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I am writing a novel (well, I have started to), with a fantasy middle ages and magic sort of background and English, Greek and meaningless names. I am from India, but my story feels 'European'. Should I continue as it is? Or make some changes?

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It's fine to write whatever you want. Go for it and see where it leads you! At this point, focus on establishing a writing habit and learning what works. If you need a guide, I highly recommend this book by the Gotham Writers' Workshop: Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York's Acclaimed Creative Writing School.

Also, if you're a young writer, take a minute to imagine in your mind's eye, putting on a thick skin, the pelt of a courageous animal, like a tiger or a wolf. Parents, schoolteachers, friends, siblings, writers, and other non-writers, despite their best intentions, sometimes say things that will discourage you. The pelt will soften the blow, allow gentle constructive criticism to enter, and enable you to carry on.

Many famous writers who work in English come from non-English speaking backgrounds and cultures. They often bring a unique perspective to their subjects and a fresh use of the language. These two articles provide some great examples of that:

Everyone who sets their stories in a fictional culture, or a realistic culture that existed almost one thousand years ago, is writing about a foreign language and culture.

I hope this helps. Keep on writing!

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Just because it's in a fantasy world with a European flavor doesn't mean that it's true European and has to be regionally or historically accurate. It's good to study up on medieval Europe so you can include subtle touches to give it a European look and feel, but you don't have to go overboard.

I'm American, and I'm working on a world that has a medieval Indian style. The characters look and dress like Indians. It's full of bright vivid Indian colors. But there are also elements of Japanese modern dance, Afro-Haitian music, Maori mythology, and medieval European style warfare.

There's such a mix of cultures and customs in my world that I don't think anyone will criticize me for not portraying one particular culture accurately. By weaving together several things from several cultures, I've managed to create my own unique world and I am the expert on what is accurate for my culture.

In a fantasy world, it's more important to make the world your own than to perfectly mimic an existing world.

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  • Stu, when I first read your comment, I thought you meant to put the comment somewhere else, but maybe you were taking to me and I just didn't catch on at first. The story I was referring to was a sequel to the one in currently writing. I'm not formally writing up a draft for it yet, but I am doing tons of research for it. I'm accurate with each piece I appropriate for my work. Someone might think it's in India at first and say, "That dance isn't a traditional Indian dance. It shouldn't be there." It's not an Indian dance. It's Butoh, which is Japanese. And I know a ton about Butoh. Make sense!
    – Keobooks
    Jan 18 '16 at 21:07
  • I had a little more to say. Basically, if you scramble enough things up, and you are accurate in their portrayal, you have made a unique world with its own unique rules and it would be hard for someone else to correct you. And in not sure what you mean by the publishing company. Nobody in my family owns one! Hehe
    – Keobooks
    Jan 18 '16 at 21:14
  • Sorry, I deleted it. I'm not sure what I was talking about. Quoting my 6-yr-old: "But Daddy, my brain wasn't working right!"
    – Stu W
    Jan 18 '16 at 21:58
  • I can totally relate. I thought you were accusing me of being Christopher Paolini!
    – Keobooks
    Jan 18 '16 at 22:53
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It's fine to write about something from a language and culture very different from your own.

However, you might get warnings not to do it from some quarters because it is harder to do well than writing a language and culture you know well, especially if your intended readers are people who probably know more about that culture than you do.

For you to do well, it helps to read lots of fiction and nonfiction from and about the culture on which your world is based. You want to get an understanding of the people, worldview, language, and values of that culture so that your fictional version will ring true.

For example, you mention that your world is a medieval European fantasy world and that your characters have English and Greek names. Be careful with that; England and Greece are culturally rather different. Western readers will probably tolerate a fantasy world with a heroic peasant named Tom and a mystical sorcerer named Euripides. But we might chuckle at a world with a heroic peasant named Euripides and a mystical sorcerer named Tom— I, for one, wouldn't be able to stop thinking of Tim the Enchanter.

Reading some history books about medieval Europe will let you get a feel for the names that were common in different countries at different times and among different kinds of people. Doing this will also help you if you want to make up names; you'll develop an ear for what sounds and combinations of sounds were used in the languages these cultures spoke, and you won't name the princess of a country rather like Italy something like Klitschko or Liliuokalani.

You don't have to become a scholar of medieval European history. J.R.R. Tolkien spent years as a professor of Anglo-Saxon language, history, and culture before he wrote The Lord of the Rings, but you don't need quite that level of commitment. Just a few books for background is a good start. And you also don't have to imitate actual history slavishly. You just have to develop a feel for what's ridiculous or obviously wrong enough to break the reader's immersion.

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I'm reminded of an article I read once by Isaac Asimov, a well-known science fiction writer. He said that the first fiction story he wrote was set in a small town. Friends told them that this was a bad idea, because he had lived his whole life in New York City and knew nothing about small towns. But, he said, he never learned that lesson, because he went on to write many stories set on other planets, and he had never been to another planet, either.

It's more difficult to write about things outside your own experience. If you wrote a story set in your home town, presumably you know all sorts of things about your home town off the top of your head, from the climate to the geography to the social customs, etc. But if you write a story set in another country, you would have to do research to learn these things, or you could put in something totally out of place.

Like, I saw a TV show once about a murder that happened in a town where some of my family live, so I've visited it many times. They had "recreations" of many incidents from the crime and the investigation. One was a scene in the parking lot of the high school. In their recreation, the high school is surrounded by a thick forest. Which is kind of odd, because the town is in the middle of the desert and the high school has only a few scraggly trees around. As someone who has been to the town, this immediately struck me as totally out of place.

Maybe in that case you get away with it because the forest wasn't relevant to the story, it was just visible in the background. It would be far worse if someone said that the killer fled into the forest and climbed a tree to hide from the police.

Etc. Of course this doesn't mean that you can't do it, just that you have to do a little extra work. And pray that you don't casually make a false assumption.

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Sure, go ahead. However, you might want to think about adding some Indian cultures into the mix, just to make it interesting. But then again, this is your book, and of course you can write it however you want. I wrote an entire book with made-up traditions that make no sense in the current world, so do whatever you feel like.

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