Monday, June 30, 2014

30-Week Writing Survey: Week 13: Cultures



Today's question:What's your favorite culture to write, fictional or not?

I had fun writing the fairy culture in my novel Bad Fairy. In many ways they are similar to the noble/upper classes of the society they live in, because they are rare and their powers are valuable, but their status seems to be understood in relation to humans, not as much within their own culture. Fairies work for humans, basically, even though humans have to pay them. They generally don't use their skills to make their own living; they peddle their skills to humans who tell them where to point their magick, and that's how they make money. They also get a lot of satisfaction from serving others, and it's actually not just a cultural thing. They are born with an intrinsic desire to support and provide for the people they help, which guides them to spend their lives in subordinate positions.

As a half-fairy, protagonist Delia is sort of awake to this dynamic a lot more than her peers are. Thing is, KNOWING it's happening doesn't mean she's immune; it's just that whatever part of her is human tends to think of this tendency as annoyingly subservient, and even though she has a (less compelling, but notable) drive to help humans too, she thinks it's sort of unnatural. Full-blood fairies think it's bizarre and selfish and unnatural to WANT to become successful on one's own, so they really can't understand HOW Delia could want to chase greatness on her own behalf. For her it's very hard because her heart wants one thing and her head wants another.

So it's an interesting balance of power there--without the safeguard whereby fairies voluntarily prevent themselves from "taking over," they could have been a ruling class. Instead, the monarchy is always human, and as Delia says when discussing how fairies strive to be successful enough to work in the castle one day, "the closest fairies get to dreaming about being princesses is growing up to work for one."

The fairies' schooling is almost exclusively magick-oriented as well, so they don't learn higher arts or maths, sciences, or literature. They're very uneducated by human standards. There's some math in spells (the complex stuff does get tangled enough that they plot their spells using conditional equations), and they do learn to read (though generally at home, not as a school thing), and they don't usually start their magickal education until age ten or eleven. All these things have an effect on how the population sees the world and how they fit into society.

Oh, and let's not forget religion. Fairies are pretty much nature worshipers, though they tend to have personal patron gods that are chosen during their adulthood rituals and don't necessarily "worship" anything at all. They have moon parties and celebrate the seasons a lot like modern Pagans do. (There's a lot of Pagan influence in this story. Surprise.) They believe in reincarnation (they refer to the afterlife as "Summer-Winterland") and they study the elemental influences of Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. I don't name names when I touch on the humans' religion, but I do contrast it with the fairies' beliefs by pointing out that humans generally believe a person goes to Heaven or Hell after being tested during life on Earth.

What else? Fairies usually have fewer children. (They can apply magickal birth control, heh.) Oh, and even though fairies can mate with humans and have mixed children, they're usually VERY different from humans. In general they tend to have light-colored, curly hair; wide-set, large eyes with long eyelashes; delicate bone structures, and fairly robust physiques. They're slightly different from humans in their skeletons as well; their joints are less flexible than those of humans, especially at the hips. (They physically can't rotate their legs outwards very far--they can't sit cross-legged, for instance.) Oh, and they are more sensitive to just about everything; they sunburn faster, get drunk quicker, get sick easier, and get irritated faster if there are pollutants or poisons in the environment. (They don't have enhanced senses, though; they see and hear about the same as humans do.) And they tend to have very high voices in comparison to humans; their voices change very little as they get older, so they tend to sound like children. (My protagonist Delia inherited a more human voice, and it deepens like a human's would when she reaches womanhood.)

Also, fairies are not born with wings in Bad Fairy. They do a transformation ritual during their studies, which is also when they choose a patron deity. Going through a transformation ritual and having wings afterwards is a fairy mark of maturity. Because all the adults have wings, fairies don't sit in chairs or booths or whatever that have backs; they all have various types of bench-like furniture instead of couches and armchairs. (Their wings aren't very bendy so they can't just sit on them or rearrange themselves to sit in regular chairs. It only becomes really inconvenient if they're in human spaces that don't accommodate them very well.)

I think every time I've created any kind of culture for my books, there was a larger society surrounding said culture which was "the standard." Seems to happen a lot in my books that I am writing about the less recognized populations.

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