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Sunday, April 29, 2018

What is Worldbuilding, and Why Do We Do It?

So, what is worldbuilding? A lot of people I speak to seem to think that worldbuilding means a long exhaustive process of creating massive secondary worlds. What is a secondary world? Well, it turns out the term was coined by J.R.R. Tolkien, and refers to "an internally consistent, fictional, fantasy world or setting that is different from the real 'primary world.'" And some worldbuilding involves creating worlds like that - but not all of it.

Keep in mind that when one starts writing a story, one starts with a blank page, and then has to create the sense that the reader is experiencing a world. That world might be our world, as it is in narrative nonfiction. It might be a past version of our world, or an alternate version of our world. Or it might be a secondary world.

In my view, any time you are creating a sense of place while storytelling, you are worldbuilding.

As readers, we encounter many different kinds of worlds with many different feels depending on the genre we're reading. It could be romance, science fiction, fantasy, mainstream fiction, crime, mystery, narrative nonfiction, etc. etc. Even known places in our world can be portrayed in lots of different ways.

Kat immediately picked up on this, noting that though she grew up in Los Angeles, she's always interested to see "someone else's concept of my hometown." The idea of a Hollywood Los Angeles is quite common, but it's certainly not the only kind of portrayal we can find in fiction. Every time you have a different point of view, it will result in a different portrayal of the same place.

The Werewolf Principle by Clifford Simak has a protagonist who has three different minds and bodies, and switches between them. When he's in the form of an alien and encounters a thunderstorm, he thinks "what is all this water," but when he's in a human form, he has the normal reactions we would expect to getting wet.

Morgan told us she used to work in an office building with an elevator lobby that, she discovered, the author Laura Anne Gilman described in her book, Staying Dead. Think of a familiar environment, and of what you notice there. What would another author notice there?

Noticing is a really key concept in point of view. Ask yourself: What does the protagonist notice? Noticing is an extremely subjective thing. Different people will notice different things. Also, the same person will notice different things at different times. The way that you will describe something should depend on what is important to notice about it, and this may depend a lot on the point of view you are writing from. Prose description is a lot of fun when it matches a particular character's way of thinking.

Genre also has an influence on what should be described in the environment. Steampunk tends to put a lot of attention on clothing and goggles and gadgetry. Science fiction often puts attention on gadgetry, but it is less likely to dive into descriptions of clothing or furniture. Romance often gives loving attention to clothes and the interiors of rooms. Depending on what you are writing, you should ask yourself, "What are the key details? Where should I put them?"

Sometimes we can find that our own history of reading influences our expectations and the ease with which we understand a story setting. We understand things based on context, and that means that someone who has a lot of previous experience reading in a particular genre will need fewer context cues and explanations in the text itself in order to understand. As genre readers, we take certain things for granted. This is one of the things that can make science fictional (and other) worldbuilding opaque for readers who have little experience reading in the genre.

The famous author Samuel Delaney has said that every word makes you alter or build on an image.

Che pointed out that changing one thing often can change everything around it, like the time travel butterfly effect. Different discussants pointed out different ways in which small alterations, or particular speculative concepts, could create changes that might not be fully explored by the author. We decided to take the question on in a future hangout (Exploring the Impact and Implications of Your Speculative Concept).

Whether you include an explanation of something - anything from faster-than-light travel to a wired telephone - will depend on your perception of your audience's previous knowledge, and also on the focus of the story. A story that is not focused on how time travel works, even if it features time travel, will not need you to explain it. Kat argued that we need to consider explaining old technology to young people.

Brian noted that our expectations color the patterns we use in the stories we write. They influence our use of tropes. Horror used to rely on isolating people back in the 1970's.  Now it would be more likely to make horror out of always being in touch.

Descriptions that you put in of your setting, provided that they reflect the point of view of a character, will not only describe the place they are in/thinking of but also reveal things about the character's background and thoughts.

We talked briefly about how to pick which details to include in a world. Some details are connected to larger patterns within the world, such as when telephones are linked to the use of electricity and other aspects of technology. The presence of one object can imply the possible existence of a number of other objects in the world.

However, as Kat notes, we can't rely on every step of a technological history to come along with a particular object. The history of the telephone, for example, is different in Europe from the way it occurred in Africa, where people have skipped over landline phones and gone straight to cell phones, which are more practical. Kat and I both highly recommend the Writing the Other workshops and book, which can give us insights into how to write the perspectives of people unlike us. Kat also mentioned how the history of fax devices is very different in Asia from what it was in the US, including that deaf kids in Japan used fax machines while the US used teletype.

An audience can come to your story with a very large set of default assumptions that may not hold in the world of the story, and sometimes as the author you will have to work against them directly in order for people not to rewrite your world in their subconscious.

At this point, a number of people brought up fantasy and science fiction worlds that operate on dream logic, or don't strive for total consistency, etc. and yet are still successful. It's true - there are some like that! Cliff said that Michael Moorcock said he "never did worldbuilding," but had the worlds reflect the moods of the characters. J.K. Rowling when she was creating Harry Potter did not need every part of her world to be grounded and consistent with general historical principles... and that was perfectly all right. It's true: logical realism is not necessarily what we want. However, a lack of logical realism when it's expected can kill a story.

Kat put it this way. What do your readers expect? Realism? Allegory? Use that to decide how you approach your world.

Sometimes we worldbuild subconsciously, without thinking about it. This is when our own cultural defaults are most likely to slip in, and we have to keep an eye out for that.

Next we asked the question, How do you start worldbuilding? Well, even if you only have an idea for a speculative gadget or a magical power, you have already started. You can enter a story world from lots of different points. Worlds and cultures are interconnected places. The things in your world can be culturally, physically, thematically, or metaphorically connected with other things in your world.

A lot will depend on the categorization systems you use. Kat said that when people are given a monkey, an apple, and a banana, and asked which two go together, some will say the apple and banana go together because they are fruit, and others will say the monkey and banana go together because monkeys eat bananas. We learn our categorization systems when we learn our first language, and when we learn our native culture. Breaking out of this normative worldview can be difficult.

It's fine to decide to stay with the normative worldview, but I always like people to be aware of what they are doing, and making purposeful decisions.

Che suggested one way to begin a world is to pick a time and place from our own history and build from there. You can, for example, pick the 1930's Depression-era America, but use made-up town names in recognizable states, creating a place that is just slightly off from the actual real-world references.

Remember, you don't have to build the whole world... just enough. Sometimes it's enough just to know what the point of view protagonist knows. If you then decide to expand outward from there into greater complexity, then go for it!

Thank you to everyone who participated in this discussion. I'm so grateful to Che and my other discussants for suggesting we do a general "Introduction to Worldbuilding series of videos. You guys are the best!


Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, author and editor

I was really thrilled to have Khaalidah on the show to share her insights with us. I asked her what she liked in the arena of worldbuilding and she said that she has no specific likes, but says, "I want to feel something." She wants to feel how the story is going to capture her, to be intrigued by where it's taking place, and she says she needs something to be happening pretty quickly.

I always enjoy talking with people who are "pantsers," i.e. people who don't do a lot of advance planning, because as someone who does a ton of outlining, I find it fascinating to learn about how people develop their worlds in real time as they write. Khaalidah explained that when she writes with Spencer Ellsworth, he does the planning, and she concentrates on writing the character and feeling.

She explains that she starts by writing, and then does research while in the midst of the process. "I rarely finish and do research later." She says that she doesn't write something until it's finished and then revise it afterward, but tends to rewrite as she goes along, so that by the time she has a completed draft, it's "pretty clean."

She told us she's in the midst of writing a story with Spencer, which was inspired by Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. The story features a Muslim sword-wielder. The two of them started by emailing ideas back and forth and then it turned into a novella. It's a Wild West fantasy story with a middle-aged mother who is a magic-wielder and a sword-wielder. She referred to the character as Hijabi Zorro.

This story is a post-slavery alternate history. The main character lost her father, who was an immigrant Muslim, and not a child of slaves. She is an outsider, and lives on the edge of a small town in a place where Native Americans live nearby. Her husband is a deadbeat, and she finds herself financially strapped, so she decides to do a train robbery.

This is a world where magical creatures have lived, but are dying out.

I asked Khaalidah what kind of people her main character meets during the story. They include former slaves, a Native American woman and a Japanese criminal mastermind.

One interesting aspect of this main character is that she can do magic, but was taught that it was forbidden. She struggles with spirituality and faith, right and wrong. Loneliness and grief also make it more challenging for her to deal with the external problems she faces. In the first story about her, her children are quite young, which means they don't play as large a role now as they will later in the timeline when they wield their own magic.

There are different schools of magic, some of which are not allowed. A djinn is involved...

Her writing process involves writing, worldbuilding, using that worldbuilding to inform the story, writing more, and then worldbuilding more.

One of the issues Khaalidah described was the question of where the magical power originated. There are mysterious bones buried under the earth, but it's tricky to decide whether the main character is drawing her power from them, or drawing it directly from the earth itself. This way of drawing power is unique to the character. She is protected by a djinn guardian.

Because this character is a practicing Muslim, she has an abiding love and respect for her father, who really impressed upon her that she should not use her magic. She was born with it, and it came from her mother. She doesn't know much about it, or how to control it. Her husband proposes that she should use her magic, but for religious reasons she knows she shouldn't. In fact, she was present when her father was killed, and she feels guilty for not saving him with magic.

Problems arise for the main character in part because she's considered a heathen black woman, and has no father to protect her, and has twin girls to look after. When the criminal mastermind is broken out of prison, he offers to teach her to use magic. She's intrigued by the criminal mastermind, because he is not what he seems.

This sounds like a fascinating story, and I really appreciate Khaalidah's focus on character, and on the internal conflicts that drive her.

I asked Khaalidah what she felt was her favorite story she'd written, and she told us it was "Concessions." She says she wants to write something bigger in the world than she already has. Her initial ideas for the story changed. She was thinking about fear and disappointment, and how we respond to people different from us.

The world featured in Concessions is an America-like place that has just gone through a religious war. A few major cities are thriving, but the land is scorched. People who want to live in the cities must renounce their belief systems. The main character in this story is a doctor named Bilqis, who lives in the desert hinterlands. She's a Muslim but cares for people of all faiths, particularly for women, who are having difficulty having children. When she herself becomes pregnant, she has to decide whether to renounce her beliefs for the sake of herself and her unborn child.

The story asks difficult questions. What would you be willing to do for security? Is it enough to carry faith in your heart? Is it fair to ask for such a concession? Khaalidah pointed out that some people have to make difficult concessions of this nature right now, as when women feel they have to remove hijab in order to live and work in society.

Faith plays a large role in Khaalidah's work. Sometimes characters are Muslim but not as obviously so; their faith shows in their culture, judgments and practices. She explained that the characters in her story "Talking to Cancer" are Muslim, but that it's not really mentioned explicitly.

We also spoke about a story Khaalidah co-wrote with Rachael K. Jones, "Regarding the Robot Raccoons Attached to the Hull of my Ship," which was featured in Neil Clarke's collection of the year's best stories in the year it came out. It's about two sisters feuding in space. Khaalidah explained that she'd had it on her bucket list for them to write something together. The two sisters, Anita and Ziza, are written by Rachael and Khaalidah, respectively. They emailed back and forth until the story was done.

The story features the two sisters' letters as they race each other to Mars and argue about whether to terraform the planet. It also involves them rehashing stuff they have done to each other. Anita comes across as crabby and mad, while Ziza has a more hippie, love-everyone vibe, wondering, "Why so mad?" Khaalidah and Rachael are working on a sequel to the story. The focus of the stories is less about terraforming Mars and more about their relationship, even as Ziza sends nanites to eat the hull of her sister's ship, or Anita sends a fake video of their mom to trick Ziza into going home (Ziza is not fooled).

The interpersonal relationships between the characters reflect the nature of the world. In Khaalidah's view, what is happening in the world only matters insomuch as it influences the characters. Details matter when they affect how people move through the world. In "Concessions," for example, you see Bilqis trying to grow crops in the desert because she is desperate to grow and hunt food. It shouldn't be shown if it doesn't affect the characters.

We asked Khaalidah if her perception of a story changes when she reads or records it. She told us that she's had two stories podcasted. It doesn't change how she feels; she sees the story but it doesn't sound the same as if she were reading it herself. She told us she's a person who reads her stories aloud to check them for tone, inflection, and nuance. She said she likes that readers will read their own thing into a story, and that it's cool to see people trying to pick apart the meaning of the story, even if what they find doesn't match her intention. She says it's hard to know if she'll ever have a chance to narrate her own stories... maybe, if her voice is right for it.

Thank you so much to Khaalidah for coming on the show and telling us about her work! Thanks also to Spencer who provided backup on the topic of the worldbuilding in their joint story.

Tomorrow, Monday, April 30 at 4pm Pacific, guest author Henry Lien will be coming on the show to talk about his novel, Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword. I hope you can join us!


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Marion Deeds

We were very pleased to have author Marion Deeds join us on the show to talk about her work and her interests. I started by asking her what her favorite thing is in writing. She told us that she really likes cultural things - language, clothing, how status is communicated, etc. She told us that for a long time she wasn't at all interested in economic topics, but now that she works on fiction she finds herself quite intrigued by them, and by currency systems in particular.

I asked her about the stories she has written which are set during the Prohibition era. Marion says it was a very interesting time, and her version of the era also has magic... which, it turns out, is the prohibited substance! Marion told us that she had family members living in Massachusetts during Prohibition, and they would take regular "vacation trips" to Canada, after which their back room was open for business. The husband of the couple would apparently come back, kiss his wife goodnight and leave her gift bottle of alcohol on the bedstand.

Apparently, during this era, Canadian laws on alcohol were a patchwork by province. The French territory islands were not hard to get to, and helped people to find a way around the Prohibition.

Marion told us about an appearance of a man by the name of J. I. Rodale on the Dick Cavett show, in which the man declared "I'm going to live to 100" and then died of a heart attack on the show a mere ten minutes later. J. I. Rodale was one of the authors of "The Said Book," which suggests that "said" is such a boring speech tag that one should never use it, but find a flashy verb with a flashier modifier. She then explained how she wanted to "inflict the Said Book" on the story of the Maltese Falcon and turn it into a comic pastiche. A magical curse is the MacGuffin in this context... the idea is that there is a grimoire that, when you hold it in your hand, causes you to "see" in purple prose. Naturally, people think they can control it, but they're wrong. The main character, a parody of Sam Spade, is called Rick Rake. In this world, magic is known and codified. San Francisco is a bit lawless, though, and not limiting it much. Her origin story for the Bridget O'Shaughnessy character, "Never Truly Yours," appeared at Podcastle.

In this world, magic is accepted. It's exploited, controlled, accepted by different people. Some people are superstitious. There's even a tax system associated with it. Marion calls it "not terribly alternate history." She says that magic appeared in this world around the same time as the Spiritualist movement.

Marion also told us about her work in progress, which she describes as a portal family where the strange an exotic fantasy world is actually our world - specifically, Vallejo, California. Vallejo has an interesting military history which includes a base which closed, possibly as a result of "realpolitik." It also has Muir island.

The people coming through the portal are non-human magic users who are something like fairies but not fae. They can pass for human 99% of the time, but some humans can see them. A young woman encounters them. She has post-traumatic stress disorder from having been through a domestic terrorist bombing. Something else has also happened to make her think she's delusional. However, she can see through glamour.

One of the interesting concepts here is that glamour is a sort of magical technology, and while the first arrivals have a form of it, they anticipate that second wave arrivals might have an even better glamour that the first-wave magic users can't see through, but which the protagonist can.

Marion described doing some interesting things with posture and body language in this world. Lowering of the head is a challenge because they have horns. Raising the head is submissive because you're exposing your throat. She wanted a lot of things to be different.

One of the key characters is a hereditary ruler of the magic-users who fled after surviving an assassination attempt as a child. Her experience is portrayed in a flashback. There are elements of the story that resemble first contact, and others that have the flavor of alien invasion. Politics is also important, as one faction of magic users wants to put the fallen ruler back into power. These people laugh at the idea of democracy. Their magic manipulates electricity, but they struggle with our world because we manipulate electricity differently. Cell phones, for example, freak them out. They are smaller than us.

One really interesting aspect of the story is that the visitors aren't necessarily able to digest the same food we do, so at the start they struggled to find food they could digest.

The struggle of the fallen ruler is in part that she's stuck where no one really knows what she looks like, and she has lost her family and her cultural practices, and even her way home.

We were all intrigued by the idea of a character living in the Bay Area and not being able to find things to eat. Everyone would either imagine she has allergies or is extremely picky!

Miranda, the human character, undergoes a magical procedure that helps her understand the newcomers' language, which sounds like bird calls if you haven't had the procedure. We discussed some of the challenges of portraying alien languages in a written story, and how one can alter English prose to express difference without having the language sound like Yoda, or sound silly or stupid. One important thing can be maintaining a willingness to experiment, and to recognize that it might take more than one attempt to get the language right.

Che told us about a book she read which had been written in the word order of American Sign Language, which sounded fascinating. ASL has different syntax and grammar, but also a unique culture of directness.

Kate remarked on how international students coping with English can have trouble because of our ridiculously massive lexicon of vocabulary.

Marion told us that she wanted no king or queen, and no kingdom. She wanted to use metaphors about the ocean because the land of the newcomers was coastal.

Kate mentioned an interesting method for creating profanity suggested by Ben Rosenbaum and Monica Valentinelli. The example given was that when water is a sacred space and the place you live in, "one who litters into water" would be a terrible insult.

Thank you so much to Marion Deeds for coming on the show and giving us a peek into her thought processes! This was a really fun discussion.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018


This was an interesting discussion about something that often flies under the radar. This is about body habits. It's about furniture design. What kind of angles do we like for our backs? What kind of seats do we expect to sit on? Many of the objects in our lives are designed assuming a particular body size and proportion (or lack of size). Think about what kind of body position is the result of first class or economy seats in airplanes?

We should not lock our knees. When I was in band, we were taught never to lock knees while we were on review, or we would pass out.

What does "holding your back straight" mean? Do you hold your back straight when you lift things?

How much are people expected to stick their butts out while standing or moving?

Are certain postures considered sexual?

Gender has a lot do do with posture, as when we compare keeping knees together vs. manspreading on public transportation.

Ergonomics became very lucrative at a certain point; it relies on a certain kind of knowledge of science and a certain degree of expectation in terms of body posture.

Clothing is designed to affect your movement. It can improve your posture, or restrict your posture. Military uniform collars force you to hold your head high.

Men's suits are designed to standardize their appearance, regularizing the width of the shoulders, etc.

Dancing and yoga improve your posture in regular daily activities. Yoga can reduce spine compression. Exercise develops your muscle tone, and habitual slouching can lead to not being able to straighten.

Think about the environment of the world, and how you inhabit it. Many things can affect this, including clothing and accessories, architecture, furniture, etc. Kate remarked how her bifocals were designed incorrectly, and she has to bend down to see through the upper part of the classes.

I told a story about crossing the street one night with a group of friends in Salt Lake City. I had my head and shoulders back, and was striding long, and my professor told me that it was a very American way to walk. Culture influences posture expectations, and we imitate the posture of those around us. Kate said she could pass for Indian if she didn't move or speak. Habits of movement can definitely indicate the culture we came from.

People pay close attention to posture and body language. Depending on who you are, misreading these cues can be literally dangerous. Women will often match themselves to the amount of space taken up by others. Men engage in unique forms of posturing like the chest-out confrontation posture. There are many ways for people of any gender to make themselves look large (for the purposes of driving off mountain lions, if nothing else!).

The body language of other species is very different from ours. Dog body language varies a lot even between subspecies. Cat body language is also different.

In cultures with a bowing habit, there are different kinds of bowing styles and postures. Much of it relies on the idea of making yourself smaller. How far you bow, and the angle of the back when you stop, can both be important to the meaning of the bow.

Kimberly told us about a friend she had who was a diplomat in training, and how they had materials to review on body language and how to return respect appropriately to people from different cultures.

Throwing down a gauntlet or other object relies on the idea of forcing the opponent to bow.

Dogs make bows when they are inviting you to play. Cats can have a tummy-up posture to invite play. Kate told us that her cats stand and beg for treats.

In martial arts, there are ways to indicate that a bout is for practice or serious fighting.

We talked a little about our cats' postural habits. My boy cat will indicate whether he accepts your hug by either looking me in the eye (no) or resting the top of his head against my neck (yes). My girl cat will not accept being picked up except when she consents to let me serve as her conveyance from one room to the very next place where she finds a surface within jumping distance. She indicates her disdain by remaining poised to jump even when I carry her.

Kate told us that when she worked at Disney, employees who wore giant heads were encouraged to smile inside the head because it changes the way that your body moves. Just as you can hear a smile in someone's voice, you can see it in the way someone moves their body. It's very difficult to stop your body from moving if you are talking, which is why they tell you not to talk when you have an MRI.

Do you tilt your head when you talk? Do you move your hands?

Kimberly noted that when you are doing animation, you have to remember that it's not okay for only the character's lips to move during speech. The whole body must move. She said that in long shots of characters, small strapped studios will sometimes cut the extra movement from the animation of visual effects. I remarked that I had seen character selection rooms where every character's shoulders are moving up and down in eerie unison. Kimberly said that movement was very important to the realism of the characters.

What is "creepy posture"? What kind of body movement is creepy? Getting into someone's personal space, or standing too close. Holding someone's eyes for too long, or prolonging touch, can be creepy. We remarked on the unique skill of actor Brad Dourif in portraying creepy characters.

We don't have fully conscious control over our body posture. Many of our stances we take involuntarily, or at least without purposeful planning.

Ready stances differ between different martial arts, and from different styles of dance. The "string out of the top of your head" straight posture is not the posture used for Tai Chi and some others where you round your shoulders and soften your head.

American Sign Language has a formal speaking posture, but also has a hip-forward foot-forward posture which allows more upper body movement.

When people take formal photos, they often have particular postures suggested to them, and those postures differ depending on how the photographer perceives the person's gender.

Female superheroes and women on book covers tend to be placed in the back-breaking "boob and butt" pose, which Jim Hines marvelously critiqued in his own series of posed photos.

People socialized to one gender will have to re-learn how to do the body language for their true gender.

Are you supposed to stand up straight with your hands out of your pockets? What do you do with your hands in a photo? What do you do with your elbows? These choices can be very gendered. Brian remarked that male royals from England often stand with their hands behind their back. Kate noted that this is true also of parade rest, and it keeps you from having to decide what to do with your hands.

There are different kinds of hand gestures, which can lead to problems when you see things like white suburban kids affecting gang signs.

There are different kinds of nods, like the chin-up nod, and the chin-down nod. There are also different kinds of walks. You can see them most easily in places where a lot of people walk around, like big cities with public transportation.

Do people get out of each other's way while walking?

Do elbows get thrown on the dance floor? How polite is your mosh pit?

Have you ever noticed that ballerinas walk differently from other people?

Different dances have different neutral dance postures. It is possible to dance "with an accent," or even to ride a horse with an accent.

How far do you bend down to talk to a small child? Do you squat? Do you do anything to avoid looking down or looming over the child? Do you choose to take yourself out of a large authoritative posture? Why? How does it reflect your relationship?

Thank you to everyone who attended. Today's hangout will be at 4pm, and we'll be discussing Entering the Story World.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Personal Weapons

We always knew this one was going to be interesting, but the place we started was in fact...


At a certain point in history, women would hold their hats to their hair with pins which could be as long as 6-7 inches, and would use those for self-defense. They were effective enough that they were actually outlawed.

Personal weapons can be obvious or concealed. They can also be repurposed things like hatpins and knitting needles. People have carried corset knives. Skin-hugging clothes make hiding weapons difficult. The American TSA seems to think black women will hide weapons in their hair, even though they don't. Jason Momoa might, though, in one of his shows...

Eliminating pockets for women was a response in part to women carrying weapons in their pockets.

Guns are considered personal weapons, at least in the US.

A sugar hammer, which was once used for breaking up blocks of sugar, could be used for other purposes. Ice picks have featured in various movies. High heels can be weapons.

If you are writing a story set in a secondary world, consider under what circumstances people might carry weapons. Would those be tools that could also be used as weapons? Would they be something you needed to carry with you every day? Why or why not?

Some weapons can be specifically banned by a society.

Kat talked about a person having a set of the Amendments to the American Constitution printed on steel, which was to be a propaganda tool against the TSA. The sheet of steel was just as likely to cut you.

Jurisdictions can be important here. Different regions will have different rules and laws.

What happens if you are a traveling chef and have to carry knives with you?

TSA has weird criteria and they are often theatrical. Would they confiscate a titanium pry-bar with no blade? Would they consider pots and pans bludgeons?

Apparently, once a suffragette threw an axe.

The surrounding circumstances of a character have a lot do do with whether they carry a weapon. Are they out in the woods? Are they in a higher-tech city? Do they carry lightsabers? What about tasers? Pepper spray? Sonic weapons?

Which weapons in the society you are creating are legislated against? Which are allowed?

People who carried eating knives would have an available weapon any time.

What is considered a weapon? Do different types of people carry different types of weapons? What is a weapon and what is a tool? What is a toy?

Can you get killed for carrying a cosplay weapon? Racism has a lot do do with what kinds of things will get you shot at in American society. Is there something similar in your fictional society?

There have been periods in history where being weaponless was considered "not completely dressed."

Kat described how Marguerite Reed discusses the culture of weapons in her book, Archangel. There is a designated hunter who is also a defensive specialist. Her weapon must be stored carefully and separately from her ammunition.

Could we have rules requiring all weapons, say, all guns, to be identifiable by chip?

Are your weapons defensive or offensive? Against whom are they intended to be used?

Who is allowed weapons is often a political question. One reason they were allowed on the frontier, Kat explained, was not just because there were bears, but also because there were conquered people there. We do tend to create narratives that hide the purpose of weapons.

Would people disarm if all the menacing fauna had been killed or removed?

Why is a weapon personal? Could it be communal? How would the two differ?

Is there a dueling culture in your society?

England has a relatively safe natural environment. Australia is actually not that dangerous (seriously, folks).

A shovel could serve as a personal weapon against a rattlesnake. You don't have to have a gun to face down a cougar. What story do you tell yourself to justify your weapon? How true is that story?

You don't shoot a deer with an AK-47.

There may be an understory about the possession of weapons in this society, that is taboo or otherwise going untold.

Is violence glorified?

Have you outsourced personal safety to a neighborhood watch? A police officer?

The narratives about weapons may not be consistent, as when people in the US talk about supporting the troops but also about being ready to shoot them.

Army bases are gun-free zones. The idea that a gun-free zone is a place where "stuff happens" is a false narrative. Tamir Rice was killed for holding a toy gun in an open carry state. What narrative was used to justify that? Are there similar narratives in the world you are creating?

Toddlers with firearms are a huge problem in the US, but people don't like to talk about it.

1984 and Brave New World featured government propaganda. Is there government propaganda about weapons in your world? What might it be?

Lois McMaster Bujold sets up an interesting situation where you are required to wear two swords, but you get a death sentence if you use them.

What is violence? Is ordering people out to die also violence?

Where is the line between the scientific explorer and the conqueror? Expeditionary force tools can become weapons. People can weaponize their surroundings.

Are there remote distance weapons?

Are the most commonly used weapons high-skill weapons (light sabers) or low-skill weapons (phasers, blasters)?

What happens when there is a disparity in technology levels? Does the high technology always win? Delicate mechanisms associated with high tech can break. Some weapons on Earth have been de-mechanized for sandy conditions that might damage them. A high-tech weapon is not necessarily one that requires less skill to operate.

The kinetic energy capacitor in Black Panther's suit was cool.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this interesting discussion.