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Reconciling Parallel, Earth-like Universes

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by composerk, Mar 29, 2019.

  1. composerk

    composerk New Member

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    Hello everyone!

    I'm writing my first fantasy story and wanted to get some advice. Ever since I started, I've been nagged by the problems associated with writing a story that has identical technologies as earth, but on a planet that is not at all earth. My frustration is also compounded, I think, by the timeline of my story, which takes place in three distinct periods: a distant past (say, the equivalent to our 10,000BC), a present (equivalent to our 1930s technology) and a distant future (thousands of our earth years ahead). I've gone so far as to come up with an entirely different earth-like planet, and doing so took a ton of research (coming up with how many days in a year, celestial, orbiting bodies, geological systems, etc) and it gave me pause; am I thinking about this way too hard?

    For some reason, these things never bother me when I read fiction, but keep poking me when I write it. Take language, as an example. There are all sorts of languages in my story, but the main language is English. Of course it's not called "English" in my story, but since it is not a Latin-based system, do I simply avoid using words that have strong etymologically earthen roots? Take the word "galvanize", for instance. The word comes from Luigi Galvani, a physician and physicist who studied electrical stimulation in animal tissue. "Galvanize" is a great word, though! How then, do I reconcile a character of mine saying that in my story? Do I just assume/trust the reader understands they are not speaking "English" per se, and it's more about the meaning than the words themselves?

    Technology, as mentioned before, is another example: there are cars, planes, revolvers...all things here on earth. And, not to mention, they're driven, flown and shot by humans with two arms, two hands, five fingers - all the same here. Is this something I really need to justify, and if so, come up with a backstory how these things developed on a planet that is not quite like earth, but very close to the one I live on?

    Again, I'm sure I'm thinking waay to hard about this, but I'd love to see if any of you out there have felt this way and what you did to come to terms with it. Thank you all ahead of time for giving this some thought!
     
  2. druidofwinter

    druidofwinter Sage

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    Hello composerk,

    I think you're right--you're over thinking this. You mention that this is your first fantasy story, so it's an understandable feeling, but depending on what you're trying to do with your book, you should be alright. Some fantasy is written purely for the creation of the strange new world, and some is written for the fantastic, world spanning story. Yours, I'm guessing, falls into the second category.

    In terms of language and etymology, I'd also advise you not to sweat too much. The general reader has no idea where a word like galvanize comes from, so go ahead and use it. Same for technology. Brandon Sanderson's second Mistborn trilogy employs guns, electric lights, trains, etc. without issue. The reason you aren't bothered by these similarities when you read other books is because the authors are upfront and unapologetic about what they're doing--this is what their world is like, and this how they want to tell a story. You should adopt the attitude. Don't call the old-timey car your character drives a "Model-T", but don't worry if it happens to look just like the one Henry Ford designed.
     
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  3. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I wrestle with similar issues. Maybe we all do. I have never quite found a happy compromise, but I do have to recognize that that amount of work required to change all the stuff that would need to be changed is just too great, so....some of it the reader will have to bear with me on. The other side is also true, too much immersion into the different world it can just overwhelm. My best advise is, unless it just has to be different, go with the common terms and no one will really care.

    My inclination is to stop there, but I want to go and say, I find this issue with names of things, such as, can I have German shepherd without a Germany? or the planet, Can something fall to Earth if Earth is really Eternia (Borrowed that from He-Man). Would distances still be measured in Miles and feet? Would days be the same length? Sometimes I go even further and think can Orcs really be a bunch of dumb brutes and still build siege engines and have metallurgy? Its endless. Save the headache. Take the shortcut where you can.
     
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  4. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Staff Leadership

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    There is a lot of good things to be said for being detail oriented, and I like the way you think, OP. But there does come a time when you are thinking too hard and if your thoughts get in the way of telling your story, you've pretty much arrived. Take the word "galvanize," which is indeed an awesome word. Most readers are not going to pin the origins of that word, nor will it break them out of story. Its origins are fairly obscure. So, I would probably call it good (and I am an escaped medievalist married to a former linguist). Instead, I would spend that energy on world building, avoiding calling your Stone-Age protagonist "Tiffany," and on getting the details that readers will notice right. Like revolvers.
     
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  5. composerk

    composerk New Member

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    Thank you to all of you for the thoughtful responses. Pretty much what I thought-- that I'm really overthinking this. Pmmg, the examples you brought up are exactly what goes through my head as I'm writing. Druidofwinter, great advice on just being confident and unapologetic. And it looks like A.E. Lowan is right, I've arrived at the point where the details are getting in the way of the story.
     
  6. Bandicoot

    Bandicoot Dreamer

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    The advantage of fantasy or science fiction is you can pretty much create your own world, so long as it's consistent internally. Someday I want to write of a world where people are of the different colors of the rainbow - a kind of tribal system based on the color scheme. Good luck with the story. It sounds interesting.
     
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  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Don't forget, your reader is an ally here. That suspension of disbelief? It's voluntary. You said it yourself: these things don't bother you as a reader. We all go into a book willingly, even hopefully.

    That said, it's great that you're fretting. That means you're paying attention. You're a first-time writer, which is a bit like being a first-time musician. You have to develop an ear, which can only be done through practice and can only be done by getting it wrong a whole bunch of times. But your aim is to convince yourself first. Don't worry about how it sounds in planning. It's when you're writing the actual story--which is all the reader ever sees--that the word matters. If it sounds right to your ear, then let it pass. You'll hand the finished work to a beta reader and/or to an editor, and they'll let you know if they have a problem with a word. Then you can address it specifically.
     
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  8. composerk

    composerk New Member

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    This is such great advice. I like the idea of a reader being an "ally". I have never thought about it that way before.
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Just think about how you yourself approach a book. The author must ever be the court of first judgment.
     
  10. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    I agree with the above comments, especially about the reader being an ally. As long as it maintains internal consistency the reader will want to make it work.

    I’m reminded of a scene from the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, where Starlord remarks that “under a blue light..[his ship]..would look like a Jackson Pollock painting.” This always bothered me. How would the others know who Jackson Pollock was? Then it occurred to me that the ‘universal translator’ would substitute Pollock for someone they did know. Problem solved, internal consistency restored. Did the writers think of that? Who knows, but I did, simply because I liked it and wanted it to work.
     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    The Pollock remark didn't bother me a bit. Not when it opens with Blue Swede and includes Norman Greenbaum. True, those names aren't spoken, but the music set the tone (*ahem*). When the author says "we're going to have some fun with this" I'm going to be a lot more forgiving than if the author says "this is high fantasy and historically accurate, so buckle up."

    Establishing the right expectations in the reader is tricksy, tricksy.
     
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