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Author Topic: Milieu in speculative fiction
Grumpy old guy
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Disclaimer: This is my own personal opinion. Please feel free to rebut, refute or walk away shaking your head and muttering under your breath about anything and everything I assert herein.

Let me start with some definitions so we know what I’m waffling on about.

Milieu: My dictionary says that milieu means medium, setting or environment (which isn’t really very helpful when discussing writing). For me, milieu means the society within which your story is set and, by society, I mean every aspect of the cultural, economic, theological and sociological elements of that society and how they interact and clash. Our milieu is the entire world around us that we inhabit and experience.

Speculative fiction: For me, this means any story, regardless of genre, set outside of our own reality or anything in our world set more than a year or two into the future and anything that happened more than 40-50 years ago. This last is of particular relevance to anyone under 50 who is writing a story set prior to 1965. Why? Because morals, values and technology have all changed so much since then that the milieu of 1965 would be almost unrecognisable, and possibly unimaginable, to most people born after that time. Admittedly we lived out in the Australian bush, but I can remember my mother doing the washing in a copper boiler and wringing them out in a mangle while dad and I went down to the ice works to pick up a large block for the refrigerator and our telephone number was 11. If you didn’t experience it, then writing about it will be speculation unless you do your research—and even then, you weren’t there, so you won’t really know what it felt like to experience.

Now, on to the point of this thread.

Just how much effort do you put into creating the milieu of your story? Is it a rough sketch (if that) to get you started and you’ll work it all out as you go, or is it a methodical exercise in world creation similar to JRR Tolkein, it took him 40 years to create the world of Middle Earth, or is it somewhere in-between?

When I first started writing, not that long ago, it was seat of the pants world building at its finest. And it got me into so much narrative trouble and gave me so much baggage that I couldn’t get past the three-quarter mark with my stories without resorting to outrageous dues-ex-machina’s or inserting McGuffin’s willy-nilly throughout. Then I lost the ability to write. As it slowly returned I had the opportunity to evaluate the way in which I went about constructing my stories. What I realised was that my impatience to get words on the page and to bring my characters to life was a curse and not a blessing. I am now attempting another approach and, for me, this centres on milieu.

All of your characters and all of their quirks, foibles, habits and vices, everything that makes up their various personalities is a direct result of the milieu they inhabit. They are what they are because of the world they grew up in. Every tool, every weapon and every convenience your characters have at their disposal is a part of that milieu. Every plot point, reason, objective, driver and aspect is only there because of the milieu your characters inhabit. And you’re probably going to respond that love, hate, revenge, nobility etc are all universal traits that transcend milieu. Well, you’d be wrong.

What we love, hate, find noble or immoral is a result of the milieu we grew up in. I could cite a number of things that in our current milieu we find laudable and worthy and yet, in another age, and not so long ago, would see you incarcerated, if not executed. I’m not going to mention them but I would guess most people could work out what they are without too much trouble.

Personally, I have found that creating the milieu my characters inhabit is not enough, I have to explain, at least to myself, how that milieu came into existence. I have found that this exercise in writing the back-story to the society my characters inhabit throws up answers to questions I didn’t even realise I had to ask and, as such, takes my stories into very fertile unexplored territory indeed.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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I pay attention to determining and developing cultural provenance of my narratives. Such details authenticate a narrative's reality, for one. Anachronies may function oppositely, may not.

Milieu for me is the cultural setting of an era. Milieu more or less equals culture to me. The Cold War era, for example, is a cultural product of politics, science, technology, society, and belief systems. Folkloristics is a social science that studies culture and may include other social sciences as well, anthropology, political geography, sociology generally, psychology, rhetoric broadly, ethnology, creative writing itself as a social science, to name a few.

So-called hard science fiction emphasizes fantastical physical sciences and technologies. So-called soft science fiction emphasizes fantastical social sciences. I believe both proportionately come into play in either subgenre, at least for above average narratives. Shortcomings in either case challenge my willing suspension of disbelief and spoil the participation mystique; besides, exotic secondary settings' artfully crafted milieus benefit both suspension of disbelief and participation mystique, authenticate a narrative.

György Lukács in The Historical Novel asserts a narrative must have timely current relevance to and for an audience. If set in the here and now, milieu relevance is less challenging than if set in a past or future era's milieu. Though culture is ever unchanging, changes march on across time: another writing double bind.

György Lukács' poetics are plagued by Soviet propoganda rhetoric, though; however, a close read uncovers profound ironies his censors could not comprehend. Exquisite. He was a product of his milieu, forced to write propoganda, yet defused the Soviet rhetoric with subversive irony. No wonder Lenin and Stalin persecuted intellectuals. Couldn't understand them, so slaughtered them as a preemptive, preventative subversion countermeasure, and Hitler and Mao and other monsters before and since.

Timely relevance today of events from the past explores as yet unsatisfied meaning of cultural complications: social, scientific, and technological, which overlap and meld. Wars, for example, foster technological and scientific advancements, foster cultural evolutions, foster peace and conflict eras. Each generation, roughly twenty-five years apart, in part defines itself by the war and peace of its time and in part by the scientific, technological, and social innovations of its time.

Timely relevance today explores likewise unsatisfied cultural complications. Timely relevance today of future milieu speculations, likewise unsatisfied cultural complications. May humanity satisfy one or more of a past or present-day's cultural crises in the future? Maybe, maybe not. So far, humanity hasn't satisfied but a few trivial social complications, though satisfied an abudance of science and technology complications. Each satisfaction has caused yet more complications.

The concept of a progress trap, essentially, that a short-term satisfaction has long-term, unrealized costs, complications, and harms, is fertile fruit for a futuristic narrative. How that might apply to a past milieu is illustrated by H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, its future time movement reflecting a progressing historical past. A central message and moral of which is, Those who do not recall the past are destined to repeat it. Timely and relevant today and for the foreseeable future. Frankly, I'm weary of time travel narratives that use the motif as an unimaginative MacGuffin.

Speculative fiction is a generic term meant to encompass all fantastical fiction: spiritual and paranormal fantasy, spiritual and paranormal horror, and hard and soft science fiction. Prescriptively, the term means a narrative, fiction or creative nonfiction, myth, legend, or folklore narrative tradition with a fantastical motif that is extrinsic (unessential) to the plot.

Time travel in The Time Machine is intrinsic (essential) to the plot; in other words, it is the complication, the crises, the causes of all the dramatic action, and the outome satisfactions, not to mention, an extended metaphor and irony of the underlying low-concept premises and meanings of the whole. Exquisite.

But for the novel's Gilded Age stiff, formal language, the overt socialist rhetoric, the lacklsuter reality imitation, the clumsy naming conventions, the novel would be as popular with today's audiences as when it was published. Losing only timeliness and relevance from how cultures innovatively adapt and adopt living language and expression methods, yet no less topically relevant today.

Maybe time has come to pass for updating the novel's premises and contexts and textures for today's audiences, inspired by the original, though a new work in its own right.

Edited to add: Although I don't overtly include events and existents: settings and characters (agonists and otherwise) above, they too are for me part of a milieu. For example, hydraulic theory claims maritime cultures arise and thrive along waterways because of marine life abundance and relative transportation ease.

Maritime milieus are markedly different from aquatic fresh water and dry land milieus. A maritime milieu antagonizing event may, for example, revolve around deep sea fishing for monster-sized food fishes, mammals, dulses, avians, or amphibians or maritime combat. Potable water is not so precious for aquatic fresh water milieus as for aquatic maritime or dry land milieus. People in place as event plays a large role in the literary opus and, of course, in milieu development.

[ May 31, 2014, 01:29 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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I am actually unsure how I developed my personal definition of speculative fiction. The previous novel I wrote was urban fantasy because it took place in a major city, Atlanta, and it had fantasy anime characteristics.

When I think 'speculative fiction', I think of an alternate world that "could" exist. The word "could", of course is a slippery slope, as I guess anything *could* exist. But what I try and do with speculative fiction is I attempt to create a world with rules governing the fantasy elements that are so realistic that one *could* conceivably believe that it could happen.

So, my previous urban fantasy novel had a dragon. It's hard to imagine the rules a universe must have that could possibly have a dragon exist in reality as we know it. And if you did so, you'd have to change the nature of a dragon so much until its almost unrecognizable. Smaug in a speculative fiction world isn't this great reptilian beast, it's a CEO involved in hostile take overs, or it's a warlord in some backwards, war torn country. The dwarves are employees of the previous company, Bilbo is a hacker, and Gandalf is an ex-cop, ex-CIA/FBI/NSA (ex-something that has a lot of resources).

But this, to me, is taking too many liberties, because every character becomes a representation. If Smaug doesn't have wings to fly and burn down villages, then he's not really a dragon. Even if in the novel, his eyes are the colour of gold, that does not a dragon make.

The reason why I consider my current novel speculative fiction is because I took great pains to write a world in which a vampire could exist, and in which they actually are still vampires. How successful I was is up for debate, but at the end of the novel, I'd like to think that many readers would be able to say to themselves, "Ok, I can imagine this happening in real life."

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History
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Milieu: ... For me, milieu means the society within which your story is set and, by society, I mean every aspect of the cultural, economic, theological and sociological elements of that society and how they interact and clash. Our milieu is the entire world around us that we inhabit and experience.

Just how much effort do you put into creating the milieu of your story?

Lots. Though I call it "world-building."

For me, it is what I most enjoy in "speculative fiction (e.g. LOTR, Dune, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Snow Queen, the Pern and Darkover and Deryni and Majipoor and New Sun series, etc.) etc. series

When I read sf/fantasy, I want to be transported to another world and/or time. Thus when I write, I strive to do the same.
quote:
Is it a rough sketch (if that) to get you started and you’ll work it all out as you go, or is it a methodical exercise in world creation similar to JRR Tolkein, it took him 40 years to create the world of Middle Earth, or is it somewhere in-between?

At my age, unfortunately, I don't have 40 years. [Wink] Still, if it is a world entirely of my own creation, I select a few key elements in geography, degree of industrialization, economics, politics, religion, science etc. to create the foundation of the world and conflicts for my characters to struggle with and overcome.

Alternate history, or any story taking place within our own history and on our own world is the most time-consuming, since I strive for as much accuracy/reality to achieve this degree of immersion, which means lots of research. And perhaps this is, in part, why my "short" stories run to novelette lengths. I like stories that are of substance (in worldbuilding/setting, character and theme)--Thanksgiving dinners not Weightwatchers. [Smile]

However, story trumps all.
The story must be accessible to modern readers (and editors--and myself). Our audience is not the readers of the 1940's or medieval Europe or ancient Rome. Therefore, I do not twist my panties in a knot over being 100% accurate in historical "milieu" (...um, I don't wear panties but you get the picture--um, that's not the right choice of words either...DON"T picture this).

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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wetwilly
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I have learned something about myself as a writer: the setting is my own hook for a scene. I can't really get anything good written until I figure out an interesting setting. I'll spin my wheels trying to get the scene to go anywhere, and then I drop the scene into a new and interesting location, and Bam! It suddenly clicks. (So many metaphors for one sentence...)
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
But this, to me, is taking too many liberties, because every character becomes a representation. If Smaug doesn't have wings to fly and burn down villages, then he's not really a dragon. Even if in the novel, his eyes are the colour of gold, that does not a dragon make.

For the appeals of epic, larger-than-life unity, every motif does represent something larger. Dragons, for example, are representations of cultural belief systems, in most cultures sky or celestial spirits that represent mysterious, mystical, natural forces: thunder and lightning in the New World, spiritual wickedness in the Old World, celestial majesty in the East. Only sub-Saharan Africa has an earthly dragon tradition, a rainbow serpent, cause of ground tremors, shifting waterways, and underworld's master.

A cigar is a cigar in written word is what meaning it makes, represents for creators' intentions and for auditors' receptions. Every motif iota is a symbol, no matter if underrealizied or fully realized, at the least in the sense that the motif in written word is itself a product of representational portrayal. "Cigar" is not a cigar, six glyphs that conceptually represent the tobacco object. A Cristoforo is not a cheroot, a cigarillio, nor ready-made king, menthol light, filtered cigarette, either.

Does a cigar portray, represent social offense, or elitism, or sensible pleasure indulgence? Or whatever. Cigar smoking in a crowded coffee house, a faux paus no-no today. Who does ehe think she is? Call the police; it's a crime. Good ole boys and girls smoking cigars downwind at the outdoor barbeque, less disrespectful of others' sensibilities. But smoking at all is a social crime for its harms and costs to the common health, according to anti-tobacco activists. Film used to portray smoking as a respectable and desirable pastime; anymore, smokers are the villians of a piece, smoking a subtle signal that they are villains.

[ June 01, 2014, 05:14 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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quote:
But smoking at all is a social crime for its harms and costs to the common health, according to anti-tobacco activists. Film used to portray smoking as a respectable and desirable pastime; anymore, smokers are the villians of a piece, smoking a subtle signal that they are villains.
More so, or most so true in the western world. There's a growing anti-tobacco movement in Asia, but it's being met with a lot of resistance, and annoyance. Foreign narratives turn a lot of known cultural motifs on its head, which I think is one of the strengths of writing from a different country. But there is a growing "shaming" of the cigarette smoker, and who knows, in a decade, maybe it will be mostly the villains who light up in popular culture here.

In Korea, though, I think smoking, for teens at least, is a sign of coming of age. High school students can't wait to get their hands on their first packs, and like from television of old in America, they escape to smoke and socialize in the bathrooms during class breaks. It carries over into adulthood, as it's not uncommon to see males gathered together in the bathroom smoking. This was even before attempts were made to ban smoking in establishments, which, in my eyes, are mostly failing, as stairwells have become smoking sections, and you'll see crowds of people gathered there.

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Owasm
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Back to Milieu. I think it is really important to have a good grasp of it when you write. My current WIP, a four-novel series has three different medieval milieus for each continent. One is western european, one is asian and the other is middle eastern/eastern european. I have to have each firmly in my mind while I'm writing about events in those areas.

It's the same thing about staying within the mind of a character, you have to write in the milieu that you have created. The better you can immerse yourself in the milieu, the more consistent it will be. Sort of like method acting. [Smile]

[ May 31, 2014, 05:43 PM: Message edited by: Owasm ]

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extrinsic
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Tobacco culture is certainly a milieu varying across culture groups. How a fantastical milieu relates to a recreational toxin indulgence is ripe for milieu expression and potential narrative authentication motif.
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Grumpy old guy
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I can quite easily imagine a real, live dragon in today's current world. Prehistorically, the largest pterosaurs were gigantic with wingspans of over 10 meters: the Hatzegopteryx had a wingspan up to 36 feet.

While there are physical laws that govern such things,the greatest energy expended in flight is actually getting off the ground. A majority of the large pterosaurs roosted on cliff-tops so they could simply fall off into flight.

So, why not a dragon who breathes fire (a simple chemical reaction), feeds on the wing and roosts on cliffs or the roofs(?) of skyscrapers.

This gives you a non-magical dragon which is possible and believable. It has strengths and weaknesses that everyone can grasp and understand. Of course, you couldn't have it sleeping on a bed of gold under the Mountain, but that idea is already taken. I can also come up with completely plausible scientific, or pseudo-scientific, reasons to explain the existence of real vampires.

But, these thoughts only have to do with character development not building the world in which they exist. That's far harder.

As a case in point, I wanted to create a real omniscient and omnipresent god. To do this I had to go back to the big-bang and postulate that when it went "Boom!" it didn't create the universe but a multiverse: An infinite number of universes with an infinite number of natural physical laws. In that scenario, one of the universes was a single living entity that over time developed consciousness and self-awareness.

Phil.

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Denevius
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quote:
But, these thoughts only have to do with character development not building the world in which they exist. That's far harder.
My thoughts exactly. And I think any attempts to write a speculative story featuring dragons will probably always end up morphing into a fantasy or science fiction piece.

To build a convincing world more or less governed by the rules of reality as we understand it would require explanations that would seem to defy reason. First and foremost, why would all of the other big beasts either have died off or evolved into the animals we know today, yet dragons, over millions of years, not only continued to exist, but remained more or less the same?

quote:
Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals of the clade Dinosauria. They first appeared during the Triassic period, 231.4 million years ago, and were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for 135 million years, from the beginning of the Jurassic (about 201 million years ago) until the end of the Cretaceous (66 million years ago), when the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of most dinosaur groups at the close of the Mesozoic Era. The fossil record indicates that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic Period and, consequently, they are considered a subgroup of dinosaurs by many paleontologists.[1] Some birds survived the extinction event that occurred 66 million years ago, and their descendants continue the dinosaur lineage to the present day
Wikipedia

The explanation to how they survived and remained static, I think, would defy laws of reality as we know it, and would therefore require fantastical elements to explain away. Why would something evolve to breathe fire?

Then, we'll have to wonder why they aren't the dominant species in the world of the novel. What weapons would early humans have used to defend themselves against dragons? Nothing that would kill lions, tigers, or bears, I'd think. And with such a threat as flying reptilian beasts, would humans have ever gone from hunter-gatherer to an agrarian society?

If an elephant eats about 600 pounds a day, one can only imagine what a dragon would eat. Humans creating farmlands would be easy targets. And a beast that creates fire during dry seasons will have half the country in flames.

So yeah, answering these questions for a speculative fiction story seems a bit impossible. But for an urban fantasy, or a science fiction story, I can see it working.

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extrinsic
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I think we each perceive and approach milieu motifs differently. Dragons, for me, take many "realistic" forms. Historically, for example, Algic cultures believed lightning was an invisible great horned serpent. The idiom "pale face speak with forked tongue" comes from that culture motif; michi-ginnebig has a forked tongue that thunders and bites--as firearms do. Pale face also has a relevant cultural meaning different from pale faces' perceived meaning: face complexions of the strangers who came from the underworld--dead ancestor spirits.

To an unaware populace or as a metaphor, siege weapons resemble Old World dragons, especially trebuchets launching flaming projectiles.

Present-day dragons from a similar perspective are artillery, jet fighters, bombers, missiles.

A forest fire can be considered a consequence of a dragon's fiery breath, without too much stretch of the imagination. A dragon can be a personal belief as an answer to an otherwise unexplained mystery. A rock quarry or military ordnance range explosions sounding from a distance satisfied for a child as dragons, for example. A dragon tatoo twined around a person's arm could be a gang symbol and the gang nicknamed (synecdoche) dragons, their "calling card" conflagration and destruction, only their mayhem aftermath conceived as dragon-like activities.

Do dragons need to be explained in detail, even seen, to be powerful milieu motifs in even real-world narratives? Why not a little mysterious mysticalism belief appeal? There be dragons here, over yonder, belching flame and smoke from thunderous bodies and snouts into the sky. I drive a tamed dragon.

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Grumpy old guy
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extrinsic, your dragons are metaphorical and, even though no less powerful than a winged beast belching forth fire and brimstone to rain down upon the unholy, it is still only a metaphor. I took the original question to be that there cannot exist a dragon in a story without resorting to magic or mysticism.

Denevius, my original remit was could I create a believable dragon without resorting to such magic; I think I solved that basic problem in less than half an hour. On the other hand, if you want me to explain how that dragon could possibly exist in New York State in 2014, that’s a different question that may take a week, a month or maybe more, but is simply a case of explaining how it could be possible. Also, if you want me to create a milieu in which dragons have always existed on Earth, that will be a milieu different from our own, with a different society, mores, customs etc. In one scenario, I have to ‘explain’ how a dragon can exist here and now, in the other, I have to posit what sort of milieu would exist now if dragons had been with us since Australopithecus and before.

Now, your argument that it is unlikely that if dragons existed in prehistoric times they would still be the same today is debunked by biological reality. There are hundreds of species of insect and reptile that have remained unchanged for over 180 million years. A specific case is a fish in the estuarine waters of southern Africa, a member of the lungfish family that is unchanged, including in size, from its prehistoric counterparts that evolved roughly 200 million years ago. Also, let’s not forget the monotremes, egg laying mammals, that evolved about 80 million years ago and are again relatively unchanged. Evolution is not constant change, it results, in some cases, in dead-ends and extinction, and in other cases, perfection for that organism.

You have demonstrated one of a number of mindsets a writer may have when creating their story. In this particular instance, yours seems to be: “What stops me from creating a dragon?” whereas mine is more along the lines of: “How could a dragon exist?” or: “What if a dragon existed?”

Or to put it another way, whenever I'm writing a story I always ask myself this question at almost every point: “What if...?” Or this one: "How could...?"

Phil.

[ June 01, 2014, 08:33 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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Denevius
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Ah, sorry, the dragon example got a little off topic. Really, the point I was trying to make is that some ideas are antithetical to speculative fiction. When I think spec fiction, I think Octavia Butler's "Parable of the Sower", or Ursula K. LeGuinn's "The Dispossessed", or Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policeman's Union".

In my mind, the world creation has to operate as close as possible to the rules of reality we're familiar with. So, yes, I guess if you're really diligent in crafting a story about dragons, it could be speculative fiction. I think it would be difficult to do this without implementing fantastical elements to make the story work, which would drive the narrative to fantasy or science fiction.

However, I'm not trying to say that one genre is better than the other. I'm just trying to create lines separating one from the other.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
extrinsic, your dragons are metaphorical and, even though no less powerful than a winged beast belching forth fire and brimstone to rain down upon the unholy, it is still only a metaphor. I took the original question to be that there cannot exist a dragon in a story without resorting to magic or mysticism.

While the minor claim stands up, the major claim is open to question. Zeus was no less or more than a metaphor to ancient Greeks, Apollo to Romans, Odin to Norse, belief progressions afterward, and no less or more real from being metaphors. They are culture motifs, though mystical and mythical, that are part of their respective milieus' belief systems. My car dragon is a real car, only that the belief in its dragonhood is open to interpretation.

Beliefs, like opinions, are inarguable, not in any sense subject to change unless a belief holder wants to change. Take an everyday belief ritual, say knocking on wood for luck or tossing spilled salt over a shoulder to ward off misfortune, or a more profound belief ritual, say belief in a stratified ethnic hierarchy, their belief holders will not change their beliefs unless and until they encounter strong persuasions for change.

Portraying such culture belief motifs in a narrative's milieu have sublime appeal potentials, not to mention authentication appeals and dynamic reality imitation appeals. I'm often disappointed by narratives--many of them do--that short-shrift such subjective reality features: missing milieu development. One of futuristic science fiction's almost universal missing features is absent culture belief motifs like the above.

Beliefs do change over time, markedly with Digital Age science, technology, and social influences, like a meteor abruptly dropped into a small pond. One of today's subtle yet profound beliefs different from only two generations' beliefs ago, for example, is widespread belief in the empirical "truth" of science and disbelief in all things mythical, mystical, magical. I believe that's a profound loss. In any event, the foreseeable future milieus of science fiction are ripe territory for subjective beliefs. What might a culture believe in twenty years, fifty, a hundred, a thousand? I can imagine. I believe I'll go fishing.

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Grumpy old guy
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extrinsic, I was only making the differentiation between 'real' and metaphorical dragons to clarity which one I was talking about. But you are right that belief motifs/systems and their power to shape human, and possibly non-human, behaviour is almost universally neglected in milieu creation. Fantasy, I would posit, comes closest to 'inventing' belief systems and incorporating them into milieu. But others? Sci-fi, rarely. Urban fantasy, ditto. Crime, romance and horror don't really want to know about it.

So, is it up to us to start a movement and baracade the streets, waving placards and chanting, "What do we want? Ol' time belief motifs. When do we want them? Now!"

Phil.
Pulling tongue from out of cheek.

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extrinsic
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I focus milieu motifs on subjective as well as objective criteria. Subjective culture beliefs, no matter how dubious or factual in application, are challenging to invent, as challenging as lyrics or poetry or other False Document inventions as part of a narrative's milieu.

Fantasy in particular is at odds with my point. The fantastical belief motifs central to a fantasy narrative tend toward incontrovertible facts expressed within a narrative's milieu. Horror similarly. Not much, if any, subjective belief motifs arise in any of the genres, except, oddly, literary fiction. An illustrative example is conspiracy theories, a narrative's imaginative conspiracy theories are often the dramatic complication, the narrative's mission to prove or disprove the conspiracy, more often incontrovertibly prove due to dramatic effect's needs.

Folk medicine belief motifs that are not so dubious though questioned or disapproved by the medical administration are a case in point. Put butter on a burn. Put a bicarbonate of soda paste on a burn. Gripe tonic for an infant's colic. I have a million of them. Other dubious beliefs across culture, science, technology, society include similar accepted though ineffectual practices, placebo effect notwithstanding.

Folk engage in magical thinking at great lengths based upon informal and formal fallacies; that is, ad hoc; ergo, propter hoc: cum hoc; ergo, propter hoc: and post hoc; ergo, propter hoc--to this; therefore, because of this: with this; therefore, because of this: after this; therefore, because of this, respectively.

An example of a to-this fallacy: the handgun jammed because it was poorly made. Never mind the gun's action was filthy.

With-this fallacy: He tossed a paper wad at the trash bin. If it went in, the answer to the question on his mind is yes; otherwise, no.

After-this fallacy: the child behaved, wished for a pony for Christmas, wrote letters to Santa, asked for a pony while sitting on Santa's lap at the mall, told everyone but family of the wish. A pony was or wasn't among the Christmas gifts. Because the wish was strong and pure, the pony arrived. Because the wish faltered and was faithless, the pony never materialized.

Fallacies are ripe material for milieu belief motifs. Unintended formal or informal causation fallacies should be rigorously avoided, though. If a causal circumstance's effect precedes the cause, a sigh reaction effect expressed before the emotional stimuli, for example, causation is backward, illogical, unnatural.

Subjective, perhaps dubious milieu belief motifs range across a universe of possibilities: some current, some past, potentially some future as yet unrealized.

One category principle that I'm developing for my writing and invention of subjective beliefs is what's known as ostensive definition. The principle is especially pertinent to writing; that is, "of, relating to, or consitituting definition by exemplifying the thing or quality being defined" (Webster's 11th), showing, in other words.

For example, writing a descriptor like "blue." The blue of a dry, cloudless daytime sky. Cobalt blue, cornflower blue, for examples, are direct, exact descriptors, tells, that may challenge readers' understanding. The prior ostensive definition accounts for readers' personal experiences, allows them to visualize the color based on personal experience, and persuasively engages their intellects and imaginations--shows the reality imitation.

For milieu motif invention and deployment, the above principle is highly useful, especially when depicting a strange-to-readers motif. Metaphor and simile are similar principles, and other tropes, analogy being a central factor of ostensive defintion, though direct comparison requires less intellect effort to understand. The saturated deep black of outer space, for example, or CMYK=100.

An extension of the principle used by folklorists, and on point for inventing belief motifs for, say, futuristic or fantastical milieus, are ostension, quasi-ostension, pseudo-ostension, and false ostension. See "Ostensive Definition": Wikipedia for definitions, parameters, and examples.

One key point of ostension is how factual circumstances become narratives, narratives become factual circumstances, polygenesis or monogenesis, and ways beliefs are invented, become accepted, and might be designed for milieu development, or even for appreciating a past milieu's perhaps dubious though accepted beliefs.

For example, a contemporary misinterpretation of Homer's Odyssey bases Odysseus' motives and outcomes on a patriarchal culture's prerogatives. The interpretation does not account for the ancient beliefs of Ithacan society's culture. They believed in a matrilineal leadership dominance for the home community. Odysseus held his right to the Ithacan throne through Penelope's graces, matriarch prerogatives. His return home from his wayward adventures was fraught with proving to her he yet had a right to her hand and leadership of Ithacan affairs abroad, patriarch preorogatives: guile, strength, acuity, wisdom, duty, honor, and at last true affection. Beautiful.

Through ostension, Ithacan culture differing from contemporary culture may be inferred. Future milieu projections may as well be inferred through ostension. Say one hundred years futureward, monoculture, equal empowerment of all, a dystopia for the bitter sameness of all culture. A deviant who believes stagnant culture is problematic, fatal arises and upsets the settled routine. Psuedo-ostension there takes two commonplace circumstances from contemporary culture and projects them onto a future culture.

[ June 04, 2014, 02:51 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Mark
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I go way over the top in designing the physical setting. For the non-physical parts of the milieu, such as cultures, cuisine, religions, customs, etc., those take form as I write.

I have to be very disciplined to transfer those things that emerge as I write to my notes; otherwise, I wind up with conflicts.

Mark

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Grumpy old guy
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extrinsic, I'm not going to try to either argue the point or comment approvingly on your last post. I would imagine with the appropriate effort I could understand all the, no doubt subtle, implications of what you say in creating a belief system for a milieu but trying to take it all in in one sitting after a hard days work is just a tad too much of a stretch for my boor little button-like brain.

Having said that, after reading your posts previous to the most recent one, I did find a belief system that would sit very nicely within the other aspects of my story's milieu and, as an added benefit, it adds a tragic (and almost pointless) air to the conflict my little band of humans find themselves in. It also helped to transform my antagonist's cliche reason for trying to stop the protagonists from, "I have to stop you to save the world." To, "It's nothing personal, but I have to stop you to get what I want." I know that's cryptic but this isn't the place to go into more detail about writing a particular story.

All I can say with certainty is that incorporating aspects of belief systems into a milieu really did give my story added depth and complexity and, at the same time, has gone a long way in adding a huge amount to the complexity of the characters personalities that I have yet to create for the story.

So, this thread has, at least for me, borne rich fruit for thought.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Rich fruit for me too, just from reducing to writing a summary of principles I'm studying presently. I looked for a substance upon which to frame H.P. Grice's implication principle. Ostensive definition as meaning implied through show satisfied my search. One thing to describe appearances of events, settings, character; another thing to append meaning onto them so they're not mere bland, lackluster descriptions laying flat on the page. Ostensive definition and implication together form a basis for the latter through the former.

Glad the discussion has given you inspiration for narrative depth, complexity, and unity.

[ June 03, 2014, 05:27 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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extrinsic, my quick perusal of Ostensive theory leads me to believe that such things as using show to quantitatively and qualitatively express specific thoughts and actions is one thing, but the legend is fact/fact is legend is something that is eluding me right now (with tired eyes and a grape juice or four under my belt). Although, having said that, I can quite easily and readily understand the manipulation of such a concept to elicit psychologically desired responses by the uninformed masses for either the greater good or personal satisfaction/gain.

So, for me, the question is: what is folklore and what is religion/belief/myth?

Now, go fishing.

(Edited after a hot shower)

Folklore, it seems to me, has nothing to do with myth, religion, mysticism (sham, I mean) or any other sort of colloquial mumbo-jumbo. Instead, I would contend that folklore is a belief system in which a certain idea (myth is fact/fact is myth)reaches a critical mass (for want of a better term) where enough people are convinced of its validity to perpetuate the myth/fact. Putting butter on a burnt finger (to use extrinsic's example) is counter-intuitive--butter contains salt, which will only aggravate a burn. I think I need to completely sober up and be wide awake to go any further with this. Food for thought on another day--now, go back to your fishing extrinsic.

Phil.

[ June 03, 2014, 08:42 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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extrinsic
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An example of a fact become legend is the Great Train Robbery. The robbery factually took place, became a storied legend that in turn was made into a film.

An example of a legend become fact is a belief that pirates made captives walk a plank to their drowning deaths. Only one pirate captain, the gentleman pirate Stede Bonnet, was ever witnessed ordering captives to walk off a plank. He'd picked up the idea as a common pirate practice from orally recounted, elaborated news reports dramatizing the horrors of capture by pirate. This is a journalism dramatic-license presumption become report become gossip, rumor, legend, become fact, now used by filmmakers and writers that perpetuates the legend.

The folklorist criteria for a legend does not rely on whether the legend is factual or fictional but on oral transmission or a simulacrum of oral transmission, also whether the legend resembles basic narrative conventions; i.e., plot features: beginning, middle, end; antagonism, causation, and tension; event, setting, and character. A gossip or rumor item is also orally transmitted, no matter whether true or false, though they have less or no narrative craft fundamentals. So-and-so is a drug user, is a gossip example. The woman who microwaved her dog to dry it is a rumor. Myth is an oral transmission, also, or simulacrum, of a legend sacred to a culture.

Folklore is indeed partly about belief systems, though not excluding myth, religion, mysticism, "colloquial mumbo-jumbo." The critical mass criteria is only relied upon in folkloristics in so much as identity traits are shared among a culture group. Number of included individuals sharing culture is not a qualifying criteria: two or more. Folklore is that which people make, do, say, share, think, believe, know in common with others. Three general folklore categories are material culture, oral tradition, and ritual custom.

Quilting, for example, encompasses the spectrum. The made quilts are materially shared, conventionally among family and close friends and neighbors. The act of quilting traditionally involved oral traditions, methods and supplies and materials' advices exchanged, shared with other quilters, and gossip, rumor, and legends recounted between quilters at a bee. The entire quilting phenomena is a ritual custom that shares materials, other customs, and oral traditions for community bonding purposes, again, usually among family and close friends and neighbors.

Though not oral transmission in a conventional sense, online writing workshops are culture groups making, doing, saying, sharing, thinking, believing, knowing writing-related culture in common with others, as well as a material culture, oral tradition, and ritual custom. A print or electronic material is a manuscript, for example. An oral tradition might be any of a number of subjective or objective gossip, rumor, or legend beliefs shared between workshoppers, like "Show don't tell," or sacred myths, like if you write, readers will read. Ritual custom-wise, posting a fragment for commentary, respectfully commenting, asking questions about comments, thanking commenters for their comments, etc., is a process ritual common to writing workshops in general.

All the above is, of course, related to milieu development, the cultural materials, customs, and traditions of a milieu.

[ June 03, 2014, 04:09 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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