Sunday, March 15, 2009

Alien Open Houses

We attended a friend's (Stephanie Adams) Open House for her massage therapy practice this afternoon here in Goldsboro. It went very well with friendly people, great snacks and a very good guitarist, James Nicholls, from Washington, NC. Over lunch, prior to attending the event, however, I started thinking about our particular human customs we have here in this country. Take, for instance, the Open House. I said to Henry over sandwiches at Schlotzky's, "I bet Vulcans wouldn't hold Open Houses." He took in this remark in his usual calm manner, instantly understanding as we share a history of Star Trek fandom.
He waited for me to explain my remark as I said that they would consider it a waste of time, as the people who would probably attend would already know each other and would know that the business was already "open." On top of that, I said, pretending just for fun that we were Vulcans, part of the people at the open house today would have been at his book signing the day before. It would be strictly ceremonial, for which the Vulcans would have little use in this instance.
Henry remarked that Clingons may or may not have Open Houses. If they did, they may consist of guests becoming engaged in arguments with their hosts and being killed. This would in fact, lead to fewer clients.
On the other hand, Romulans probably would have Open Houses. They were always depicted as being an emotional race, very pompous. Their motives would be different from us Americans and the atmosphere at these gatherings would be much more serious and tense than the event we attended today.
I think we could use silly discussions such as this one as brainstorming sessions when writing fiction. You have to establish your characters, not only as far as their individual personalities, but also, from a cultural standpoint. What would your hero or heroine be likely to do at a public or private event? If you're writing fantasy or science fiction, you can pretty much make up your own societies, such as the ones from the Star Trek universe mentioned before. I would suggest spending considerable time developing the worlds from which your characters spring. What makes great fantasy worlds such as the ones from Star Trek, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc. is the background planning the authors took the time to do. Secondary characters from these worlds come forward with three-dimensional personalities because we understand them better based on their surroundings.
If, however, you choose to write about a culture here on Earth that is not your own, you'd better know a little about that culture. It would be embarrassing to write a character's scene which you are told later would never be feasible considering the background you chose for him/her. Even within our own country, we have so many subcultures because of racial or religious differences, it's a good rule of thumb to spend time with people of the backgrounds you choose to write or at least do research. Being such a melting pot, Americans have a great opportunity to learn different cultures about which to write without really leaving the country, which will only enrich your characters and add to their complexity.

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