Monday, November 10, 2014

Eric Juneau: Culture in World Building

I met Eric Juneau recently through my promotions person at Musa Publishing. He writes speculative fiction that is a little big science fiction and has a touch of fantasy. He's guesting today and talking about world building and emphasizing the culture of a made up world. He raises many interesting points. Here's Eric:

I am finishing the final draft of my next novel. This is the revision where I go through with a fine-toothed comb and look for repeated words, grammar mistakes, things the spell-checker didn't catch, etc. This is an alternate Earth fantasy novel, where it evolved on its own path, with its own history and geography. It takes place in a parallel reality, with a self-contained evolution of humans and civilization.

It's not until this revision that I realized one of my characters yells "JESUS CHRIST!" right in the middle of the climax.

It's funny how easy it is to miss that sort of thing. That's one of the difficult things about settings in the far future or a non-Earth Earth.  They are free from all the mortal cultural trappings, like Jennifer Lawrence, the World Cup, or TSA security. It also means none of our history, like King Arthur, Renaissance paintings, or Star Trek.  We reference pop culture and past culture so often it becomes second nature to us. MST3K, South Park, and The Simpsons have influenced our mindsets so much it's hard to make two sentences that don't have some root in world culture.

I think that's why good fantasy is so popular and bad fantasy is so common. People want to fall into different worlds, worlds that are not their own. But to do that is really, really, really difficult. You have to purge your world of all human influences, starting from dinosaurs and all the way forward. Of course, it's way too difficult to create a whole world history from start to finish. So you have to cut corners, abbreviate. But things will inevitably be missed when shortcuts are taken.  That's just part of the deal.

So how do you deal with this? I don't know. I haven't found a quick-and-dirty method for discovering human influences. You just gotta scrutinize it, think about "would this make sense if I was in this world"? What do people wear when they swim? Do they have trunks? Bikinis? Any pyramids? Do hurricanes exist? Did someone remember to invent steamboats? World-building's a tricky puzzle. I recommend doing as much as possible before writing. Not only will you more firmly set yourself in this world, you'll also have the mentality of your characters when you write.

Here's a short blurb from Eric's Novel

Gene is a rogue-for-hire, using his one-man ship to make a decent living on the flooded Earth. His AI companion, Stitch, does most of the work of their salvage and smuggling jobs. Life is good. Until a mermaid crawls into his ship’s exhaust port. Now everyone wants to know what this fantasy creature is doing on a dying planet. Gene has to choose between protecting her and keeping himself safe.

Thanks Eric for the interesting post. You've given me some things to think about. 
Check out Eric's Blog: AuthorQuest
Connect with him on twitter
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Or check out his Amazon Page

Ever read a science fiction book where a referral to modern culture took you out of the story? Ever have to invent your own curse words for your speculative fiction? Do you expect to have an AI companion in the future like the hero of Merm-8?


  1. It would be so hard to keep those thing from creeping in.

  2. haha it is tough, but I just cheat and throw in time travel or make up a reason as to why those references still work.

  3. That's funny! I really had to watch what phrases I used in my books. 'What on earth?' doesn't work when the setting is a galaxy far, far away...

  4. I have a hard enough time world-building within the confines of earth and all its history. Can't imagine creating an entirely new world from scratch. But I know that's the juice a lot of fantasy writers live on. :)

  5. I think about culture a lot when world-building. It's important. I haven't thought much about swimming so far... except with clothes or lack of so far.

  6. World building is tough - but it's SO awesome when it's well done!

    The book sounds fun!

  7. I admire fantasy writers just for this reason alone. It's a lot of work to create an alternate world.

  8. Great post. I'm guilty of having a few Earth-isms in my sci-fi and fantasy short stories. Luckily I have keen critique partners!

  9. I would LOVE to have an AI companion; that would be wicked cool!

  10. What a challenge. I think a book like that would need more edits than another one.

  11. So far I have yet to create a world like this. But, I did hear simple wise words regarding this. The most important key is that people like the new world. That is all. You can spend years creating a world, but if no one likes it, who's going to care. Start simple, write the story, and all the really cool unique things will evolve and pop up as you go along.

  12. I hate it when I'm in a fantasy world with nothing familiar - except the prolific use of F-bombs. Not that I'm opposed to foul language in a story, but if you're going to make up your own world, make up your own swear words!

    World building is difficult, even using the contemporary world.