Friday, 23 March 2012

A Sense of Scale

When I first started studying Japanese, our teacher showed us a slideshow of pictures from the years she had lived in Kobe and Tokyo. To students in the American west, the idea of people renting 'sleeping tubes' or building lofts to create parking spaces seemed absurd. Some years later, when I was working with Japanese immigrants in the northeastern United States, all of them expressed awe at how much space there was.
Our sense of scale is very much a product of our environment. We learn what is a long distance (in Montana, people readily drive several hours to go to a movie; in Scotland, a 2 hour bus journey strikes most people as a major trek), what is a normal portion of food, how much 'personal space' to expect in public, how large our homes are.
When writing about a time and place unlike our own, it is important to give that setting its own sense of scale instead of importing your own. This is incredibly difficult, because our sense of 'normal' scale is so ingrained in our consciousness that we rarely examine it unless confronted with something very different.
Ideas about scale in an environment and culture are usually set by resources.  If your people are confined to a relatively small island, space will be at a premium, and living spaces and the like will probably be compressed in space, or scarce resources can prompt downsizing in the relevant areas. Alternately, having plentiful space or resources can prompt societies to scale up.
It's an aspect of setting which isn't often addressed, but is quite fun to play with. Think about scale in your setting, and see what happens.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I'm always trying to break my perspective. Thanks for the thought-provoking article.


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