Monday, May 28, 2007

Ten Feet Beyond the Road

Jess is back with a new blog, and

New Writer's Weekly Question #1:

In creating the world your characters live, work, and play in, what sorts of things have you had to consider? How do you go about creating a world that allows your characters to do what they need to do, and yet make the world accessible to your readers?

First of all, let me link to an important resource for this, which is also on my sidebar:

Patricia C. Wrede's Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions

As the name says, it's for building fantasy worlds, but I imagine parts of it would be useful for science fiction and other genres, with a bit of imagination and adaptation.

Now, I've told this story before, although not in much detail:

ate Wilhelm and Damon Knight (he's the guy with the beard, right) taught the last two weeks together. Damon seemed to contradict a lot of the writing advice we'd had to that point, even some of his own. He also discouraged the heck out of me when he said he had the impression that Mâvarin ended "ten feet beyond the road." I disagreed strongly, but the truth is that I wasn't big on concrete detail in those days. I've worked hard over the years to overcome my talking heads syndrome, in large part because of Damon's remark. Damon also taught about the business side of writing, which I found more helpful at the time than the actual writing advice. Oddly, though, I've since bought a book of Damon's writing advice, and it all resonates with me, nearly thirty years later.

The material of mine that Damon Knight was critiquing consisted of early drafts of the first three chapters or so of The Tengrem Sword, later to become Heirs of Mâvarin. I was no good at physical description back then; when you don't tend to notice what things look like, you probably won't describe them well, either.

But when I finally found a way to write past page 70 (short version: wrote in restaurants, and mostly didn't try to plot things in advance), mentioning how something looked (or sounded, or smelled) was something I tried to make myself do. And as characters fretted about what to do next, I worked through their immediate options, figured out the implications and wrote the scenes.

Among the things I've had to learn about Mâvarin:

  • It's not really a fake-medieval setting. For one thing, it's an alternate universe version of the eastern U.S., not England. for another, the technology is closer to the Age of Homespun than the Middle Ages.
  • There are no dragons, unicorns, minotaurs, griffins, harpies, etc. in Mâvarin. However, they exist in the mythology of Londer, so mages with the right talents can make a conceivably make a monster (but seldom do).
  • The average mage has two or three magical talents. Rani has four.
  • Some spells are "cross discipline" and require only generalized magical talent, not anything specific.
  • The main road from north to south parallels the River Misis, sort of a cross between the mighty Mississippi and the Eric Canal. There are barges on the river.
  • There are big controversies within magical communities around different styles of magic, especially spirit magic.
  • There's a book on an island in the middle of the ocean, which unlocks the secret of traveling to other versions of reality.
  • Londer is basically Victorian. Mâvarin is backward by comparison.
  • Del stayed in a blue bedroom.
More later. Must sleep now!


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