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Deadly Sins of World Building (3 & 4)

A post in which I continue reflecting on the main points in Charlie Jane Anders‘s stellar article (found here), and compare my recent novel Eventide to her main points.

Sin 3) Creating fictional versions of real-life human ethnic groups, that never go beyond one dimension

Anders writes, “Really, you should make sure that any cultural or ethnic group you create has multiple dimensions and a sense that its members have their own subjectivity, and a believable culture. Whether it’s the culture that your main characters come from, or a culture that they see as the “other.””

We see this sin committed a lot in 80s action hero films where all Russians are the same. All Mexicans are the same. Etc. And they’re always always an unflattering “same”.

Eventide features a conversation between space marines where one is spouting his opinion about the “Chinese”. He’s referring to citizens of the People’s Republic of China who are the “other” space power in opposition to the his own employers. When one of his peers (an ethnic Chinese woman) challenges him on his simplistic and dumbass thinking, he answers, “Not you, Nancy. I mean real Chinese.” (And the argument is on).

I did this to show a) there were racists and non-racists in this Marine unit (so not all Jarheads are the same); b) one particular ethnic group has diversity of belonging and political affiliation (as just one example of that diversity), just as is true of our world now; c) people are still people in the future with both intelligent and stupid thinking abounding.

In my fantasy work in progress (called CM here, and set in a fictional world), I based my world on an11th Century Italian society (which couldn’t be exact because there was no one Italian society then). I had to think through (and still am thinking) how my fictional culture differed from the real one(s), that there were reasons for their prejudices and peccadillos (but they had them, and different ones for different people). This thinking made the character development more interesting for me

Sin 4) Creating monolithic social, political, cultural and religious groups

I guess much of this is covered above. This is the sin of making everyone who is “like that” exactly like that. Whatever “that” is. Sheesh, imagine if I had a fantasy race in my novel called Americans, and all the men looked and spoke like Tom Cruise, and all the women spoke and looked like Nicki Menaj. (I mean, granted, that’s an interesting thought. But … all ofthem??)

A comment on religious diversity, if I may. (And religion is really important to take into account for any world we create). Let’s take Christianity, Islam and Judaism. “Big” religions with a reputation for prejudice and rigid thinking. However, there exist (and have always existed) members of these who are progressive thinkers or at least more compassionate etc than the hardliners. In a novel, such diversity leads to interesting conflict and characterisation. It allows for exploring themes we’re familiar with these days. Let’s flip things around and say that in your future scifi story, a homosexual experience is expected as a rite of passage for all young people, but your two main characters just don’t want to go there. For your story, this generates huge possibilities for familial conflict, legal conflict, social conflict, wow! Not to mention the opportunity to explore orthodoxy and cultural pressure from a completely different perspective.

In contrast to diversity (and conflict) within a religion, see these articles for ideas about the “cohabitation” of different philosophies and cultures in history, that might spawn ideas for your world.
Convivencia: Christians, Jews, and Muslims in Medieval Spain and
The Golden Age of Andalusia in Medieval Spain by Doug Motel

What if your world had adults divided by their different religions, while the youth were brought together by their different religions? (wait. That sounds familiar)
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