World-building Series: Courting (Valentine Bonus)

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How is love expressed in your world?

As we celebrate the overly commercialized Valentine’s Day, I decided to do a themed piece for the day and settled on a world-building related topic, because to be honest, I’m not the most romantic person in the world so a how-to-write romance is a little out of my league.

However, courtship is an important topic for those who are working in speculative fiction, especially since odds are there will be some variety of romance in your writing. What are the expectations in the cultures that exist in your book when it comes to courtship? This will have to be explored before you start writing your romances, whether they are the main dish or the side dish of a side dish. The audience needs to be clued into what is acceptable or what is at stake if the characters are going against the grain.

Explore different cultures, periods of history, etc., for the answer to this question, and don’t be afraid to make your own unique traditions. Did you know back in the day, Finnish girls who came of age would wear an empty sheath around their girdles, which would be filled by the knife of an interested man — if a girl returned his interest, she would keep the knife. If anyone has seen “The Patriot,” they will know about bundling bags, which allowed for a slumber party of sorts for couples who were courting without endangering a woman’s virtue.

In older eras, writers should note the level of control parents often had over their children, including deciding when and who they married; after all, marriage was more about family advancement than love for the longest time. Among nobility in Europe, it was not so odd for betrothals to occur when the intended spouses were infants or children. The betrothed then often did not meet until just before their wedding. In some cultures, parents will even employ matchmakers to ensure their children wed well.

However, writers are not bound to courting traditions of the past, when creating their culture’s courting behaviors. No, writers have the freedom to toy with gender roles, expectations and traditions, so have fun with your cultures’ courting. If given thought, courting behaviors and traditions will not go unnoticed by readers and they will only add depth to the story as long as writers resist the urge to info-dump.

For additional reading, visit this blog post on ‘The Dreamer’ webcomic blog that talks a little about courting and marriage in Colonial American (the webcomic itself is also very good and worth the read).

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