1. a.m.wolf

    a.m.wolf New Member

    Mar 27, 2019
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    Creating a Diverse World

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by a.m.wolf, Mar 27, 2019.

    Hello everyone. I'm an aspiring author, and decided it was about time I join a writing forum to get some input on a high fantasy book I'm trying to write. I decided at the beginning I didn't want it to be a formulaic Medieval Europe-inspired fantasy. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Medieval Europe, but I don't want to base my world purely on it. Our world is multicultural, and and so I want my fantasy world to reflect that. Ambitious, I know. Clearly, I won't be able (nor would I want) to create cultures that correspond to every culture we have on Earth. But I have chosen a couple I would like to focus on (though they are not set in stone). However, I was wondering if anyone had any advice on how to properly represent different cultures without falling into terrible stereotypes and cultural appropriation. Also, I have created my own mythos for this story, but as religion/mythology/etc. is a big part of every culture, I'm also unsure of how to weave the real-world cultures I draw inspiration from and my own fantasy world together without coming across as insensitive.
  2. Colactix

    Colactix Member

    Jul 26, 2015
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    United Kingdom
    Cities are usually a good tool to convey lots of different ideas in one space - markets, places of worship, stores, town meetings, entertainment (plays, bards, fighting), pubs - places where your MC will meet and interact with a lot of different people from different backgrounds. Obviously this would have to relate to the plot, but 'meaningful' random encounters are always a good way to add some colour. Stereotypes exist because they're recognisable, you can use them without cashing out, that way exposition isn't needed for everything you say.

    I wouldn't worry about being insensitive, unless it's anything glaring - just write. Your cultures will be fictional, as will their peoples' beliefs, even if you are taking inspiration from the real world.

    I would think about why you want culture to be an important factor of the book, and if you just do and it doesn't have a reason, give it one. It will help readers identify with it more.
    John-Wayne likes this.
  3. halisme

    halisme Contributor Contributor

    Mar 18, 2015
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    The thing with Medieval Europe is that, when we say those words, we don't actually mean that much of Europe, instead just going for a small part of it, with an area that is analogous to France or England during the period, maybe Germany and the Holy Roman Empire if the writer is feeling particularly adventurous. That leaves areas like Spain, that were a mixture of "white" Christian States, Islamic Arabic States, the Black Moors, and everyone in between those groups because they had a tendency of mixing together. Combined with a sizeable Jewish population, and you have one of the most diverse cultures in Europe at the time. Then there's the face the entire Mediterranean was a massive trade network, involving Spain, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, and even traders coming in from the Mali Empire.

    Of course, the majority of the population would be natives to the area, but traders and mercenaries would come from all over. Harald Hardradda, one of the possible Kings of England during the succession crisis of 1066, had actually served as a member of the Varangian Guard (the Emperor's personal guard) of the Byzantine Empire which was ruled from contemporary Istanbul. The majority of people stuck with their village in the Medieval period, but those that did travel often travelled far.
  4. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

    Feb 1, 2019
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    Set your story in the equivalent of the Near East or any other crossroads and you'll have all the diversity you want.

    Silk Road is a good non-fiction for that perspective.
    John-Wayne, Simpson17866 and halisme like this.
  5. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Aug 23, 2013
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    Welcome to the site! :D

    http://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com has a bunch of incredible articles about almost every aspect of writing about ethnic/racial diversity you can think of :)
    Stormburn likes this.
  6. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

    Aug 30, 2018
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    Norwich, UK
    Good for you and welcome to the site! I'm glad you're going beyond the Medieval setting and create something new and unique.

    To avoid stereotypes you first need to learn what they are and more importantly why they are created and how.
    Stereotypes exist for a reason (a lot of the time they are true)
    Races can have their own stereotypes.
    I wont give you any because using your own imagination and studying aspects you want to include is all part of creative writing.

    Some will always take offense at anything you do, so as long as you're not being deliberately insensitive I wouldn't worry about it. I would advise you to read the shorts of books you want to write to see how professional masters merge real world and strange world things. Then you'd know how to do it in your own unique way.

    Best of luck
    LoaDyron likes this.
  7. LoaDyron

    LoaDyron Contributor Contributor

    Oct 27, 2018
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    Welcome my friend. :superhello:

    I will suggest you do some research on the period you desire to be inspired. And why is this? For you get an idea what mentality, technology, religion, science was on that period. Then, when you have your homework done, you can start to get inspired by some particular aspects of the culture. For example, in my project is going to be on a steampunk universe, while I will have a culture on the Victorian Age-inspired, my hight elves will have more an Indian culture merely because of their religion and the idea of incarnations which I found very interesting to get inspiration.

    I hope this helps. Keep on good work and have fun. :superagree:
    Stormburn likes this.
  8. IHaveNoName

    IHaveNoName Senior Member Community Volunteer

    Mar 15, 2016
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    Instead of directly copying the culture(s) in question, do some research, get a feel for it, take the parts you like, then mix in your own ideas - tweak it, play around with it, and make it unique. It's your world - cultures wouldn't develop the same as they would on Earth, and they would "fit" better in your world if they were molded to do so, instead of just plopped straight in.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2019
    LoaDyron likes this.
  9. BBQPorkbelly

    BBQPorkbelly Banned

    Feb 27, 2019
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    Much of today's fantasy literature in the Anglophone world is likely inspired from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Hans Christian Andersen, The Grimm Brothers, Charles Perrault, and other nationalistic fairy-tale/folkloric authors and big names. All of them are heavily inspired from Europe from "once upon a time", because the authors are all Europeans, with the exception of George R.R. Martin. Martin is American of Western European ancestry. Authors do not work in a vacuum. All authors receive inspiration from older works. In the Anglophone world, we have a lot of English literature that pulls from folktales and fairy-tales of European origin, and the English language is heavily influenced by William Shakespeare and The King James Bible. Also, we have Disney movies. Americans, being a melting pot of several different European cultures, have more cultural ties with Europe than with the indigenous people of the Americas.

    Just trying to say that English-speaking fantasy books aren't really directly inspired from the Middle Ages. They take more inspiration from earlier Anglophone authors and translators of other languages.

    We work with whatever we have.

    If you are bilingual, then you may be able to enjoy books in a language other than English. If you are monolingual in English, then you may want to read books in English translation. These books tend to be based around other cultures and societies all around the world. But be aware that, not all societies in the world have high literacy rates. Some societies have low literacy rates and low publishing rates. They may be politically unstable and war-torn, so the people may not be willing to write a novel. You have to be relatively comfortable to write a novel or contribute to the arts. Also, there is just not enough demand in the Anglophone world for translation literature. Machine translators suck. Human translators are expensive. Only a small percentage of non-English literature actually gets translated into English, compared to English-speaking novels getting translated into other languages because of America's dominance in the world and soft power on the entertainment industry. Now, American readers want so-called "diverse" stories while working in the same realm of Anglophone literature. These "diverse" stories are either (1) different ways of being American (native-American, African-American, Asian-American, etc.), or (2) imagining what it is like to be a person from a different country/culture/society while using the English language to describe everything and assuming that everyone thinks in the same way. Personally, I believe that American "diverse" literature is really just American literature, using the same metaphors that most Anglophones can relate to, the same values and beliefs that most Anglophones can relate to, and the same writing techniques that Anglophone readers are familiar with.

    Different languages show how different we really are. People who speak different languages may use different metaphors, different values/beliefs, and different writing techniques - and they are not translatable into English, because of language. Therefore, it is extremely easy to feel less empathy for such peoples, and the farther removed they are from us, the less we feel empathy towards them. When Chinese people use roughly the same terms for strangers as they do with relatives, Anglophones may interpret that as "overt respect" and then really exaggerate this aspect by using these terms literally. A child growing up in a Chinese-speaking world will just call a grown man "叔叔", while a child growing up in an English-speaking world will just call a grown man "Sir" out of politeness. Translating the Chinese word as "uncle" is incorrect, and makes Chinese culture more exotic and foreign while "sir" is considered normal. In the Magic School Bus books, one character makes a joke that there are two "Ms. Frizzles" (Ms. Frizzle the teacher and Ms. Frizzle's niece). This joke translated literally into Chinese makes no sense. Ms. Frizzle should not be translated as a 小姐, because that implies that the English-speaking children magically don't see a difference in age, which is false. In reality, English-speaking children really do see a difference in age, like Chinese-speaking children, but the English-speaking children, seeing Ms. Frizzle as older, will use the Ms and the surname, instead of calling the woman by her given name. This is an expression that they do see a difference in age, but they express themselves differently. The translator should have translated that as 阿姨, because she is older than the students, but that would have ruined the joke. The translator did use 老师 (meaning "teacher") to refer to Ms. Frizzle, though. This is one example of how language and culture are highly intertwined, and how mistranslations and thus misinterpretations of a different culture can easily arise.

    Therefore, as authors, we will just have to accept the fact that the English language cannot represent every single culture in the world. But, we can definitely imagine what other people's lives are like, based on own experiences, beliefs, values, understandings. The emphasis is on the word imagine. That's why it's called creative writing. You're creating stuff from your mind based on what you've read, heard, seen, or experienced. The Selection is an American young adult novel, set in a dystopian fairy-tale world, with evil China as a backdrop. I don't blame the American author for making China look bad, as current events in American society influence an author. The rise of China seems to be a threat to American dominance in the world, that China will become so powerful that it will take over the US.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2019
    jannert, Kalisto and Stormburn like this.
  10. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

    Mar 28, 2017
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    Ann Arbor, MI
    I like to watch foreign television series. I'm currently watching, on Netflix, Resurrection: Ertugrul. It's a Turkish television series set in the the times of the Crusades. It's told from the perspective where the Muslims are the dashing, brave heroes and the Christians are the evil, religious fanatics.
    BBQPorkbelly likes this.
  11. Bobby Burrows

    Bobby Burrows Banned Contributor

    Oct 2, 2018
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    Give them a shared experience through this melting pot.
    Have them different, but to avoid any traps, have them all the same somehow, show what they've got in common through key characters representing the populous, like a microcosm of your wider world.
  12. Abishai1000

    Abishai1000 Member

    Oct 28, 2015
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    The Dragon Scrolls(*)

    I've found that a great way to approach the richness and human energy of multiculturalism is to celebrate/present the art and creativity of various cultural groups. This not only enhances the storytelling environment but also offers the reader/audience a sense of place and colour. To achieve such an art-sensitivity for your pluralism-oriented writing, say, for a story about an English monarch learning about other cultures while the British Empire is exploring colonialism, you have to examine personally what you find educational about the art/creativity of the various cultures that, in this case, this hypothetical/fictional English monarch is exploring while investing in colonialism(!).

    After all, art/creativity is an extension of unique imagination, right?

    Hope this helps,


    American culture offers much for art fans and creativity inquisitors, including great writers, chefs, and fashion designers and architects, but I find something really beautiful in American culture/creativity in the 1920s-1930s era stylish men's vests, which were sometimes worn without suit-jackets they were supposed to accompany. Hollywood actor Warren Beatty showcased these vest-fashions in the iconic Depression-era bank-robbery film Bonnie & Clyde. This is a great example of 'Americana art.'


    The British likewise have offered us much in the areas of literature and monarchy-design, but I personally find great splendour and 'magic' in the craftsmanship of vintage/classic and fine-quality British cutlery(!). This is very impressive art of Britain.


    In Spain we find great cuisine, bullfights, music, and of course, those amazing large Spanish gown-dresses that Spanish women wear/boast for dances or cultural events!


    The Chinese have offered us the elegant acrobatics of outstanding self-defensive martial-arts fighting mechanics which complement the ergonomics-imagination of Indian/Hindu yoga(!). This is cool Chinese creativity --- e.g., Kung-Fu!


    You can find offbeat and iconic culture-creativity in virtually any nation if you do the right kind of detective-work. You might, for example, discover the simple beauty of this nifty Belgian 5-7 handgun. Go Belgium!


    You might also ironically as a writer discover the illustration-handsomeness or cover-artistry of a rich Danish edition of a Hans Christian Andersen story/novel. This is a book that a person in Denmark would appreciate if a pluralism-minded writer was creating a story about world-travel and culture-exposure.


    In other words, the simple and simultaneously complex answer to your complicated question is you have to simply 'feel around' and do detective-work to discover the magic/charm of each culture when approaching a story about pluralism-diarism.


    jannert likes this.
  13. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

    Mar 7, 2013
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    In general, the less developed a world is, it makes sense that a) the political units we call 'countries' are on the small side, and b) people don't travel much because travel is slow and usually done on foot, horseback or by cart/carriage. So there tends to be lots of diversity around the world, but not so much nearer home.

    If the world is highly developed (with internet equivalent, fast long distance travel, global economy) then cultures will probably tend to be more homogenous. But you say you're writing a story set in a medieval-European type of setting.

    So if you're crafting a tale set in a medieval setting, you probably won't have all that many groups to deal with. While some people would be professional travelers, such as people traveling the Silk Road, or traders who move between countries and continents, the vast majority of people rarely travel outwith their towns and villages. A lot of the stratification (and stereotyping) in small societies tends to be economic, rather than based on language or race. You can certainly work with that idea.
  14. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Jul 5, 2010
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    California, US
    I agree with what everyone else has said about research. On the cultural appropriation issue, that’s not something I’d be overly concerned with as a fiction writer. You can write about any culture you wish, and take on or repurpose any elements of any culture you wish. You aren’t appropriating anything. I do think there is some duty to be respectful of the source cultures when using these elements, and that duty is proportional to degree that your fictional culture is recognizable as being the source culture rather than a made up culture you’ve flavored from various sources.
  15. GrJs

    GrJs Active Member

    Apr 26, 2018
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    To not come across as insensitive to any culture, do your research on each culture you've chose and make your research thorough. That way you understand, on some level, the culture you're trying to adapt.

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