When Thanksgiving Doesn’t Exist in your Books

turkeyI write in a fictional world. This is a common trope seen in fantasy writing, where a writer wants to create a fictional history, geography, government, and so on for their world. It allows for a lot more freedom to do things that couldn’t happen in the real world. This is especially true if you want to add some detail to the geography that would otherwise be impossible, like floating continents, the ruins of a super-advanced ancient civilization, or magical physics that show the world functions in a very different way. It can also be used in science fiction with alien civilizations (such as how Star Wars takes place in a galaxy far, far away, as opposed to Star Trek which still has the real Earth, just far in the future).

A few complications arise when writing in an entirely fictional world. Even though Manifestation is set in a modern-day setting that is very similar to the real world, there are some key differences. One key example is holidays. There’s no “America” in the fictional world I created; the people live in a country called the Northern Union, which is loosely modeled after America but very different in some ways. Since there’s no America, there’s no Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, or any other national holiday that is specific to real life. Likewise, there’s no Christmas, because there’s no Christianity. Religion plays a heavy role in the books, and the religion is loosely modeled after Christianity (I make references to the seven deadly sins, for example). But in these books, there was no Jesus Christ, so therefore there’s no Christmas or Easter or anything like that.

Sometimes this makes me stumble in my writing. For example, there’s a scene near the end of Manifestation when I refer to “holiday decorations” on the house. I never say which holiday, since real-life holidays don’t exist in that world. But the scene takes place in winter, around the time of what would have been Christmas in real life, so holiday decorations become part of the setting. Some books I’ve read address such topics by having a “Winter Festival” as the winter holiday celebration. If the holiday were of specific relevance to the plot, I could even develop a fictional set of customs and traditions around it, in order to flesh it out more. But in my case, it’s more of a minor background detail.

Another related thing that pops up from time to time is brand names, and this becomes more complicated. I can’t, for example, have my characters eat Jell-O or Cheetos. Those brands don’t exist in the fictional world, so I have to say gelatin or cheesy puffs. My characters have to use tissues, not Kleenex, and take aspirin, not Tylenol.

Some brand names become harder to avoid. There’s a lot of fighting in some of my books, so naturally there’s guns. In some action-oriented books I’ve read, people will refer to a specific model of gun, like a Glock or a Luger. I can only say “pistol.” Though I fudge some of these rules when people drive a jeep or wear a kevlar vest, because really, there aren’t a lot of better names to use for that. Kevlar is technically a brand name but it’s in many ways seen as a name for the material itself. A jeep is technically a vehicle produced by Jeep, but it also brings to mind a very specific type of vehicle that the phrase “off-road vehicle” doesn’t quite capture.

This can be difficult, and sometimes it seems like it would be easier to just write in the real world. But on the other hand, I’m sometimes able to create fictional brands and companies that become a part of the personality of the world. For example, on multiple occasions I refer to places like the Donovan Grant Hotel, Donovan Financial Trust, and buildings sponsored by that company like the Donovan Financial Field where the local sports team plays. The Donovan family that owns these businesses remains mostly in the background (though there’s an easter egg in there for people who pay attention), but this remains a personalized detail that is part of the structure of this world.

Maybe in the future books, some new holidays will be formed commemorating the disasters that strike. Perhaps the people will start holding barbecues and/or memorials on Arcana Day. And they could hang decorations and hold services in remembrance of the people who lost their lives when magic was reborn.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

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4 thoughts on “When Thanksgiving Doesn’t Exist in your Books”

  1. There are so many words/phrases/customs/cultural behaviours that I have to be careful to leave out of certain books. I have one (which you’ve read) that’s set here and now, and writing that felt downright easy after working on my sci-fi series, which is VERY different from our world.

    The real problem, to me, arises when we’re so immersed in our own world that we don’t even SEE the things we’re including that are exclusive to our time/country/culture/etc. Writing in this way has been awesome, because in my quest for accuracy (or…”accuracy”, as it were, considering what I write is all fictional), I’ve had to reassess a lot of what I initially took for granted.

    1. I may do a follow-up post touching on the etymology of certain words and phrases that wouldn’t exist in a fictional world. It’s something of a hobby of mine, and I’ve written about it before. Could be an interesting thing to consider.

  2. I really like this post. It makes so much sense, but I can see where things like this could be easily overlooked as an author. I would love to create my own world like this, but I am still plugging away at books set in modern times with modern traditions.

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