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Discussion in 'World Building' started by X Equestris, Jul 30, 2015.

  1. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

    I came across an interesting article about diseases in fantasy fiction, and that got me thinking about how rarely illnesses come up in my work. So far, I've had one story where disease played any real role, and it was basically a reason for the main character to be alone in the woods gathering herbs (she was a mage and a village healer, and her magic couldn't help with the illness in question). I also have a vague storyline featuring a monarch character, based on Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, who suffers from leprosy but I haven't written anything about him yet.

    So what role does disease play in your work? Is it something mostly left in the background, or does it have a major effect on your plot? Does it ever influence your world on the same scale as real world diseases have influenced the course of history?
    chrispenycate likes this.
  2. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    Pretty much only wound infections are the biggest illnesses I deal with.
    Nasty illnesses could wipe out a lot of people. Breaking quarantine could get many more killed.

    Healers would probably be over whelmed for large illnesses, but the illness would probably have to spread pretty fast to triumph over a healer.
    But fleas, ticks, and vermin did thrive in filthy cities and towns, so great potential for a rapid spread.

    Most movies that use illness as a weapon, used quick killing magic illnesses, when slow death illnesses would tie up a lot more people. For everyone ill it takes a lot of resources and people to keep them alive. Commanders had to decide if they stayed to care for the ill, they risked spreading it to the rest of their men, or flea and let the ill die or be captured.(very bad for morale either way)
    Illness killed a lot of military persons. Very poor living conditions, wet and dirty, sewage control, close quarters, and little chance to clean ones self, all contributed to disease.
  3. Well I had a great and wonderful post but the Internet ate it. So, let me say, in one book I have a disease that affects everything from plot to characters to setting. It's impossible to cure because it infects the body and the soul. It was created to crush the magical community. It causes magic people to enter into a berserk bloodlust state where they just destroy everything. It takes about a month for it to kick into gear at first. Then it spikes and jumps depending on how angry a person gets. At the very least the people have to cleanse the Disease every month just to be safe. It also dampens magical ability for everything but seal and metallurgy magic. However, a Diseased can't die from blood loss and they are resistant to various poisons and other diseases (they heal super fast a side effect of the Disease). They need to have their heart destroyed (pierced or obliterated), their head cut off, brain destroyed, or partake of a particularly powerful poison that affects the heart, kills the brain, or strangles them.
    X Equestris likes this.
  4. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner Scribe

    This is a really, really, good point.

    If fantasy is inspired by any period before the 20th century, then disease, deformity, disfigurement, etc, should be an ordinary part of life.

    There are so many diseases that historical peoples were subject to, even before we consider lack of adequate sanitation.
    The lack of safety regulations would have made work accidents common.

    And yet, because we write from a healthy 21st century Western perspective, it is so easy to overlook that - unless it forms an essential plot point.

    The challenge is to try and include it in such a way as to be normative to the POV characters, while striking to the reader.
  5. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    I like playing with diseases and epidemics in my stories, global things that can overshadow the stories events.
    I've had a couple of stories that were post Epidemic/Plague. I think it gives a feeling of space and loneliness to the writing. Lots of things for the MCs to wander about and room not to meet people.
    I have an idea for a pre plague story, where the characters are trying to keep ahead of an illness that might be magical as well as physical. I don't have it all there yet and I'm not sure how to write it, thinking on mixing First and Second PoV, trying to make it close and personal.
    Many years ago I tried to have the Big Bad use a plague as a first strike weapon. A Septicemic/Necrotic plague style event. I thought that was suitably gory and horrific so that it was half biological and half terror weapon. The story took a strange turn when I found it getting a [little] inadvertently racist... If you had the "right" blood you were immune... It wasn't what I had in mind so that stalled...
  6. ChasingSuns

    ChasingSuns Sage

    I have played around with diseases before. In my current project there's a disease that becomes a huge part of the plot (the characters are trying to discover the source of the disease, which leads to other things unfolding). I think it can add a lot to your world.
  7. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    I came up with a disease called blackrot... Basically, the bacteria eats holes in the exterior walls of the blood vessels first, leading to small bruises, then massive bruises as arteries become affected. Needless to say, those that contract it don't tend to live very long without a healer.

    This disease is only communicable via fluid transfers or introduction of infected fluids into open wounds.

    Has not been used in any works this far, it is just sitting there waiting for an appropriate story.
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I have one waiting in the wings as well. It's the Black Death.

    In Altearth, though, this is not the bubonic plague, though it looks like it. But I am taking the medieval accounts at their face value. In more than one source the writer speaks of the disease that strikes "through breath and sight". It's is necessary to understand how medieval people understood the mechanism of sight in order to understand the phrase, but I thought it would be great if a disease could be spread deliberately by Nefarious Wicked People. Maybe the drow, I'm still letting that angle cook.

    In addition, the wise professors at the University of Paris concluded that the entire disease had an astrological explanation, which caused poisonous vapors to rise from the earth. There again, what a great fantasy scenario. The planets really do affect things here on Altearth, and maybe instead of drow it's some sort of vaporous spirit.

    It's all still in the brainstorming phase right now, as I have a novel to finish and another one after that before I can contemplate wiping out a third of Europa within five years. Plus, people often forget that the plague returned nearly every generation for a century and a half. Now *that* has drow written all over it!
  9. HowlingWriter

    HowlingWriter Dreamer

    Diseases are a thing that certainly are present in Fantasy, though as far as how prevelant it is in the story it differs from series to series. In mine for instance, there are diseases that exist, but they aren't the most prevelant to the plot, so they don't appear as often. They are mentioned though, and a few times appear in the scenes. For instance, there's one disease that can affect those who can use Magic by attacking the organs that filter out polluted "Mana", making it difficult to stay healthy.
  10. The Stranger

    The Stranger Dreamer

    i actually really like the way i brought disease into my world, as it allows me to do some very interesting things with the lore and the societies of my world. Disease in my world was actually created by a dark god, formed from the blood and breath of the god himself. this basically meant that these diseases were so strong that the magic of the world couldn't affect it at all, and so an order of medics and healers called The Physicians Guild was created to combat these plagues using mortal means, basically creating the medical science of the world. however if the disease or plague progressed too far, it infected and took over their host and drove them to insanity and violence, and so these doctors had to essentially learn to cure their patients as they defended themselves from them.
  11. tantric

    tantric Dreamer

    I have three years of grad school in epidemiology going - if anyone wants a consult, i'm here. In my Ubantu setting, which is an RPG guide, not a novel, I did this:
    And lots more babbling no one will ever read.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 2, 2015
  12. Cambra

    Cambra Minstrel

    My main character's mother died young from quatern fever...
  13. The Greythrone

    The Greythrone New Member

    One of the better uses of Disease in modern fantasy I saw was in Anthony Ryan's Blood Song the disease first appeared while the MC was still training, caused a lot of havoc, then died out. Until the MC ended up seizing control of a town on another continent, when there was a second outbreak.

    The thing I always forget about plagues and diseases is that they tend to migrate to new areas more than they just disappear.
  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    For me, the signature "disease in a fantasy novel" is the Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R. Donaldson.

    Seems most instances of disease I've run across in reading fantasy involve some form of a plague, whether artificial or natural, usually afflicting large numbers of people. I.e., it's either backdrop or a prop for showing how evil the main protagonist is.

    The Thomas Covenant series was interesting because the disease — leprosy — was personal and greatly shaped the character of the MC.

    [Edit: Actually, the third common use is as backstory: someone's relative or perhaps lover was killed by a colorfully-named disease in the past and this is mentioned in passing to give "flavor" to the worldbuilding.]
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2015
  15. Cambra

    Cambra Minstrel

    So he was the carrier, right?
  16. JohnWhitefield

    JohnWhitefield Acolyte

    Been toying around with the ideas of diseases and plagues in my own works ever since I read somewhere (can't remember where though, sadly) that fantasy seems to never truly deal with them despite the usual pseudo-medieval setting. I've tried to address this issue myself, since like most, my own setting has a sort of medieval feel to it (though I'd rather classify it as early Renaissance, but that's beside the point).

    So far, I've primarily added in a major outbreak of a plague that occurred in the world that spread and caused widespread death (much akin to the Black Death if you will, although much more severe). In addition, I've added in several kings that perished due to illness and disease (I'm big on developing the history of the world even if it'll never be written as a story). But in terms of what diseases I've written that have been included in actual stories, I've got one where the person dies if they come in touch with certain areas 'infected' with magic, as a sort of magic-based disease. And then I also got more of a regular one in a story I'm currently writing where a city comes under siege and a disease within it forces the leaders inside to make some pretty hard choices to deal with it.

    That's about as far as the extent of it so far in my own works, but while developing the ideas for it, I sorta realized that there isn't much actual need for it unless its somehow vital to the plot. Which made me think that most fantasy stories probably don't contain it because its not vital to the overall story. Unless you've managed to cook up some reason for which it effects the story progression.

    That's my two cents on it, at least.
  17. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    It's a bit fantastical, but my favorite use of disease is in a video game called Trauma Team. It's a bacterium originally found in the stomach of a young Mexican girl who is completely unharmed by it. If it spreads to anyone else, it targets all the other bacteria in their stomach, good and bad, and also makes holes in their stomach lining. A researcher studies her to try to find a way to make the bacterium target specific harmful bacteria, potentially treating a host of illnesses. When he accidentally infects himself, he flips out, calls her a demon, and shoots her. She bleeds to death in a field of flowers, and when butterflies feed on the nectar, they carry the disease on their northern migration, shedding scales that people breathe in all over the southwestern US. There's a very mystical feel to it, like one innocent child's death has let a wrongness into the world that wants to spread and take more lives.
  18. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

    Hi Fifth,

    Yeah I agree, leprosy in Thomas Covenant was absolutely vital to the story and made it compelling. But the only problem I had with it was that even as the books were coming out the cure was coming out too, making the whole thing sort of redundant.

    As for my work, my companion novel to the arcanist has a disease in it called the White Plague (yeah I know - shades of TB) but it isn't really a true contagion so much as a deficiency disease - caused by the absence of magic. It becomes pivotal to the story.

    Cheers, Greg.
  19. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    Hello everyone!

    In my Fantasy story Violetas y Jazmín (violets and jasmine) I described a Fantasy disease, which played a pivotal role in the first novella and allowed for the other four installments to take place.

    The disease in question was known as Vlyahsz Fever (named after the city where it started) with Vlyahsz to be pronounced as vlai-as approximately. It originated from a distant world, and it killed most of the people and even Mages that still ruled the protagonist's home world because it was a magical weapon and not an ordinary infection.

    Vlyahsz Fever is vaguely described as a slow onset disease marked by high fever, fear and anxiety, prostration, bleeding from the eyes and delirium, advancing to comma and death within a few days.

    I think that using unique and chilling diseases in our Fantasy stories is a useful advantage as Storytellers.
  20. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

    In my WIP there are a few characters with the ability to heal the injuries and poisoning of others; however they cannot heal infections and disease. This makes their encounter with creatures who cause infections more dangerous than the characters realize in the beginning. Seeing how the characters struggle against something they cannot fight and the resulting deaths it brings has been a great way to have them grow.

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