Monday, 25 February 2013

Creative Writing Tips: World Technologies

Applies to Fantasy

Looking at:
Technology (electricity and plumbing)
• Social advancement
• Availability (only rich, or everyone) 

   It's very important to know your world back to front, especially when it comes to technologies and world advancement. To make it easier, think of it this way: if a comet were going to hit, would they know what a comet was? Would they consider it a religious sign? Would they even recognise it as a threat? In this case, how far advanced are their technologies and sciences? In most fantasy stories, technology is replaced by magic, or technology will be more gyro and kinetic based than electrical. In Science Fiction, technology will be very present and will probably exceed what is here today, while normal fiction will be quite familiar, probably not exceeding what is in your own home, unless your character is rich or a scientist, perhaps.

   First we're going to look at religion. In most fantasy, religion is either the enemy, or they follow gods that actually physically exist. When religious beings are the enemy, it is either with a corrupted god, or the god doesn't actually exist, such as in the Dark Materials Trilogy or briefly in The Dreamers. When the god doesn't exist, they take it upon themselves to deal out death and judgement because their god has never shown himself or outwardly done so himself, because he doesn't exist, which leads to wars, and also leads to the uppermost ranking priests to make up their own rules and laws as time goes by to make their life more comfortable.
   Opposing that, there are also gods that physically exist like the Daedric Princes or the Divines in The Elder Scrolls, the latter of which don't show themselves or get directly involved as much as the Daedra because they are of purer spirit than the Daedra, who are more like demon lords. These beings will generally see to problems themselves as best they can, sometimes by actually materialising. As such, their followers don't usually take death and judgement upon themselves because they can rely on their gods to do it themselves.
   The best example I can give that actually embodies both is The Dreamer series. There are four gods in the Land of Dhrall, all of whom not only physically exist, but walk among the humans. They each rule a quarter of the land, but their people are more primitive than is usual, even in fantasy works, and three of the four lands consist of just farmers or hunters. A large group of people in the fourth land, however, do actually worship their god rather than seeing her as just another being who happens to have powers (so seen because they behave relatively normally themselves, other than the fact that they don't eat or sleep for many, many years), but they are very fat and lazy, and still rely on their goddess to deal with problems herself. These gods kept their continent seperate from the others, and also kept peace as best as they could among their own people.
   However, there are other lands beyond Dhrall that are more advanced, and build cities rather than live in tribes, and in the most advanced of those lands, there is a religion based around a god called Amar. Amar, however, does not exist, and as a result, the priests of the religion make up their own rules and kill anyone who opposes them or their false god. This resulted in the priests and their slavers launching an invasion on the Land of Dhrall for their gold and more slaves to satiate their greed.
   Not all fantasy has religion, of course, and when it does, it's not always as prominent as the above. It could simply be beliefs that are rarely spoken of because they're just not necessary to the story.

   Moving on to technology: you may have noticed that it doesn't always exist in fantasy. Sometimes people still live in thatched houses and use spears to kill their prey, while other times there are brick buildings and steam- or gyro-powered technology used to power vehicles, weapons and appliances. If magic is present, however, that magic usually replaces any kind of technology, leaving candles and gas lanterns to those without it. Some fantasy, though, does include technology of our present standard, like His Dark Materials when it briefly featured in our own world in The Subtle Knife. But for the most part, fantasy is relatively simple. Look at Harry Potter, for instance: the magic world lives right alongside our own, and, in the very first film, while they were walking through modern London, they opened a secret entrance in a brick wall behind a pub that instantly led into a victorian street. Nowhere in Hogwarts or any store in the magical world is there a piece of electricity. Even the lights are either conjured or candles. This is because having technology alongside magic seems a bit much. A bit too powerful, I think, but it's usually set this way because, if our own technology was used in a fantasy work, it would be difficult to distinguish that world from our own, and also cloud our minds with what is and isn't normal these days.
   If you're struggling, consider these questions: where do people get light from when the sun sets? Where does their water come from, well or pipe? Are there underground sewers or is everything just tipped in the street? How do people get around, horse-drawn carriage or car? By considering these questions, you can set your world out easily enough - and don't be afraid to mix them, either. If electricity is being used, it doesn't have to be used by everyone - perhaps only nobles and rich suits have electricity while everyone else go without. Perhaps it's still in the process of being discovered, or perhaps it's not used by everyone because of a religious matter. It might seem that I'm going too deep, but you need to know if electricity is available on hand or not, and you might also want to know why that is in case it somehow pops up later on in the work itself. It's best to have a solid world to work in, where you know the hows and whys.

   In some fantasy pieces, girls are married by 14. In others, they may not be allowed to marry at all until an older age. So society also changes. This falls under your world's social advancement - what is life like? Is there plumbing? Electricity? Have you got one without the other, and why?
   What is socially acceptable and what isn't? Is it normal to keep your hat on indoors? Is there a gesture or act that is unexpectedly rude, such as keeping said hat on?
   Is it very clean? Do animals live in the street? Do people tip urine from the window? Is homelessness a big problem? Is prostitution common?
   Is there a law enforcement? Are they fair? Who do they answer to? What is and isn't allowed?  Are they feared or respected?
   These are the sorts of questions that just fly off the top of my head. This is world advancement. It seems again that I've gone a lot deeper than I need to, but it will help you set the scene, and will also help to deepen your world. If it seems a bit much, consider our own world. We use many contrasting things across several countries - some have plumbing, some do not; some see the thumbs-up or the 'okay' hand to be very rude; in some countries it's polite or complementing to leave a bit of food on the plate rather than eat the lot.
   Of course, some of these matters depend on what sort of fantasy you're writing. If you're writing gritty, dark fantasy, like the Night Angel Trilogy, then things like prostitution pop up a lot, and become a common theme. The same goes if your main character is a thief, they're more likely to encounter such things than more prestigious figures. But if you're writing high fantasy, like Eragon, then the idea of prostitution wouldn't even exist, let alone be mentioned. Personally I like to go half way between the two. I don't like things to be too brutal, personally, so I don't write anything too dark, but neither do I like happy-happy-butterfly lands either, so I make sure to keep things like homelessness, murder and prostitution present within the world, the latter particularly only by reference, but the rest are more active and obvious. It adds more depth.

   Having a deep world can really draw the reader in, build bigger pictures in their minds, and ultimately just create a better book. If you know the world well, too, it may open up new ideas for side or sub plots, or just little extras. Perhaps if you're stuck for a meeting place, being able to better envision the world will help you pick out a prime location.


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