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bdcharles

Handling class in your writing

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How do you deal with different classes of characters in your stories, or the concept of class in general? Is there a layer of aristocracy sitting on the merchant classes, that rests in turn on the backs of the workers, or have you reimagined the whole thing? Are people defined by what they do, à la mage, rogue, warrior, and so forth? Or is your world classless, or something new? Does your writing draw from a particular strata?

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Ooh this is a little different for me because my story is scifantasy, so the social structure is a bit closer to what exists in our modern world, at least in a broad sense. Of my two MCs, one is from the underprivileged class, and the other grew up wealthy and went into government service for a group that somewhat parallels our FBI or maybe CIA. It also depends on what part of the world you're talking about. My characters come from a continent where the vast majority of magic in humans was wiped out long ago, so they've been developing technology feverishly to keep up with what the nations on other continents can do through magic. So inventors, scientists, etc have an elevated (if precarious) position in their society, but it's different in other places.

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Good question bdcharles[/member]! I will try and think up an answer...

 

kherezae[/member] The position of scientists in your project is interesting, I like the idea of their privilege being fragile.

 

For mine... I'm still working this out. My current WIP has many gods with many priests, and those priests are highly integrated into society. Pretty much anyone can join any temple, so there are fewer barriers for joining that social class. I'm thinking there will still be a ruling class comprised of nobility and monarchs, which will vary from country to country.

 

There will be a highly developed merchant class, as certain gods are constrained to physical locations, and their followers need to import goods to use their powers (forge god followers import metals from the mining god's city for example). These merchants also dominate sea travel, as the last war of the gods centuries ago torn the land apart, and some countries can no longer easily reach their neighbors through overland travel.

 

Different priest classes will have higher social status depending on which city they are in. A mercenary priest of the god of blood will be treated like a beggar in the city belonging to the goddess of herbs, because the goddess of herbs has an alliance with the goddess of healing, who has a feud with the god of blood... But in his own city he will be treated with great respect.

 

I'm thinking:

Ruler of the Country

Administrative/Noble class

Merchant Princes

Merchants

Priests (vary up the scale)

Regular people who aren't pledged to a god, working class

 

I'm trying to make the whole god/priest thing highly integrated into society and its making social class very complicated.

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I am keeping into account the differences of class when I write my stories. Most people have the mentality of their time, even if a few can be progressist and not believing in social differences. The lower class themselves see themselves, often, as not worthy for more, as such was how they were indoctrinated.

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To be honest, it hasn't come up much in this story.  The people that are part of the frame segment are all simple villagers, so there isn't much class difference between them.  Especially since they're all huddled in a cave, hoping to survive the war.

 

The story within the frame focuses mostly on the Gods and large scale changes in the world, so while classes are vaguely mentioned, it hasn't come into play as a major plot element yet.  The narrator herself was once a Goddess, so her concept of mortal classes isn't really the most accurate.

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So far, most of my WIP's characters are either royalty in some way or related to such. I do have one major character planned who works as a rural shepherd, but even then...

 

His father was a king who got dethroned by the villain.

 

 

This is probably because my story focuses on the leaders of the societies involved and their interactions with one another, such as warfare and diplomacy. Lower-class people don't get to call as many shots in that arena.

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Class is a fairly big part of my story, as two of my main characters are from very different classes, and this is a bone of contention between the two. It's definitely an issue for both of them as they have their own prejudices. Maeve's first impression of Carrigan is that he's stuck up and pompous, whereas Carrigan thinks Maeve and her people are backwards, country bumpkins. On the grand scale of things, Carrigan is far from being upper class and is generally looked down upon by his peers as he's the illegitimate son of an upper-class Magister and a working-class fisherwoman from the islands.

 

My magic system is based on talismans called Anchors that the user has to craft out of natural materials. The poorer classes use easy to access materials such as wood and stone. Middle classes use metals and semi-precious stones, pretty much anything that maybe looks fancy at first glance but isn't "luxury".  The highest nobles and royals have the most valuable anchors which may still use gold, platinum etc but also make use of precious, valuable gems.

 

Anchors do not have an infinite use. When they come to the end of their life they break. I'm still fleshing out the rules to the system, but I'm thinking that the amount of effort it takes to make the anchor affects how long they can be used for, so the higher classes may pay for someone else to make fine, filigreed anchors with polished stones, while the poor can only afford to carve their own or pay the local artificer, so will generally own weaker anchors.

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One important detail about my world-building and societal structure - you will not find any monarchies in any of my novels.  Military dictators, devious political leaders and gangster bosses aplenty, but not a single traditional monarch.   (In real life I'm a vehement anti-monarchist and I don't even like writing about them in a fantasy setting).

Many of my societies are ruled by those who grab power, rather than those who are elected or those who inherit.  Basically, those who control financial institutions, businesses and the media are the ruling classes.

Sorcerers who live in enclaves don't generally concern themselves with politics and power-mongering.  However, those who live in the outside world often ally themselves to people of power, whether in a mercenary context or because they support specific causes or cultural groupings.

I write a lot about the underclasses - the homeless, the disenchanted, those who choose the travelling life.  They form small communities who help each other and sometimes clash with other communities.

Most law enforcement agencies are toothless or unconcerned.  They only act when it suits them and they have become a laughing stock.

Social mobility is possible.  For someone suitably motivated and prepared to play the long game, they can rise up and seize power, regardless of their origins.

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14 hours ago, Xanxa said:

One important detail about my world-building and societal structure - you will not find any monarchies in any of my novels.  Military dictators, devious political leaders and gangster bosses aplenty, but not a single traditional monarch.   (In real life I'm a vehement anti-monarchist and I don't even like writing about them in a fantasy setting).

Many of my societies are ruled by those who grab power, rather than those who are elected or those who inherit.  Basically, those who control financial institutions, businesses and the media are the ruling classes.

Sorcerers who live in enclaves don't generally concern themselves with politics and power-mongering.  However, those who live in the outside world often ally themselves to people of power, whether in a mercenary context or because they support specific causes or cultural groupings.

I write a lot about the underclasses - the homeless, the disenchanted, those who choose the travelling life.  They form small communities who help each other and sometimes clash with other communities.

Most law enforcement agencies are toothless or unconcerned.  They only act when it suits them and they have become a laughing stock.

Social mobility is possible.  For someone suitably motivated and prepared to play the long game, they can rise up and seize power, regardless of their origins.

This sounds great. A lot of fantasy seems to me to concern people who happen to be royalty or aristos or have some connection to a notional throne. All of which is fine and dandy, but as you say, what of the underclass in such environments? What of the workers and general populus? I'm interested in the washerwoman who has to mop up goblin guts as well as make ends meet. What does the postman, whose daily run is punctuated by the flurry and rush of a passing war-dragon, think about his world? What is the impact of magic on the streets?

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7 hours ago, bdcharles said:

This sounds great. A lot of fantasy seems to me to concern people who happen to be royalty or aristos or have some connection to a notional throne. All of which is fine and dandy, but as you say, what of the underclass in such environments? What of the workers and general populus? I'm interested in the washerwoman who has to mop up goblin guts as well as make ends meet. What does the postman, whose daily run is punctuated by the flurry and rush of a passing war-dragon, think about his world? What is the impact of magic on the streets?

Thanks for the compliment.  I have many characters who do relatively mundane jobs, like housemaids scrubbing floors and doing laundry, couriers delivering documents and parcels, construction workers and of course waiting staff in cafes, bars and restaurants.  Also, in "Chimera Obscura", the mother of my MC works as a volunteer in a hostel for the homeless.  Even when she's employed as a housemaid for a wealthy gangster Lord, she continues with her voluntary work at the hostel, because she says the street people need her more than the Lord does.   I also have people working in the seedier professions - drug dealers, thieves and prostitutes. 

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