World Building Cultures in a time of Cultural Upheaval
Things are changing, or at least they feel like they are. This is an interesting time to do world building a contemporary dark fantasy world set on Earth.
What I decided to do
I decided to set the story in the ’90s because of my own nostalgia for the goth subculture of my youth. Also I didn’t want to have to deal with the state of the world as it is now. I don’t know how to process live in the United States right now enough to write a story about it, but that doesn’t mean that current events aren’t changing the ideas going into my story world.
The Outrage is not mine to appropriate
Our job is not to appropriate the anger and outrage of people of color and victims of systemic racism, segregation, or of any population we do not belong to that suffered genocide. We need to adopt a tone of confession and anti-racism. We also need to be careful not to proclaim that our stores offer an absolute or ideal solution to these problems.
How do we write honestly from the POV of our characters without appropriation?
I can’t write a utopia because that wouldn’t serve the story, but I can’t pretend that I have the answer to these problems. What ever am I going to do?
The real question is: how do I develop a “realistic” fantasy setting without either proclaiming that I have found a “perfect” solution or appearing to write anything into the setting that would justify the bias of the characters within the setting?
The answer I came up with is to focus on making sure I am not including racist tropes in my world building that would undercut the stories and the world itself. I know I will not be perfect about this, but it is something we all need to keep a close eye on.
Several good example of what I am talking about come from my beloved Harry Potter books. I am not talking about the author’s current transphobia, but the flawed analogy used in the series.
Seek perfection Knowing you will never find it.
I know I will make mistakes, we all will, but we cannot allow our fear of failure to keep us from working. I understand that there is a big difference between author intent and reader impact, so I am going to do everything in my power to do no harm with my work. Should I mess up, then I need to apologize and fix it in good faith.
I don’t have all the answers
I wish more writers would repeat that over and over to themselves. Our work is about seeking meaning in this world and finding an escape from it. Our job is not to solve the world’s problem but to search, try, and sometimes harrow the souls of our characters and give our readers a worthwhile experience.
All writing is empathy. Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know everything. The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep a close eye on our intentions and the effect we might have on others.
Fear serves no purpose other than to keep us quiet. Do your best to tell stories worth tell, ever seeking to do no harm with your tales. That is all that can be asked from any of us.
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