Making the Mundane Important
Writing about your world can sometimes seem tough. How foes one make their world believable? How do you put your readers into the shoes of the characters? How do you create tension in simple settings?
Mundane TasksMany writers and worldbuilders tend to gloss over the mundane parts of their world. Rituals involving bathing seem to be the one major exception. However, there are major parts of real life tasks that we do mostly everyday that can tell a lot about a character or a people. How dishes, clothes, or the self are washed. How much water is used to clean, or who primarily does the cooking are all great ways to highlight how a culture is different from those of our world. In fact, comparing two cultures in this way is also a simple way to inflict tension between characters.
What, Who, How, Why, and Why?When looking at mundane tasks in your world, break it down into five simple questions: What is the Task? Who does the Task? How do they do the Task? Why is the Task done? Why does this person do the Task? By asking these questions, you can be well on your way to making small, cultural details that breathe life into your world. Let's start by looking at one Mundane Task done in my Household, Washing Dishes, and then look at how that has changed since the 1950's.
The PatheticBarrel HouseholdWhat is the Task? Simply cleaning, drying, and putting away of dishes used to prepare, serve, store, or eat food. Who does the Task? Normally my wife during the day, though I will do it in the evenings or on my day off. How do they do the Task? My wife and I both normally rinse the dishes and put them inside of our dishwasher. Once the washer completes its cycle, we remove the dishes, ensure they are dry, and put them in the appropriate cupboards and drawers. Dishes that cannot fit, or cannot be washed in the washer, are washed by hand with hot water and soap, amd then either left to air dry, or are towel dried and put away. Why is this Task done? To ensure food deposited on dishes does not mold, and to ensure dishes are clean for future food preparation. Also done to eliminate dishes piled up at sink. Why do these people do the Task? My wife generally attempts to have a clean house for when I arrive, and it is usually easier to cook if all the needed dishes are clean, in their proper storage, and the sink is empty. I do the Task when I do in order to provide my wofe with a clean, stress free house in the morning, or to allow her to rest during the day.
How does this differentiate from other cultures? If we look at the 1950's in America, we can see some major differences, that tell us a lot about how the world has changed. The What and Why of the Task generally stay the same, but the Who gets massive change. Modern America, Men do as much housework as Women, with some variation. The How also changes, as now we have lovely conveninces like Dish Washers. How does new technology or magic (or the lack of) change the Task, and in turn effect the culture? How does the availability of resources change the task? How about the presence of children, or the absence of an adult?