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If I use, say, Greece as a reference for a fictional country, do I need to write that country as mountainous and coastal also?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding.SE! When you have a moment, please take our tour and visit our help center to learn more about us. $\endgroup$ – JBH May 28 '18 at 3:33
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    $\begingroup$ I'm just going to warn you that some on these boards don't like questions that seem to encourage opinions in response, rather then researched answers. I've had a couple of my answers voted "on hold" and "closed," by users who cite that as the reason why. $\endgroup$ – KernelOfChaos May 28 '18 at 4:17
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    $\begingroup$ @JaycieBeveri "Primarily Opinion Based" is a pretty standard vote-to-close option on other SE sites, not just WB. I'd direct you to this meta Q&A on the subject of POB as a reason to close. $\endgroup$ – StephenG May 28 '18 at 4:58
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    $\begingroup$ Yes/No, What answer do you want ? It really depends of what you are trying to achieve. It's easier to get inspiration from existing map. But some fictional geography can't be root in real world (one piece). So what is the question exactly? Tell us more ! $\endgroup$ – Drag and Drop May 28 '18 at 7:18
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    $\begingroup$ Since this question relates not to world building but to writing styles, tropes and managing reader expectations, this question should have been asked on writers stack. You will get much more insightful answers there. $\endgroup$ – M i ech May 28 '18 at 9:51
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Most people would suggest that your culture should relate to the physical geography of your setting. For instance, fashion and food are both going to be dictated to a certain degree by climate. And the history of your setting should be the story of how the culture developed. ...Unless you're going for something otherworldly, like an extra-planar setting that just happens to be togas, crystal spires, and philosophy.

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    $\begingroup$ As an example of how geography influences culture, Greece is a hilly and mountainous country with very little room to graze horses. Mongolia is a fantastic place to raise horses. Greek wars and culture centered around foot soldiers, while the Mongols gave cavalry and horsemen a lot of status. $\endgroup$ – BobTheAverage May 28 '18 at 17:24
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Nope

The simplest answer is "no." You only need real-world geography or geology if that's an important aspect of your story, otherwise the geography/geology is background. I've read and enjoyed numerous stories that have, not just implausible, but geologically impossible — and the stories were great.

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    $\begingroup$ So, it's okay to take some aspects of a real-world country (like culture and fashion) but replace other things (like geography and history) for the sake of plot? Thank you so much, by the way $\endgroup$ – Dan Constant May 28 '18 at 3:38
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, there is no copyright restriction on such things. However, it's worth keeping in mind that our world today is irrationally sensitive about cultural appropriation, so you should blend the cultural aspects you're borrowing into your own fiction to make it your own. $\endgroup$ – JBH May 28 '18 at 3:43
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    $\begingroup$ I think the big difference is: Are you worldbuilding or are you just writing a story? - If you would ask on writers.se, they would surely agree with JBH - but this page is about world-building, which usually requires some kind of internal consistency. $\endgroup$ – Falco May 28 '18 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ some american guys on twitter are irrationnaly sensitive about cultural appropriation, I don't think it's worth restaining yourself on worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ – GlorfSf May 28 '18 at 9:47
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    $\begingroup$ @DanConstant Yes. In fact alternative history is an entire genre based on that premise. $\endgroup$ – Pharap May 28 '18 at 16:47
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The answer to "Do I need to..." is always no.
The answer to "Can I ..." is always yes.

You are making your world, what you say goes. The fact that things ended up one way in Greece doesn't mean they couldn't end up differently in your world.

In this particular case I would advice against staying too close to your reference. If the reader can understand "Hey, this is Greece!" they will pull all sorts of real-world attitudes about Greece into the story where they don't belong.

It is better to use several references and mix and match pieces from them.

Some minor sanity checking is recommended but in general readers aren't very critical.

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You can have Greek culture in just about any world setting, and not have to make it up.

A nice thing about basing your story on Greek culture is that Greek culture has been in just about every biome at one time or another. Depicted: Macedonia.

https://www.dmwc.org.mk/2017/10/10/the-mountains-of-macedonia-a-winter-wonderland/

Macedonia in winter

Greeks got just about everywhere back in their heyday. If you want people who are culturally Greek and living in alpine mountains, or in a desert, or in a tropical setting, you can find historical precedent.

Also, basing your culture and characters on Cypriots or Alexandrians or Indo-Greeks will put a little space between your work and Percy Jackson's Greece - not that there is anything wrong with Percy Jackson.

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  • $\begingroup$ It is amusing when someone shows a picture of what looks like an early spring day as proof that someplace is a winder wonderland. I mean, the snowdrifts are barely there -- you can see your neighbour's windows on the ground floor. $\endgroup$ – Yakk May 28 '18 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ Bear in mind this is dependent on the degree to which OP wants his culture to reflect Greek culture. But I would argue that you may find Greek influences else where in the world, but that they are distinct from Greek culture. Cultures will always adapt to new environments, so transplanting Greeks else where will inevitably result in a watered down version of Greek culture several generations down the line. Sadly OP doesn't really clarify the extent of the similarity. $\endgroup$ – Firelight May 28 '18 at 21:20
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It all boils down to why are you describing your geography.

If you are describing that your fictional country protrudes into the sea like Greece does, then describing its mountain/planes might not be needed.

If your story is taking place in the inland and the geography has a role there, you have to describe it as much as is needed for the sake of understanding the story.

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I guess this depends on what you have in mind. If you mention Greece (as in using the exact word) then yes, you should stay close to what people think Greece is (mind you, not what it really is, but what people expect).
The reason is the obvious: if you had a story in Greece and people do things in endless grasslands or continent-spanning mountain ranges or suffer from the heavy snow in the long, long winters, then people will be very confused.

But if all you need for your story are the architecture and the philosophy, then you can have a country looking a lot like whatever you want it.

You may want to keep in mind that things like philosophy require a working culture, particularly a well-enough established agriculture to provide in abundance, lest nobody have time for philosophy. And togas really don't work very well in a cold and rainy climate.

So, if you use the name, use the image your readers expect. If you don't use the name, do whatever you please.

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  • $\begingroup$ The ancient Grecians did not wear togas. The ancient Romans wore togas. Togas are just about as dissimilar from ancient Greek clothes as they can possibly be withing the general aproach to clothing favored by ancient Mediterranean nations. And BTW, a toga is made of 6 to 12 square meters of woolen cloth; it is very suitable for cool weather. $\endgroup$ – AlexP May 28 '18 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP I assume your information is correct. Yet, as i also wrote in my answer, the expectation of the public is a lot more relevant to the topic at hand than the actual facts. Still, thank you for your clarification! $\endgroup$ – Burki May 29 '18 at 6:37
  • $\begingroup$ I somehow suspect that those members of the public who are able to recognize the link between a story and ancient Greece are also aware of the difference between a chiton and a toga. $\endgroup$ – AlexP May 29 '18 at 8:42
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To a point yes fictional geography needs to be rooted in earthly geography; because your audience are human, you, as an author, can't describe geography that we don't have at least some context for. That being said you can change the rules a lot, just have a look at some of the questions on infinite environments when you have a chance. You can do even more and stranger things if magic is part of the setting you're using.

When worldbuilding physical geography can be massively important, and usually has at least some bearing on the process, but that doesn't mean that any except the broadest and most basic details need make it into the finished story. The key is to work out what, in particular, about Greece you want to form part of your story; you may want to talk about the island culture of Ancient Greece where over every horizon was a different people with strange customs, or Classical Greek culture the birth place of democracy and scientific method, or maybe you want to speak to the way that the inhospitable interior of later centuries created a coastal culture of fishermen and small farms on the flat edges. If your story is about the ancient Islanders or the late era fishermen then you definitely do need to speak to the geography of the setting, but if you're concerned with the enlightenment of the classical urbanites then it's culture and not geography you're primarily writing about.

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It depends on the degree of similarity you require and how believable you want your world to be. I am approaching assuming you wish to retain most aspects of Greek culture.

Greeks were/are Greeks, as Romans were Romans, because of the lands that shaped them. Art, architecture, diet, language, political spheres, policies, wealth, all are influenced heavily by geography. People in a landlocked, snow capped northern plain would not developed as the Greeks did.

Climate and geography for example have been shown to have influence on language. Humid climates promote tonal language, temperature influences volume, thinner air promotes ejectives etc.

The mountainous geography of Greece played into the development of the various Greek city states by isolating these ancient cities.

The vast coasts of Greece would have effected their diet, their access to trade and thus wealth, the degree of foreign influences etc.

In short there is a cause for everything, and if you take the Greeks from their lands, but wish to retain all aspects of their culture you best find reason for it, otherwise it may impact the believability of your world.

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