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Old 12-09-2012, 04:44 PM   #1
Calliea
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All custom fantasy worlds vs. dress up

This one has me wondering for a while.

Fantasy. First world that comes to my mind when I think about serious fantasy (to exclude Pratchett at the doorstep, sorry man! :*) would still probably be Forgotten Realms thing.

Maybe because it's the first one I ever really got into, maybe because it's definitely one of the biggest (created by a horde or people not one).

Thing is, pretty much everything there is custom. Custom customs, a grand multitude of races, barbarian tribes, shark-people, everything and anything.

Then there are plenty of other fantasy worlds that seem completely alien and foreign to our own. And they work for fantasy, they really do.

So the question is: would a world playing dress-up work you as well?

For example, let's go with the season. We have Christmas. Assuming the most common way of celebrating Christmas.

OU: Christmas tree, presents underneath, whole family meets and eats a ton singing carrols.

AU: Underwater society of mermaids. They find a huge dead jellyfish, take to their home-cave and then put shining deep-sea fishes on its branches. Then proceed to feast and give each other gifts made of seaweed. It's a celebration of... um... I don't know, let's say the day their god made water transparent so they could see the sun. Everybody is full of love towards the entire world.

Or less different examples, cause I kinda zoned out with the jellyfish:

Birthday. A group of forest elves meeting together in a tree house to celebrate someone's birthday by giving them presents and singing a song. Don't forget the cake.

New Years. Pirates at the ship take cannons and fire flares into the air for colorful firework-mock-up to celebrate the coming of a new year.


~~

Chance that there would be exact same customs in a foreign fantasy world and our own are slim to non-existent, of course. But does it bother you? It never bothered me, yet I see that it is not the most common practice when it comes to fantasy.

It reminds me of playing a dress-up. Theoretically it looks like a dragon now, but you still see a good old grizzly bear underneath, because some fur is sticking out and it growls instead of roaring.
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Old 12-09-2012, 04:51 PM   #2
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It never bothered me, yet I see that it is not the most common practice when it comes to fantasy.

It reminds me of playing a dress-up. Theoretically it looks like a dragon now, but you still see a good old grizzly bear underneath, because some fur is sticking out and it growls instead of roaring.
And that's probably why you don't find it often. Nobody wants to be reminded that it's all make believe.
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Old 12-09-2012, 04:58 PM   #3
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I think I'd have to see it in action to really know whether it works or not. Two things come to mind, though. First, you have to make sure it has a good solid foundation in the reality of your made-up world. It has to make sense for the people/beings/culture you're writing about. Second, it has to make sense for the story you're writing. Make sure there's a purpose in your story for including this celebration/holiday, otherwise there's no point in risking the believability of your world.
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Old 12-10-2012, 02:30 AM   #4
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I think I'd have to see it in action to really know whether it works or not. Two things come to mind, though. First, you have to make sure it has a good solid foundation in the reality of your made-up world. It has to make sense for the people/beings/culture you're writing about. Second, it has to make sense for the story you're writing. Make sure there's a purpose in your story for including this celebration/holiday, otherwise there's no point in risking the believability of your world.
---

This.^^^ You have to make up your own world with its own rules, regs, and limitations, and not deviate from it. The second thing is if you toss in some kind of holiday then make sure it fits in with the world-building you've done.

It's not easy thinking up some kind of celebration right off the bat but if you've already established that world's rules then it should be a little easier figuring out how to do something which is in line with this kind of society and its made-up culture.
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Old 12-10-2012, 03:03 AM   #5
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If I can understand the reason for the custom in that particular culture, than sure. Religious holidays that exist in the real world are a bit iffy, if you ask me, because the religions from which they sprung don't exist in the new world. However, I could see birthdays and new year's-type celebrations. Anything that came to be in multiple real cultures without being ripped off will more than likely come to be in your fake ones, as well. Just make sure everything is logical when you take that particular culture into consideration, because inconsistencies such as these get me. For example, it's not cultural, per se, but in the newest Star Trek movie, there's a giant red monster living on an ice planet, and I spent the entire scene wondering where the logic was in that. I'll suspend my disbelief for the premise of your world, but the logic of your premise better be consistent throughout or suddenly juggling geese doesn't seem so believable.
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Old 12-10-2012, 03:42 AM   #6
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Well, there are certain themes that come up across human societies in our own world. Acknowledging birthdays in some way and celebrating them, for instance. We humans like to count, and every culture keeps track of years and the progression/phases of life a person goes through from cradle to grave. However, maybe not with a cake and brightly wrapped presents and the happy birthday song. They didn't even have that in the olden days in the US. Unless the world is meant to be a mirror of ours, whimsical, or it's a kid's book maybe. Kids' books get away with more that way.

Same thing for holidays. Most temperate cultures have celebrations that mark certain times of years (solstices, equinoxes, plantings, harvests). The religion and norms of their society will affect how they dress these celebrations up. But many of the traditions associated with Christmas date back to pagan winter solstice traditions. It's not inconceivable that a fantasy culture that evolved in an environment similar to Northern Europe's would have a midwinter festival where lights, warmth and renewal are celebrated--with song, religious ceremonies and possibly even feasting and gift giving.

But I think there's something to be said for framing these celebrations in a way that makes sense to your culture and society. Making it just exactly like our Christmas (or the pre-Christian yuletide celebrations) would only work with certain kind of framing or if the tale is intended to be whimsical and light.

And of course, there's always that balance between showing something happening in the background for world building purposes (aka to bring your setting and culture to life) versus having it play a more central part in one's plot. I don't agree with people who say nothing belongs in your story if it doesn't advance the plot in some way.I don't want to read an outline or the cliff notes of a novel. I want to read the novel. I want some richness, context and depth. But it is possible to go too far and clutter things up.
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Old 12-10-2012, 04:14 AM   #7
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I agree that any custom invented for a fantasy world has to make logical sense within the fantasy world. I get annoyed with fantasy worlds that are little more than dress-up games, where the fantasy elements are obviously just decoration laid over what could just as easily be a real-world setting.

We need to think about the history, rules, and reality of our invented worlds. We need to understand their cultures. A midwinter festival -- fine. Mermaid Christmas -- not so much, unless it's a world in which mermaids have been converted to Christianity or are dedicated Macy's shoppers.

Example: In a collaborative writing project I do with some friends for fun, I invented a fantasy world we are all writing within. During one part of our story, our heroes made their way through a big city during a major festival. I wanted the style and general setting of the city to be similar to Venice and the festival to have the look and feel of Carnivale. But the setting is a different world and there is no Easter or Lent among these fantasy people. But I had already created the pantheon of deities and the basic forms of religious practice. I decided to make the festival a celebration of the gods of commerce and industry, and fill the city with hundreds of thousands of buyers and sellers of just about everything imaginable, like the most massive market day possible. This created a dynamic setting in which the villains could sell the dangerous magical contraband our heroes are trying to recover.

I also decided that the culture of the city in question, which is dominated by the royal court and its fashions, lent itself to a custom of people of means going about masked and in amazing outfits at all times in a show of wealth, as if it is Carnivale in this city all year long. The effect of this is intensified by the influx of foreign festival celebrants.

If I do say so myself, the scenes played out against this setting quite satisfactorily, and the presentation of the customs and holiday created the impression of a culture that I think felt realistic.

Start with the world you're writing about and find the customs that make sense for it. Even if we use real-world models for what we write, if we're just dressing up the real world in fantasy world hats, no one will buy it.
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Old 12-10-2012, 06:42 AM   #8
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I'm not a fantasy reader, but what comes to mind when I read your post is the sort of writers who invent aliens that are bipedal, have two arms and two legs, two eyes, a mouth and nose, five fingers, the same basic body plan as human beings...except oh wait, they're green. Let's just ignore the fact that if life did evolve separately from us on a separate planet, and even if that life evolved intelligence, it probably wouldn't resemble anything we can even dream of, let alone resemble us. IMHO, it's lazy writing at best. At worst, the author doesn't even know the word "anthropomorphization", and can't recognize when it's happening.
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Old 12-10-2012, 08:04 AM   #9
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I'm not a fantasy reader, but what comes to mind when I read your post is the sort of writers who invent aliens that are bipedal, have two arms and two legs, two eyes, a mouth and nose, five fingers, the same basic body plan as human beings...except oh wait, they're green. Let's just ignore the fact that if life did evolve separately from us on a separate planet, and even if that life evolved intelligence, it probably wouldn't resemble anything we can even dream of, let alone resemble us. IMHO, it's lazy writing at best. At worst, the author doesn't even know the word "anthropomorphization", and can't recognize when it's happening.
That's probably why I don't often write about other races. Humans are interesting enough in my fantasy and science fiction settings. That's not to say I'll never write aliens, but I'll definitely keep in mind making them different (and not just green humans).
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Old 12-10-2012, 07:12 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by StephanieZie View Post
I'm not a fantasy reader, but what comes to mind when I read your post is the sort of writers who invent aliens that are bipedal, have two arms and two legs, two eyes, a mouth and nose, five fingers, the same basic body plan as human beings...except oh wait, they're green. Let's just ignore the fact that if life did evolve separately from us on a separate planet, and even if that life evolved intelligence, it probably wouldn't resemble anything we can even dream of, let alone resemble us. IMHO, it's lazy writing at best. At worst, the author doesn't even know the word "anthropomorphization", and can't recognize when it's happening.
---

This is a good point but at the same time, if the alien life form is so obviously different, and if there is some kind of romantic element developing between the MC (let's assume he's human) or some kind of action conflict, I see no reason NOT to make the alien humanoid. In S/F fantasy, there is no reason why the aliens can't be humanoid. They don't have to be green (and I think that's a way overdone concept), but in the vastness of the universe, is it not possible some of them (assuming they exist) are bi-pedal or have two eyes, ears, a nose and a mouth? If the world you build does have semi/quasi-humanoid characters, it's not necessarily lazy writing, IMHO. It's more of a relatability issue.
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Old 12-10-2012, 07:38 PM   #11
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I wouldn't call it lazy writing, but a necessary procedure to make the book more appealing to readers. It could be a very interesting read to indulge in a story about some quarter-ethereal creatures that were a mix between sponge, cotton wool, fish guts and jukkis, both physically and mentally, but that would strongly limit author's ability to build a story based on human emotions and to make it intuitive to reader. It would make the reader-author communication very difficult and requiring a TON of explanations all the time, so that those weird creatures could be understood (or misunderstood on purpose) by the readers.
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Old 12-10-2012, 09:14 PM   #12
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This is one of the issues that made me throw my epic fantasy away. I really liked the characters, but I couldn't get away from making my setting feel like the world from The Belgariad with a dash of Forgotten Realms.
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