I live near the State Fair grounds – which can be a lot of fun. For example, just last weekend the “Back to the 50’s” Car Show moved in for the weekend. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday the traffic around our house was peppered with cool old cars and trucks. Friday and Saturday they were driving up and down Snelling Ave, waving to each other and the crowds that had gathered on the lawns to watch them. The crowds were as interesting (to my way of thinking) as the cars.
A confession is needed here. I love to watch the old cars but honestly I don’t know a thing about them. While my husband and friends can gush about the ‘58 Chevy whatsit, I’m more like “ooh a blue one”. So I’m fascinated by the six year olds who can ID the cars. Sometimes I think the kids are more enthusiastic about the cars than the adults watching over them. Then of course there are the people in the cars. They are as thrilled to be seen in their well preserved old car as the crowds are to see the cars.
The writer in me – the people watcher – is fascinated by all of this. It’s a cultural phenomenon that tells me about the culture I live in, or near. I mine this kind of experience for world building materials. As I create a world for a story, I think about the nostalgia pieces. What is the equivalent of the “Back to the 50’s” car show on Alpha Centauri? How about in Ancient Atlantis? Did the Greeks have a rally of old chariots?
Knowing what brings the people and their children out to gawk is an important part of world building. Almost as important as identifying the spectator sports. Your character doesn’t have to care about it, but they will still feel some cultural connection to the event. Like me and the car show. I’m not into the nostalgia car scene, but I still feel a connection to the rally. I sill go out and watch the cars and their drivers cruise up and down the street. I don’t bring my lawn chair, but I’m still there.
Nostalgia events are also a good way to character build – once you have your world, your character has to react to it. Is your character into the nostalgia or ambivalent? Do they have something against the nostalgia? How your character reacts to such a cultural phenomenon says tons about them. How “normal” are they? It shows their self opinion by contrasting them to the people around them.
I challenge you to think about the nostalgia events in your world. Even if they never show up in your story, it’s a fun exercise.