Tag Archive: Fantasy

Worldbuilding: Festivals & Holidays

With the holidays coming up, and Thanksgiving in only two days, I thought it would be fitting for this week to write a post about holidays and celebrations.

To be entirely honest, festivals are something that I don’t work hard enough at in my worldbuilding. I’m a fairly lazy person, something that I aim to overcome, and that can sometimes translate into my worldbuilding. Festivals and holidays can be difficult to develop, but they’re easier if you have a starting point. That starting point is what I’ll attempt to give you in this post.

First of all, when is the holiday and what does it celebrate? Is it dedicated to a god? Is it to celebrate the coming of a new season? Is it to celebrate a great historical event? The last two would, of course, have automatic dates attached. With the first one, you’d have to take what you know of the religion and base the date on that. Still related to time, how long does the celebration last? Is it celebrated on the day of the holiday or sometime before or after? Maybe the holiday is on a certain date but the celebration is on a certain day of the week, so if the holiday is on the 13th but that’s a Friday, and the people always celebrate that holiday (or all holidays, even) on a Sunday. (And Friday the 13th brings up an unrelated question – are there any taboos or superstitions in your world and, if so, what are they?)

What foods and drinks are common for the holiday? Are these eaten/drunk on the holiday or at the celebration, if the two are separate? Are they entirely exotic compared to normal meals? Are they similar to a common food? (For example, chicken is eaten fairly often, while turkey is generally eaten at Thanksgiving and not much else.) Are there common foods mixed in or is everything unusual? Are there any foods that are only eaten at a particular point in the celebration? (For instance, communion is taken at a certain point in church. Which isn’t a holiday, exactly, but that’s the idea. Another example is a tradition my family has of setting two candy corn by each plate which can only be eaten after that person has said two things they’re thankful for.)

Which brings me to the traditions. Do traditions differ by country? Some countries might not even celebrate a certain holiday, while others do. Do different regions within a country celebrate differently? Different cities? Different families? At what point do things start or stop being “universal”? (For example, nearly everyone in the U.S. celebrates Independence Day with fireworks, whether they’re setting them off or just watching, but I’m fairly certain my family is the only one that has an annual hat contest.) Are there any traditions used by smaller factions that the general population would frown upon?

How many people generally celebrate together? Does a whole city congregate? Only a family or two? Is it something celebrated with friends and family? Are there multiple celebrations with different groups of people? Are these always scheduled the same or does it differ from year to year (or however frequently the festival is celebrated)?

What are common decorations? Are there any decorations at all? Are there layers of decorations (like a Christmas tree, which is a decoration and gets decorated itself)? What do people think of these decorations? Do they think they’re beautiful? Ugly? Unnecessary? Do they wish they could keep them up all year? Are they glad when they come down? How do the decorations tie in with the holiday? How did they come to be traditions? And how do these differ from country to country, region to region, city to city, family to family?

What are common activities for the celebration? Are gifts given? Are there certain speeches or prayers given? Are games played and, if so, which ones? (It could also be good to think if those are unique to your world or if your reader would automatically recognize them.) How do these tie in with the holiday? If gifts are given, is there a certain reason why? Are they confined to certain categories? (For instance, you’re only allowed to give flowers for a spring festival, or… you’re not allowed to give toys at a coming-of-age ceremony.) Who says the speeches or prayers if there are any?

Hopefully these have given you some ideas and gotten the wheels in your head turning. There’s a lot to think about, but if you have holidays in your story it’s good to know how they work. You’ll impress your reader with the depth of your worldbuilding. One last note: Don’t base your holidays too heavily on existing holidays if you don’t want your readers to wonder if your world is connected to ours somehow. It’s not realistic to have a fantasy world with a holiday that’s clearly based on Christmas, or even one that’s called “Yulemas” and takes place in the winter, whether it seems like Christmas or not, if the world isn’t connected to Earth. (The above example is drawn from Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. I’ve wondered ever since if Erilea is somehow connected to Earth.)

Happy worldbuilding. :)

Charybdis and The Pines – NaNoWriMo Excerpt Days #15 & #16

On the 14th I spent the day writing 2,605 words of nonfiction (a.k.a. blog posts), and yesterday I had a long night and didn’t have a chance to post. So today you get two excerpts, each from a different short story, one of which I finished yesterday and one of which is still in progress and I hope to finish today.

********

The ocean began to roil under the ship and Nya’s attention snapped to the white sky. Storm clouds were beginning to billow, darkening the sky to gray. The waves were beginning to toss, and a figure raised out of the ocean. It took the form of a woman seemingly forged of silver, larger than the ship, with hair billowing around her head and a fiery anger in her shining eyes.

“Who are you to enter the domain of Charybdis unbidden?” The figure’s voice was deep and powerful, rolling like thunder across the water.

“I am Nya Hook.” Nya had to shout over the crashing waves, heavy wind blowing mist into her face and taking her breath away. She wondered if Charybdis could even hear her. “I only came to explore the Oblivion. I’ll leave immediately if that’s what you want.”

But Charybdis’ gaze had latched onto Pan, and she was nearing the ship, impervious to the wind and waves. “No. I want him.”

********

Eventually, however, her strength gave out and she slipped behind a pine as the sun began to set. She tried to keep her breathing quiet, but it was a challenge.

Footsteps came nearer and she held her breath, feeling like her lungs were on fire for lack of air.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” the young man said. “I don’t even want to take you in. I’ve seen what they do to the others. I want to help you.”

So there had been others affected by the eclipse nineteen years ago. Fiona took a deep breath, as slowly and quietly as she could. She stifled a scream as the young man peeked around the tree at her.

“I don’t believe you,” she said, struggling to speak for her lack of breath and cold-hoarse throat.

Character Interview: Prynn Nemea

Prynn is one of the semi-main characters of The Shadow Raven. She’s Detren‘s cousin, and she does her best to keep him steady as he becomes king.

*****

Interviewer: Good morning, Prynn. How are you?

Prynn: I’m doing well. *smiles* How are you?

Interviewer: I’m doing all right. Shall we begin?

Prynn: *nods*

Interviewer: What is your name?

Prynn: Prynn Cantara Nemea.

Interviewer: How old are you?

Prynn: I’m sixteen.

Interviewer: Do you have any siblings?

Prynn: No. But Detren is something like a brother.

Interviewer: What is your job?

Prynn: I don’t particularly have one. I’m the daughter of a lord and lady and the cousin of a king. There’s no special title for me, and I’m still in school. So I guess the most fitting thing to say would be that I’m a student.

Interviewer: Do you enjoy school?

Prynn: *shrugs* It’s neither enjoyable nor awful. I tend to prefer reading on my own to reading about how mountains are formed.

Interviewer: *laughs* Well, reading is always good. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Prynn: I’m an introvert, but I love people. I love talking to them, getting to know them, taking care of them when they need it, stuff like that.

Interviewer: What is your favorite food?

Prynn: Hmm. I like a lot of things. Freshly baked bread is always good. I also like plums.

Interviewer: And your favorite color?

Prynn: Dark purple.

Interviewer: You mentioned you like to read; what is your favorite book?

Prynn: Moon of Gold. It’s a more fantastical story set in the same world as Detren’s favorite, Soldiers of the East.

Interviewer: I’ve heard that one mentioned a lot around here. What is it about?

Prynn: It’s set in a desert with a lot of competing countries and divisions with opposing views and values. Soldiers of the East focuses on the Eilram and the Pastyna Regiment, the former of which works for a war-focused country and the latter of which works to preserve peace and justice against the Eilram’s rampages. There are others, though, that focus on other aspects of the world. Moon of Gold takes place in the theocratic country that’s at odds with the war-centered country. It’s hard to describe in short terms, but they’re really interesting.

Interviewer: They sound fascinating. They seem popular, too.

Prynn: They are fairly popular. I think it’s because the world is deep and you always feel like there’s always more to know.

Interviewer: Those are always the best worlds. I guess we should probably move on. Do you have any ideas of what job you might want to have after school?

Prynn: I’m considering becoming a healer, possibly specializing in childbirth.

Interviewer: You seem to really care about people, so I think you’d be good in that role.

Prynn: *smiles* Thank you.

Interviewer: What are your hobbies?

Prynn: Reading and piano, mostly. I also paint, on occasion, but those two are my main hobbies.

Interviewer: What traits do you look for in a potential husband?

Prynn: At the moment I don’t, but if I were looking… Someone kind and generous, a believer in Abba, and someone willing to stand up for what he believes in.

Interviewer: All good qualities. Which of these is most important to you, in general: Kindness, intelligence, or bravery?

Prynn: Bravery. All of them are excellent traits, but bravery is probably the most important.

Interviewer: And honesty or selflessness?

Prynn: That one’s a tougher choice. Probably honesty, but selflessness is a very close second.

Interviewer: What is something you can never leave the house without?

Prynn: Some sort of hairpiece. If I’m going out I don’t want my hair constantly in my face.

Interviewer: Thank you for your time. That was the last question. I enjoyed talking with you.

Prynn: You too. *smiles* Thank you for the interview. *heads out of the room*

Small Talk – NaNoWriMo Excerpt Day #4

“Good evening, Prince Detren.”

Oh no. How had he missed that Anaya was sitting almost directly across from him? “Good evening, Miss Morwen.”

“Please, just call me Anaya.”

Detren smiled, hoping she couldn’t see the sourness behind it. There was no way he would be calling her by her first name any time soon. He preferred to make it obvious in every way possible that he was very much not interested. Sure, she was drop-dead gorgeous, but she was also spoiled, stuck-up, scary cunning, and the way she looked at him… It made his skin crawl.

“How do you like the peach tarts?” Anaya asked. “They’re my favorite.”

“They’re nice,” he said. He tried to look inconspicuously down the table for any escape from Anaya. Thorin was sitting next to him. “Help me,” Detren muttered out the side of his mouth.

Thorian gave the tiniest smile as he looked at Anaya before turning to Detren. “So, what do you think of the weather today? Is it nice enough you think we could convince His Majesty to have the whole gala out on the lawn?”

“I prefer the ballroom,” Detren said, thankful for the reprieve, no matter how stupid it was, “but it’s nice enough you might be able to convince him.”

“What do you think, Lucienne?” Thorian turned to Lucienne on his other side and she looked up.

“What?” she asked, dark eyes shining in the light of the chandelier.

“Do you think it’s nice enough out that we could have the rest of the dancing on the lawn?”

“Oh. Certainly, but I’m not sure what most of the people would think of that.”

The three of them continued the conversation, flitting from one useless topic to another until the meal was finished. When everyone left the dining hall, Detren clapped Thorian on the back. “Thank you, Thorian. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

“Probably strangled Anaya, eventually.” Thorian grinned.

Castle Basement – NaNoWriMo Excerpt Days #2 & #3

Day #2:

Nissa reveled in the feel of the three dresses draped over her arm. They were heavy, but they felt glorious. They were smooth and lacy and beautiful… She knew she’d walk in and take the spotlight that evening. She grinned at the thought, gathering up the dress skirts so as not to let them drag as they crossed the street.

Lucienne held the door open for her to step inside the shoe shop and Nissa was in heaven. Her jaw dropped at the sight of all the shoes. Boots of all colors, shapes, and heights; high heels in all sorts of styles; simple flats for more common occasions.

“This is my new favorite building,” she whispered.

 

Day #3:

“Why do you want to go to the basement?” Detren asked. He should be out in the courtyard talking with people, doing princely things, not roaming a dusty, moldy basement.

“Because it’s interesting. I’m tired of dancing.”

“You could play croquet.”

“I don’t know how. Besides, exploring basements is much more interesting than hitting a ball with a stick through some hoops. Please? I’ll find it myself if I have to.”

Detren’s mental image of Nissa wandering unsupervised through the castle scared him more than the trouble he might get in for leaving the gala, so he sighed his defeat. “Fine. It’s this way.” He led her into the kitchens, the scent of cooking meat making his mouth water. Pots and pans sizzled over a number of fires, and the heat was almost enough to make him sweat even in the minute it took them to get to the cellar door. As he opened the door, he caught Nissa stealing a blueberry tart from a tray. “Nissa!”

Nissa just grinned, licking her already-blue fingers.

Detren rolled his eyes and gestured for her to follow before descending a set of wooden steps into the much cooler cellar. “Close the door behind you,” he said. When she obeyed, the only light coming into the room was from a small window near the ceiling.

“Well this is underwhelming,” Nissa said, looking around the tidy earthen room. Fruits and vegetables were lined up neatly on shelves against every wall, and salted meat hung from the ceiling in well-organized rows. “This isn’t a basement.”

However, Detren was already feeling across a blank spot on the left wall. His finger found the depression and he pulled, his finger straining to pull out the rotted wooden door, which some ancient king had covered in dirt to hide.

“Ooh.” Nissa came over, looking into the dim passageway he’d uncovered. “How did you find this?”

“I was running from the cooks when I was eleven. I’d stolen a lemon tart and didn’t want to get caught. I don’t remember exactly how I found the dent. I think I was probably just running my hands along the wall for any way to get out. I remember my fingers were so dirty afterwards, because the dirt stuck to the lemon filling.” He started down the passageway. “I spent a long time in here before the rats and spiders scared me enough that I dared go back out and face the wrath of Patty, the head cook. Dad and Terlon already knew about the passageway, and they figured out soon enough that I’d found it. I asked Terlon for a few too many books on the history and architecture of the castle for it to escape his notice, and I think all the soil and spiderwebs all over me gave me away to dad.”

“Did your mom know about it?”

A pang shot through Detren’s chest. His mom. “She died the year before. Stealing sweets was my way of coping with her death for a long time. They distracted me. For a little while at least. I made myself sick all the time, because I could think of how bad I felt physically instead of focusing on the pain of losing her.” He looked down at the dirt floor beneath their feet. “I got out of it eventually.”

“I’m sorry.” Nissa’s voice was quiet. “I shouldn’t have asked.”

Detren shrugged. “It’s fine.” He knew his tone, however, said it was not as fine as he pretended.

They walked in silence for several minutes before coming to a two-way fork. Each tunnel was marked with a charcoal symbol on the wall right at the opening, and Detren smiled faintly at the memory of etching them there.

“I explored each tunnel in this place and marked them all,” Detren said, glancing back at Nissa before heading down the left fork. The tunnel was marked with a simple box, because his younger self wasn’t very good at drawing books.

“Fun! How many rooms and tunnels are down here?”

“There are about a dozen tunnels and two dozen rooms.”

“How long did it take you to mark them all? You must have gotten lost at some point.”

He had, and he remembered it all too well. He’d been in there for hours, sitting in one of the tunnels, before Terlon found him. When Detren had realized he’d gotten lost, he sat down in the middle of the tunnel and rested against the wall. Before too long he was crying, all of the stress of his mother’s death and his becoming lost and everything happening in the castle stacking and crushing him.

“I did,” he said. “I think it took me about a month to mark everything, and then I drew myself a map and memorized it so I wouldn’t get lost again. I spent a lot of time down here. I still do, actually, when I’m not busy with my studies.”

The tunnel ended at a large room lined with shelves. Several of them had cracked or fallen, and none of them held anything at this point except dust and probably some mouse droppings. A half-collapsed table and a pile of wood that was once a chair stood in the middle of the room, and a mouse skittered into the shadows next to one of the lower table legs.

“This was the library,” Detren said. “Terlon took out all the books when he realized they were down here, so that he could preserve them. There was a lot of lore down here that wasn’t recorded in later books, and I didn’t have classes for over three months because he was so absorbed in them.”

“Well that’s nice.” Nissa grinned.

Detren shrugged. “I kind of missed it. But it gave me a chance to explore more down here and clean some things up. I haven’t come in here much since it was cleared out, hence the disrepair.”

“It’s more interesting that way.” Nissa smiled. As she brushed her hand across the table, the legs that were already broken collapsed entirely and the mouse squeaked, running out for a safer lurking place. “Oops.”

Detren smiled, stifling a chuckle. “It’s fine. Come here. There’s a room I know you’re gonna like.” He headed back into the tunnel. When they returned to the fork, he took the other tunnel, marked with a crown, a wave symbol, and a bottle.

At the end of this tunnel were two doors flanking an open doorway. The one on the left was marked with a crown, and the one on the left with a bottle. Nissa was attracted to the glow from the central room and started walking in. “What’s thi—”

Detren grabbed her arm. “That’s not what I want to show you. We can go in there next.” A smile played at his lips. “You’ll like this one even better, I promise.” He opened the crown-marked door and Nissa’s jaw dropped. Detren grinned as she walked in slowly, taking in the view around her. This was the ancient treasury, and much of what it held was still around. Gold and jewels glittered in the light of hanging candelabras. A suit of armor stood guard against the back wall with a sword pointed down at its pedestal. There was a polished ebony box at the armor’s foot.

“Promise you won’t steal anything in here,” Detren said with a grin.

“I don’t make promises I can’t keep.” Nissa smirked at him over her shoulder. Her attention was drawn to the ebony box, and she knelt before it, running her hands along the seam. “What’s in here?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never been able to open it.”

“It’s beautiful. How have you managed to keep it in such good condition?”

“I haven’t. It does that itself. It’s weird. I’ve never been able to figure out this box’s secrets.”

“Do you think Terlon might know?”

“Maybe, but I haven’t told him about this room. I’ve told him I wasn’t able to get it open, because I know if I told him about it he’d take all this stuff and examine it for months. I like preserving the original layout of ancient places, and I value my classes enough to not disturb them.” Detren let out a dry chuckle.

“Plus if you’d done that, I never would have found this.” Nissa turned around to face him and he saw an onyx and gold necklace around her neck that hadn’t been there before.

“How did you put that on without me noticing?”

“I’m a thief, silly. Being secretive and stealthy is my job.” She winked. Turning back to the box, she returned to her examination. “I really want to figure out how to open this box, though. It’s fascinating, not to mention beautiful.”

“Well I’m afraid you won’t find any answers from me.”

Nissa stood. “We can look at it later. What’s in the glowy room?”

Detren led her out of the treasury, closing the door behind them, and stepped into the ‘glowy room,’ as she’d called it, which was dominated by a hot spring. The glow was coming from luminescent blue crystals inset around the pool, and water flowed in from a gap in the back wall, spilling over from the main pool into a smaller lower pool and draining from there into who-knows-where. Detren didn’t know how the pool worked, exactly, but he liked relaxing here now and then at the end of a particularly stressful day. Which he had too often, it seemed. Particularly when Anaya Morwen was involved. Goodness did she get on his nerves. There was more than one reason why he avoided her at all costs. To be entirely honest, these tunnels were his favorite place to hide from her.

“This is a nice place,” Nissa said, lifting her skirt above her ankles, removing her shoes, and stepping into the low pool.

“It is.”

“What is your favorite room in this place?”

“I like the treasury a lot, especially trying to figure out that box. I also like the wine cellar just because it looks cool. But my favorite room… Let me just show you.”

Nissa stepped back out of the pool, leaving her shoes on the floor and letting the hem of her dress fall back to brush against her damp feet. Detren headed back down the hallway about halfway and stopped at a grey door, which was easy enough to miss if you weren’t looking for it. Whoever had built this basement – King Weiden, he assumed, the same person who built the castle itself – was an expert in camouflaging things.

Detren pulled the door open and allowed Nissa to step in first. It was another tunnel, and this one had branches along its length, as well as at its end. Detren made his way to this last fork and headed down the right tunnel, marked with a door. When they reached the end, the corridor opened up into a large cavern with stalactites hanging from the ceiling and a round tunnel dug into the right wall.

Detren pointed to the tunnel. “That leads out into the city.”

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