by thefourpartland

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4

I realize it’s been a while since this series was updated (if you’re curious, 22 months, give or take a few days here and there). But after the exceedingly long hiatus, I’ve decided to come back and finish the matter, or at least do as best I can in that direction.

This time around, we’ll be tackling culture, and how it relates to a fantasy race.

Choice #3: Culture – How much has the civil society in which the fantasy race lives dictated its behaviour and capabilities, as well as norms of action.

Art and High Society – Every culture, from the very earliest we humans can trace, has in some way had a form of art and high society. Originally, this was cave paintings and oral recitation of ancient tales, and has evolved from that all the way down to the mass media of today. But what’s important about art and high society is not the nature of its delivery, but more the norms that it engenders. For modern examples, the movie Avatar provoked common and wide ranging discussion, such that almost everyone in a given local had either seen it, or heard about it.

And that right there is what a race needs to have – certain subjects or stories that are so common everyone knows them, without ever having actually witnessed them. They are the mental furniture of a culture, be it that every knows a certain city is ‘The City’, or parables and fables that characters can mention or quote to one another.

When writing a fantasy race, these are the sayings and texts that are foreign to a reader’s understanding of the world, but treated as normal and every day within the culture of the setting. They have to be relatable enough the reader can acquire a knowledge of them quickly, but not something that shares more than a passing basis with the society the reader is from.

What they do for a reader is to make the setting seem alive, to hint that there are the myths and legends and every day knowledge that humans take for granted, without overwhelming the reader with so many of them that they become bored or bewildered.

Religion – Culture, as humanity has demonstrated time and again down the ages, is very often dictated by the strictures of the religion which a society practices. Most world religions prohibit the eating of certain types of animals, be it because the animals are holy or unclean. They also state what days are rest days, whether prayer is to be at dawn, high sun, or dusk, how one can be married, and a whole host of other restrictions and proscriptions.

These need to be equally apparent for the fantasy race being constructed. Perhaps they can’t go to war in high summer until they have completed their religious festivals (This is a problem the ancient Spartans dealt with). Perhaps the women of the culture can’t marry until they’ve killed someone in battle (Sarmatians).

In general, the approach that I use to creating religion for a fantasy race is to decide up two sets of items. What is the focus of the religion (a pantheon, spirits, the elements, a living being) and what are the strictures that the religion places upon those members of the race. In general, it is better to focus on four or five (the number can vary, obviously) strictures that distinctly impact the way the race behaves, rather than to have too many. It is better to introduce a reader to a simple system, and let his imagination make it complex, rather than to introduce him to a complex system, and let him become frustrated.

The form of the religion is somewhat less important, although generally it will dictate the nature of the religions hierarchy, and the amount of power that hierarchy wields. The more that priests and shamans are needed to communicate to the holy powers, the more money and strength will be concentrated inside the religious bureaucracy.

I hope this has been helpful to you in creating new races for your fantasy fiction. Next time, we’ll look at the Capabilities of fantasy races.


Leave a Reply