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  1. Waerjak
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    Waerjak New Member

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    Fantasy, and making the story feel less modern

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Waerjak, Sep 9, 2009.

    I generally write fantasy for the simple reason that I love reading fantasy, and normally that works out great. Recently though, I've run into a couple of issues regarding the time period I want the story to be set in.

    I've noticed that most fantasy stories are set in a period where swords and bows are the weapons of choice, and I usually like this setting. However, especially when describing parts of a city or maybe just the look of a house, I find I'm having trouble envisioning what a city would look and feel like in medieval times. I feel it would detract heavily from a story if my cities felt like the urban monsters of today rather than what you feel a medieval city should feel like.

    I hope I made my question somewhat clear!
     
  2. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I for one isn't sure about your question.

    You want to know how crowded a city should be?

    It could have a sign by the entry saying "Welcome to Vacantville. Population: 5 4 3 2 1"

    or it could be New York City...

    Depends on your needs in the story.
     
  3. Waerjak
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    Waerjak New Member

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    Argh, alright. Firstly, understand that this question pertains to medieval fantasy.

    I just feel like I don't know enough about how a fairly large medieval city would look like. I have no need to know population numbers or anything of the sort. How crowded the city should be doesn't necessarily have to matter; It could be a very large city under the thumb of an oppressive Mad King, making the city seem dead at all hours of the day, or it could be a kingdom of people who love festivities and essentially celebrate every single day for some reason or other, making the city feel alive and bustling 24/7. It depends on where I want to go with the story, really.
     
  4. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why does it have to be set in a medieval world? I don't understand how a non-medieval setting takes away from it.
     
  5. von Pook
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    von Pook Contributing Member

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    Really you need to read/watch some medieval history, to improve your knowledge of what the cities and city life would be like, or if you need mere imagery, just go to Google...

    Here's a brief overview;
    Inside a medieval walled city, space was scant and used to its maximum capacity. Narrow streets, sometimes no broader than a person's shoulders, doubled as gutters, slaughterhouses, and latrines. Cities were noisy and stunk. All waste, excrement, and even dead children was thrown from the windows of the houses to the streets below. The top of each story of houses jutted out beyond the walls of the ones below, so little light and air reached the reeking, disease ridden streets, that in the black of night were patrolled by watchmen, thieves and knifemen.
     
  6. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    There’s nothing wrong with large cities in fantasy. Just like science fiction, it’s speculative. Though a good understanding of history will go a long way. Large cities of later centuries (post Dark Ages) are much different than modern ones.
     
  7. Sophronia
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    Sophronia Member

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    If you're not sure, then do research into medieval history and civilizations. You can add your own tastes to your story along with the medieval setting to set it apart from our world and make it your own.
     
  8. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Rome had a million people in it 2000 years ago - that's still bigger than most cities today.

    So it really depends on what you want it to feel like.

    I have an idea brewing in my head which places the "cities" atop ancient pillars made by an extinct race. This is because the creatures on the ground are very dangerous. The pillars are HUGE (miles tall) and made out of a brass-like metal. I am envisioning them being several miles apart each so you need gliders, cables or "wizard stones" to move between them. Some pillars are occupied by normal humans (at a sort of preindustrial age) while other pillars are occupied by evil elves.

    I see each city/pillar as a thriving Victorian "town". Even though each pillar would only be about 1000 feet across, there would be many levels and hallways within the top area of the pillar - plus balconies and decks bolted onto the outside surfaces.

    Obviously the rich would live on the highest towers atop the pillars where it's very 'clean' and the poor would live in the wards below.
     
  9. Waerjak
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    Waerjak New Member

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    Thank you. I think I've got what I need now. I think I may finally get a proper history lesson, then. :)

    It doesn't have to be in a medieval world. It's a choice I made for the story I'm currently writing. Another time, I might decide that a medieval setting doesn't quite fit, it's not as if I think fantasy has to be set in medieval times or it's not fantasy.
     
  10. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you want it to be sort of medieval, then you need a place to base it on. This is why a lot of fantasy stories are so similar - people assume that the medieval era was the same across the world. It wasn't.

    That originality will probably give you the rest of your answer, if you remember it as you write.
     
  11. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Gallowglass is right. Using the label "medieval" brings a certain image to mind, in my case that image is nights of the round table in their castles while dirt-farming peasants huddle in their horrible hovels. I always try not to stick a label on my story until after it's done, because if I don't then the label starts affecting my mental images and throws everything out of whack.

    Have you ever read The Redemption of Althalus by David Eddings? It's one of my favorite books (well, the first half anyway) and it had a very old feel because of some of the details. The type of drinks, the tools used, ect. The thing that did it most for me though was that Althalus used a sling instead of a bow. It's little details like that that give a specific feel to a story.

    On a side note, slings are awesome. They can outrange a bow, and are just as, if not more deadly. They also have the distinction of being a "low class" and "outdated" weapon so it's good for showing someone of humble and/or ancient origins.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    How about a society approximately as advanced as ours, or even more so, but based on magic rather than technology? The weaponry may still be baswed on slicing, puncturing, and crushing (e.g. swords, spears, and maces), but food may be plentiful, homes spacious, bright, and comfortable, etc. Perhaps the abundance of magical energy interferes with complicated mechanisms.

    So you can have your swords and sorcery setting without it necessarily matching a particular historical environment. Of course, that requires more careful worldbuilding on your part than a more historically accurate setting with enough magic to make a good story, without it being so plentiful as to reshape the world.
     
  13. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    Not only do you have to take into consideration what the medieval time was like, but also what you want it to be like. It's fantasy, right? So I take it that perhaps magic may be involved. Okay, here's an idea: a magician who is paid to build houses by using magic. I'm sure the house won't end up being made of straw, right? Maybe stone depending on the strength the magician has etc.
    What I'm trying to say is that you're writing it, and although some may disagree with me, you can have your world be however you'd like it. Since you are leaning towards the medieval time, then you should be a little cautious, but still, have some fun :)
     
  14. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Its a fantasy setting, which means just about anything can be done. When asked how, you simply say 'Its magic!'

    Now large and powerful cities can be just about anyway you want them. You can have a giant walled city that exists in almost prepetual peace. Crime is low. You could also have a giant walled city that is so corrupt that crime is as high as you want it to be. Could strengthen the image of how great or how terrible a city actually is.

    But I suppose you should have smaller villages and such that live in a similar existence as those found in medieval times. Little room, disease rampant, and all that.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This is a dangerous way to approach fantasy. For fantasy to work, the magical system must have rules, order, a governing logic.
     
  16. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    This is really important. I should have been more clear on my post.
    There's a point in my novel where my character is moving down a lane scattered with homes. I thought to myself, "this is not modern fantasy...are the houses made of straw or flimsy wood?"
    That's where I brought in a construction magician. I had my character remember the month the homes were built by the magician.
    So make sure to tie up some magical loose ends to strengthen the story. For example, a magician can't produce fire, but only manipulate it. That's another example. Also the instrument a magician would use and the difference between all of them. These are only basic things to consider if you really want your magic in your novel to work. I salute Cogito for bringing that one up.
     
  17. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It was a joke really... Though I probably should have done a better job in wording my post.

    I completely agree with this.
     
  18. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    lol, I plan on having an inept wizard in my next book. While it will be "fantasy" I don't plan on having lots and lots of magic - and those who know about magic are going to be of the more esoteric/arcane breed. Sort of like Gandalf in The Hobbit. He used magic but it was never really talked about. Except my wizard will be a bumbling idiot with a heart of gold.

    It just depends on how extensively you want to use magic.

    "The Force", which is the scifi version of magic, isn't really focused on in most of the Star Wars books I've read. Certainly it is used and there are strict rules regarding the Force, but it's also entirely possible that you can have a Star Wars book without mentioning the Force.
     
  19. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    You did say that you feel it would take away from the story if it were set in a more modern world, and I don't see any reason for that. I mean, technically Star Wars is a Sword and Sorcory type fantasy.
     
  20. Waerjak
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    Waerjak New Member

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    I think you've misunderstood - Perhaps I didn't make it clear enough. I was writing a medieval fantasy story, and it might not have made much sense if, in the middle of all the swords and bows and whatnot, the cities felt like New York City with a few differences here and there. I'm not saying it would in all settings, but in my specific case I felt that it would detract from the story. :)
     
  21. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    *cough* It's hard to get technical until we've settled on definitions for sci-fi and fantasy. *cough*
     

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