Monday, April 22, 2013


I'm thrilled to have my smart and talented critique partner, JW Troemner, on the blog as she shares how she finds inspiration for her books. She is one of those rare people who will make the time to help a fellow writer in need, and I'm very fortunate to have her in my life.
Thank you, Angie, for having me on your blog! You had wanted to know how culture influenced my writing-- the moment you asked, a recent experience flashed before my eyes like I was in an old sitcom, complete with a wavy screen and the sounds of a twinkling xylophone.
There I was, clicking through on Wikipedia.
Nobody knows how we get anywhere on Wikipedia. Usually there’s a maze of links involved—you innocently start on a page about the Oxford comma, and next thing you know you're on an article about asteroid mining.
Or in my case, about the Tuareg people of the Sahara desert.

Photo of a Tuareg woman by: Alain Elorza
As I read through the page, a couple of details stood out to me. Their historical confrontations with colonial forces, a strong warrior class, a distinctive indigo dye in their traditional clothes that often ends up seeping into the skin—even the sound of the names reminded me a little of the inhabitants of Frank Herbert’s Dune. And then I spotted what the Tuareg people refer to themselves as: Freemen. As in, one letter short of the sandworm-riding Fremen.
Suffice to say, it blew my mind like I’d OD’d on Spice. That’s not to say Herbert copied and pasted the Tuareg people into the pages of Dune. He took a few aspects of their culture, transplanted them, and then found legitimate reasons for the Fremen to have those qualities.
My best friend often sends me snippets about other cultures whenever she runs across them: a few brief paragraphs and pictures about the facial tattoos of the Ainu people of Japan, a brief introduction to Yoruba Orishas, a link explaining traditional naming conventions in Scandinavian countries, an article about taboos in Celtic lore. None of these completely or accurately portrays their culture. But that’s perfect for a fantasy writer like me.
Without context or explanation, we’re free to make up our own reasons behind the traditions—and often that ends up involving religion, social values, politics, geography. One little interesting detail can suddenly become the seed for an entire world, almost entirely different from our own.
Even if you’re not into the Spec Fic scene, every culture has its own set of virtues and vices, its own history and drama, its own heroes and villains—and each one of them is packed full of stories.
Need some ideas? Sticking with Wikipedia’s take on the Tuareg, take a look at rebel band Tinariwen and the legendary queen Tin Hinan.
Blog: Questions and Archetypes


  1. It's amazing where we get some of our ideas. A couple of pictures, a paragraph here, a sentence there...Love this blog :)

  2. I especially liked the indigo from their clothing seeping into their skin - but then, I'm kind of a metaphor-junkie, lol. Wikipedia and Pinterest are goldmines of inspiration. At least that's how I rationalize all the time I spend in both places. Sometimes I wonder how writers wrote before the internet ;-)

  3. Thanks again for sharing how you find inspiration, JW. You're right about Wikipedia, lol. You never know what you're going to find in the maze of links. It's like taking a tour of the world from your own sofa.

  4. I love this! There are so many cultures to mine for ideas. I had wondered what might have inspired Herbert regarding the Fremen people.

  5. Makes me want to take another anthropology class. I wish I could remember more about the one I had in college.

  6. What an interesting post. I love picking up inspiration from other cultures as well when creating a world. As they say, we write what we know. Or at least a part of what we know. Thanks for sharing!


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