Flashback post: Why I built a peaceful fantasy world

If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you! This was originally posted on August 10th, 2012.

For those who haven’t read my stories of Aligare, I’ll tell you that they’re very positive. Characters genuinely mean well and try to do right by others. Spoiler: no one turns out to be the scheming villain, ever.

Of course, I caught a lot of flack for this when I was a younger writer seeking feedback. Everyone is too nice, the critiquers said! Nothing happens! Lack of conflict is boring! Why don’t they attack each other?

Well, for starters, story conflict isn’t synonymous with characters arguing or lunging at each other’s throats. It’s easy to forget that when we’re used to fantasy stories full of battles, enemies, or at least petty squabbling between the main characters. But the blocking figure in a story can also be something amorphous like natural forces, or one’s own personality flaws, or bad luck. Just because there can be an evil villain in a story doesn’t mean it’s a strict necessity.

helpingclimber

This image tells plenty of story. It doesn’t need an villainous mountain climber trying to murder the other two with an axe.

 

I’m using fantasy to question humanity. Which isn’t a new thing. Plenty of authors tackle big issues with the help of dragons/magic/sword fights/whatever. But I don’t want my characters to fight each other for freedom or rights. That seems like a blindingly obvious parallel to humanity. I’m trying something a bit less direct. I’m using a world where the people live under thatch roofs, but have far outpaced first-world humans in social justice.

When I think of humans as an overall species, I wince and hope that extraterrestrial life doesn’t drop by until we’ve stopped being so stupid. We have a long history of violence, cruelty and bigotry to fellow humans (never mind other living things). Something as minor as skin colour or gender can be a gigantic deal that causes humans to hate, fear, and censor each other. Sure, we’ve done some good things. We’ve built cool gadgets and composed a few masterpieces. And many of us are aware that our society has large-scale problems. But it still seems absurd, to me, that we put so much emphasis on our status as “superior” Earth species when we have so far yet to go.

So I didn’t want to put humans in my Aligare world. Why bother sifting through all the historical baggage and prejudices our species carries? I could just create someone new, some variety of people more open-minded than we are. That sounded like a much more appealing world to immerse my brain in for hundreds of writing hours — and, hey, surely some readers will enjoy immersing their brains in it, too. That’s where the three Aligare species got their start.

The Aligare races aren’t there just to be random animal people. They’re meant to make the reader think. If these dragons, insects and weasels can accept each other and work genuinely together, why can’t humans? We evolved as social creatures living in cooperative tribes, but we’ve somehow come to accept aggression and treachery as a normal — even glamorous — part of life. Why don’t we have peace? Is it even possible for humans to have lasting peace? That’s one possible point I hope my readers will consider.

I met a local lady who read Remedy and liked its positivity. She said she was bracing herself for one of the characters to be the scheming bad guy, and she was pleasantly surprised that that never happened. This is exactly the reaction I hope for. I make the Aligare world a positive place full of nice people because, well, why wouldn’t we want to visit a place like that?

I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that I don’t care for the gritty, dark type of fantasy that’s currently popular. I just don’t think constant suffering is realistic. Constant happiness isn’t realistic, either. But a positive attitude? That can endure anything if we let it.


6 Comments on “Flashback post: Why I built a peaceful fantasy world”

  1. Interesting post….I’ll admit it’s hard to imagine fantasy literature without the villain, but your description of it makes me want to read it :)

    Sincerely,
    Julien Haller

    • Thanks, Julien! Fantasy is so well-known for its flashy world-saving stories and menacing villains, it can be hard to imagine a fantasy story where someone isn’t trying to kill/destroy/ruin everything. But I think that just invites creativity. Why NOT try it another way? Quieter stories aren’t to everyone’s liking but I’m enjoying doing something different.

  2. […] Flashback post: Why I built a peaceful fantasy world (heidicvlach.com) […]

  3. […] for fantasy characters opens up many more avenues for thinking about heroes, villains (or not having villains at all), accomplices and back-up characters in original […]

  4. Tim says:

    [i]”We evolved as social creatures living in cooperative tribes, but we’ve somehow come to accept aggression and treachery as a normal — even glamorous — part of life.”[/i]

    The thing is we also evolved as highly territorial creatures living in *small* groups which would generally chase off rivals who threatened our group’s order. You might, if you’re not aware of it, want to look up a concept called “Dunbar’s Number,” it explains a lot about the origins of tribalism, stereotypes and the like.

    Ultimately all such behaviour comes from the same instincts that make us want to protect our families and keep our homes safe.

    (We also have the problem that out fight-or-flight reflexes mean violence actually feels pretty good when you’re winning, but that’s a whole other kettle of piranhas)

    [i]”Why don’t we have peace? Is it even possible for humans to have lasting peace? That’s one possible point I hope my readers will consider.”[/i]

    To play devil’s advocate; it’s possible (indeed, likely) that your early critics weren’t so much being unfair as having difficulty articulating why this approach troubled them; it’s not really social commentary to posit a society where negative human traits simply don’t happen. While it’s nice to read about, it simply can’t be applied directly to us unless you believe you can rewrite millions of years of instincts and a solid cognitive limit to the number of people we can perceive as individuals.

    The current GRR GRIMDARK trend is just perpetually adolescent manchildren doing that whole teenage boy thing where, faced with the frustration of learning their desires won’t always translate directly to reality, they assume that they *never* will. So you get worlds full of selfish and irredeemably horrible people who are too busy CRAAAWLING IN THEIR SKIIIN to be even remotely believable or interesting, and writers who spend so much time babbling about shades of grey that they forget that greyscale still includes black and white.

    • Yes, it’s true that human violence and xenophobia have tightly linked physiological and social causes. But “it’s not really social commentary to posit a society where negative human traits simply don’t happen”? I disagree. It’s not a rub-the-reader’s-nose-in-morality type of overt commentary, no. But I think that if any reasonably inquiring person is shown something different, they’ll wonder why it’s different. Or at least notice that it IS different, and therefore know that there’s more to life than the established norms. My fantasy work isn’t meant to suggest that “why don’t we all just be nice?” is an actual, practical solution for humans being humans. Questioning what makes a human a human would be a good start.

      Not going to lie, though: I laughed at your assessment of grimdark fantasy! I was guessing that it’s popular because many people wish murder was a viable problem-solving option in their own lives. But your theory sounds like it might hold water, too!


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