Zeitgeist: Not Just A Great Word

There are few words that can be as catchy as they are meaningful and zeitgeist is one of them. Despite it being a great word, there aren’t a whole lot of people who actually know what it means. Instead of joining me in a heated discussion of various works that capture the zeitgeist of an era and location, people will look at me with a cocked head. Zeitgeist is a topic that any writer should know because it will only help with making a world feel more authentic.

Zeitgeist Definition

zeit·geist
/ˈtsītˌgīst,ˈzīt-/
noun
the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.
“the story captured the zeitgeist of the late 1960s”

Zeitgesit is what makes the location and era unique. It is what helps define it by identifying exactly how the mood feels to participants. The zeitgeist of 1920s America was that of revel and joy. They’d survived the great war and the economy was great. It felt like a new place and we were champions. There was prohibition, there was partying. There was a feeling of invincibility, at least until the Stock market crashed.

How Zeitgesit helps

Every story has a setting, whether it is in the past or present day. As such, every story should emulate a zeitgeist to get the full effect of the story. If everything in a story is historically accurate. The characters are behaving in the manner that they would in their time. A plot could be directly related to events of the time. Even if all of that is the case, you can still completely miss the feeling of the time. Being able to tap into how people would feel and how the world felt. It’s the feeling that makes something unique.

The ability to elicit the zeitgeist of an era in a specific location will help establish the mood of the story. The more elements and devices you can use to help ground the reader into the story the more immersive it can feel. Emulating the feeling of the time is a great way to make the story feel like it truly belongs in whatever era it is set rather than being a story that could take place at any time.

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