A Writing Journey

Posts tagged ‘culture’

The Creative Mind of a Child

As much as I will deny it, I was a child once. And I wasn’t always a responsible child. I would wriggle out of doing my homework and go play outside, falling into a world of my own imagining. This world was not a solitary one. The neighbor kids were there with me and we built upon the worlds we’d established. Yes, that bush was the dungeon and over there, by that tree was where we had our sword lessons. And “Mom, that’s not a bike, it’s a horse!”

Such was my childhood, imagining worlds that were as real as anything else (for truly, a child’s imagination brings everything to life and makes it as real as, well, reality). Even inside, my imagination wouldn’t stop. My bunk-beds were the narrow bunks on a ship. My stuffed animals were fierce protectors of the realm.

I think, for me, writing was a way to channel my imagination as I grew out of the age at which such play is acceptable. As we grow up, we are told to put away childish things, to prepare for the real-world and face it head-on. I disagree. I believe that the creativity children express should be cherished and encouraged. We should be telling them to hold onto that, because the real-world can be a hard place and everyone needs a little comfort of imagination – why else would we flock to fiction? Not because it teaches (for although I believe that most firmly, there are many who disagree and treat books as an escape rather than an opportunity to grow).

The games we played as children don’t go away, anyway. We may say they do, but we’re all children at heart – or at least there is our self as a child in our heart. Don’t trap that child. Let the creativity flourish, let yourself dream up different worlds full of wonder and worry. Tell yourself a story, and then share it with someone else. Humans are born to tell stories. Don’t let society tell us otherwise.

Take care, fellow travelers.

Ibvailyn Culture Part 3

It’s been a while since I posted about Ibvail’s culture. In case you don’t remember or are new to my blog, Ibvail is the nation that most of my characters in my WIP (Quest for Salvation) come from. I have written about the origins, evolution and magic of the world that I’ve created (you can find the posts by clicking on the links). I have written specifically about Ibvail as well. I have posts about religion, language, and a series on Ibvailyn history.

Now that you’re all caught up, let’s talk some more about the culture!

In Ibvail, scars and body modifications are considered unsightly. Even among soldiers, scars are a shame and hidden. This stems from their religious belief of non-violence. Thus evidence of wars and battles (scars being part of this evidence) was hidden as a blotch on the nation’s conscience. Over the years, this distaste for battle scars morphed into distaste for scars in general, no matter how a person got them.

A Priestess of the Path, having come into power in the Holy City, declared that not only were scars shameful, but any change that people made to their own bodies was an affront to the Path. She said it took away from the Oneness of all, to make the self different. Thus she rejected any means of changing the body, be it by tattooing, piercing, dying hair or even shaving. It did not take long for her teaching to catch on. In the cold climate of Ibvail, most people already ignored shaving for most of the year, and few people were involved in tattooing or piercing.

The Priestess’s teachings created a barrier between Ibvail and their neighbor, Salvyn, as the Salvynites frequently modified their bodies with tattoos and piercings. This barrier was important when Ibvail became an Empire and began taking territories as their own – it was a rallying point that the “heathens” did not know what it was to be One, as evinced by their practice of scarring themselves with ink.

In Ibvail, scars are hidden or covered, and no one speaks of them. People who have lost limbs (or even sight or hearing) are regarded as less than others and often hidden away by family.

Take care, fellow travelers.

Ibvailyn Culture Part 2

Superstition is an integral part of any culture. In Ibvail, there is a strong belief that even numbers are less lucky than odd. The number 2 is the most unlucky of numbers, and that anything involving it will have ill luck. The belief that odd numbers are better reflects the teachings of the Ibvailyn Path, in that there are 7 gods, and that balance must come in three parts. The number 2 being the worst of numbers stems back to a time before the Path had spread to all Ibvail. The people were in scattered bands, struggling to survive in the harsh climate, and a magician called Prodem had just lost his two-year-old daughter. His grief conjured up a death-plague that swept over all of Ibvail and killed all children of two and twelve years, and made gravely ill all that were in their twenties.

Although no Ibvailyns remember (and very few ever knew in the first place) that Prodem caused this, the ramifications on Ibvailyn culture are clear:

-Two people never live in a house alone. When a couple marries, they either live with another family member until they have a child or take in an orphan. (There are those who do not do this, of course, but they are often regarded as outsiders and very few people will associate with them. Lacey’s parents ignored this superstition and for a long time were feared by neighbors.)

-Second floors of buildings are never used for private chambers.

-Many parents give their two-year-old children to the Walkers for the year in hopes that they will be protected.

-Twenty-two is regarded as an age best suited for simple tasks. Many people this age do not engage in many social activities, do not travel, and do not marry.

Culture is a complex thing, in which reasons for certain practices and beliefs are not always clear. So even though the characters might not know the reason for their superstitions, the writer has to. The writer must be consistent, and the only way to be consistent is to know all the details, all the reasons, every character’s quirk and every story behind the superstitions.

Take care, fellow travelers.

Ibvailyn Culture: Part 1

In my post before my break, I talked about creating cultures in fiction. By no means am I an expert at doing this, and I am still struggling with making the cultures in my World. I have bits and pieces that don’t always fit together, but are important to my characters. So as I continue on my journey of creating these cultures, I will keep you in the loop with the bigger points and probably many smaller ones too.

Religion is, of course, a huge part of culture. One of my first posts was about the Ibvailyn religion, and you can find it here.

One of the important things about religion in any culture is that it shapes behavior, attitudes, and even every day habits. The same must happen in a story with its own pervasive religion. Many Ibvailyns are pacifists because of their deep belief that to harm someone or something else also harms oneself. Along this same line of thinking, many Ibvailyns are vegetarians. Now, this can be a problem because Ibvail lies so far north. Enter the Famine. I mentioned the Famine in my series of Ibvailyn History and it played a pivotal role not only in politics but also in changing the culture. When crops failed and people were starving, many of them turned to eating animals. It was practical – the animals would have died anyway and the people wanted to go on living. Did this change their belief that they were connected to those animals? No. But humans, whether fictive or not, are great at living with contradiction. We all say things that contradict, and believe them with our whole hearts. So while it seems like the Ibvailyn religion should crumble as soon as people start eating meat, it does not. The culture is sustained by practice and belief, though not always both of them together.

Take care, fellow travelers.

Creating Cultures in Fiction

Before I get into this post, I want to let you all know that this will be the last post for a week. I have graduation festivities this weekend and so will be spending lots of time with friends and family – and away from my computer. It’s sort of going to be a technology fast. I am looking forward to it.

Now, I majored in Anthropology, which is the study of human cultures. For me, culture is very important, especially in fiction. If I pick up a fantasy novel, and it is just like all the other fantasy novels (by which I mean it seems to come right from the medieval period – even when it is set in another world) I’m probably going to set it back down. Admittedly there are similar characteristics in lots of fantasy books – magic, foot transportation, castles – but it really irks me when there are only surface descriptors and nothing deeper, nothing to tell readers that this is not medieval Europe, but some strange world that no one has ever heard of. This is where culture comes in.

Culture can make even places that seem similar to wherever we are incredibly different. It’s what makes the world so interesting – so why not make our fictive worlds that interesting too? If you have characters from different places in their world, chances are that they are going to behave differently from one another based on their culture.

But culture can be a hard thing to get a grasp on. We can’t just look at a society and say “There, that’s the culture,” because culture is made up of so many little things. It’s all the quirks and nuances that are important to people, and yet outsiders might not even see them. It’s the big stuff too, like religion and education systems and if people are primarily hunters or farmers or something in between. Culture is hard to pinpoint, and this makes it especially difficult to create a culture for a story.

I am still not done creating the cultures of my World. I don’t think I’ll ever be done – after all culture is something that keeps changing. For the Ibvailyn Empire, I have lots of bits and pieces of their culture, and the overarching tie of their religion, but it still feels like clumps of dirt that will either fall out of my hands or break apart and leave me with new, smaller bits. The problem is, everything has to have a reason. There has to be a legitimate reason why the people who live in the far north don’t eat meat or why the number two is considered evil. In our own lives, we take what we have and don’t really think about the why, but in fiction the why is all there really is.

I keep seeing quotes and posts about how in fiction, there is no such thing as coincidence, because people won’t accept it. There has to be a reason. It’s the same with fictive cultures. There have got to be good, consistent reasons why things are the way they are. Sure, those reasons don’t need to be (and really shouldn’t be) explicitly laid out in the story, but they should be there, somewhere. They should be inside of the characters. Those rules and reasons are what make up the world around them. It’s hard work to do, though.

When I start posting again, I will do a series on the culture of the Ibvailyn Empire. Until then, I’d like to hear what you think about culture in fiction. Do you think it is a valuable part of a story? How do you go about creating fictive cultures?

Take care, fellow travelers.

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