Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Inspiration of Culture


Cultures have been coming up a lot in different place around me lately. It’s started me thinking about why we cling to our different beliefs and ways of  living. Religions, music, customs, mythology, laws, etiquette, language and superstition.

I’ve always been a bit of a history geek, particularly when it comes to ancient societies and places, and now I’ve taken Ancient History as a subject in school. It’s such a fascinating thing to study—How people have lived, why they did these things, the rumours surrounding them, the evidence for their lifestyle…all of it! We can look at so much about these people’s lives and I think that we all find this interesting to some degree. Sure, maybe you don’t all go and look up different tribes in your spare time for no purpose other than fascination, but there is so much out there just waiting for us to discover. And after all, if you are reading this right now you can most certainly discover more seeing that you have near endless knowledge at your fingertips.

Lately I have looked at the ancient Egyptians, the Spartans, the Zulu, the Greeks and Romans, the Aboriginals, the Babylonians, and heaps of other groups in our world’s rich history. And, as always, it gave me some cool ideas for writing.

Having had studied different cultures for their music, myths, art, superstitions, traditions, and even their skin pigments and hair colour (let’s ignore the randomness there) I began to look back on Chosen by Fire and feel somewhat discouraged. Waaaay back in NaNovember I had created a fantasy world with different races and customs. It seemed very complex at the time that I had created it. After all, I had the unusual set up of the cities and country as it had been made by magic, and I had each sector containing a slightly different race of people, but that was only obvious by their appearance. Fifth Sector People tended to be smaller in stature whilst Sixth Sector People were taller with a more square face. Oh, and they had faint accent changes.

That was the end of the racial differences. 

Those liiiiittle points. Sure, I had different weird magical creatures in different areas to correspond with the area’s old magic, but it was all very much a surface thing.

To make a fantasy culture effective, you need to go deeper. Often it helps to study other past cultures to gain inspiration and to look at things in a different way. It then allows you to ask the questions of how the government is run, what places eat what food, what different types of music people listen to, different traditions that have been around since ancient times but have lost relevance, what superstitions they have, how their currency works and what their ethical beliefs are.

There have been a few texts that I have looked at recently that really made it obvious how much these little details help in world building and how much people depend off traditions to run their lives.

One of the most notable of these has been The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

You must read this. It is probably the most epic fantasy book I have ever read. (Pun intended.) He has made an amazing world with so much depth and detail, and tied it in super well with the plot. His characters are constantly being affected by the world around them, whether by society or by the actual, physical world. I am absolutely LOVING reading it and seeing how the cultures interact, what they value, fight for, the history, and how that relates to magic and the plot. It is a totally different style to my other favorites, but still equally as amazing, and with theme and characters that also tie in with the culture. Culture is so important in these books, and it is beautifully woven into every part of the story, the world, and the characters. Yes, as it is an epic fantasy, you can’t get all of this intricate detail into a super short book, but I think we all could if we tried, and it just makes the world feel that much more real.

Another one was one I only heard of today: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

This is a short story that explores the very motivation of humans. It looks at how we can gain a tradition or ritual and refuse to step away from it—no matter to how twisted and totally messed up it is. In this case, it is the tradition of drawing out a piece of paper, and if yours has the black spot on it, you get stoned to death by everyone in the town. When a mother draws it, even her children join in with the stoning. It very bluntly depicts how much we rely off our traditions, and often that is what determines our morality and our capabilities.

Now I want to toss a prompt your way, but hopefully you were able to get some ideas from the rest of this post.

There you go! Have you some ideas? Have you ever written a fantasy or dystopian story that involved different cultures and races? What were your struggles? I love to talk to you!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Contagious Life


*coughs awkwardly* Well, first off, I apologise for my absence. I could go into great detail explaining, but to make it short, Year 11 (junior year to Americans) happened, and I have spent the past few weeks adjusting and trying to rearrange my schedule. As it is, I shall be updating my blog on Wednesdays now, as my Bible Study group has moved to Thursdays. Writing is still happening a lot, although, I have to swap writing styles depending on whether it is just my normal writing, or the writing for school.

Apparently, my writing has, “Too many short paragraphs and fragmented sentences.” At first I just shrugged it off and swapped my writing style, but then, as I kept struggling to write in this weird, flowery, long-paragraphed, descriptive way, I started wondering where on earth I had learnt my writing style from.

I turned to my bookshelves and flicked through different books, then on my Kindle, then I moved to looking onto the other bookshelves in the house, then I looked at the different draft that I was critiquing for people.

But I could not find this weird writing style anywhere. (Please note, I was also at home sick and prooooobably not thinking too straight as normally I would have worked this out much faster than this. Plus, I have noticed this many times before. :P) Eventually, my awesome cousin Jane, (who had no idea of what I was doing) sent me a snippet of an idea she’s been working on. After a few minutes of reading through it, I remembered where else I had seen my writing style.

In my cousin.

It explained a lot.

But seriously, how often do we unintentionally start copying people? As the youngest of three in my family, I can certainly look back and say that I copied my siblings. And it was totally unplanned. I’ve grown up with my sense of humour being dry wit, because that is what my brother was like. I also went through a phase where I would use the word, ‘devastating’ (I was about seven) purely because that was a word that my sister used all of the time. I started to write film music style music because my brother did. (Seriously though, I couldn’t just write a normal composition, no matter what I did it sounded like I was trying to imitate John Williams… and most of the time failing epically.)

And, even in other people’s lives I see how I am affected, or how they are. My cousin Jane had a pastor who would always say, ‘indeed.’ It made her say it more often than normal and, well… *tilts head, thinking* I don’t think I actually just say, ‘yes’ anymore.

Only last weekend, I went to my cousin’s place. I was quite startled to realise that my nine year old cousin had developed a serious case of sarcasm. I mean, in a teenager it would be perfectly normal and not seem crazy, but in a nine year old? Well, it had me really confused. I asked one of his older sisters and she told me that he’d been getting it from one of their friends… Along with a lot of his random phrases and word choices. Not only that, but she informed me that he has also been saying, ‘that’s new’ a lot. And that that definitely came from me.

Even siblings are known for using similar hand gestures, and walking in similar ways… Even the ones who don’t get on brilliantly.

Why do we always seem to mimic each other in some way? I actually sent out an email to a few friends asking some questions about random habit of people and if they mimic them, and I got a fair few in reply…

  • Ducking when walking through conversations/in front of class
  • Looking at wrist when trying to think
  • Saying, ‘indeed’ all of the time
  • Saying ‘cool’ when you don’t say indeed
  • Startling when someone speaks
  • Shaking of hands when getting excited
  • Making gestures with hands at around shoulder height

I also asked if they found themselves mimicking these things and here are some of those answers…

  • Generally picking up the traits of people they spend time around
  • Mimicking other people’s voices
  • Acting like people when referring to them. (Posture, voice, hand actions)
  • Often keywords or phrases
  • Sarcastic remarks

So, people mimic each other. How weird is that? To be honest, it really makes me frantically check everything I do around people. I don’t want to risk having people pick up a bad habit from me, particularly not younger people.

Humans are immensely complex beings. We are individual, but all share a longing for connection and community. Not only that, but we look up to people as well and set them as role models. Most of the time we probably aren’t even aware of it. But we do admire different traits of people and try to copy them. Sometimes we just pick up on random habits from people we are around.

But whether these are intentional or not, they do shape you and change you. They make you who you are. Crazy, right?

Well, this brings me to the prompt.

Any thoughts? Do you have weird habits? Do you mimic other people? Do feel free to chat!