Lately there is a huge debate about white and black, about male and female and about who has culture and who doesn’t. As a writer of fantasy and science fiction I couldn’t honestly care less about the distinctions that are so popular between peoples. No that is not so true. It is the important for so many and can be dealt with in many ways but the culture I am referring to is more culture in small letters, versus CULTURE.
Each and every one of us has things that we spend our time on. Be it an overwhelming need to see a sports team reach the top or to follow a band or a tv show, we all have it. In today’s world we find lots of way to come together and out of those ways we develop cultures.
As a writer of fantasy I have been a part of the fantasy culture for a while. I read all kinds, I listen to music based on fantasy, watch tv shows and movies that are fantasy based (okay I also do SF), I write fantasy, I draw and sculpt dragons and I talk to all those who do the same.
When we learn to set words to the page was are all told to write what we know. and as writers we need to realize that by telling a story we need to include a lot more than man versus man or man versus world. We need to put in things that make them tick.
Recently I have been taking a little break from working while I try and figure out a cover for my next book and I have picked up reading books from my favorite authors. Now Charles de Lint is one of the authors who tells stories that made me want to tell my own. When it comes to culture, he has tons of it in every book he writes.
In Medicine Road he mixed Bluegrass musicians with native spirit creatures. We get to see walking and talking mysths, magic and music. Without most of us realizing it deLint uses his words to teach us about beliefs from the deep southwest and the backwoods of the mountains. He writes with an understanding of how mucic binds people together, how beautiful the so called badlands are and how important it is for us to understand that meddling with peoples hearts and minds, no matter how well intentioned, will effect others.
I have done my due diligence in my novels by researching things. I have written characters who have more than a taste of other cultures. From Asian to African to Native, I try to give honest tellings of the cultures that I use. I put in music and magic and art if I can.
Writing about how people react to things is the hardest part because we want our characters to act and react like we expect but we need to include what we can for background. Making our characters real comes from adding things like are they a part of fandom or even something as simple as a book club.
In the Mystery of Grace, deLint has a character who is latina at her base but she is so much more. She is a mechanic, a woman who has a real love of old classic cars, something she learned from her grandfather. She rebuilds classic cars into something beautiful. she puts her heart and soul into them. We see that she is a part of the tattoo subculture. Thankfully she is not portrayed as some nut but as a woman who has a reason for her tats and is looking for balance after the death of her beloved grandfather.
de Lint commonly deals with matters of the spirit and matters of the soul. In this book he deals with the the world that comes after death and how it is different for each culture and sub culture. Did you as a writer realize that a persons cultural beliefs effect how they see the after life? I am not talking so much the religion they have but those things that are important to them? In The Mystery of Grace our heroine has those things that were important to her in her afterlife. I won’t go into the story but it is definitely something to think about when you write.
While our racial heritage can form our beliefs, it doesn’t totally make us who we are. And our characters need to have more to them than a two dimensional cutout of what we, as author, believe a person who be. We need to research, add in those things the would be passionate about and more.