Western popular culture has a special relationship with certain Medieval European folk myths. The history of religious and spiritual beliefs across the continent as well as how Christianity developed and coloured a lot of them makes for interesting reading, to be sure. So when popular culture went looking for scary things to mine for stories, there is lots of material ripe for re-imaging.
Vampires are one example of that. Werewolves are another. Both have been frequently re-used and re-invented over the last few decades. I don’t even need to list any titles. The best writers come up with new angles, like Jandar Sunstar in The Forgotten Realms – an elven vampire who actively and successfully fights his vampiric compulsions to the extent a vampire hunter ends up badly misjudging him. Or the vampires in Sanctuary who actually bear little resemblance at all to the popular tropes (and it is such a delight seeing Jonathon Young portray a vampiric Nikola Tesla). The more average ones either disappear with little trace, or come in for considerable amounts of ridicule. Twilight‘s sparkling vampires are a good example.
One thing that usually comes up in invented fantasy worlds, even if just in passing, is the need to exchange money for good and services.
Rare is the story where you can focus on a strange way to do it – most of the time is it little more than colour. Worlds based on Dungeons and Dragons usually have “gold pieces” as the core value (often abbreviated to “gp”) plus lesser values in silver and copper. Which is kind of ironic because the original idea of “gold piece” was so that game writers could create some local colour by changing the name. Many don’t, of course.
It also ignores some of the economic history of our own world. In medieval Europe, which is the basis for a lot of fantasy fiction world-building, the average man-in-the-field never ever saw gold in his entire life. Gold was rare and thus highly valuable. Too valuable, in fact: silver was much less rare and so many coins were struck in silver. But even a single English silver penny was worth a lot: Wikipedia tells us that estimates of its equivalent value in today’s terms is something like $20. That tells us that a lot of local trade wasn’t transacted with money. No wonder few people ever saw gold.
Sometimes it is a bit too easy to forget how much smaller modern technology has made our world. Modern air travel makes it feasible to travel halfway around the world for a holiday and modern communications makes it easy to socialize with people all over the world.
But this wasn’t always so.
To a very large extent, how far you can easily travel is strongly defined by your world’s society. It is not just the technology, but also the economics that have made air travel affordable for many people. Go back eighty years and it was definitely a luxury exercise. Go back further and it becomes the purlieu of the enthusiast. The world was much bigger for most people.
This is a difficult question. Many trying-to-be-writers will leap onto a particular favourite author and say “I write like them!”. Once they’ve gotten a hundred thousand words down in various projects, I see these writers hesitate to be identified with a particular writer.
We all write differently. It’s a stupidly obvious statement, of course, because we are all different people. Different life experiences, different educations, different value systems. Yet we still want to write like a favourite writer.
It doesn’t happen very often, but I had the pleasure of seeing a modern Porsche 911 drive past whilst I was walking to work this morning. Whatever you may think about the German sports car maker, they do make very distinctive looking cars. I came across a promotion film on Youtube that Porsche made years ago about their 928: even in the late 1970’s, the Porsche 928 really stood out as different amongst the other cars.
In the sea of car makes and models, it seems to be really difficult to design and build a shape that stands out. Few manage it and those that do tend to hold on to their distinctive shapes for decades. Porsche clearly does. Lamborghini does, too. The Lamborghini Countach is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable car shapes ever. And it has influenced their cars ever since. By contrast, the new sportscar from Toyota and Subaru (called the 86 from one and the BRZ from the other) is rather underwhelming, to say the least.
But wait – isn’t this a blog about writing? So why all the car talk? Because just like car shapes, your writing needs to be distinctive, too. You might have captivating dialogue, fascinating characters, scintillating descriptions and a killer story – but if your writing is no different from the next five authors in your genre, you’re going to struggle.