We take for granted holiday traditions in our lives. Thanksgiving, for most of us, means turkey with myriad accompaniments followed by tryptophan coma and football. The accompaniments are dictated by regional preferences and family expectations. At our house, I always made a sage dressing the way my mom did. Despite Hubs’ dislike for sweet potatoes, I made Mom’s version of candied sweet potatoes by drizzling maple syrup over canned yams, dot with butter, and bake. Never mind Aunt Cora and I were the only ones to eat it. LOL Now that my daughter has taken over hosting family Thanksgiving dinner, she combines our food traditions with her husband’s. He cooks the turkey with his family’s stuffing recipe, and she makes Grandma Burton’s cranberry salad. But one thing never changes—both daughter and her husband and Hubs and I celebrate our wedding anniversaries. We followed in my mother and grandmother’s tradition of being married on Thanksgiving Day.
In my science fiction romances, I lightly explore traditions on planets far, far away. On Traish, one of the Central Planets in my Outer Rim series, the inhabitants revere the First Mother. Matriarch’s Day, celebrates First Mother and all mothers. When Traishans, like other explorers from the Central Planets, left their homes for the Outer Rim, they brought religious and secular traditions with them. But with so many differing customs, the Rim became a melting pot (sound familiar?) and an amalgamation of traditions. Even inventing new ones.
World building can be a fun exercise prior to writing a story. Or, as the story develops, the need for certain aspects of culture arises. I don’t plan my stories too far ahead. I’m sort of a combination plotter and pantser, heavy on the latter. When I start a new story, I have the beginning already in my mind. I know the ending (usually) and a couple of key plot points. If I had to plot out the whole story, I’d lose interest, because I’d already “told” the story. Besides, I love seeing how my characters will direct the story.
Because I like writing a series, I need to keep track of all the details, which I do in a separate file entitled “details.” Real original, huh? As I write, it will occur to me to question why the characters do or say certain things. Was that a remnant from the culture of their home planet or one cultivated in the new environment? Then I add that to the details file—so I remember for the next story.
Why go to all this trouble with customs and traditions? Because they make the story richer. Because readers can identify with strangeness if it’s similar enough to their own lives.
What stories have you read that take place in another world and made you think how similar it was to your own life?
Diane Burton writes science fiction romance, romantic suspense, and cozy mysteries. Whether they take place in this world or in space, she combines adventure, romance, and humor in all her stories.