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How to deal with the practicalities of a hidden world

  1. Major exploration

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  3. Mostly Ignore it

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  1. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society Contributor

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    The Practicalities of a Hidden Supernatural World

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by DK3654, Aug 29, 2018.

    So my WIP is an Urban Fantasy story that features a hidden supernatural world. Not the most interesting starting point, but something I've taken to is the idea of actually using the story to almost critique the genre a little, explore some difficult questions about the practicality of it that aren't typically addressed, and play with people's expectations. I hope that should help make things more interesting.

    For example, what I am doing with vampires starts off with one of MCs portrayed as a bit of tormented soul, struggling to be good in spite of the evil within, and the emerging threat of a antagonistic group of ruthless vampires. But, the evil vampires quickly become the target of derision amongst the cast as they are actually a bit of parody of how vampires are sometimes portrayed, in that it would actually be very reckless and shortsighted in any organised supernatural world. And meanwhile the vampire MC's 'straining against the darkness within' is actually more about an unhealthy coping mechanism of trying to recreate a life gone by and not adapt to change, and has only helped perpetuate the character's self hatred.

    Anyway, what I wanted to ask about here is handling the concept of a hidden world itself. The hidden world itself is an obviously huge part of the practicality of the world, and relates closely to the sense of society which I want to focus on majorly. Therefore, I am thinking about spending more time exploring how it works than usual for a story like this, and about how modern society has been making the secrecy increasingly difficult to maintain and it might just all fall apart sometime. Even a major plotline of rebels challenging the rules.
    But of course, the more I go into this, the more it could destabilize the whole thing. If I just sort of ignore it, then I could survive of the audience expectations that they can just assume it works somehow and suspend disbelief. And that way I wouldn't have to worry about how it might affect everything else.

    So my question is, how much can or should I push? Do you think people would find it more interesting to explore the issue, or do you think they would rather focus on other elements?


    Thanks for reading.
     
  2. bossfearless

    bossfearless Active Member

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    I'll just give you my two cents regarding the hidden fantasy world trope, and that's that you need to make sure that if you're going to be trying for realism or practicality,you need to stop and ask yourself the same question about each character. How do they pay their rent?

    I can't believe how many writers don't even bother with this. I asked a lady how her main character paid her rent once and she just goes "She's a succubus!" And I'm like that's great for her, but how does she pay her RENT? Her cable bill? Anything she can't just screw her way out of? A lot of writers take the lazy approach and really half-ass this too, by making all their supernatural characters fabulously wealthy with old family fortunes from ages past. Which of course is hella cliche, and creates a whole new set of problems as to why this super rich vampire or whatever is hanging around a dive bar in New Orleans, and of course that writer will never even see that as a question worth answering.

    So just take the time to find the economic niche for your characters,and that will help bring the setting to life a lot better.
     
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  3. ITBA01

    ITBA01 Active Member

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    In my opinion, there's pretty much no amount of explanation that makes a hidden supernatural world believable in my mind. Out of all the instances I've seen of it, the ones that have the least amount of problems are either the ones in which the two worlds are really separate (Yu Yu Hakusho is a good example), or ones that just don't analyze it much in the first place (Supernatural is a good example in this case). These two examples aren't flawless, but they lead to a lot less problems than a series like Harry Potter, which makes the grave mistake of hinging the secrecy of the other world on the belief that every member of this world is on the same page, and wants to remain a secret.

    I my opinion, probably the only way to make a secret world really believable would be to have it take place in a time before technology. Let's be real, the whole world is pretty much connected these days, whereas before you didn't hear stories of what was going on in China.

    These problems are one of the main reasons I decided against making an urban fantasy, and just decided to make a world where such things are common knowledge. This has it's own set of problems, but I find them much easier to fix and make believable (in the context of the story, that is).
     
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  4. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    I’m dealing with something like this in my current WIP, though my situation is slightly different. The “spirit plane” is on a shifted dimension sharing the same physical space as the human side, but only mediums and “spyrians” (my spirit version of mediums) can perceive the other side. That makes it a little easier to conceal from the normies, but brings up its own share of problems.

    I kind of take a comedic but also realistic approach. We often assume the residents of the magic world must surely understand how it works and be able to explain the ins and outs to the character, but honestly that feels a bit forced. Not all humans could do the same about our world, after all. So I make it a point that these spirit characters are unable to answer my MC’s questions a lot of the time. “How should I know why the buildings exist on both sides but the vending machines don’t? They never taught that in science class! Can you recite all the rules of human physics?”

    I find it adds some comedy but also tension (in that my character can get frustrated by the unavailability of answers), and it allows me to believably handwave what would otherwise be plothole-ridden exposition.

    However, certain important facets of this dynamic play a central role in the conflict, and I have to make sure the consequences of my handwaving aren’t themselves handwaved away. Since what the humans do on their side can affect the spirit side (building buildings, etc), the spirits need to actually be affected. Some don’t like it and might resort to aggressive action to keep humans off their island, for example. The how doesn’t necessarily matter.

    I think the impracticality can be an excellent issue to explore, as long as you’re able to present it believably. But if it’s not supposed to be a focal point like that, it’s probably best to leave the mystery unanswered. Just have the characters take it for granted and don’t raise the questions in the first place.

    My two cents.
     
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  5. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society Contributor

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    This at least is an area I know I will be addressing. All the characters will have some functional role in society, there's not going to be random supernatural drifters like you describe.
     
  6. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society Contributor

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    I have considered doing a historical setting partly for this exact reason, but I think I prefer modern social issues for this story. I do have the idea, as I mentioned, that in world the fact that modern technology makes things more difficult is acknowledged.

    I have also strongly considered doing away with the hidden world but keeping the modern setting, more in the vein of True Blood or Bright. But it would mean I can no longer have any characters experience the same degree of discovery and would complicate the government of the society.
     
  7. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm also writing an urban fantasy. Different to yours, but the way I'm handling the "hidden world" side of things is that for humans to have access to it requires a set of very, very rare circumstances. Both of my MCs have connections to the world beyond death; one of them was flatline for several minutes after being electrocuted and the other is an identical twin whose sister died in the womb. With this in place, no amount of correct symbols or chants will get an aspiring magick practitioner any results unless they've got that rare connection.

    The second thing I've put in place is that the MC will come into contact with imps, low-level servants of Hell. Well, one imp, and "low-level" is the key here; Asmo (working name) is about as far down the totem pole as you can get and doesn't really know anything about anything except for some rules his higher-ups have inflicted on him. Imagine an alien who lands on Earth and is only able to befriend a seventeen-year-old McDonald's burger-flipper. Now imagine the alien trying to get a clear view on social customs and technology. I'm still making sure that I have some of the answers, but most of the questions my MC asks the imp about how the secret world works will get an "I dunno" or something that's either memorized or egregiously wrong.

    Yup, money troubles are a big theme in my work. I've just recently seen Dead Like Me, and I like the way they handle things there, although I suspect the Reapers have a bit of unconscious magic going that makes their explanations more plausible than they should be.
     
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  8. ITBA01

    ITBA01 Active Member

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    In that case, I would simply recommend doing your best to make it seem somewhat believable, and not draw a lot of attention to other aspects. Urban fantasies pretty much never hold up to scrutiny. Not just how the world remains secret, but also explaining how the world even resembles the real world with this secret world that exists. If a butterfly flapping it's wings can have a huge effect on history, just think how much of an effect any kind of supernatural element would. So long as it's not too absurd, and the rest of the book is memorable, I think most readers would be willing to forgive a few leaps in logic (let's be real, even most pure fantasy, and sci-fi stories have these).
     
  9. S A Lee

    S A Lee Contributor Contributor

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    I don't completely buy the idea of a group living a separate culture with no understanding of the majority of the human race (since technically the only difference between normal humans and witches/wizards is the presence of magical powers) because it makes it harder to hide in plain sight, but rather adapting the two in tandem makes a good deal of sense.

    As for finding a way to make everyone want to stay hidden, a simple answer is that to the supernatural, humans are the monsters. For example, in my WIP's history, the Pendle Witch Trials, from which the manuals used in Salem were written, was caused by a single witch being betrayed by a lover. This became a cautionary tale that hit home harder as the development of forensic science seemed to be growing as far back as the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888. The majority of the supernatural do know what a television or the Internet is, but longer lived ones, including my vampire MC, are technologically minimalist by choice. In his case, he's convinced that they rot the brain.
     
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  10. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

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    One option already mentioned is that most of the really weird stuff takes place in a parallel world. Other options could include:

    1: There's a supernatural clean-up crew. And if you have hypnosis or memory alteration powers, this job becomes so much easier. Someone friendly knocks on your door just after sunset and says they've got information on the "vampire" killer. You don't remember exactly what they said or their name or what they looked like, but afterwards, you were certain they told you something conclusively disproved your theory. Good job you never took it to the papers, you'd have looked a complete fool!

    Of course, this isn't flawless, but bear in mind that the Information Age makes it easier for information to get out there, but arguably harder for it to be taken seriously outside those who already believed it. Say I linked you to a Youtube video that purported to show a vampire attack. Would you really take it at face value? The comments would be evenly split between those asking what movie or game this is meant to be viral marketing for, those blaming Obama for all these vampires coming up here taking our jobs, and fangirls saying that duh, vampires don't work like that, didn't you ever read Twilight? :) Simply muddying the water by spreading disinformation and sponsoring easily-mockable kooks ("I'm not saying it was vampires but it was vampires") can go a long way.


    2: The powers are inherently ill-suited for public display. Magic fails in the presence of scepticism, or doing something obviously impossible will cause a backlash from reality itself. Ghosts can only be seen by people in a receptive or fearful state of mind, etc.


    3: Humans are naturally prone to forget or rationalise what they saw. This process already happens naturally:

    "Maybe I didn't really see that thing by the side of the road? Or it was just a normal wolf? I mean, I was quite tired, it was dark, and I read this article one time about how driving can cause a hypnotic state. I mean, I can't go around saying I saw a werewolf, right? People will think I'm crazy! I might lose my job! Yeah, must just have been a big dog or something. Let's just forget about it."

    And maybe there's something going on that can make that response stronger. For example, in the old White Wolf Werewolf RPG, seeing a werewolf in hybrid form triggered a primal fear that meant all but very strong-willed people would flee, panic, or go berserk, only having vague memories afterwards.
     
  11. ITBA01

    ITBA01 Active Member

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    When I said separate, I meant more in terms of space. In Yu Yu Hakusho, most of the major supernatural entities have no way to interact with humans, leaving only minor demons (which normal people can't even see), and a few stronger ones that mostly blend in.

    As for staying secret, it still doesn't make much sense to me that witches would fear regular humans. Maybe in the modern days of technology (with guns, and nuclear bombs), but for the longest time, it seems like they would've been on top. If that's the case, history itself would've been very different. Unless every witch/wizard is from the same area/culture, many different cultures have very different values, and it's simply absurd believing they'd all want to remain secret. Can you imagine how WWII would've turned out had the ultra-nationalistic Japanese had access to magic?
     
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  12. DK3654

    DK3654 Almost a Productive Member of Society Contributor

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    Yes, I intend to include that.

    I have that too.

    The misinformation idea has been my preferred explanation for how it is that a number of mythological/folklore things are real, but not all or all from any one mythos- when it was decided long ago to keep it secret, many people had some limited awareness. There were varied and not all accurate records of the real supernatural things, so destruction of some records, controlling the spread and perception of some and alteration/fabrication of others was used to slowly erode belief. And now, someone says 'vampires' and nobody believes them, because that's stupid right?

    I don't think I want to do this so much as:

    This.
    This is something I have favoured for a while. I like the idea that the supernatural is more than just weird and powerful, but is in a way on a different level of reality that people unconditioned to it cannot truly comprehend. It's convenient for the hidden world thing, obviously, but it feels like something that you might include anyway when you can give it more significance than that.

    I don't know about doing that for werewolves (werewolves are in), but I have a bunch of fairly menacing pureblood demons, and I do like the idea of them having a supernaturally terrifying/disturbing presence. That helps make them seem truly demonic and not just evil magic guys. I have other similar concepts like one of the notable purebloods causes shadows to distort and move in the area around him.
     
  13. S A Lee

    S A Lee Contributor Contributor

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    There are a few things in reality which run contrary to your viewpoint:

    -Witch hunts are still alive and well in Africa, with death being the penalty
    -Baptist churches in the US use the King James version of the Bible, which was twisted to condemn and even encourage the death of witches. The assertion that witches gain power from the devil stems from his book on demonology, which called witchcraft treason against God.
    -Human nature makes it easy to exploit fear and turn someone into an angry mob, and more often than not, especially in these stories, normal humans have superior numbers. Think Gaston turning the villagers against the Beast in Beauty and the Beast.

    Let's go with the hypothetical concept of Japan using magic alongside military warfare in WWII, given that America uses the King James Version of the Bible to this day in several portions of its Christian population, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to me to say that the US would blame their use of witchcraft for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and maybe even more. This would be enough to turn non-magic against magic internally, and maybe the purging of magic could become a term America puts into the peace treaty in 1945. That said, forseeing the future has a strong place in Shinto culture, along with the concept of the dead becoming guardian spirits. Between these two things, such a disastrous future would likely be foreseen and spread out along magic communities so elders may likely seal their own magic to prevent that future from coming to pass, if not hide their children from the military entirely.

    Of course, that's just witches and wizards specifically. Creatures for whom humans are prey to such a degree would thrive on hiding in plain sight.
     
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  14. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    In most stories like that, the other species is usually immortal or close to it. If I had a thousand years to learn basic finance, I’d probably get really good at it too. In other stories the characters simply have regular jobs. Twilight comes to mind: the vampire was a doctor and the werewolf was a cop.
     
  15. S A Lee

    S A Lee Contributor Contributor

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    Bella's Dad was a cop, the 'werewolves' (they were dubbed shapeshifters in the end) were in the Quileute reservation. I don't recall their jobs off hand.
     

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