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
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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?