Saturday, May 31, 2008

Rain and a writer's dilemma


It's raining today. One of those sudden summer thunderstorms that sweep dramatically through and leave the air feeling moist and warm and promising. The kind of storm that makes you want to put on your old raincoat and stand outside, catching raindrops on your tongue, and leaves the garden all fresh and dripping.

Anyway, here's my dilemma. I'm working hard on my novel, not writing as much as stewing over it. I'm hoping maybe you can help me. I'm trying to decide how authentic the setting should be. It's a fantasy, so I can make it whatever I want, but the question is... how much like real life should it be, and how much crediblity will I lose if I take liberties? Or am I just obsessing over details that no one will notice anyway?

Here's what I mean... I have set the story in the distant past, somewhat like Tolkein's Middle-Earth, so that it is pre-industrial with an idealized feudal system in place. The location is what I personally have dubbed the "Scotch-Coloradan Alps," a mountainous region combining elements of the Scottish Highlands, the Rocky Mountains and the German Alps. Here's the tough part. If my race of people, the Hanorja, live in this area and do not have trade with people from other parts of the world, then all of their clothing and foodstuffs would have to be indigenous. There would be no cotton, linen or silk; everything would have to be made of wool. It makes me itch just thinking about it! There would be no tea, no coffee, no ginger for gingerbread, no lemons or oranges, no sugar and no corn. They wouldn't have Mediterranean fruits like figs, dates or olives. They would not get enough hot weather to grow grapes for wine. There would be no tobacco, either.

They would be restricted to the dreaded British diet: meat, potatoes, vegetables, herbs, tree-fruits like apples and cherries, berries, cider, bread, nuts and honey. And since I have decided not to allow them to kill animals, their diet would be further limited to fish or fowl. They would also not be able to tan leather for saddles, boots, waterskins or anything else, nor use furs to keep themselves warm. I may have to rethink that decision!

My question is, if you were reading a story set in such a place and read that they had gingerbread with their tea, would you stop and say "Hey, wait a minute, where did the tea come from? And the ginger?" Or would you just accept it without thinking that deeply about it?

6 comments:

Michelle said...

Yep - I'd wonder about it. However, keep in mind that you can take some liberties. Odds are they will have "tea" - but most likely would be tea made from the leaves and/or roots of a local plant and not "lipton". Gingerbread is definitely more of a stretch - but they WOULD have bread and cakes, and the cakes would probably be made with local herbs or spices that could be much like ginger. You just need to add a sentence here and there discribing what the "tea" is.

Miss Java said...

What Michelle said. (grin) You do have to be realistic. But you can change things, like using magic to keep warm, or if they are a different race, maybe they can change their metabolism.

THAT is how you can get around it. But you can't ignore it. You need to keep it real (as far as your fantasy world permits).

your sister said...

Wait a minute! If this is really a fantasy, can't there be some magic portal to Heinen's? or Wal-Mart? or long-ago-style-chicken-not-plucked-olde-towne-market? You could employ elves! I know, I know, I really should get more sleep!

Christine H said...

Let me ask you this... In "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe," Tumnus the Faun invites Lucy to his cave to have tea and sardines. Did anyone think that it was rather odd for a woodland faun to have sardines (a salt water fish) in his possession, let alone tea? Did you wonder where Bilbo Baggins got his tea, or what that precious forgotten hankerchief was made of?

Just playing devil's advocate, here.

Michelle said...

OK - regarding tea - I don't think many people think too much about that because there are so many different things that people consider tea. Now, when it comes to CS Lewis - you have to look at the point of view of the storyteller. Throughout all the books the narrator has a very definite voice/character and we know for certain that the narrator is British. So, no one questions the tea or the sardines because subconsciously we all know that the storyteller may have been using the words "tea" and "sardines" in place of items that may have been something different but very much "like" tea and sardines.

Wendi said...

Wow I am impressed. Unless you said he was eating moon rocks, I would never question the food in a storyline. Sorry Christine...I'm just not a detailed novelist...a bad editor but if you ever need advice on Gluten free Hobbit Biscuits, let me know! Cheers! Wendi