependent -- no option.

And that is the reality of things in 3rd world countries today -- and in anti-women societies which may not be all that primitive technologically, but adhere to a philosophy which places steel-walls around the entire class "female." 


That's a social paradigm that has existed since "female" was invented. 

The argument that we can still play with in futuristic romance is still a hot one. 

Now with "labor saving devices" (so far no artificial womb such as Bujold postulates in her VORKOSIGAN SAGA series) and contraception, women can choose.

That choice threw "society" into a tizzy because the stable situation of all choices made for you before birth ws suddenly upset, but in a lopsided way.  Women could choose but men couldn't.


In the 80's and through the 1990's men began to grab their right of choice back.

Marriage as an institution is in flux, being redesigned.  Romance isn't any less common, soul-mating and life-bonding is not less common.  But "Marriage" took a body-blow with the anti-marriage tax penalty structure in the USA (where a married couple that both brought home man-sized salaries paid more in tax than two people living together but not married).

We get the rise of the "house-husband" -- and during the economic bubble-burstings of the 2000-2020 decades we're seeing the whole FAMILY PARADIGM SHIFT.

Not just marriage is being redefined -- FAMILY is being redefined drastically.

The gay-marriage argument is very complex.  There are a few among the advocates of gay marriage as a legal institution who opening admit that their ultimate goal is the destruction of marriage as a way of life. (really, there's a whole coherent philosophically driven group dedicated to that).  But the majority just want government to leave people alone to do what they want. 

Statistics show that children raised by a man and woman who are married (usually to each other; not always these days) fare better in school and in life than children raised by a single parent.  This holds true even if both husband and wife work.

Which brings us back to the EQUAL PAY issue.

Today compared to the 1940's (remember we're focused on no beginning/ no end), a husband and wife who BOTH WORK bring home about what a HUSBAND of the 1950's was bringing home in terms of purchasing power.

To have a medium-nice house in the suburbs, car, clothes, food, college for say 3 kids, both husband and wife have to work.  That same lifestyle in the 1950's was financed by one man working -- and didn't have to be a college graduate professional to pull in that much purchasing power.

So (a writer can have a character argue) it turns out that the MEN arguing against EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK in the 1950's were in fact CORRECT (if not "right"), that men were pulling larger salaries BECAUSE they had dependents to support.  Putting the dependents into the work force could be seen as causing that single salary to be divided between two workers.

Again, go back and stare at those sine-waves.

Think potential energy transforming into kinetic energy, and back again, no beginning, no end.

The world your readers live in came FROM --

One bread-winner supporting one dependent plus kids (sometimes 10 or 12 kids, but the older boys start work at age 10 and the girls work at cooking, sewing, cleaning, growing vegetables, canning etc.)

Two bread-winners supporting 2 or 3 kids, sometimes 0 these days as the USA birthrate is under 2.0 for the first time on record.

Remember, in worldbuilding -- no beginning and no END. 

So you have to project the world your reader is living in ahead into your reader's future (as your reader might see it).

Think potential energy again, and think of that constantly undulating sine-wave.

We had the paradigm:


But we broke it with technology freeing women -- and the men created that technology of labor saving devices to free up their wives so they could have attention (you know what kind; you're a romance writer so use your imagination).

What got broken?  Only one of the two things got broken -- the relationship between gender and role in providing.  The paradigm part that did not break is PROVIDER VS DEPENDENT.

Today we have the house-husband displaced from professional arc by these nasty recessions staying home (maybe working from home, selling on eBay or whatever), and the woman climbing a corporate ladder.

That's not a common arrangement, but it is losing stigma.  2020 to 2040 will see a change.

OK, what might that change be?

Look at the economy, then look at 1950's Science Fiction. 

What we see happening is just exactly what was postulated by 1950's science fiction -- a problem was described back then and never solved.  Without that vision of a solution, we (as a society) are muddling through to something that might be a solution.

Your readers don't want to look at that future, but they are aware of it, and you can use that awareness to craft your "endless world" illusion.

In the 1950's, writers were pointing out the effects of the burgeoning technological revolution.

By 1960, that revolution was roaring out of the laboratories into manufacturing.

The trend the SF writers of that day saw was the demise of the "idiot stick" job.

An "idiot stick" is a broom.  Many jobs of that post-war period, and very often the job the 12 year old boy would get as his first job -- especially as far back as the 1920's -- was pushing an "idiot stick" or the classic paper route on his bicycle.

In other words, every boy started his working life with UNSKILLED LABOR, and a certain percentage never gained any skills beyond that level.  By 1960, jack-hammer operator was added to unskilled labor. 

All those jobs are gone now.  Only a few years ago, "voice mail" replaced "telephone operator" (the girl's unskilled labor job) and "message taker" in hotels were GONE.  Now a machine does that.  Soon robots will clean rooms and make beds in hotels.  Farmers are already investing heavily in picking equipment to replace the migrant labor they can't get across borders.

Child labor laws and automation have eliminated starter-jobs.  Look at amazon's warehouse operation -- mostly automated.  One classic unskilled job is stocking grocery shelves and produce departments.  Amazon and other online sources are beginning to handle groceries.  Amazon is building warehouses all over so they can deliver "same day" -- where does that go?  Produce and perishables will be added to amazon's warehouse, eliminating grocery stock clerk jobs.  Google is working on a car that drives itself -- truck driver will be an unskilled job (even school bus driver) that is eliminated.

Now look at the jobs that are left standing.

They all require considerable training and intelligence enough to absorb that training (not to mention showing up for work without drugs in your system).  Look at new categories of jobs being created.

America's employers are screaming for Engineers of every stripe! 

Other jobs of that kind that are being invented all require an IQ above 100 to learn and to do.

That's what the 1950's SF writers pointed out -- automation and computers would inevitably lead to a world where to get a job you had to have an IQ way above 100.

100 is "average" for a reason -- half the people in the world have an IQ less than 100.  They can't learn or do these jobs -- not won't, CAN'T.

The other counter-trend to take account of in worldbuilding is that we are now using computer chips to alter "jobs" -- to dumb-down procedures so that average people can do them.  Look at smartphones -- you don't have to be a genius to use an app, but running a full Microsoft desktop computer used to take engineer-level tech skills and the ability to acquire new skills very fast.  Now everything is "in the cloud" and anti-virus companies just send you updates like all other software.

Microsoft is already running "rent-it-by-the-hour" software in the cloud.  That dumbs-down the requirement for being a typist.

Less and less THINKING ABILITY is required to do jobs, so they can "employ" average people (who abound in numbers).

Today, schooling generally consists of learning to use an iPad to access Wikipedia. 

What kind of future are the current teens envisioning? 

IQ 100 people expect to get paid what an IQ 130 person would be worth. 

Do you think that will happen (there's a novel in that) -- and then what about the IQ80 folks, whose numbers likewise abound?

Who's going to create the tech that does the actual work FOR the IQ 100 employee?  Will that IQ 130 person get paid more than the IQ 100 person who uses what the IQ 130 person creates?

Why didn't we have this problem BEFORE World War II?

Well, we did.

Remember, another argument against employing women at equal pay is that women aren't as good at working, aren't as smart as men which is why women shouldn't be allowed to go to college.

Now remember what you read (I hope you've read it by now) in the Darkover Series by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Inside every man there's a woman/ inside every woman there's a man.

We are all both.

The paradigm technology broke was the link between gender and dependence.  What technology didn't break -- what it actually exaggerated, is the link between PROVIDER and the DEPENDENT.

The reason we didn't have "a problem" before WWII is that we had a PROVIDER who provided for a FAMILY.

We had a classic nuclear family structure consisting of provider, and dependents.

Today, the family is shattered.  With each decade the man/woman/marriage/kids paradigm is dissolving away.

There are those today who scream bloody murder over this dissolution.

But we're romance writers.  We write romance novels for a reason.  It's not going away. 

Soul-Mates isn't going away.  "The Family" as we knew it is never coming back.

We are in the process (look again at the interlinked sine-waves -- PROCESS)  of creating a new paradigm for family.

The economic basis for FAMILY is what always held it together, but that grip created a great deal of serious Evil with a capital E while it was about doing all that good for humanity.

The Evil in the old-fashioned family was that it was a trap that stole a woman's FREE WILL.

Remember philosophically I'm really bugs on FREE WILL CHOICES.  It's the free will choice that starts a novel, that impels a character onto a path of confronting a conflict and resolving it. 

Without free will choice, there is no story, and I'm all about STORY TELLING.

The stories I see that now need telling are stories about NEW TYPES OF FAMILIES.

And the opportunity I see in the past I've described here since WWII is the creation of a new family consisting of a bread-winner, a PROVIDER and his/her DEPENDENTS, regardless of the ages, genders, IQ or talents of either provider or dependents.

That's the argument for gay-marriage as a legally supported institution. 

The element, though, that both straight and gay communities have lost over the last decades is the permanents of marriage.  The concept "marriage" shouldn't necessarily have so much to do with gender as it does with provider/dependent agreements.

Note how I described the typical wife's life in the 1940's -- that's a dependent, yes, but not someone who does not "work."  Wives contributed, as did kids.  We now legally prevent kids from contributing.  That needs some serious thinking (I'm adamantly against exploitation, but it makes dynamite story material.)

One of the reasons Rosy the Riveter revolted in the 1970's was that "women's work" (e.g. housework) was as physically demanding as "men's work" but garnered nothing but contempt from society (except on Mother's Day an invention of commercial interests).

The New Family Structure has to include serious respect and rewards for the economic dependent that rival or exceed the respect and rewards garnered by the provider. 

Remember that sine-wave.  We're going to get to parity between provider and dependent, but at that point there will be more kinetic energy than potential energy and we will blast right through parity to another imbalance (though none of us may live to see that happen.)

So fasten your creative mind around that picture of the world your reader lives in.

Now REPLICATE THAT SHAPE -- not the details, but the shape -- in the world you are building for your characters to romp through an adventure in, taking those readers along with them.  The world you build has to be familiar enough to your reader that it doesn't distract them from the story, and at the same time contain some unfamiliar elements that shadow the developments your reader unconsciously expects to see in the real world around them.

Shadow is the substance of fiction.  But it has to be a shadow of reality.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. RE 1950s SF: It's interesting that so much of it strides boldly into the future with technology but portrays that future as sociologically identical to the 1950s. E.g., Heinlein's juveniles. The narrator of HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL lives in an era when there's a colony on the moon. Yet he lives in a 1950s family and town. Even my idol, C. S. Lewis, when he wanted to satirize a public proposal that men on long space voyages to the moon or Mars should have women along for sexual service, wrote his satire within the paradigm that underlay the proposal. It doesn't seem to have occurred to either his target or himself that WOMEN would also be astronauts.

  2. @Margaret Carter
    Oh, I'm SURE "it occurred" -- it may even have been written that women will be astronauts, but there was no way to sell that to the commercial market.

    In fact, I know it to be the case. Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote a woman-astronaut book and couldn't sell it (contemporary to when she wrote it). Later when women WERE included, it couldn't sell because the tech was all wrong and the plot depended on the old tech. That is more an illustration of the dangers of writing contemporary SF than of social-change issues.