1. Hellenic Katatorki
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    Hellenic Katatorki Member

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    Fantasy/Historical settings

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Hellenic Katatorki, Aug 11, 2014.

    Hi there

    Posting here, I want some help as I am currently writing an fantasy story based on historical cultures, such as the Spaniards( Spanish Conquest of Amercias), Arabian( Arabic Kingdoms), Han Empire( Ancient Chinese history), Viking( Raganork), and this is fantasy, but it is alright to include elves, and dwarves, and old wizards into your story? I fear if I do I may be copying too much of Tolkien too much.

    One thing I am struggling with, when writing about these cultures is how to explore them in detial, and I've got the description part fine, its the dialouge. For example, if I am describing a city of Spanish culture, do I explain brothels, people arguing, people setting bets, people arguing.

    I mean, if I am showing a backstab, maybe I could show officers of the King's guard plotting against the King?

    Or, in Arabian culture, would I describe how people live in their homes, go shopping in the markets, what else would they be doing in big large cities? Go to the Scriptorium Libary, how would they talk? I'm struggling to add realistic dialogues for these cultures. I mean, for Chinese culture, would I have merchant stores, minister homes, palaces, large banquets, army officers? How would I describe an Viking way of life?

    Basically I really need to explore in detail about these cultures that I have selected, and I would ask if you did this, in what way would you do it?

    Thanks

    [​IMG]
     
  2. Wyr
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    Wyr Active Member

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    I would start with lots and lots of research. And then some more research. If you are going to write a historical fantasy, you gotta know the history of the places you are writing about. Reading regular old history books is a great place to start but if you want to get a better idea of how they would speak and interact in everyday life I would suggest reading books about those cultures written by native authors; in this case even fiction would suit.

    And about being too much like Tolkien- Yeah some tropes are used more than others, especially in the fantasy genre, but what kind of character being written about is less important that how it is being written. It's up to you and your writing to make it fresh.
     
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  3. Hellenic Katatorki
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    Hellenic Katatorki Member

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    Thanks Wyr! Will def have a look.
     
  4. PensiveQuill
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    PensiveQuill Contributing Member

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    The devil's in the detail. Mostly the customs within the home. If you were writing about ancient Japan (for example) you've seat the family around a fire pit in the central room. Have them share a thin soup and small amounts of meat and vegetables. The bowls might be wood or ceramic, but they'd be deep and they'd drink from a bowl rather than eat with a spoon. The simple act of removing shoes on the threshold is another household custom, as is whether or not they sit on the floor or furniture.

    You'll garner this kind of information more from archeology than political history. The best writers who have created really believable alternate worlds have borrowed not only political systems but little known social customs of the common folk that pepper the interactions between the characters.
     
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  5. NanashiNoProfile
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    NanashiNoProfile Member

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    How about looking into each culture and outlining specific roles within these cultures that could be twisted slightly to fit the role of the more fantastical character types you are after?

    Perhaps one culture sees the other as elves, or dwarves. Maybe the doctors, wise men, shaman or whatever could be developed into the wizard type - something that we would see right through today looking back on history, but not something so obvious when you are dealing with them in that time period.

    (it might not be the best reference, but "300" did things like this really well. They had "monsters" such as a rhino, but in the retelling of the story these new creatures were exaggerated into something far greater and more terrifying)
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not sure what you're asking here. Are you planning to write a fantasy with an entirely made-up history based on elements from the various cultures you mentioned? In other words, will the words Spanish, Arabian, Viking etc never be used? In that case you can just trawl through histories about these places and grab out bits that interest you, use them however you like, and call them something else. No bother. This can be a lot of fun for you to write, and the different ideas will pull you in many different directions.

    If you are basing your story on REAL history of named places, though, you probably need to nail your research. I don't know exactly how this will work, but sloppy research will show. Either make your world up from scratch, or do the research, basically.

    As to elves, dwarves and wizards? Myself, I wouldn't use them. They are overdone, aren't they? As a result, they can be dull dull dull ...because they are so copycat. Fantasy means you can do anything you want, create anything you want. So why just copy what other people have created many times over? I think you're possibly selling yourself short. Have a bit more fun. Create entirely new races of beings, with entirely new sets of characteristics and modes of interaction. Come up with unique names. With any luck, your writing will become the Next Big Thing in fantasy, rather than a copy of a already worn-out universe.

    I wonder if you've read the Joe Abercrombie trilogy "The First Law" ...The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and The Last Argument of Kings? He has taken elements from many cultures but has twisted them around and given them entirely different names and a new focus. There are 'northmen,' 'southerners,' easterners,' etc. All with elements drawn from 'real' earth, but nothing too specific. There IS a wizard in the book, but he's certainly not a stereotype! This is a great example of what fantasy can do when it doesn't copy everybody else's vision, and strikes out on its own.

    Another wonderful fantasy 'trilogy' which doesn't copy anybody and contains multi races of beings is the one by Kage Baker, containing The Anvil of the World, The House of the Stag and The Bird of the River. Fantastic stuff.
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2014
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  7. archerfenris
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    archerfenris Active Member

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    It all depends on what you want to do and how you go about doing it. It's your world! Are you more Tolkien like? Creating meticulously detailed worlds? This may take a while and will require hours upon hours of getting lost in your own thoughts. However, are you more like Abercrombie (who I'm not much a fan of)? He doesn't explain much about his worlds (which is why I'm not a fan) nor does he provide a map, etc.

    Don't worry about the elves, dwarves, thing. No one can claim a copyright on those since they're from mythology (elves & dwarves come from norse mythology). However, you can't EXACTLY copy the elves and dwarves from Tolkein lore and it won't be very exciting for a reader either. The elves in my fantasy story are barbaric tribalists, far from the superior immortal Tolkein elves. My dwarves are the most magical race in the world and live above ground. George RR Martin took dwarves and created the character Tyrion from it, very different no? He turned elves on their head and made The Children.

    Good luck, and remember to root out clichés. Just last night I had to redo my dwarf village because I thought it resembled the shire too much.
     
  8. Devlin Blake
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    Devlin Blake Member

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    Tolkien doesn't own the copyright on such creatures, but you don't want to copy him becasue it's overdone at this point. Each of those cultures you mentioned has it's own 'monster'. Using those would probably work better than random elves.

    Here are some examples from older stories:
    • Trolls guard treasure. There were certain conditions under which they could grant you a wish, but if you did then they would something horrible for payment later (Such as the soul of your child.)
    • If you say 'thank you' to a fairy she/he will make your life a nightmare because fairies hate being thanked
    • Getting involved with a mermaid meant death.
    • Djinns would grant you a wish, but they always made it go bad on purpose (They hate humans and resent having to serve them.)
     
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  9. Devlin Blake
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    Devlin Blake Member

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    Tolkien doesn't own the copyright on such creatures, but you don't want to copy him becasue it's overdone at this point. Each of those cultures you mentioned has it's own 'monster'. Using those would probably work better than random elves.

    Here are some examples from older stories:
    • Trolls guard treasure. There were certain conditions under which they could grant you a wish, but if you did then they would something horrible for payment later (Such as the soul of your child.)
    • If you say 'thank you' to a fairy she/he will make your life a nightmare because fairies hate being thanked
    • Getting involved with a mermaid meant death.
    • Djinns would grant you a wish, but they always made it go bad on purpose (They hate humans and resent having to serve them.)
     
  10. Njal
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    Njal Member

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    I'm in a similar boat to you, Hellenic Kataorki (writing pseudo-historical fantasy). As Wyr says, history books are a good introduction but often lacking on example dialog.

    When I'm looking at a setting, there are a few other resources I'd use to help with dialog:
    • Period TV/Films. South Korea produces a ton of period dramas, which are an excellent introduction to each period of Korean history. China also produces a lot of historical shows and films. While they may not be 100% historically accurate, you will pick up common details as you watch. You will also pick up on...
    • The Language. If you're watching something you'll hear what's important, what's scandalous, what a common insult is, etc. If you have the time to study the language itself, all for the better.
    • Guide Books. For a quick overview of a a country's taboos, look no further than a tourist guidebook.
    • Literature. Read literature from the time period and culture. For Vikings, read norse sagas. I recommend Njal's Saga, an excellent blood feud described using the story-telling conventions of the era.
    Hope that helps!
     
  11. Frazen
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    Frazen Member

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    I can probably help you with the middle-eastern setting, cause I come from one. It would be very useful to talk to the Spanish or Arabian people and ask about their culture or show your fiction to them and ask if they find anything odd in it.

    I think it would be also wise to read about their behaviors and books about that. Some of these books compare the behaviors of Westerners and their native people. It is very enlightening.

    Watch their own movies and historical books... do not rely on what American movies have portrayed of these countries because it is not complete. Face the real cultural products of each of them...
    I really agree with Delvin Blake about each culture's monsters.
    I hope it helps.
     

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