In May 2015 I was fortunate to have the following article published by Flash Fiction Chronicles, the ‘journalistic’ side of Every Day Fiction. Since then their entire site network was demolished by some virus – they informed me – and the whole deal went to the dogs: held submissions being lost and new submissions, though apparently having to be put on hold, mysteriously appearing online via some arcane submission process unknown to the general public.
To echo a well used intro – And so it begins…
Why problems arise when building races and/or cultures, is if such endeavours are attempted in a vacuum. Fantasy, like anything else in this world, requires a foundation.
The creative process involved in good Science Fiction/Fantasy is not called “world-building” for nothing. The renowned fantasy author, Terry Pratchett, provides an excellent example with his Discworld series. He may have filched a few ideas from the mythologies of Native American tribes and the Greeks, but the weave is seamless and the composite purely his.
To create a culture/tradition/set of beliefs, we must have a world which catalyzed same. Early religions were based on the human mind attempting to explain what was going on beyond their control. Accordingly, our fictional characters must have retrospectively evolved in their environment. We are ‘pigeon-holers’ in the main. If something doesn’t fit within our frame of reference—what we can understand—we get a mental plunger and stuff it into a space we create. In order for both writer and reader to connect with the characters within a story, they must reflect similar tendencies.
Building a world which is not a cheap copy of reality is difficult, which is why so many SF/Fantasy writers opt for the post-apocalyptic dystopia option.
Modern fiction writing has to go beyond the primal Bunyan-esque allegory to give creations a past which is not ours. Give characters frailties by all means, but it is important that the little people, “good” and the “bad”, can at some level be ‘understood’ by readers. But they must all be loved … yes, loved … by the author/creator. If a writer makes a character so detestable he or she cannot see from their perspective, that little bit of manifest imagination is ostracised from the core creative process: leaving it nothing but a shell, a shadow. This cannot help but detract from the story.
Our own society, that of what was once termed “The First World” has ‘progressed’ to the giddy heights of what has been termed “decadence”—as do most civilizations—where nothing much makes its components flinch in abhorrence. In a world where the terms “collateral damage”, “acceptable losses”, and “pre-emptive strike” raise few eyebrows, fiction writers feel compelled to push the envelope in an effort to compete with reality, and outdo the gory narratives encountered within more and more intricately programmed computer games.
The beauty of “world building” is that we don’t have to compete on the same playing ground. The harsh reality is that a lot of work and creativity has to go into building that space. The only drawback is lack of imagination and commitment.
You think human relationships are high-maintenance? Pah!