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Author Topic: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog  (Read 2047 times)

Offline MammaMamae

Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
« on: January 17, 2017, 08:13:20 PM »
Hello, it's been awhile :)

I have a worldbuilding question, but first some background.  I've decided to change the setting in my epic fantasy WIP from a "pseudo-Medieval" setting to an early 19th Century analog setting.  It's completely secondary world, so it is not an alternate history like Strange and Norell or Temaraire.  I've been thinking about it for a long time and am super excited that I've taken the leap, as it is a much better fit for my story than a medieval world.

So with that in mind, my question is, how much does it have to accurately resemble the actual 19th Century, both in terms of actual technology and aesthetics, for it to feel coherant to the reader?  I've noticed that "medieval" fantasy usually doesn't really look much like the actual middle ages at all, and authors seem to have a lot of leeway to create their own "medieval-esque" culture with their own clothing styles, customs, etc.

Do you think there is similar leeway in a 19th Century analog setting?  My setting has a lot in common with the settings I have loved in writers like Tolstoy and Jane Austen, but I also want some flexibility in creating cultures, styles of dress, etc.

Thoughts and advice on how to make this work?  Expectations you as a reader would have for an Epic Fantasy / Family Saga set in world like this? 

Any published examples of fantasy worlds in a setting like this (that are not alternate history) would also be very helpful!  Thanks!

Online Peat

Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2017, 08:46:50 PM »
I have two different answers to this.

The first is "How much are you willing to explain?" People are generally willing to accept all sorts of divergences from reality in their secondary worlds, but they usually want to know why or they otherwise start screaming that its crap. You can have as many differences as you want if you explain them.

The second thought is that generally you only want X many differences from the standard milieu. Too many and you spend forever explaining things. And the fake-medieval setting is a standard milieu already. Its probably more standard than medieval tbh. So, I reckon the comparison is a bit misleading, and you can make less changes to 19th century than you can to medieval as there's less change baked in.

But yeah, I'd say you have some flexibility. I've recently finished reading a book set in a secondary world in roughly this time period - turn of the century, the great naval race - and loved the hell out of it. As long as you maintain the general flavour and explain anything that might make people go 'wtf', rock on.

Offline MammaMamae

Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2017, 09:07:50 PM »
And the fake-medieval setting is a standard milieu already. Its probably more standard than medieval tbh. So, I reckon the comparison is a bit misleading, and you can make less changes to 19th century than you can to medieval as there's less change baked in.

That was my sense too - that "fake medieval" (and I don't mean that in necessarily a bad way) is so standard that you can diverge more than you could when using another culture / historical period.

Thanks!

Offline Lady Ty

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Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2017, 10:05:41 PM »
Love the sound of that setting. You mentioned Austen, but have you also read George Eliot, Dickens and Trollope ?
They will give you more detailed understanding of life and conditions at all levels of that society,rich, legal, financiers, very poor, mill owners and so many more.
They are English, but you could learn about the people and life in France of that era through the novels of Zola.

@MammaMamae My apologies, forgot  to explain why my post was relevant to your question.
Believe readers would be more aware of that era and would notice anomalies. Also that your knowledge of details of life and social issues could open more dimensions or help in character creation within your story.
« Last Edit: January 17, 2017, 10:38:25 PM by Lady_Ty »
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Offline Nora

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Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2017, 11:02:44 PM »
You can also read Wives and Daughters, though I'd recommend the movie over the book for once, since the book was not finished (author died...), and these two nuggets :
North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.

These two are very "feminist" in their time period, given the heroin's behaviour. Especially Gaskell's novel. Both have great series.

And I mean the one with Toby Absolute EYE CANDY Stephens



And the other with likewise agreeable on the retina Richard Armitage.



To be more serious, @MammaMamae, as a regular reader of period drama, I encourage you to dip yourself deep into the traditions of the time, and use them without explaining or displaying them.
It's a common fault of modern recreations of the style of the time. 'oh look my characters are doing the same as Jane Austen's here and totally take tea in the same way', etc, while forgetting how important it was to attend church, for example, or not entirely understanding the implicit laws of politeness of morning visits and 'calling on someone'.
I recommend you read non fiction on the topic, that you delve into the blogs and wiki pages that explain the traditions of the time.
Austen writes stories that don't depend too much on things that might age to the point that we wouldn't understand the story anymore, but there are things that are obscure to the young modern reader (I was one, I know), and she never stops to explain them, not even in a non-obvious way, because she wasn't writing for us.
Many modern recreations struggle either because the author doesn't know enough, or mismanages those differences by explaining them.

One of the worst I've DNFed in the past year was Sorcerer To The Crown. Completely unrealistic, characters behaving in ways completely out of the time.
There is some stuff that just can't happen in that time period, in order for the characters to be 'proper'. There are lots of rules, most of which are non-verbal. These rules need to rule your characters, but not be explained to us. You should assume that people who will read your work will know. And we will.

So in short my advice is : do your research. Learn what a reticule is, and whether your character is more likely to drive a gig or a phaeton, and if his aunt comes with a coach and four... And then drop these like the most natural thing in the world.

Also now you have all the excuses in the world to use the material given to you for adequate research :

[youtube]TOFps_Naytg[/youtube]

 ;D ;D ;D

There are only two films in this collection that I haven't seen, and I plan on correcting that.  :D
« Last Edit: January 17, 2017, 11:05:17 PM by Nora »
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Offline cupiscent

Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2017, 11:50:38 PM »
There's some great advice in here already. I would only add that you should consider what elements of your preferred base time period are most suitable for your story, and make sure you have solid in-story reasons for those elements to persist in your fictional world. F'rinstance, if you want the country-gentility element of an Austentatious setting, you may need to have a certain degree of industrialisation in order to support an idle class of that size. And industrialisation brings its own societal problems - there were riots about it during Austen's time, and in fact a prime minister was assassinated, though you wouldn't know it from reading her books... So I guess that's another point: read widely about your preferred time period. It's almost certainly more complex than literature suggests, and your world will be more believable the more you know about what you're deviating from.

Some similar fiction to consider:

Offline Dan D Jones

Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
« Reply #6 on: January 18, 2017, 01:33:07 AM »
You can make as many changes as you like.  It's your world.  Decide how you want it to be and write it that way. 

You seem to consider "second world" and "alternate history" to be completely different but really they're a matter of degree.  What would you consider something like Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series?  The countries are given different names but it's quite easy to recognize the parallels between her countries and the real countries in Europe. Some alternate histories play with well known events and characters, and are dependent on the reader's familiarity with those people or events to drive the story.  But many do not and you could take any number of these and convert them to second world stories just by changing some names. 

 Alternate history lets you rely on the reader's familiarity to some extent.  If you say that England is in a war with Germany, the reader knows that England is a large island and can be assumed to have a powerful Navy, etc.   If you're using a second world, you have to explicitly work that information into your story.  But this is true of any fantasy setting - it's not affected by whatever time period you're using as inspiration. 

The issue of making a world feel coherent to the reader is no more or less difficult with a 19th century setting than it is with a medieval setting.  You're free to use as little or as much influence as you want to guide your world.  The only thing you have to worry about is making your world internally consistent.  The only thing you have to provide is the information that the reader needs to understand how and why your world/society functions.  You don't need to explain why it's different from our world. My experience is that there are two primary times when readers complain about world building.  The first is when your world isn't consistent/reasonable.  If you put a city in the middle of a desert, you need to explain why people would choose to live there and how they manage to support themselves.  The second is  when you adhere too close to reality and then put in a change without justifying it or making it plain that it is an intentional change.   Avenue des Champs-Élysées runs east/west in Paris.  If you have your characters walking north, some readers will absolutely crucify you.

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
« Reply #7 on: January 18, 2017, 01:47:37 AM »
Riffing off Dan's comments (I was writing the identical points but he beat me to it), take a look at Jules Verne, who wrote in deliberate errors that only a geek would perceive, sort of the original easter eggs. He would have a certain kind of bat flying around chasing bugs, and of course, that's silly because it was a fruit-eating species. I have always wondered if they weren't legit errors and inconsistencies, and he just applied some psychology to things. "Of COURSE that road runs east/west - I made it off deliberately on a bet with a colleague that readers are smart and observant, and you sir just won me a bottle of Chablis. Bully!"
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Offline Nora

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Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2017, 02:19:12 AM »
The issue of making a world feel coherent to the reader is no more or less difficult with a 19th century setting than it is with a medieval setting.

I beg to disagree, in so far that if she wants the world to be very close to an original period novel, she might deal with people who read those a lot more than if she chose a medieval setting.
Middle ages have been so written in, there is this sort of general medieval fantasy world we all know and got used to. We often see facts on forums or in reviews, people pointing out, "you know, actually this is not historically correct, blah blah..", but most of us lack that critical knowledge.

How many of us have read Austen, Gaskel, Bronte, Dickens, or Trollope? Compared to how many books actually written during the middle ages? Giving first hand insight of the life of the time?

Of course ultimately it doesn't matter and you're entirely right, it's her world, and since its secondary, it can go as far away as she wants from reality.
However, to people like me, who read SF/F and a lot of period novels, 19th century settings are a horribly tough sell. As far as I'm concerned, the only one I can remember finishing and enjoying is His Majesty's Dragon. I've DNFed several others, and generally avoid the genre, precisely because people try for it and miss its essence, often being more concerned with the sff part than the era characteristics.
However I don't read medieval writters, so medieval settings don't get my critical thinking in motion. *shrugs*
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Offline Dan D Jones

Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2017, 03:28:45 AM »
The issue of making a world feel coherent to the reader is no more or less difficult with a 19th century setting than it is with a medieval setting.

I beg to disagree, in so far that if she wants the world to be very close to an original period novel, she might deal with people who read those a lot more than if she chose a medieval setting.

That's cool.  If we all thought the same, the world would be boring and forums would be useless pools of naval gazing. 

Middle ages have been so written in, there is this sort of general medieval fantasy world we all know and got used to. We often see facts on forums or in reviews, people pointing out, "you know, actually this is not historically correct, blah blah..", but most of us lack that critical knowledge.

I think most of us lack that critical knowledge about the Victorian period too.  You evidently have significantly more knowledge about that period, so it alters your perception of books with that setting.  I think that's true of most people who have specialized knowledge.  I'm a network engineer and programmer - essentially a professional geek.  And I simply cannot watch shows like Scorpion or the various flavors of CSI because they get so much wrong.  It makes me want to throw stuff through the TV screen.

How many of us have read Austen, Gaskel, Bronte, Dickens, or Trollope? Compared to how many books actually written during the middle ages? Giving first hand insight of the life of the time?

Well, I've read all of those, and I question how much insight it's given me into how people actually thought and acted then.  Austen's characters are completely and utterly different from Dickens', in terms of motivation, actions, philosophy and essentially any other trait you care to name.  I've also read Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamour books and Gail Carriger's various series and Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily stories, to name just a few off the top of my head.  Are they accurate?  Probably not.  Does it bother me?  Not in the slightest, even in the case of Alexander where the stories are meant to be real world as opposed to SpecFic. 

Of course ultimately it doesn't matter and you're entirely right, it's her world, and since its secondary, it can go as far away as she wants from reality.
However, to people like me, who read SF/F and a lot of period novels, 19th century settings are a horribly tough sell. As far as I'm concerned, the only one I can remember finishing and enjoying is His Majesty's Dragon. I've DNFed several others, and generally avoid the genre, precisely because people try for it and miss its essence, often being more concerned with the sff part than the era characteristics.
However I don't read medieval writters, so medieval settings don't get my critical thinking in motion. *shrugs*

And that is jake.  Fiction set in the 19th century has to hit certain marks or it's dead to you.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  At all.  But here's the thing.  No matter what you write, you're going to miss the mark for some people.  You might hate all of the books I mentioned above but they've all had commercial success.  There is a market of readers out there who are not bothered that the characters don't toe the Victorian line of proper behavior, just as there is a market for stories where two computer hackers can pound away on the same keyboard.  Because while they may not adhere to the real world Victorian standards, all of those authors have created a society that is self-consistent.  The characters and plots may not follow real-world dictates but they adhere to the internal logic that was created by the author.  They are coherent.

If you are a competent writer, and you create a coherent, consistent world, readers will buy it.  China Mieville writes about women with scarab beetles for heads and ambulatory cacti.  Steven Sherrill has the Minotaur working as a short order cook in modern day America.  The stories are absurd, but they are internally consistent and they work.

I think it is far more important to ensure that your characters motivations are clear and reasonable; that their behavior is consistent or changes in consistent ways as a result of events through the course of the story; that the society and the environment are coherent, than it is for the characters to behave in the way consistent with people from a specific real-world millieu.  You can get away with violating a given societies behavior codes.  You have a much harder time getting away with violating human nature (or, if your character is non-human, whatever nature you've established for that race/species.) 

Offline MammaMamae

Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2017, 03:29:22 AM »
Thank you for all the thoughts!

I love classic 19th century novels and did some scholarship in the medieval world (my academic background is theology, and you need a pretty strong understanding of the medieval worldview for that!), so my fussiness goes around :)

My setting is very secondary world.  The time period would be analogous in terms of tech and aesthetics to probably the early to mid 19th century of our world, but not necessarily exact in all ways because they have their own history.  The map looks nothing like ours, though the main 3 cultures do have loose real world analogs (Key word is loose.  Very loose.  Super loose.):

* Holy Roman / Austro-Hungary Empire
* Slavic folk culture (with a subtle nod to my Ruthenian / Slovak grandparents)
* Rural 19th Century Scandinavia (with a probably less subtle nod to my Swedish / Norwegian grandparents and Astrid Lindgren).

Originally the setting was more medieval, but then I realized the story just didn't fit there.  Mine is the story of a "traditional" secondary fantasy world, but centuries after the Big Medieval Save the World Epic took place.  Modernity is beginning to emerge in my imaginary land, guns have changed warfare, an industrial revolution is beginning (the natural outgrowth of long tradition of both strong scholarship in the sciences and empire building in the Empire, justified in universe).  The royal courts are glittery, though new philosophies are emerging in the salons, and the Empire is politically fraying apart.  Old folkways are giving way as people fight to keep them.  Magic and the supernatural foundations of the world have long been forgotten and relegated to myth and stories that aren't always consistent.

But both the supernatural and personal consequences of what happened long, long ago in the pseudo-medieval time period of my world are coming back to haunt the modern descendents of the epic heroes, who thought they saved the world but actually really screwed it up.

Offline Elfy

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Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2017, 05:29:04 AM »
I wasn't personally a big fan of the book, but cupiscent nailed it when she suggested looking at The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I'd also suggested looking at Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate, more alternate history and very much not epic, but she does a good look at a 19th century where magic is every day. Jo Walton's Tooth & Claw is done in the style of Austen, if all of Austen's characters were dragons.
I will expand your TBR pile.

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Offline Rostum

Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
« Reply #12 on: January 30, 2017, 01:07:36 PM »
No love for Emma Newmans books here?

Take a look at between two thorns which shifts between the 21st centuary, Exilium where the fae live and the nether which is regency England (sort of) and home to fae touched humans mostly set in Bath.

Offline Elfy

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Re: Secondary world that is a 19th Century analog
« Reply #13 on: January 30, 2017, 08:42:32 PM »
No love for Emma Newmans books here?

Take a look at between two thorns which shifts between the 21st centuary, Exilium where the fae live and the nether which is regency England (sort of) and home to fae touched humans mostly set in Bath.
I love Emma Newman's Split Worlds series, but I didn't think it quite fitted for what the OP asked, which is why I didn't mention it. Caroline Stevermer and Patricia C. Wrede's Kate and Cecy books also are set in that period, but on an Earth where magic worked similar to Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
I will expand your TBR pile.

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