#ContactForm1 { display: none ! important; }

Monday, March 1, 2010

Creating Tradtions in Fictional Cultures

Today's guest post is written by the talented Danyelle Leafty. She is the author of the Fairy Tale Survival Guide and the creator of beautifully layered fantasy and fairy tale novels. She was kind enough to step in today and talk about how she creates cultures and traditions for her alternate realities.

An important aspect of world building is fashioning traditions based on the world’s different cultures. The world building part will likely be much more in depth than the parts that will actually make it into the story, but it will add another layer to the story.

So, where to begin?

As I pondered this question, two thoughts hit me at the same time. For the tradition to work, it needs to have two things: belief patterns and relevancy.

Belief patterns:
What makes up the belief patterns of a society? Some immediate things that come to mind are: religion, geography, superstition, and coping strategies.

~ What one believes, especially one’s personal moral code, will affect how one thinks and perceives the world.

~ Where one lives will also affect one’s perceptions. For example, holidays, especially if travel is slow and arduous, are going to vary wildly between rural and urban places. People in the city are unlikely to have harvesting/planting festivals, while those in the country are not likely to observe holidays that honor Important People that have no connection to their lives or land.

~ What do people consider portentous, luck and unlucky? And why? It’s helpful to research common superstitions in our world to get a feel of what a superstition is grounded on and why they persist long enough to become traditions.

~ To incorporate coping strategies into traditions, one must look at the history of the people. For example, in the US during the cold war, schools routinely practiced bomb safety in the form of an alarm sounding and the teachers directing the students to go under their desks. Logic, in the form of facts, doesn’t enter here. Being under a desk is hardly going to do anything if an atomic bomb lands on or near the school. But logic, in the form of We Must Act in Order to Cope, is what’s at play here. Some of these traditions are short-lived, while others enjoy long and healthy lives.

What things matter to the people in the story? What things affect them on a daily basis? Geography and socioeconomics will also play a role here. Also, customs and traditions are going to vary on a smaller, familial scale.

A person’s perceptions and worldview will affect how a tradition is relevant to them personally, and how they observe it.

An important thing to remember is that customs are also not static things, never-changing statues created to honor something until wind, time, and war wear them away to pale memories of themselves.

Customs reflect the mindset of the people that practice them, and people are forever changing, shifting from hue to hue as time passes. What meant something specifically to someone a hundred years ago, is likely to have a different meaning—if one at all—to someone now.