Writing fiction is hard. Writing fantasy can be even harder.
Fully immersing your reader in your made-up world can sometimes seem impossible. How do you fit all that world building into your story without overwhelming or scaring off readers? One trick I was taught is to use reality to inspire fantasy. It’s easier for you, the writer, to share your ideas with readers if something unfamiliar can be made familiar.
In one of my abandoned stories, my characters travel throughout some neighboring kingdoms to try and maintain peaceful relations. I used these parts of the story to enrich the world that my characters live in by adding in holidays. In the real world, there are multiple holidays during most months, so it only seemed fitting to celebrate some holidays in my story. I couldn’t use real-world holidays in my fictional world, though, so instead I had to invent my own.
In my fantasy story, there is an ongoing conflict with Magics (magical creatures such as fairies, mermaids, elves, etc.) and humans. My main character, Iris, is an Aura Fairy. More specifically, she is a Moon Fairy who can manipulate shadows. She grew up in Roan, and when she was a kid, her best friend, Cal, became the king when his father passed away. Iris is one of the last fairies who still live in the major cities in Roan. In other kingdoms, Magics and humans have very different relationships because of the different cultures.
Peach Blossom Festival–
Iris and Cal travel north to the kingdom of Endo during the spring. Endo’s culture is based off Japan. Getting the reader to realize that the setting is similar to Japan can be hard, so I decided to use a real Japanese festival and alter it to fit my story. During my research, I discovered Hinamatsuri, a Japanese doll festival also known as Girl’s Day.
During Hinamatsuri, Hina dolls are displayed on red carpets in tiers. The top tier is host to the Emperor and Empress. Below them sit three court ladies. The third tier holds five male musicians, while the fourth has two ministers. The final tier is home to three samurai who are set to protect the Emperor and Empress.
My favorite part of the festival is when they would place the Hina dolls on a raft and send them floating down the river to take bad spirits with them. That part of the festival is no longer celebrated because the dolls would catch in fisherman nets. In some places, they send the dolls out to sea, but clean them up shortly after the festival.
I loved that image of the dolls floating out to sea, so I adapted it for my own story.
The Peach Blossom Festival begins when the first peach blossom is sighted, indicating the end of winter and the start of spring. It is to celebrate girls, just like Hinamatsuri is called Girl’s Day. Here’s an excerpt that I wrote-
Young girls lined up inside a squared gazebo where they wrote on slips of paper. When they finished, they rolled up the paper and stuck it in the arms of the doll. Then, the doll was placed on a raft in the river and sent on its way.
Crown Princess Hara stopped inside the gazebo and handed two dolls to Iris and Kyrie. “Now that the shadows of winter are fading, write one shadow you wish to leave behind. Placing it with your doll will cause the shadow to follow, so you can send it away!”
I also took some of the traditional foods for my story because it made sense with the culture and river setting. Colored rice cakes are the most popular food of the day.
In Endo, Magics are not treated as equals. Instead, they are owned and set out on display to perform for coin for their owners. It causes conflict in the story, and it’s an interesting contrast to the culture of the next festival.
Summer Solstice Festival-
During the summer, Iris and Cal go to visit the southern kingdom of Myla. Originally, I based Myla off Italy, but somewhere along the way my imagination ran off and now I’m not quite sure what it’s based off.
The summer festival is to celebrate fire and its giver, the dragon. The dragon is obviously a Magic, so this displays how the culture of Myla celebrates Magics, giving them equal rights in the kingdom and honoring them with festivals like this. Most of the Magics who used to populate Iris’s home of Roan ended up flocking south to Myla during the conflict at the center of my story.
To celebrate the festival, there are parades and shows throughout the town square. Musicians sing about the dragon and stalls sell wares celebrating the dragon as well. The night ends with dancing, and a surprise fireworks show. Here’s an excerpt from one of the performances-
A woman sang a song about dragons and the sun, a fiddler accompanying her from behind. When she finished, everyone applauded. “Thank you. And now I’d like to welcome the Mylan dragons!” She stepped to the side and a handful of children dressed in gold jumped out from the crowd. They pulled hoods over their heads bearing dark eyes and sharp fangs, and roared like dragons. Together, they recited a chant that sounded like a prayer, praising the dragons for their power and might, thanking the dragons for the life-giving sun in the sky, and asking the dragons for a blessing of health and safety. After they finished, the children scattered back into the crowd.
Traditional foods include anything hot, both in temperature and spice–boars roasted on spits over large fires, grilled vegetables served on skewers, and desserts that can be bruléed, like bananas foster or cherries jubilee. Anything that celebrates fire. It’s a toasty day.
Night of the Stars-
Cal and Iris return home to Roan by winter for Iris’s favorite holiday, the Night of the Stars Festival. This festival is kind of a mashup of a few different holidays. People celebrate by staying up all night, like New Year’s, and feasting, like Thanksgiving, but ultimately the festival centers on love, like Valentine’s Day. Originally, only fairies celebrated the Night of the Stars, but over time, the humans adopted and adapted the holiday.
The holiday originated from a tale of two fairies- one a Sun Fairy, and one a Moon Fairy. The two fairies fell in love and everything was happy, until the Sun Fairy fell ill. The Moon Fairy wept and wept while the Sun Fairy slept, growing nearer to death with each passing moment. As the Moon Fairy wept, the dark magic from the Moon Fairy’s powers filled the heavens until the fairy’s soul was emptied. The Sun Fairy woke to find the Moon Fairy had died from a broken heart and saw the sky filled with darkness, so with the last of the Sun Fairy’s strength, a bright light filled the sky to cut through the black night. And fairies still believe that is how the first star came to be.
The fairies would spend the night singing and dancing, and at the end of the night they would give a gift to the person they love in honor of the two fairies. The humans turned the holiday into a feast with foods that contrast, dark and light. The main course consists of either a duck, chicken, or turkey, all which have both dark and white meat. The skin on the fowl is charred when cooked. Sides mostly include dark and light colored fruit, like blackberries and blueberries, and peeled apples and pears. Everyone drinks white milk, too. Dessert usually includes rich chocolates decorated with white peppermint or white cream.
How do you use holidays to enhance your writing?
Allie May is a dog lover, mom, and Dr. Pepper addict who turns her caffeine-fueled dreams into believable fiction. She fell in love with the impossible at a young age and has been telling stories (some fiction, some mostly non-fiction) ever since. She married her high school sweetheart because he takes her to Disneyland (oh, and because she loves him). Together they have a dog child and a human child. On the weekends, you might catch a glimpse of her in the shadows as a lightsaber-wielding superhero.