Monday, September 3, 2012

The Real Fake Thing

How many of you watched Avatar: The Last Airbender?  Not the movie, the show.  Very different aesthetic for a Western cartoon, no?  I'm not what you'd call an expert on Asian history or art, but it seems pretty obvious that the animators deliberately based their creation off of actual Asian cultures.  They didn't just throw some kimonos and almond-eyed character models at the screen and call it a day.  Any of my readers who are experts can correct me on this one, but my best educated guess would be:

Air Benders - Tibet/Nepal
Earth Kingdom - China
Water Tribe - Mongolia
Fire Nation - Japan

This technique has been around longer than you think.  One of the first writers (I'm aware of) to use it is Robert E Howard who based the cultures of his Conan mythos, The Hyborean Age, on real world nations and cultures to create a sense of familiarity among an alien landscape.  Tolkien later did the same with Middle Earth, but with mythology instead of actual history and societies.  In this way, you have a frame of reference to wrap your head around.

Not to say it can't be done creating a mythos from whole cloth.  The catch is that it requires a lot of work and even then you'll probably be drawing on real world sources for inspiration.  A lot of good works have been created that way but you have to ask yourself if you're willing to commit yourself that fully to building a world.

I've written in my book "Exalt of the Weird" that a coherent mythos is important to verisimilitude.  If you're contradicting yourself every other sentence, then you're only going to take your audience out of the experience.  This is especially true for bizarrists and mentalists.

I bring this up because Halloween is approaching.  And wouldn't it be more impressive to your audience if you demonstrated something that actually referenced old superstition or local folklore?  Every place and culture has its stories, mysteries and folk tales.  Their own unique superstitions, blessings and charms.  So what is a ghost?  Do you have an answer for that?  You should.  If you want to get into character and scare people, you need to devote more thought to your mythos and give people the real fake thing.

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