Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Warrior, Wizard Status Update #3: Worldbuilding

It’s that time of the year again: holiday season.  The time of the year that pretty much guarantees that I’m too busy or too distracted to write.  However, while I haven’t been able to sit down and actually write on Warrior, Wizard, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been working on it—or at least on the larger universe surrounding it.

Yes, I’ve been doing worldbuilding.  Here’s a bit of what I’ve got so far.

I’m focusing primarily on the human customs at the moment.  I’ll be delving into the reptilos, ogre, and gnome cultures more in the future (also possibly renaming the races as all those names are just working descriptions), but they don’t show up in Warrior, Wizard very prominently since our two primary characters are male.

The place I decided to start with my society was by bucking some standard fantasy conventions.  Fantasy is so frequently a genre that elevates the “fair” above all else.  Going by the four most standard fantasy races, the elves are prettiest and therefore the best, the humans are below the elves but run pretty much everything else, the dwarves are demoted to comic relief and get no respect, and the ugly orc knockoffs are savage beasts unfit for more than being canon fodder.

I really wanted to avoid that and did so by taking a different direction with beauty and race.  There are four main skin tones among humans.  I can’t exactly describe the tones since I’m not really an expert on skin tones (I live in a very homogenized location), but going with the Fitzpatrick Scale as my indicator of skin tone, the tones would probably be about 2, 3.5, 4.5, and 6, with the two middle tones being the most common and the lightest tone being the minority.  I want to give the world a more Mediterranean feel than the Medieval British Isles feel that most fantasy has.

I’ve also been thinking about “beauty” and what is and isn’t “attractive” in this world.  As we all know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  It’s relative, and different societies in the past have had different standards of beauty.  This society favors the strong, so I’m trying to reflect that into the standards of beauty.  Neither the portly nor skinny are particularly valued: instead it is the strong.  With the physical fighters this is obviously seen in muscle, but with mages, it’s more a manner of how they hold themselves—and the apparel they wear.  A mage can get by on being slender (though being particularly thin would generally indicate malnourishment) because they wear robes denoting their strength.

Two practices are also fairly common: tattooing and decorative scarring.  Both are generally regarded as fairly ritualistic and are almost always done to commemorate special accomplishments, so it’s not like everyone is walking around covered in tattoos and/or scars.  Also, naturally obtained scars are considered highly attractive and sharing “scar stories” is a very common icebreaking conversation.

Which brings us to gender in society.  I specifically wanted to avoid writing a patriarchy, but also didn’t want to write a matriarchy.  I think a large part of why patriarchies evolve is because men generally have more natural strength than women.  So the men would hunt and the women would take on a social role, and men have ruled the world while women rule the men from that point on.  However, magic throws a wrench into things.  With a skill based on study and intellect that trumps pure strength, men and women have been pretty much on equal standings.  This leads to a lot more women who are actually physical fighters.  No one’s telling them they can’t.  Skill’s not a gender issue, and with enchantment and enhancement, it’s not like physical strength is the final say in everything. 

It also led me to think about the family structure.  Since characters have both first and last names, who do they take their surname from?  What are surnames like after marriage?  I had several different paths I could have taken with this.  One was joint names like some couples do now.  Of course, this could potentially end up with someone taking both their parents names ad nauseum and after just a few generations you end up with a John Smith-Doe-Miller-Wayne-Anderson-Richards-Smith-Koerner.  Another option was for the males to take the father’s name and the females to take the mother’s name, like a family I know.  However, I didn’t really like that idea, and I had already given Alera and her father the same surname.  Those were the same issues with the child having a different surname from the parents altogether.  I finally decided, though, that a new surname was chosen upon marriage.  Sometimes one half of the couple would keep their name or a name would be chosen in reference to one of them.  After all, names and the standing they have can mean a lot.  For example, I imagine that there was a Manse Smith (the surname here isn’t particularly important), and his son and said son’s wife took “Manse” as their surname.  The name “Manse” was passed on for generations to Jaren Manse.  If Jaren gets married, he’d probably insist on keeping the name as well.

So yeah, those are some of the little pieces of the society that I’ve been focusing on.  And from the types of things they are, you might think it’s an attempt to be politically correct or “progressive” in my writing.  In reality, though…it’s not.  It’s really just my attempt to make a world different than ours, and different than standard fantasy.  Medieval Europe is far too stock, so I blended it with a bit of ancient Rome and Greece.  Elves and dwarves are commonplace, so I wrote them down on a list of things I wanted to do, crossed them off and marked them with a big “NO.”  Humans are generally limited to a single Caucasian race, so I made the lighter-skinned humans the minority.  Elves being held up as the standard of beauty just annoys me, so I went a different direction with it.  As for the role of gender?  That’s largely a holdover from early Fire Emblem inspirations that I wanted to keep.  In The Sacred Stones, I’d take Amelia over Gillam just as soon as I’d take Joshua over Marisa.  And besides, you’ve got magic in the equation.  When Lute (the biggest inspiration for Alera) is flinging fireballs around like nothing to take out enemies three times her size, it really makes you resent females in fantasy being reduced to the white magic girls. 

So I guess maybe there is a little gender equality behind that particular choice because turning all female fantasy characters into nuns is stupid.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking on lately.  There have been a few other things, like some customary greetings (a kiss on the forehead between males), common forms of entertainment (theatre has grown very popular in the last few years), and the color of robes mages wear (a fairly simple system that will tell you what mage class and disciplines they are at a glance).  However, those are some of the more notable social things.  I hope you enjoyed reading about them, and I hope they excite you for that preview that I have coming!

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