Posted by: kshayes513 | December 31, 2008

Background Reading

Sorry I haven’t posted in so long; it’s been a busy holiday season. And I’d be out again tonight, except that I am once again SNOWED IN by a New Year’s Eve clipper that has postponed the party I was heading to.

Thanks to Rich’s comment in the Using Arabic Names post, I’m thinking tonight about the kind of reading I do for inspiration.  I’m not talking about stories that I read or watch that make me want to be a better writer. I’m talking about what I read (and watch) to broaden and deepen my understanding of Khasran, and to help me find new worldbuilding questions to explore.

First of all, I like anything at all about other cultures, especially non-western cultures. Travel and historical documentaries give me visual details about geography and every aspect of some other culture, from clothes and architecture to body language. Adventure travel books tell me first hand how a city or a countryside sounds and smells and feels, what its like to cross the Sahara by camel or ride through Afghanistan, the summer heat of Mesopotamia, the inside of a yurt.

I also like reading history and anthropology of any kind. For Khasran’s main culture, books about nomadic and tribal peoples of Asia seem especially relevant. Reading history always gives me new story ideas especially about the large scale events in Khasran’s world. The whats and whos and whys of any period in history have more material than any storyteller could ever use!

Most of all, I like reading the traditional literature of other cultures. My personal library has medieval epics from all over Europe (Beowulf, the Welsh Mabinogion, the Irish epics, the Icelandic sagas); plays by the classical Greek masters; Palestinian and Middle Eastern folk tales, and probably a few things I’ve forgotten about. Myths, stories, poetry, epics, folk tales–these all give me the unfiltered voices of people from different times and places, who see the world with completely different paradigms and values.

That for me is the essence of good worldbuilding: can I create a different mental landscape for the people in my world? I want them to think and believe in ways that are recognizably distinct from the ways my own culture thinks and believes, and from other cultures in this world.  I don’t worry about making what they feel any different, because regardless of how they think, people seem to feel the same in all ages and all cultures.


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