I tried to write an essay on gun control but failed miserably. What can I say? I do not live in the culture and it is a difficult topic. As a friend put it “everyone is stuck in their position like insects in amber” which eloquently states all that I wanted to say. I believe that each argument in the gun debate has its merits and each side is a little bit wrong. I believe there is plenty of room for compromise, yet nobody is changing their mind.
That is the fictional world we are always trying to create; a world where the villain is not really a villain, the hero is not really a hero, the Holy Grail is also the Curse, where everyone is vulnerable to poor judgement and the result is universal tragedy. World building is not about creating names for places and people. It is about creating beliefs, obsessions and denials.
The topics pertaining gun control run the alphabetical gamut from age limits to zoning. The arguments are endless. But when you strip away the statistics and the pedantisms, one side is saying that guns kill people and the other side is saying that people do. On this point, both sides are right. One side is saying that the problem is not the guns and the other side is saying that the problem is not the people. On this point, both are wrong. Guns kill people AND people kill people. The same applies to all other major arguments. Both sides are both right and wrong.
I have no desire to change American gun laws. I am not an American and I do not live in America. My concern here is writing fiction. Specifically, world building. Every fiction is about creating conflict. World building is about building a conflicting world, a world in a schism. In order for a schism to work, both sides must be right and wrong at the same time. Both sides must be entrenched in their beliefs with no tolerance for middle ground. Both sides must be in denial of their contradictions.
Nobody reads fiction for the debates. So more needs to be implied than written. Who is the rightful king? Which is the true belief and which is heresy? On which side should the war be fought? There is always a central question, a central conflict, in world building. There is a library full of arguments on both sides. You cannot tell all of it, but the arguments are there and it pervades the life of the characters. There are lines drawn among them over which king they support, what beliefs they follow, or which army they wish to join.
Another thing we can learn from the gun debate about world building is the variation in interest. Some of your Facebook friends no doubt post something on the topic every other day, while some never do. Same situation with global warming, the presidential election or any other topic. In Lord of the Ring trilogy or A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones), you will find characters with varying amount of interest in the impending doom, or issues that are dividing the world. Not all characters in Star Wars take sides with the Empire or the Rebellion. Some people are just oblivious to issues that other people feel are important. The fantasy world is a familiar place.
And then, there are people like me, a person who lives in another country for whom the American gun debate is something of an abstract interest. You find people like that in fiction quite often. Someone who is distant or above the fray. The grave digger in Hamlet, say, or the goat herder in Cold Mountain.
I have written before that world building is about the emotions attached to the places, people and events. Whether weddings are held like merry festivities or quiet religious services, whether people feel pride or fear at the sight of their marching knights, or whether wizards feel peer pressure are important elements in world building. But world building is also about the conflicts and passions. It is about creating divisions and alliances. You are creating a huge shifting stage on which your characters play out their destinies.