Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Creating the norm (and rebels!)

Thanks, Lynda, for such a great discussion topic! All right, let me dive right in.

Speculative fiction authors often create entirely new worlds. There are no Wikipedia entries for the reader to look up specific things. Either the author explains the world or loses the reader. Add to that the problem that many readers today are not geared towards patience; they want the action here and now. There isn’t time to explain things, include an appendix, and a glossary of terms.

Lynda mentioned her pet peeve was the rebel when creating a new world. Rebels don’t bother me as much. I like a good rebel, though I want to see several rebels. After all, throughout our entire history, those on the edges of society and rules have banded together (i.e. Regency open sexuality, female literacy during the Taliban rule). There were always several people. I want to see that in my alien worlds.

For me, my largest pet peeve with alien cultures is the assumption on the part of the reader (and, hey, even many authors) that the entire alien culture is based completely on one of earth’s specific countries. I don’t want every single alien world out there to be little more than a galactic version of today’s United States. I also don’t want one where the social norms seem to not have evolved past the Middle Ages.

The reverse came sometimes happen, too. In an attempt to make everything very alien, random things throughout human history are picked and smashed together. The problem is that they don’t always fit. There is a reason that the Greeks invented a written language, whereas the Inuit did not. It’s important to understand the history and interconnectivity of these things when creating a world.

I like to take an abstract thing, like art, and think about how my created culture uses art to express themselves. In something as simple as that, I learn a lot about my created worlds. Then, I am able to create laws and social norms that match that impression of something like art. After a while, I have an entire culture created where the laws and norms seem to match each other.

Then I create my rebels. Because, really, what is fantasy or science fiction without a good rebel and her plucky side kick?

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I think the biggest thing to remember is that the culture has to make sense no matter how alien it is. When you are writing you are creating a culture and if the culture doesn't work then the society would fall apart. Then poof goes the story, unless the story is about the collapse...
Things do have to fit together at some level even if they might look contradictory on the surface. Something I've worked on is the economic underpinnings of norms. My Demish are for marriage because it allows them to handle the property transfer aspects of procreation in an orderly fashion. Rebels - yeah. We all like them. Still don't want 'em to act like they were born in another era or place entirely.
I would argue that Kristy's comment applies to pretty much any created world or alternate reality. There has to been a reason why culture moves in a specific way.

Perhaps it's because I have a history background - those questions come a bit easier to me. When I used to slush read and also as part of a former critique group, I'd come across a lot of manuscripts where people tried so hard to make their worlds unique that the rules and laws and norms made no sense whatsoever. Everything from painting streets pink to forcing abortions, these laws have to have a basis in reality.

Lynda - rebels who act like they were aliens to the world that they were in really annoyed me! I think the rebels should feel like they are alien from others, but they should still hold on to some of their world. After all, some of the worlds greatest rebels still held their social norms and cultures to their hearts. Also, rebels come in different forms - we gotta remember that as authors!
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