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Real World.

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Justin Miller, Sep 6, 2011.

  1. Justin Miller

    Justin Miller Dreamer

    I was wondering if anyone else pulls inspiration for their world out of things happening in the real world. I am sure we all do to some degree, I was just wondering what elements of our world do you try and integrate into your own? I myself like to actually write urban fantasy stories a lot so I use a lot of whats happening to help build my backdrop. other times I like to turn things into a 'What would they be?' situation, like I just started a darker fantasy short story, where the evil Elven empire functions a lot like the Nazi party did in WWII.
  2. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    Part of the reason my main character for the story I'm planning to write in november is pregant is the debate surrounding abortions in the UK at the moment. The proposals put forward by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries restrict women's choices and assume that pregnant women are mentally vulnerable. I want to demonstrate, with my pregnant main character, that pregnant women are just as capable of strength as everyone else; being pregnant involves hormones which mess with her, yes, but that doesn't make her more susceptible to manipulation or less capable of making rational decisions.
  3. ShortHair

    ShortHair Sage

    If your story includes human beings doing human things, or human-like beings doing human-like things, then they'll behave the way actual humans do. Inevitably there will be correspondences between your characters and the real world. If your readers choose to interpret those correspondences in certain ways, that is their business.
  4. Real-world events and ideas are just some of the options available to fantasy writers, as far as I can see--as long as there's no libel of real people, it's all fair game for inspiration.

    I don't do it much, myself. At least, not consciously. Probably because of my intense distrust of most political activity and many popular conceptions of history. But I'd venture to say that thoughts and frustrations and ideals compost down and become part of the soil from which plot and theme and conflict grow.
  5. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    I tend to do too much of this. (And try to get away from it.) Sometimes it's fun or might be helpful but often, turning the fantasy world into a copy of the real world doesn't really work very well. At least that's how I often feel. If I read a book and the author is using some badly disguised real-world conflict, it can get extremely annoying if not done well.
    One author had a very strict monotheistic country being taken over by an evil "revolution" which had way too much in common with the Iranian one for my comfort. Especially given the fact that the former king there was described as good and noble while the rebells were absolutely evil.
    If you're using real-world events and change parts of them (which is inevitable most of the time) dubious messages can be the consequence.
    Real events always happen because of many different things that have happend before and "they're good" or "their evil" rarely if ever is an important motivation on the scale of entire nations. Therefore, there must be good reasons that the even in question is happening in your world. The simple equation "this really happend, therefore it's realistic" doesn't work. It has to make sense in the context of the world in question.

    In this case, I see one important problem. Unlike human "races" fantasy ones actually do have very different traits. If your Elves are racist towards other species such as humans, Orcs or whatever you get a situation where the Elves actually are more magical, longer lived, maybe better looking. Half-Elves probably won't fully have these traits. This means that something precious would really be lost if all Elves started inbreeding with humans. Therefore being against this would actually be reasonable in such a setting.
    "Anti-racism-stories" where the oppressed race actually is inferior to the other one don't work the way they should. Harry Potter is a good or bad example. Prejudices against Muggles are supposed to be wrong, but Muggles are clearly shown as inferior, incompetent and sometimes rather nasty against anything magical. The anti-muggle feelings in the Wizarding world make lot's of sense but this problem is never being adressed.
  6. mythique890

    mythique890 Sage

    I use the real world as a backdrop for my stories, but not situations from the real world, if that makes sense. Like Amanita, I get kind of annoyed if there is an obvious 'statement' being made about some hot-button issue. (I get especially annoyed if I don't agree with said 'statement.' :)) However, I do love observing interesting personalities and giving their quirks to my characters, which can be good or bad when I let my friends read my work. In fact, I decided recently I want to write a story with a female MC based on my little sister. She's crazy. :D

    @Chilari - That's very brave to have a pregnant protagonist! I know the thoughts in my head only made sense about 50% of the time during both of mine. I could still think, but trying to navigate emotions during pregnancy is like walking through a minefield. It would be hard to write for me! (During the second one I almost ruined crazy little sister's wedding, which I promise would not have happened otherwise. Nice.)

    @Amanita - I think you raise an interesting point. But does it matter if a race is 'superior' physically, if the other races are sentient beings? Does that give them the right to kill or commit genocide (which is what I'm assuming Justin means, I could be wrong) simply because someone is of a different race? Yes, they probably would discourage breeding between the races, but I think he's talking about more than racism, though I'm guessing that is where any 'evil' actions stem from on the part of his elves.

    With Harry Potter, 'wizards' and 'muggles' are both part of the human race. Having children with muggles does not weaken a wizard's powers, the offspring from such a match have the potential to be just as powerful as the pure-bloods. As well, a magical child can spontaneously be born to non-magical parents and vice versa. More importantly, muggles are every bit as self-aware and intelligent as wizards. Wizards have magic, but that doesn't make them superior, especially as virtually all of them have zero knowledge of the muggle world, which, if it came to conflict, would make them extremely susceptible to technology (gun vs wand). Anyway, what I'm getting at is that 'racism' to a certain point (not interbreeding) may be inherent and acceptable between fantasy races, but I would respectfully disagree that it applies in the case of the Harry Potter world.

    Ok, not that it even matters. Wow, apparently I have way too much time on my hands.
    UnionJane likes this.
  7. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    Concerning the humans vs. elves relationship. If from the point of view of the elves, this is like humans vs. monkeys that would make a difference for the elves.
    Many people don’t approve of the use of monkeys for scientific experiments for example, but they’re still done and most people don’t feel about them the way they would feel about such experiments done on other humans.

    My main point wasn't that I think such a behaviour is morally right in a fantasy setting though. The point was that it might seem offensive to have "racist" claims about a certain group to be really true and model it after any real-life situation (where they were not).
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2011
  8. CicadaGrrl

    CicadaGrrl Troubadour

    I actually do believe that Muggles were held in scorn by wizards, whether or not that was fair. So it was a type of discrimination.

    I do a lot of urban and will pull on pop culture, actual geography, etc. but try to keep it light.

    I end up doing a lot on LGBT issues. I never plan them, and don't really stand on a soap box as it is inherent to the characters and story. I grew up surrounded by a lot of gay and lesbian people and it would feel against nature NOT to have LGBT characters. In general, I try to let my characters drive what comes up in my book--how it is important for my character to deal with X issue, etc.

    I don't really take from real world situations to create my high fantasy. For one, it sort of dates your book. For another, what fun is that? Again, my characters generally lead the way with my plot and world creation. I strive for complex, anthropologically worthy cultures.
  9. Shadoe

    Shadoe Sage

    I get ideas from everywhere, and the real world is part of that. It's not always real world history, such as the Nazis - though I do like that idea. I get ideas from people I meet and things they do and say. You don't want to copy word-for-word, so to speak, but themes and situations tend to repeat here, and in fiction.
  10. Johnny Cosmo

    Johnny Cosmo Inkling

    I like stories to have relevance, and when you touch on controversial topics such as racism, they will, but real world issues can get lost in translation to a fantasy setting. If your elves are anti-orc for example, do you really feel comfortable drawing a parallel between say, Jews and traditionally green-skinned, uncivilised, dirty-looking beasts? Real world racism is directed at different groups from the same species, whereas fantasy races are usually treated as different species, and so the relationship changes. I think that makes it hard to take direct influence, and make solid connections.

    In my opinion, I like human qualities and flaws (even in non-human races), and topical themes are a good way of reaching out to a reader. In my story, I'm definitely going to add racial tension, amongst other things, though all my people are human - so it's not quite the same.
  11. Gryffin

    Gryffin Scribe

    I am very inspired by the real world and I think I pull that into my writing a lot. When a big event happens in the real world, I seek to find a way to incorporate a similar scenario into my writing. I don't always mean to, it sometimes just happens. Sometimes it makes my stories darker and sometimes it makes them lighter.
  12. Vandroiy

    Vandroiy Dreamer

    It's actually subtle, general notions that I take from reality. For example, I see humans acting in all kinds of ways, but in the chaos that is reality, much of what could follow is drowned. So I take elements of their behavior into a different situation, to put them to the test.

    High Fantasy, at least in my opinion, is much about making a world that shows a more direct response to the actions of man. But unless I want to make a world where everybody thinks the way I do, the real world is something I need for inspiration for the inhabitants of any fantasy world.
  13. I believe that fantasy should take from real world events and use them to not just tell a simple story but to also help change people's perceptions. All the greats do it.

    Sanderson tackled religion. It all culminates at the end of his Mistborn Trilogy. Those who have read Mistborn know what I am referring to.

    Tolkien's work was a reaction to both WWII and was a proto-environmentalist novel

    Jordan deals a lot with politics Daes Dae'Maer anyone.

    So taking my cues from the greats right now I am trying to tackle terrorism and the borderline xenophobia of America. Along with a couple of other issues.
  14. Leuco

    Leuco Troubadour

    My books deal with some controversial issues too. My villain is a former Knight-of-the-Round-Table-type who uses his power and new religion to exploit the masses of a glorious kingdom fallen into decline. Faced with poverty, disease, and starvation, they look to him to save them. Instead, he leads them into war with the neighboring territory ruled by a big brother tyrant struggling with his own inner demons. Of course, in the middle are a small band of heroes who are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. If it sounds familiar, that's because there's a presidential election next year. Last week I uploaded new editions to Smashwords. You can download a free copy there if you're interested.
    UnionJane likes this.
  15. Helbrecht

    Helbrecht Minstrel

    The book I'm working on right now takes place in a setting that's almost Early Modern in terms of technology and culture, in a kingdom that some time ago went through a bloody civil war and revolution driven by the innate conflict between the nobility and the merchant classes and justified by the works of idealistic philosophers. A new social order's been placed, but it is very far from perfect, and over the course of the story proves to be perhaps worse than the way of things pre-revolution, as it facilitates a bunch of people to scheme, in-fight and screw one another over (i.e. my plot).

    I guess it's my partly way of illustrating my belief that corruption and despotism will perpetuate themselves no matter how many checks, balances and restraints are placed in the system, and that people, when given any degree of power, naturally tend towards coveting it and desiring more. The theme of failed revolution is as relevant today as ever, with the constant international fear of things in (soon-to-be) free and democratic Egypt and Libya going to the dogs again.

    Yeah, I'm not really pushing any particular message so much as I'm being a miserable git. :p
  16. UnionJane

    UnionJane Scribe

    Being in college, I get exposed to a lot of disparate concepts, and sometimes they make their ways into my stories. I try and keep it broad in an inclusive world-building sense, such as when a poli-sci course gets me thinking about how democracy functions in today's world (and how it may work in a different setting) or the influence of individualistic vs. collectivist cultures. I look at including elements like that essential in a sense that they give a world grounding, and also add an element that readers can recognize. The recognition can lead to different results in interpretation and--I'm hoping--if my work is ever reread, get a different vibe from each reading based on how the reader's concept of "democracy" may have changed. Joe Abercrombie really effectively draws from history and historical authority structures, but adds plenty of surprises so that the reader never knows what's coming.

    Of course, history is a wonderful place to go looking for plots. Political plots, assassination plots, unexplained mysteries; they are all great inspiration to juice up a story. History is one of the ways reality is interesting! Especially because it begs questions like, "Have we really learned our lessons (mistakes) from history? Was there anything to take away in the first place?" A writer's playground.
  17. UnionJane

    UnionJane Scribe

    Given the responses I'm reading here, it seems like it might be impossible not to draw inspiration from the real world!
  18. Johnny Cosmo

    Johnny Cosmo Inkling

    Absolutely. At the end of the day, everything can be traced back to the real world.
  19. darthbuttchin

    darthbuttchin Dreamer

    It is not just that everything can be traced back to the real world, everything must do. I shant go into too greater detail, as we could discuss this for hours, but my main point is thus - The only world we have true experience of is this one (although, should any of you actually be an alien studying us humans, I apologise and assume you also have knowledge of your own world at the very least). As such, if we only have experience of this world, everything we write will draw on our experiences of this world. Yes, we can apply our imaginations and create things (magic, for example?), but we must have an experience that relates to it in the real-world. For example, flicking a light-switch and the light comes on. In reality, we know why it happens, but in our fantasy realm, maybe clicking your fingers causes flames to appear in the lamps (or torches). Not the greatest example, granted, but it's late, i'm tired and i'll have forgotten my point by tomorrow.

    Another thing to consider is the emotions and morality etc. that we project onto the creatures in our stories. The only species like us we know of is us, so to create another and attribute them the same things as we have is the only thing we can do. In reality, its quite possible that another sentient being may have no emotions, or emotions completely alien (if you'll pardon the pun) to us. The reason we project human traits onto the other species in our creations? Because we cannot fathom anything other than what we know. Even if I were to say that ''the great goat-man john felt great grafflos at being thrown of the cliff'', grafflos would mean something to myself and the reader. If I give no explanation of what grafflos is, we will automatically find something to define it - most likely by considering how we would feel being thrown off a cliff. We might not both come to the same conclusions, but our definitions would be based upon that which we know.

    It is this sort of thing which is why we find it difficult to fathom a race that is completely atheist for example. Take the Elves in Eragon - they claim not to believe in a God per se, but they hold reverence for nature and magic. They still believe that there is something greater at work - whether a deity or magic or a force or whatever is not important. For if they had no beliefs etc. at all, the language we could use in their dialogue or experiences would be limited. Consider cursing. A whole host of those which we use in everyday life are in some way religiously-linked (God, Christ, Bloody) etc. Granted, there are some we use that aren't, but they aren't ones that one tends to use alot.

    So, after this lecture, for those of you who subscribe to the tl;dr concept (madness on forum about writing, surely?) - We only know the world we live in. Therefore our stories must be based in some manner on our real world.

    Apologies for boring you all,

  20. RedRidingHood

    RedRidingHood Dreamer

    I don't think you can help but use some real life elements for inspiration. I do that for my world and for my characters. It's not that my characters are based on one particular person. Instead, they are bits and pieces of people I know, put together in a strange, but familiar way. You can definitely do the same with setting. It gives the reader something to make them feel grounded in the story.

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