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Fantasy Counterpart Cultures

Discussion in 'World Building' started by D. Gray Warrior, Oct 7, 2020.

  1. D. Gray Warrior

    D. Gray Warrior Troubadour

    It's pretty common in fiction for various cultures to be based on real life cultures, to varying degrees, but I'm wondering if it can be done poorly?

    Obviously, if the people live in a Sahara-like environment, I'd expect some cultural similarities to the Berber or Bedouins. Perhaps this fictional culture would still retain a few unique cultural traits of its own, however.

    I had been building a setting based on Renaissance Italy, but felt compelled to portray it as accurately as possible to the IRL Renaissance. The only exceptions were the presence of magic and some anachronistic technology (since it was Clockpunk.)

    It dawned on me that the very presence of magic or anachronistic tech would completely revolutionize the culture and would no longer resemble the original much.

    Many fantasy settings assume a Medieval European theme. However, the Catholic Church played an important role in the development of Europe at the time, so I wonder if a setting that has your typical fantasy pantheon would actually look completely different from Medieval Europe?

    Then, there's feudalism. It was the main political/economic system in Europe at the time, but was also found in places such as Japan. I don't see this as too much of a stretch in a fantasy setting.

    I guess my issue is seeing a culture and thinking,
    "So these guy live in a completely separate world from our own, but you expect me to believe that they just so happened to turn out exactly like Imperial China, just with some names changed?"

    I really don't know what point I was trying to make in this thread other than sharing my thoughts on counterpart cultures. Maybe I'm just overthinking it?
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    These are all good questions, but unless you're writing historical AU fantasy, I think you might be overthinking it. Of course Europe would be very different if it had a pantheon of gods, and of course the renaissance would be different if people had magitech. But what are you doing with your cultures in your story? Are you trying to do the real renaissance or just a similar movement (i.e., the Harlem Renaissance)? Does it matter which wars were fought over Christianity (which, btw, the Crusades were more complex than that) if your setting has its own wars anyways?

    My loose framework for culture is to look at your culture's "American Dream" or Chivalry or Bushido or whatever the standard might be, and then create a series of worldviews, where different people have different attitudes about Chivalry (it's antiquated... it's holding society together... it needs some changes... it's a pipe dream that has nothing to do with me... it's defined the best parts of my life... I'll defend chivalry 'til I die but damned if I hold open a door... nations who reject Chivalry, what can you trust them to believe anyways?...).

    Of course the code of chivalry or whatever is going to bundled up with religion and government and social expectation and what is or isn't a scandal and how do the nobles who have it all together behave vs peasants who work too hard to have time to think about that stuff. And a lot of the worldviews are usually subtle attitudes about life and don't need to be a named political movement, though a few might be.
  3. Edward Evjen

    Edward Evjen Dreamer

    All allegorical stories aside.
    Researching culture is necessary to kit-bashing your own. The what ifs you are asking about Renaissance Italy are naturally going to bring your novel to life. Can it be done poorly, yes--anything can be done poorly if you try your darnest. As for imagining the effects of any one clockpunk technology there is only one facet of human nature to consider: laziness. And any person who works hard and makes the magic and clockpunk technology will be richly rewarded.

    [New post by Devor: reading.]
    I like Devor's consideration for how historical you want your novel to be. Do your readers want deep renaissance understanding or do they want to see some clock-bots fight? Probably only one or two nods to a different economy are enough unless your novel is a loosely disguised doctoral dissertation in history.
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    As much depends on what sort of magic as it does what sort of culture. You can approach your worldbuilding from either angle.

    You could build your magic system, your characters, the plot, even the theme. Then look at Renaissance Italy (which was not a unified culture, so pick a city) to see what you might use. It might be something superficial like just having a mercantile city with canals but much else different.

    Or, take a well-researched knowledge of Italy during a particular time period (are you choosing Naples or Venice or Rome or Milan, or maybe Ferrara or Lucca? is it 13thc or 14thc or 15thc?). Pour your characters and plot into that locale. Then explore what might be different if you added this touch of magic or that touch. After all, there were actually magicians in those places and times. We say they were charalatans or whatever, but at the time people most definitely believed in supernatural forces. What effect did that have on actual socio-economic and political systems? Not a whole lot.

    Actually, it's probably worth coming at your story from both angles, just for perspective.
  5. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

    My viewpoint is that if one posits infinite other worlds (at least in our imagination) then there would be worlds that are just like ours except in one respect. Or in a few respects or in many respects. We can create any permutations we desire. To be sure, they should be kept logical enough that the reader can believe in their possibility. That, at least for me, results from world building outward from my initial choices—and then maybe going back and altering those choices, if necessary.
  6. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    I've always been willing to suspend my disbelief when it comes to fantasy counterpart cultures popping up. It's the obnoxious stereotypes that get me, though that tends to come up in stories that are supposed to take place on Earth. It's just a wee bit annoying when the USA team in a fighting tournament consists of a football player, stereotypical Native American and a superhero.

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