As a historical novelist, I often get asked, "When do you know if you've done enough research?"
My apologies to the historical novelists who want to know more about doing research--that's not the topic today. I'm actually going to talk about another aspect of my answer to this question. I know it's time to start writing when I can see the world as my character would see it.
It's so jarring when you start reading a historical novel and the character is more like a modern kid in a historical world than a historical figure, so it's essential that I can see the historical setting I'm writing about as if I were someone from that era which includes his/her pscyhological approach as well as his/her view of the times. I refer to this as character's worldview.
Character worldview is an element of character development that is quite a bit like world building from one character's perspective. Then again, should know the worldview of all of the characters in your story so, it would be more accurate to say it's world building one character at a time.
Let's talk about what goes into worldview. For starters, imagine you're in an art gallery, standing with a group of folks looking at a work of art that reminds you of the days when you used to use your scissors to shave old crayons onto wax paper,* then your teacher used an iron to melt them into an elementary school version of a stain glassed window. The guy next to you starts going on about existential expressions of color and a girl at the end is standing close enough to smell the paint, wondering if the artist mixed his own colors. Meanwhile, a lady with three colored pencils holding her bun in place is texting a friend in Fiji to say she needs a good recipe for spiked fruit punch for a party she's hosting for a 100 close friends and one tempermental art critic. Here, we see an example of worldview at work--each person looking (or pretending to look) at this work of art has a unique perspective on it.
It is a character's unique view of the world invoked by a work of fiction that allows us to see our own world in a new light. For this reason, you need to develop your characters' individual view of the world which is an expression of voice, character motivation, and backstory. We see the world the way we do because of our own life experiences-- to understand a character's perspective on the world-- we need to know how past experiences have shaped him/her, how s/he would describe things, and what motivates each character to see things in a certain way.
Take this scene from Nissa's Place (Milkweed) as an example. Look at how the differences in worldview between these two best friends shapes this scene. Follow me to Louisiana in 1935, to go flower picking with Nissa Bergen and her best friend (maybe) Mary Carroll:
Next, we come to voice-- "Who's going to give an owl's hoot" is a distinctly Nissa saying. I know because I made it up just for her. Using unique turns of phrase that sound natural to the person, time period, and place is a great way to evoke dialect, era, and establish character voice simultaneously. Likewise, Mary's more formal work choice and use of diction (until she's angry enough to tell Nissa to stop trashtalking Gary) shows a difference in her voice and within it becuase very few people use just one voice throughout their lives--we all code switch when moving from one sphere of our life to another or from one emotion to the other.
An additional aspect of voice to consider is the use of descriptive and figurative language--Nissa says Mary "kept smiling like she’d just won a cake walk and claimed a triple decker chocolate cake with coconut frosting for her prize" and Mary says she doesn't wan to look like some "crop picking boy" which distinguishes their voices and builds their world at the same time becuase we know they live in an agrarian society that still has cake walks (think musical chairs with cakes as a prize).
Speaking of revealing things-- when characters share their worldview they also unveil something of their psychological motivation. Mary never comes straight out and says she is wearing a dress because she wants to attract the romantic attentions of one Gary Journiette, but we know this because of what she says and does, so we infer it from the slant of her dialogue and behavior. We also know a lot about Nissa's psychological reaction to Mary's courting tendencies because of how she views romance as "an insanity you never recover from."
Knowing the worldviews of each character in a given scene, story, or novel allows you to add layers of tension, irony, and meaning within the text. It also provides you with a way to add complexity and depth to your secondary and tertiary characters to up the ante in terms of the realism of your worldbuilding whether you're writing a mystery, fantasy, or historical story.
Overall, worldview not only allows readers to see the world in a new light, but it allows them to emerse themsleves in the lives of other people without being accused of eavesdropping. Please let me know if you have any questions-- I love questions, especially if they cause me to learn new things becuase the more we know, the more we can imagine, the more we can imagine, the more we can create!
Please share your own insights on worldview. I'd love to hear them!