Go Farther: Fiction Needs Some Education

It appears I'm on a roll of late with "Go Farthers" for our fiction/setting writing audiences.  I'm not done of course – I'm just noting.

I've talked about how creating a new setting – or working with an old one – can be improved by thinking about economic issues.  I've discussed the importance of food in a setting – an area often ignored despite the fact that food and culturally related elements are telling an important.  So what's next?


How much of our lives are defined by how we learn?  We learn by school and by book, by on-the-job-training and off-the-job classes, by manual and by online course.  So much of our lives are defined by education we miss its importance.

If you're building a setting and aren't thinking how its inhabitants get educated, you're missing something.

Think of the importance of education:

  • Education transmits important information – or information deemed important – over the years and generations.
  • Education often transmits culture as well – and is an important part in how worldviews are developed and maintained.
  • Education – or its lack – is a vital part of how people develop.
  • The methods of education affect how people learn – and don't learn.
  • What kind of advantages does education provide people?

How much of you is defined by your teachers, classes, readings, and degrees?  How much of you is defined by the advantages and flaws of your educational experinece?  How much of you is affected by what you didn't learn – or got wrong?

Now extend that to a family, a community, a culture, a world.  You'll see the importance of education in defining your fictional setting and characers.  A good, believable setting and characters is one where the way information is transmitted – education – is believable and relatable.

A few genre-related thoughts:

  • In science-fiction settings how would education be different?  How do you educate different alien species in the same class?  How do you overcome language differences?  What about advanced technology – can you get lessons beamed into your brain?
  • In fantasy settings there's often a weird mix of uneducated medieval stereotypes and highly educated wizards, alchemists, and so on.  When a good education lets you throw fireballs, that changes its value . . .
  • Consider a supernatural horror setting – knowing those Dark Secrets From Beyond that someone got in comparative religion may be vital to keeping the cast from having their bones eaten by the latest dimension-crossing horror.
  • In your modern setting do your characters act if they are properly educated for their jobs, background, etc.?

Working on your new setting?  Maybe it's time to go "back to school" and think about how your cast and the population of your setting is educated.  There's a lot there story-wise – and setting-wise – that you may want to think about.

Steven Savage