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Nonstandard Fantasy Worlds


Let's face it, there are a lot of common or assumed threads that run through most fantasy worlds. Not all of them occur together all the time, but sometimes they do -- medieval social and technological development levels, elves and dwarves, knights and spells.

However, some fantasy worlds take the opportunity to tip things on their ear in one way or another: different levels of development (paleolithic, rennaisance, steam age), different environments (desert, tundra), even different assumptions of how things work.

Right now, I've gotten a revived interest in the old AD&D campaign world of Athas (Dark Sun), a harsh desert world where psionics are more common than magic, and very few animals we know from Earth exist. I find myself drawn into the world because it is so very different from bog standard fantasy assumptions. My question to you all is, if you were to consciously attempt to do something "different" in fantasy, what would you do?
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Hmm, I find this a somewhat difficult question, but I'll give it a brief shot. I think that it might be interesting to have magic that isn't magic in a way. Something that is mathematically plottable and all, but still has the normal hallmarks of magic. emoticon
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Hmmm.... I know what you mean about stock fantasy worlds, Corvus. It drives me crazy sometimes, since so many of the stories are so similar. (Then again, that's sometimes nice, when you don't WANT to read anything mentally-taxing!)

Unfortunately, I usually write "fantasy" stories that take place on our Earth. I'll have to think about your question some more...

I remember semi-recently watching a muppet-based movie from the 80s. "Dark Crystal" or something like that? Anyhow, I remember watching a scene where the main character walks into a swampy area and meets a bunch of alien plant-like creatures. The creatures were definitely non human-like and non-Earth-animal-like. A friend watching the movie with me commented that she wished more scifi directors would use such out-of-our-world creatures instead of just recoloring a dog and putting wings on it, or something. I tend to agree, and I think it holds for foreign written worlds as well as movie-screen ones.

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Re: Nonstandard Fantasy Worlds


The story I'm working on at the moment is set an alternative world.
A woman from our world ends up in this other world where things are similar but different. For example the same languages exist and parts of the history are similar, however others are very different. I soon decided not to do a single point divergence from our own timeline, because I couldn't think of a single point that would work.

The world is of a similar, maybe even advanced, level of technology to ours. They have big airbases that travel through the sky, but they don't have PCs or mobile phones.

However in this world European countries are still the dominant world powers. Colonial European powers have territory in various parts of the world and the American continent is under the rule of different empires.
Oil is a very important resource and countries are fighting over that, and religion. However it is the Protestant and Catholic countries that are at war.

It doesn't seem traditionally fantasy, in fact I thought I might be writing sci-fi for a while, which i hadn't expected. However the method of the main character's shift to the other world makes it fantasy. As do a couple of other things I've thought of but haven't written in yet.

Other than that I think most of my longer story ideas have reasonably traditional fantasy landscapes.

One thing I think is common in traditional fantasy lands is that they tend to resemble Western Europe. I think that world based in places that resemble other climates would be different. But I suppose a lot of what i read is written by Europeans, or people of European descent.

I've found that even fantasies based in our world seem more interesting and exotic if they're based in a landscape that's unfamiliar to me. Which is perhaps why I like some of the American fantasy I've read.

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Re: Nonstandard Fantasy Worlds


I'm hoping that my world qualifies as different and nonstandard but who knows.....

I'mworking with a large continent but battling between two different climatic types....
in one I set the equator just to the south of the continent thus lending toward a balanced climate with jungle at the south and snow in the north.
however, I am leaning toward a continent that stradles the equator with both the far north and far south being semi-tropical

the inspiration for the landscape is mainly coming from the Andes mountain ranges (at least for the bulk of the story (not the bulk of the continent))

the horse is a new introduction to the land

spears are more prevalent than swords

I think swordplay is just starting up barely

I want it to be an older civilization, think Aztec/Celtic with bronse/iron weapons.


I agree that a move away from standard environments is a good thing, though I am not against the good ol' English Countryside that is so prevalent in much of Fantasy. It is very homey and comfortable, but I think borders need to broaden too. emoticon

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Re: Nonstandard Fantasy Worlds


I think that the classic "medieveal European" fantasy world is not one based on the real middle ages.

I know that even if I write in such a classical world - which makes it easier, as I don't have to explain so much - I tend to make it "nicer" and less dirty, smelly and gruesome than it was back then.

Can you imagine the stench of a tannery using urine and oak bark to cure rotting hides? I think that would almost kill anyone from our time.

You are right, though, it's much more fun to develop a world that deviates from that classical setting. For once, it's refreshing to have a change of scenery, and it's a way of doing new things. I bet we're going to see a number of tales doing just that.

 emoticon

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Re: Nonstandard Fantasy Worlds


Lets' see, to write a fantasy I would want no science, no technology, magic that really works, and protagonist that are recognisably human or at least have human emotions and needs.

Hmmm...

I would set it in Heaven emoticon



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I'm not sure how original this concept is, but I just saw an animated series which postulates that magic has common problems with other industries, like say, having magical pollution, which can have dire effects on humans. emoticon
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Re: Nonstandard Fantasy Worlds


quote:

Firlefanz wrote:

 - which makes it easier, as I don't have to explain so much -



It does indeed. My current novel does not draw very heavily on Western Europe for it's setting. I used Mayan, Incan, Aztec, Egyptian, Japanese, Khmer, Cambodian, Thai and a few other cultures mixed to varying degrees as a starting point. I then added a large bit of Roman influence for familiarity.

After creating these various imaginary cultures I essentially removed them from human history, effectively seperating them from the rest of the world. I then added an "alien influence" for lack of a better term. Essentially they have been culturally effected by a setting and other influences that no real life culture or nation has ever experienced. With my interests in Anthropology and love of travel it was fun to speculate how these cultures would have developed through the years between thier birth and the time period that my novel takes place in.

The huge downside is that I find that the setting has to be well established early. If I write "A group of men in armor approached." the reader often imagines men dressed in European Middle Age armor. Another example is clothing... the most popular form of lower body clothing in the South is the dhira which is similiar to a South Asian sarong. This can easily lead to endless description and info dumps as I find myself having to describe everything from art to architecture for several different cultures. These rampant info dumps were a large reason (combined with inexperience at plotting and pacing such a large work) the first two iterations of this novel failed. Deciding when and where to include this information is one of the reasons why the current version has gone so far. I can't really comment on if it's a fun read or not as I'm so close to the work.

I think that my job would have been easier, if I had chosen a single non-standard real world culture to write around. For example if I had made it clear that the people were Egyptians, the reader would have been more able to fill in the blanks on thier own.

As for no-technology in fantasy worlds... I'm guilty of having some. I think I pulled it off pretty well, and it gives a unique flavor. I haven't had any complaints from beta-readers. Maybe, Firle having read it can confirm that even with the bits of technology it still feels like fantasy.

...Oh, well back to [sign in to see URL] work I mean... yeah that's right I'm supposed to be working...


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Re: Nonstandard Fantasy Worlds


Yes, despite the appearance of some technological things, your world is predominately fantasy. I got the feeling it was created by humans stumbling over alien artifacts and into a world where those aliens dominated for a while and then disappeared.

It's funny, how it feels like an SF world that reverted to fantasy because the tech in it couldn't be understood by the people now living there. I have to admit I really love that concept.

  emoticon

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Re: Nonstandard Fantasy Worlds


I recently ran across a non-standard fantasy novel:
  "Kingdoms of the Wall" by Robert Silverberg

It encompassed nonstandard terrain: towns in a super-humid, high-density jungle and a set of gigantic mountain peaks. There's a tradition in the town to climb the peaks, and each year 40 go up. The few come back down return insane. "Kingdoms of the Wall" begins as a classic story of two boys who decide to make the trip.

The story is pretty good, but wouldn't be exceptional, expect that the race of people in the story is unique. I won't give away any real spoilers, but by the end of the first chapter, you've become aware that the main character and his townsmen are shapeshifters. By the end of the second or third, you realize that their "normal" shape is neuter and they only become male- or female-shaped when they "make the Changes" (ie: have sex). As the book progresses, you learn more and more about the extend and limitations of their shapeshifting abilities.

What really impressed me about the book wasn't just the details of the shapeshifting, but rather how casually and naturally the author described it and the society built around it. There were no noticable info dumps. Everything was just slipped in at the right time, so there wasn't too much to confuse, but there was enough to explain and pull the story forward. From a writer's standpoint, that's just something I have to respect. I'd strongly recommend the book, especially to anyone who's interested in writing about alien races. Silverberg's subtlety was most impressive.

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Re: Nonstandard Fantasy Worlds


Only a decade late to the party, but there's no harm in resurrecting old discussions.

I like that we've reached the stage where fantasy as a genre is moving away from the strictly Tolkienesque. Don't get me wrong, I love Tolkien's legendarium and always find an excuse to buy just one more book either by or about him, but as a reader I still prefer a bit of variety--and I think this thread and conversations like it just go to show how recently it was that there was pretty much nothing out there but similarly-told stories. Thankfully, though, the past few years have shown that there is much more to be written about than just pseudo-medieval settings with elves and dragons.

In particular, it's beautiful to see 'black' fantasy (anything ranging from African inspired settings like those of the re-emergent Charles Saunders to anything-at-all-ever-because-she's-amazing by N.K. Jemisin), for example, having become not only a thing but also a very popular and well respected thing. Ten years ago, while such books certainly existed, they weren't at all well known. In fact, taking Saunders as an example, his Imaro stories were first published way back in the eighties but rapidly went out of print (so quickly, indeed, that he couldn't finish the series); now, however, he's enjoying a much deserved comeback--purely because the writing world is now much more open to, as the thread calls it, 'nonstandard' fantasy. And now that Black Panther has made African fantasy not only acceptable but damn cool to boot, we can really look forward to seeing more. Asian settings are also being more fully explored (Guy Gavriel Kay, a favourite author of this board if I remember correctly, has written a couple of books set in his version of China, as has R.F. Kuang, and the Gonji series--author's name escapes me right now--is, like Imaro making a comeback); native Americans are having their cultures delved into, too. We've also reached the stage where criticism is heard when stories are whitewashed--think the awful awful treatment of Earthsea, for example, or Scarlet Johansson being cast in Ghost in the Shell. This is all great news, both for readers and the world community as a whole.

Now, obviously there's still an appallingly long way to go before we have equal rights in our fantasy (let alone the real world...), but at least some things seem to be making tentative steps in the right direction. I really hope that it won't be too long (although it's been too long already) before 'nonstandard' fantasy become 'standard'.

Speaking for myself, my writing tends to err towards Oriental or Middle-Eastern settings. I grew up fascinated by deserts and jungles, and now the majority of my fiction is set in those environments, with appropriate cultural tendencies. In fact, my first 'proper' publication (i.e. one for which I got a professional pay packet rather than a token sum) was a story inspired by Borobudur, and I think I was going to write a desert story for our anthology here, whenever we spoke about that (I might have a look, actually, see what I was going to do!). Sure, I've written (and still write) plenty of euro-esque fantasy, but as time's gone by that's started to become the exception rather than the rule.

Of those who are still here, have anybody's opinions changed in the past decade? How so?

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I love this!

I have to admit that my dragon world is just about to enter the modern world - not entirely medieval anymore but they don't have gunpowder, either.

No orks, elves or such like that, though. Just a normal human society with their own traditions, wrapped around dragons. I'm not big on world-building...

I also love Steampunk - fantasy set in the Victorian age, basically. I think it's fascinating to see that, and certainly fun to write.

We still have a long way to come, and I'm certainly not as progressive in my fantasy worlds as I am in real life.

Thanks for that inspiration!

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(I seem to have turned this into an inclusivity conversation rather than a setting one, but I've already typed the post out...)

Something I forgot to mention is the gender/sexual side of things. Only VERY recently have the different colours of sexuality started to be taken into account in books and films, and even then only very tentatively (unless the author is going out of their way to send a message, in which case it's likely the rest of the story will suffer). Using Marvel as an example again, I was really disappointed in humanity when there was a rather vitriolic outburst when Tessa Thompson (who can really do no wrong in my eyes) explained that her interpretation of Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok was bisexual. Because, you know: why in God's name is that a problem? It's not as if audiences were being asked to sit through a sex scene (and if we had, do you think many of those same people would have been complaining?); it was just a facet of that character's personality, which I thought was beautifully, tragically portrayed in relation to her PTSD.

I'll admit to being on touchy ground here, though, because I've never really been much of a one for sex in my reading (or viewing, come to that); and because (for obvious reasons) sexuality is rather intrinsically linked to, you know, sex, the stories that specifically have it as an issue usually tend to be the ones that I go out of my way to avoid. The type of story I'd personally prefer to read would be one where people just take the characters' sexuality for granted without the need to make a big deal about it (like Thor, for example); not only does that mean I don't have to read sex, but it also sends the message that it's not just acceptable, it's normal to be attracted [sign in to see URL] you happen to be attracted to. The problem with that, though, is that there is a not unreasonable argument that says, if the characters' sexuality isn't part of the plot, why bother mentioning it? Now, speaking from a strictly authorial standpoint, where we're drilled to cut anything that isn't crucial to the story, that's a somewhat valid argument; but it's about challenging people's assumptions (i.e. the assumption that, if a character's sexuality isn't mentioned, they must be straight). But it's a touchy subject any way you look at it: I believe I heard that there was a gay couple in a recent Alien film that upset some of the more easily outraged members of our community who were annoyed that they weren't 'more' gay. Which is just, you [sign in to see URL] on guys, grow up.

(That applies to race, too. A few months ago I read an interview in which Anthony Horrowitz, one of this country's most distinguished authors, describe how his publishers explicitly instructed him not to include a black character because he was white and it would upset people. For crying out loud...)

I think that by far the best exploration of sexuality in fiction (certainly that I in my limited experience am aware of) is Steven Universe. It's a kids programme which pretends to be an adventure fantasy cartoon with aliens and magic but which in reality is a philosophical treatise on the nature and importance of relationships. It has quite a large cast of characters, only a handful of which are male--which means that ninety per cent of the relationships are girl-girl. And it's so tenderly done. The last episode I watched showed two main characters (both female) getting married, but it wasn't presented as a 'lesbian wedding'; it was just 'normal', which I loved. This is the only cartoon series that has actually made me blub on a couple of occasions.

#

Moving from the character aspects of fiction to the setting:

quote:

Firlefanz wrote:

... my dragon world is just about to enter the modern world - not entirely medieval anymore but they don't have gunpowder, either.


A friend of mine recently self-published a book in which he imagined what a Middle-Earth-esque world might look like, a thousand years or so down the line from Dark Lords and Grand Alliances. In essence, what he ended up with was (broadly) Georgian England with orcs and magic; not exactly something that hasn't been done before (there was a spate of regency-era fantasies, not that long ago--Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist Histories for example), but whereas those stories really were just Georgian England with magic, he managed to create a convincingly 'other' world in which people, for example, rode a carriage to the theatre but faced the very real danger of being eaten alive by orcs.

(Interestingly, I also co-wrote a novel a few years ago that had a more renaissance-type setting--with crude firearms and everything. Must get back to that...)

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Dan, it's a good discussion!

In my very early fantasy novels, I have one lesbian side character. It's revealed later in the series. Unpublished, but I've been encouraged to go for it, even though those novels are... much less polished than what I write now. So I did that early on, but I have neglected to do that in my current works.

It didn't seem important. emoticon

I will change that. And when my SF character Zell is asked to explain about love, he does mention same-sex couples and tragic love. So I have that tiny bit to speak for me.

And yes, there is a black character in my SF story, and my female MC has an Asian body type even though I don't name it.

And yes! Georgian fantasy settings sound great. I can even imagine Science Fantasy - well, Star Wars sort of is that - and have fun with dragons and spaceships. I think we all should be encouraged to think outside of the box. Fortunately, with self-publishing, it has become much easier to put those stories to the market - and find them as readers.

I love your examples. We need those. We need to paint our society as diverse.

Love this conversation!

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Yes, only writing that post did I realise I hadn't written anything about non-straight relationships, either. I can console myself with the fact that nor have I have written many straight relationships (given the choice between battles and romance, I've always tended to gravitate towards the 'Hulk smash' end of the spectrum), but money-where-mouth-is time, I think.

Brain: start percolating.

At the end of the day, this conversation originally started out as an attempt to move away from cliche. Thankfully, that would (should) automatically entail a shift towards inclusion and diversity.

Bane made a good point in his post about how this move towards more diverse settings would necessitate a bit more signposting in terms of letting the reader know what 'type' of book they're reading. And in our young, inexperienced selves that proved to be a problem:

quote:

BaneBlade wrote:

This can easily lead to endless description and info dumps as I find myself having to describe everything from art to architecture for several different cultures. These rampant info dumps were a large reason (combined with inexperience at plotting and pacing such a large work) the first two iterations of this novel failed. Deciding when and where to include this information is one of the reasons why the current version has gone so far.



Now, however, I know I'm perfectly able (as I'm sure are you and he--he's definitely a bloke, I've seen a picture!) to write pretty much whatever I want to write, provided I put the time in and do the proper research and/or worldbuilding. The only issue is that simple word--'time'.

The way I tend to handle the issue these days is to be 'brief but explicit': don't go on so long that the reader gets annoyed/bored, but leave them in no doubt as to what they're seeing. Sometimes telling is a good thing. For example, without actually going back and checking (i.e., so I could be wrong), in that Borobudur story I will have specifically anchored the setting very early on (first couple of paragraphs) by saying something like, "...in the dense Javan jungles..." A short phrase, but there's instantly no danger of the reader mistaking the setting for medieval France.

How do you handle it?


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Funny enough, I've just been told by a fan that she loves the way I handle descriptions: Just enough of it for her to create a picture in her mind. She hates long descriptions. (And so do I.)

And I just realized I never even mentioned the color of Sidren's eyes. They are utterly unimportant for the story. emoticon

I like linking description to action. A very classic way of doing this is describing a city as my heroes enter it. Interweave that with the emotions they have - maybe they are impressed and stunned, or disgusted by the poverty and stench... make it personal and about them, and it doesn't feel like an info dump.

I describe Sidren's home valley when she goes up higher on the mountains than she ever has (she's not walking well, due to a club foot), and she marvels at the panorama she's never seen before. And then it's just a paragraph and her feelings anchor the description - but it lets the reader know her home is situated in a caldera, which explains why they use obsidian for tools and arrowheads. To an intelligent reader, at any rate.

I don't describe clothes unless absolutely necessary. The typical "throne room scene" with endless paragraphs about the Queen's extravagant dress made of silk and suede just bores me. I suppose my ideal readers are people with a vivid imagination.

Well.. that's some rambling right there. Hope it helps.

(And yes, BaneBlade is definitely a guy. We still chat once in a while, but he has basically stopped writing. Which is a shame.)

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quote:

Firlefanz wrote:
(And yes, BaneBlade is definitely a guy. We still chat once in a while, but he has basically stopped writing. Which is a shame.)



Oh no! Why? I'd thought he was doing really well for himself, I've seen his books all over Amazon (and am now going straight over there to order). What happened?

Send him back over here, we'll get him back up and running.

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You must mistake him for someone else... hasn't published a book. emoticon

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Just goes to show how much I remember of all our personalities! I thought he was Alan Baxter!

Either way, he was always really good, had a lot of interesting stuff to say. Why has he stopped?
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 I pointed BaneBlade to this topic. We'll see. emoticon

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11/9/2018, 8:14 am Link to this post Email Firlefanz   PM Firlefanz Blog
 


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