Writing Discussion

No answers only questions

Question Everything / Nullius in verba / Take nobody's word for it
Question Everything by Duncan Hull (CC)

I’m reading a historical fantasy now, after having written my own, set in a similar milieu. Now there are big questions spinning around my brain. I know there aren’t any definitive answers, but I think they’re worth asking.

Where do you draw the line between historical fantasy, and fantasy inspired by a historical culture?

If you are writing a historically inspired fantasy, how much history must be preserved, and where can imagination begin without venturing into cultural appropriation or disrespect?

At what point can you actually separate historical cues from the culture they came from? At what point does culture become unrecognizable and becomes something new? Is that possible?

Is it possible to create a world from nothing but your imagination, without (consciously or not) pulling from real world cultures, mythologies, histories, or references?

Would a reader be able to envision or relate to something that didn’t?

Just thinking.

6 Comments

  1. This is very far from anything I’ve ever done (my stuff is set in an alternate past, more or less, but I don’t think of it as “historical” since it was within my lifetime), so I mostly don’t have answers, except for maybe one:

    “Is it possible to create a world from nothing but your imagination, without (consciously or not) pulling from real world cultures, mythologies, histories, or references?”

    Short answer: No, and why would you want to?

    Longer anwer: This might be possible (just might) as a strictly intellectual exercise, or maybe something you could program a computer to produce, but, if you succeeded at all, it would be a stunt, not a work of art. Nobody would care, except academically.

    What is imagination fed by, other than the things you listed? You have your own experiences, yes, but you’ve learned from those experiences by filtering them through the cultures, mythologies, histories, and references.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      That’s a good point about the imagination… and the writer can never be free of their view of the world. Everything comes with a little baggage, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  2. Good questions. I don’t know that I have good answers for any of these.

    I will say, that for myself, I do borrow from real-world cultures (or, more accurately, my limited understanding of them) as templates or fuel for my imaginary cultures. I very rarely write fantasy set in the real world (and when I do, I most often base the work on places or people with which I am familiar), so I don’t worry as much about how I depict other cultures in the context of how they work in the real world (though I would worry a great deal if I spent more time writing in a setting more like the real world). But I do worry about whether my cultural borrowings in the context of the clearly-fantastical is done well.

    I try to work by this rule: be respectful. Even if I’m doing it wrong, I hope I’m doing it wrong out of the intention to be respectful. And then I’ll write whatever it is I’m going to write. If I did it wrong, or wasn’t properly respectful, I can only hope that some early reader notifies me of that fact before the story has a wider audience. (So far I don’t think that’s been an issue, since nothing I’ve written has found a wider audience.)

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      There’s no real right way to do it, but try to be respectful and aware. I was just thinking about a comment someone made about a different book, that it pulled from various Asian cultures as if all were one monolithic entity and hobbling it together into one fictional culture (generally how confused western media portrays it), which is problematic. But, when does too much mixing (of cultures) become problematic if drawing from multiple inspirations? Just more questions…

  3. My writing is an alternative history slant to it, which forces me to study history. But the imagination takes over and I get to ask, “What if?”

    For example, what if Europeans didn’t colonize the Americas?

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