Brooke Shaffer

Author, Gamer, and Cat-Collector Extraordinaire

World Building: Social Life 1

Welcome back to the series on World Building. Today we’re going to talk about Social Life. This will be the first of three installments.

This first installment is going to deal with birth through adulthood, how your people—be they humanoid or alien—grow up, how they are shaped in and by their world.

The first question you must ask yourself, assuming you are not writing about actual human beings, is how your people come into existence. Are they born? Are they formed? Are they hatched? For Sifura and the Xur, as well as the other tribes, they are grown on trees or other similar environmental variations. For the Grunjor, they are made from a special type of rock and come into existence fully formed.

Once your alien exists, what are its limitations, if any? The Grunjor just need a name and an assignment. The Xur are initially helpless, like human infants. Araxi, though young, are fully capable of seeking out food for themselves. Lixon are not only helpless, but, like some Earth animals, are also blind and deaf at birth. What instincts are already ingrained into your people, and how are these instincts realized? How good is the memory of your people during this period? Do they recall everything, or is there a certain age or mental state that must be reached before memories can be properly formed and recalled?

Are there any known physical or mental defects in your people? How are such children treated? Are they aborted at the first sign of imperfection, or is all life cherished? When might a child begin to figure out that they are not like other children?

How long is the infant/toddler phase of your people, and how does it compare, proportionally, to their overall expected lifespan? Is it a couple weeks? A couple years? What is their mental progression like compared to their physical progression? What other internal phases does your alien baby go through? Do they have a “terrible two’s” phase where they are confronted with their own limitations and emotions, but lack the experience to properly work through them? When does the basic framework of personality begin to emerge?

From the toddler’s point of view, how do they relate to others of their own age? Are they domineering? Submissive? Cooperative? Could it differ depending on the child? How do these relationships change depending on whether they are true relatives or just friends (such as a playdate)? What learning differences might there be for a single child versus having a few siblings versus, perhaps, having millions of siblings? How do the dynamics change, if at all? How does it reinforce the social structure in which your toddler lives?

From the toddler’s point of view, what are they learning about their culture, their people, their environment? Are they expected to be emotionally stoic? Are they expected to adapt quickly to a harsh and unpredictable environment? Are they permitted to berate others who are not like them, or are they expected to be tolerant of all, in spite of any personal misgivings?

How does your alien toddler experience punishment? What are the effects on his psyche if the punishment is too severe or too lax? What is the most appropriate method for discipline and shaping a child to be a functional, cohesive adult? How does this approach look to outsiders? Why does it work for your people? Why wouldn’t something else work? Could something be learned to or from opposition? What happens if a tried-and-true method does not work for a particular child?

At what point does your alien toddler become truly aware of himself and his surroundings? Is it a natural instinct that develops at a certain point of maturity, or does it have to be explained or taught? Some combination of the two? What are the advantages or disadvantages of a child learning such things earlier or later than normal? What personal shifts take place? How do relationship dynamics change?

What games, sports, or recreation are available for your child? Are only certain ones available? Why would some be unavailable? Why would a child choose one form of recreation and not another? What kinds of skills are they meant to reinforce? Is there any social or familial pressure to excel at a particular game or sport? Could certain activities be assigned to your child? Why?

What responsibilities are your child expected to hold? When? Why? What physical or mental capabilities must be reached to assign these responsibilities to your child? What happens if a child cannot fulfill his responsibilities? What if he refuses to do them?

How does your child view religion, if it is taught? Are they integrated from a young age, or told to explore? What part does your child play in various ceremonies or rituals? How are more complex theological points explained to an underdeveloped mind? How does your child relate to other children who may not be religious?

What kind of education does your child receive? What information is he expected to learn, and how is this knowledge imparted? Are there different ways your child learns? What happens if a child proves to be exceptionally gifted in one or more areas? What if he shows to be deficient in one or more areas?

When does a child begin to question authority? Is he expected or encouraged to do so? What if he’s not? How is a child expected to relate to adults they are related to? Adults they know? Adults they don’t know? Are these relationships specially reinforced? What happens if a child does not relate to adults the way he is expected to? What if the fault is on the part of the adult?

How does your child handle traumatic events? Is war and tragedy simply a part of life so that it’s normal, and all emotional and psychological reaction is based around this concept? Does your child live in a bubble of peace and perfection? Are children expected to simply accept the world as it is, or are they encouraged to explore for themselves?

What sorts of questions are children asked as it relates to their futures? Are they asked what their career will be? What sort of art they will make? The number of enemies they will kill or slaves they will take? The years of government they will hold? The number of planets they will visit?

What is considered the threshold of adulthood? Is it an arbitrary age for legal precedent? Is it sexual development or maturity? Is there a ceremony, ritual, or other occasion that marks the day, or is it just another day of the week?

If this threshold is arbitrary only and there is little or no remarkable change, then how did this arbitration come to be? How and why was this thing settled on? Is it based on age? Experience? If age, why a particular age and not younger or older? If experience, why a particular experience or set of skills? Why not more or less?

If the threshold is some sort of change, what does this development look like? Is it a physical change? Emotional? Psychological? Spiritual? Some combination? How quickly does it take place? Is it overnight or over years? What signs are there that this change may be coming? Why does this change equal adulthood? If the change is over a longer period of time, is adulthood considered to be the beginning of this change, or the end? Is there a special phase of life for the time in between? Are there certain things that must or can only be accomplished in this time period?

What happens if there is a disparity between arbitrary adulthood and physical/emotional/psychological maturity? For example, the human brain doesn’t fully mature until around age twenty-six, and yet, depending on the culture, adulthood may be reached at thirteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one, or some other age. What cultural factors play into this disparity? What would be the social and psychological ramifications if adulthood were reserved for this threshold? What if adulthood were already set at this threshold and then moved forward?

Is it possible that there is a way in which a child may never be considered an adult? What criteria must be met for this? Why? Are there special exceptions? How would a child react to this? How would others react to this, and how would a child react to their reaction?

Does your child look forward to adulthood? What new privileges or experiences do they have to look forward to? What things are exclusive to adults, and what may be experienced even before adulthood, even with limitations? What would happen if a child tried to encroach on a privilege or activity reserved for adults?

What happens immediately after your child is declared to be an adult? What happens in the next few days? What social shifts take place? Are these shifts expected to be immediate, or is it a process? When does your child start to actually “feel” like an adult?

So that does it for this installment. In the next installment, we’ll talk about your alien’s adult life and what is expected of him.

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