Creating a setting from another culture

Cultural settingAlthough I’m up to my eyeballs with two projects, one of which is well behind, and I’m starting to refine the outlines for the following Iski books, I am thinking about what comes next. I know, I’m crazy. I have two cats to prove it.

And this future project probably won’t even get a draft underway until next year. But I am starting to think about it because the main character is a bit of a pest and she won’t leave me alone.

As well as thinking about her, I’m thinking about her world. In particular, what I can take from other cultures and make them hers. This idea started when I was watching a Chinese TV series set in the late 1700 in the Forbidden City. There was a whole world I didn’t know existed and it captured my attention.

Ok, I kind of knew about it, but not to the extent I discovered watching the series, such as the number of separate homes within the palace; and the fact that a prison was part of it. Or that those protected within the city could walk for miles along walled pathways and roads. The reason it grabbed my attention was that I was looking for somewhere to hide a princess away, so that she was within the palace but only those that needed to, knew where she was.

This is not a Chinese story, and other than the palace and maybe some aspects of the ancient Chinese way of living, I am still planning a medieval style fantasy story (at this point, given that I haven’t started drafting yet).

All of this research into ancient China got me thinking about interesting aspects of other cultures that we don’t usually experience. How could we use that or twist that for our own stories? The first Fiona MacIntosh series that I read had a Turkish feel, with the cities and harams and the way the women lived together. But in the story itself there were other aspects of life that clearly indicated it was a fantasy story, not an historical one.

The way people live (in their setting) is usually tied to culture, beliefs, religion and climate. That is because it is those things that impact on the way they live. Believing that they can have a number of women at their beck and call, means that those women would live together. In the ancient Chinese world the Emperor’s concubines were housed differently. They each had a home of their own and then depending how far they had ascended in the affection of the Emperor determined whether they went to him or he came to them. And as well as these women in his life there was the Empress.

I know this isn’t quite what is usually discussed when writers talk about setting. But it certainly held my interest. What different world sparked and idea in the one you are writing? What would you take from another culture and use differently?

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