Thursday, January 26, 2012


Just a quick post from me tonight – volcano story is due in six days (eep!). It's not nearly as far along as it should be, but then, I've always been a terrible procrastinator. I've got most of the story plotted out, but there's still a lot of work to do.  I'm not sure I'm going to be able to get it read before I have to send it in (Tuesday night at the latest), which is not ideal, but I'm going to see how it goes.

The story still needs a title. Does "Fading into Fire" sound like an interesting story title, or like I just threw darts at a dictionary?  It might not be suitable anyway (and plus alliterative titles are rather overdone).

Here's what the story has come to be about:  
Centuries after a new ice age pushed the arctic tribes to the brink of extinction, Nini's people live safe in the haven created for them by their god, Ummat.  But in recent months, Ummat's power had become unstable.  The volcano that is the heart of his power rumbles, and demons mass at the borders of the sanctuary.  When a stranger comes with claims that he has been sent by the High Gods to take the place of the ailing Ummat, the tribe fears that they have no choice but to accept the help they are offered.  Nini senses that something is not quite right with the deal, but how can she argue with the word of the High Gods? How can she make contact with Ummat when even his shaman can't make contact? And what is one woman's word against the doctrine of the heavens?

(Note: The whole thing about substituting one god for another makes much more sense in my story, but would take too long to explain here.  Well, fortunately the market doesn't require me to submit a summary.)

In this story, I've chosen to attempt to portray, for the first time, a non-European culture.  Nini and her people are loosely based off the Inuit tribes of Northern Canada and Alaska.  I've learned as much as I can in the past month, but I still wonder if I should have made the effort without proper time to research. The thing is, the story itself isn't dependent on their identity as Inuit, though the Arctic setting of the story is (I could have also gone with the Saami or Yupik, of course, but there were more resources in English available on the Inuit). 

I'm lucky enough to live in close proximity to the Geisel Library at UC San Diego.  Not only is there an enormous weatlh of books, but the design is incredible. I felt like I should have been researching spaceships!

So what do you all think?  Is it a bad idea to portray a culture that one doesn't thoroughly understand (i.e. lived in, visited, or know someone well from the culture)?  Is portraying a culture that one doesn't understand an empty exercise in multiculturalism? In this case, does my good intent triumph over whatever poor results I may produce, especially given that in my story their culture may have been modified by the Ice Age and the conditions of the sanctuary?  How can I do this better next time?

(And yes, I am seeking honest answers. I'll probably still keep the story the way it is, but I want to be sure to make good, respectful choices in the future).


  1. I have wrestled with this question too, Sabrina, and I've come to the conclusion that this is the beauty of writing fantasy. You might be basing your story in a particular culture, but the world you end up creating is all your own. No matter how well-researched you are, the way you add magic is going to influence the culture.

    Even people who write historical fiction say that you should do just enough preliminary research to make certain your story would work in that time period, and then write the story. The real research should come after you are finished with the rough draft.

    That said, being intimately acquainted with the culture you are writing about will add a richness of depth that can come no other way. You won't know until you're finished with the rough draft if you think your world needs to be more true to life or not. So don't despair! Good luck getting it finished!

  2. I agree with Melanie, mostly because she's brilliant and persuasive. :)

    And correct.

    If writers only wrote about settings they were familiar with, then how many billions of stories wouldn't exist?

    Do you ever call the tribe Inuit? I think if you don't, you can borrow as many details as you want, and invent a few details, and it'll all be good.

    I really like the story idea, Sabrina. If you need any readers, you can send it to me.

  3. I think Melanie's right, too. Fiction let's us escape to an experience different than the one we are living, whether it's a contemporary setting or hard sci-fi. We write and read those things because they are new to us. Especially in your case where it isn't about the Inuit people per say, the aspects you emphasize will help create a completely unique culture for your story.

    I'd also love to be a reader, if you need one.

  4. I agree much with what has already been said. I do think there is a lot of leeway in fantasy.

    I do think that research is important although I'm not so sure how extensive it needs to be. Using stereotypes especially when it comes to an entire culture can be hurtful and is also lazy writing. A little bit of research can give you a deeper understand about the people and how they live and will make your story more real and compelling, IMO.

    Honestly, it sounds like you already have done that, so I wouldn't stress about it. :)

    The story does sound pretty awesome. Good luck with it. :)


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