IMPORTANCE OF CULTURE IN FANTASY STORIES

Writing and reading books in the fantasy genre is one of my favorite things to do. Maybe it’s the limitless possibilities that come with the genre, but there’s something so intrinsically cool about building a world from the ground up and thinking about how it works. Do they have giant six-legged beasts they ride to work in the morning? Do they get bouts of rain so acidic that it melts rooftops that aren’t properly insulated? Does their monetary system revolve around singing, and those who sing best are the richest?

There’s a lot that goes into creating a story, especially a high fantasy story…but maybe that’s just my bias showing. With high fantasy, you as the writer have an opportunity to toy with language, different races, jaw-dropping geography and awe-inspiring architecture. The world you build really is only limited to how much you can imagine.

During this process of thinking and building and creating, it’s important to put an emphasis on culture. That’s because a lot of the time, culture is what will impact your story and determine your character’s reactions to the events happening around them or to them.  

Pondering the importance of culture in a fantasy story is a pseudo chicken-and-egg scenario. Do you mold the story after the culture you’ve created, or do you change the culture to fit the story? Which should come first?

It’s an interesting conundrum to ponder. But I would argue that the sooner you establish your world’s culture, the sooner you can work out the kinks in your story. An arc that revolves around a girl who wants to work hard and become the first female dragon rider might not make sense in a matriarchal society. Or a boy who refuses to marry might not be a good point of conflict if marriage isn’t an important cultural ceremony.

But before delving any deeper, let’s examine what comprises culture, exactly. It’s a term often thrown around by eager travelers wanting to ‘immerse themselves in the culture of the place, you know?’, but a nation or country’s culture is an intricate knot composed of different elements.

In its broad term, culture refers to a people’s religion, art, literature, beliefs, and customs. It’s the cuisine, the language, social habits, music and customs of a subset of people. It’s the essence of a nation and defines or alters their world view. In effect, it becomes the lens through which they see the world.

Culture should be the backbone of your worldbuilding. You’ll want to think deep and hard about what your world is like, and how the culture has shaped the people who live in your story.

And don’t forget – cultures often vary by region or families. So it’s helpful to think of how to incorporate different cultures, and how they may clash or align with others included in your story. Not only does it make you look good as a writer, but it also serves as fodder for plotting and story structure.

When thinking of the story I wanted to tell with the Sapeiro Chronicles, I gave a lot of thought to the region’s politics and how it influenced or affected people’s view of their leadership. I also gave great thought to how their magic – referred to as Kerai, is part of the social fabric. This made me in turn consider how to weave it into the myths and legends of Sapeiro, and think about how the relationship with this magic differs per family. Thinking of these different worldviews was instrumental in teasing out how the different conflicts would present themselves, and made for a much more engaging story.

When done well, culture can be a driving force in a story arc. It can be the initial conflict, the resolution, or even the conclusion of your story. Culture is a powerful tool to leverage in your narrative, and you should absolutely exploit it for the purposes of your story.

Sunday Musings: Tips on Creating Your Own Writing Process

So you have an idea, and you want to write a book. Congratulations! And my sincere condolences.

Maybe it started as a dream you had, or a conversation that took place solely in your head, but you feel good about your idea and you want to turn it into something bigger and, maybe even, have someone else read it (GASP!). But before you even sit down to write the first word, there are a few things you should consider. This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list of everything that needs to be considered when working on your story – but it might help guide you as you prepare to embark on your long, perilous journey as a writer.

Work backwards

This may sound counterintuitive but bear with me. What’s your story about? Is it an epic fantasy that takes place in another dimension? Or a period romance set in the Victorian era?  

Now think about what you need to know in order to write. In my case (and the reason why I love the Fantasy genre so much), I needed to make up a lot of details. What did Sapeiro look like, smell like, feel like? What methods of transportation did they use, what is the logic of the world, where do they get their food?

You write well about what you know. So before sitting down and getting started, figure out those details that will make your story feel more real. You’ll be happy you did later on, when you’re knee deep in writing and realize you never gave any thought to something that has suddenly become important.  

Overthink your world

It’s helpful for you to immerse yourself in the world you are creating, be it from scratch or based on a real place and time. Now overthink it to hell. Consider every single detail that encompasses your world, things that you’ve never even stopped to consider in real life.

How many different cultures are there in your story, and how do they all interact? What’s the geography like and how does it affect the water supply? What’s the local flora and fauna like, and where are they in the food chain? What events or circumstances have shaped your character’s worldview?

These details may seem unimportant when compared to your actual story, but here’s the thing: the more you overthink your world, the more real it will feel to you and to your reader.

Make your characters come alive

Characters make or break a story. You can have the best story idea in the world, a real award

 winner. But if your characters are hollow, uninteresting, or don’t integrate well with the story you’ve built, you’ll lose the reader’s interest.

As I was researching how to write, and tips on writing, I came across a mind-boggling statement: work and develop your characters until they feel that they are their own people.

I scoffed at this at first. How could my characters, who were created in my own imagination, ever possibly feel as if they are their own individual people, with their own individual personalities, traits, and emotions?

But that’s exactly what happened.

Approach your characters as you approach your world: overthink them. Flesh them out until they feel like real people, with hopes and dreams, flaws and skills. Make them perfectly imperfect, with mannerisms and fears. Chart out their lives before the story begins: how are their parents, how were they raised, did anything majorly traumatic or splendid happen to them? How did this affect them as they grew and matured?

Just like with your world, a well-rounded character will feel more real to the reader and improve the story immensely. 

Make a schedule. Stick to it.

Life is chaotic, and busy, and volatile. Think of all the times you’ve told your friend you should get coffee. Now think of all the times you actually did.

If you don’t have a plan, that’s likely what’s going to happen to your book, too: it will remain a half-construed idea somewhere on your hard drive, just waiting to be turned into an actual story.

I wrote my first book, The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past: while I was still a student in my last year at Concordia University. Although I had a lot on my plate at the time, each Sunday, as I sat down to plan out the week ahead, I would carve out time to write, and I would assign a goal to how much I wanted to get done. It didn’t matter if I felt like it or not, but because I had written it in my agenda, I felt obligated to do it.

As a final thought, I feel it’s important to remind you that there is no one path to planning or executing your book. Find a strategy that works for you, and pair it with an idea that makes you feel motivated to write. But just remember, the only way to become a writer is to write, even if it’s just a little bit at a time!

WRITING IS HARD. SO WHY DO IT?

There is nothing as frustrating on this earth as having a clever idea in your mind but being unable to fully express it through words. Words are hard. They can suck. Sometimes, you want to describe something and there just isn’t the right word for the exact emotion or feeling you’re trying to convey.

Did I mention that words suck?

I made my peace with writing a long time ago. I’ve always viewed writing as a kind of putty that you try and shape into submission. After enough knocks and molding and tinkering, at the end, you might be lucky enough to have a misshapen mass of… something.

That something is story. And that’s why I write. I’m not so fond of the stitching words together part as I am the create new worlds part. Stories have lived in my heart and soul forever, just dying for someone to PLEASE oh God someone ask me about my idea already. 

My life has been shaped by these stories, and I still remember some of the ones I came up with as a child. No, they were not good. But that’s okay! Because at least I wrote them down. And by writing them, I come one step closer to being able to tell the next one.

Something that has become more apparent to me as I progress in my writing career is that writing and storytelling are deeply personal things. When you tell a story, you’re opening yourself up to the world. To write, you must rip away all sense of self-preservation and bleed on the page for everyone to see. No matter what faraway worlds you create as a writer, a part of you lives in that world, and therefore a part of you lives in that story.

And yet, nothing could stop me from wanting to continue to write, to create, to keep punching the putty into something glorious, not even the potential for humiliation. To be able to use something as mundane as words to build an empire that only lives and thrives in my head is the closest thing to performing actual magic. To create stories, we must use words. Words will breathe life into the empires, characters, and creatures who live in our imagination. Words can strike fear or spark hope or evoke kindness.

Writing is one of the hardest things to do, even if it’s one of the earliest skills we learn when we start school. There’s objectively good writing, just as there is objectively bad writing. There are good stories, and then there are mediocre ones. But just like a muscle, writing can be improved, and storytelling skills can be developed. Ultimately, I think it comes down to writers and storytellers being a special breed of creative beings, who need to expulse the stories from their bodies in order to survive. Keeping it locked inside for too long will fester and boil up to the surface eventually. Better to just excise it, get it on a page, and be done with it.

As for me, I write because I have something to say, and I’ve chosen words as my medium.