Sunday, November 13, 2016

Traditions in World Building by Diane Burton

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.


Nancy Gideon said...

Nice post, Di! Your Thanksgiving sounds a lot like mine! I love books that develop their own history and celebrations to provide a richer platform upon which their worlds turn. Especially in a series for the unique continuity (my favorite being J.D. Robb's slightly futurist In Death series). Fun for the reader, worth the extra effort for the author. Love your Outer Rim series for its own brand of otherworldliness!!

Unknown said...

I love your process. And you make me think about putting in some traditions in my future books. I believe like you that the reader becomes invested. This was a great post.

CJ Burright said...

That is so awesome that both you and your daughter were married on Thanksgiving. I love the connection between a wedding and being thankful. Great post, Diane! :)

Diane Burton said...

Nancy, thanks. Love Robb's In Death series. Definitely worth the extra efforts.

Vicki, appreciate your thoughts. Keeping the reader invested in the story/series is so important.

CJ, thanks. Daughter & I are definitely about letting her daughter know she doesn't have to carry on the tradition. 4 generations is enough. LOL

Maureen said...

Enjoyed the post! I love how you say that the traditions can help readers identify with strangeness if it's similar to their own lives. What a great way to put that- so true! Happy early anniversary!

Diane Burton said...

Thanks, Maureen. Now I'm going to take my own advice and add more traditions in my next sci-fi romance. LOL

Elizabeth Alsobrooks said...

Interesting post, Diane, about helping readers relate to other-worlds by adding traditions. I think it's really cool that your family gets married at Thanksgiving too!

Diane Burton said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. If I read the end of your comment right, Happy Anniversary (early) to you, too.

Susan Coryell said...

Though I neither read nor write sci-fi, I do admire those who can create other worlds, along with their holidays and customs and special vocabulary. Best wishes here and happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Unknown said...

Very cool how you've included traditions in your world building. And your post made me hungry for Thanksgiving, lol.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

wow love the cover!
sounds like another great book, Diane
Good luck and God's blessings with it

Alicia Dean said...

Enjoyed the's awesome how you have carried on the tradition of being married on Thanksgiving. I also love how you, and then your son, kept a little of each tradition to mesh with your own. Great touch, creating traditions for your characters. That does make the story richer. Love your writing...keep up the good work!

Diane Burton said...

Thanks, Susan. You, too, created a world in your ghost series. Regional customs can be as foreign as those we create in sci-fi stories.

LOL, Debbie. I was craving that sage dressing as I wrote the post.

I love that cover, too, Pam. My designer captured the 2 sides of my heroine.

Thanks, Alicia. I love how my children keep some traditions and add others. Building on that for my sci-fi stories is always fun.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and thanks for your comments.

Marissa Garner said...

Enjoyed your post. This time of year is so full of traditions. Adding traditions to your characters' lives definitely makes them richer. Best of luck with your series.