Tag Archives: Worldbuilding

Why Fantasy?

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I’ve been asked before, why do you write fantasy?  Why not something more real?  I’ve also been asked why M/M romance, why poly, why Wiccan, why, why, why.  I think it’s a fascinating question, in and of itself, and indicative of the conundrum those of us who like to read fantasy and science-fiction face:  we see more than everyday reality, and we want to read stories about more than everyday reality.

Steven King sums this up nicely.  He writes stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.  He twists some element of reality, making it odd or strange, and then throws people into the mix to see what happens.  In an interview about one of his recent projects, a television serial called “Under the Dome,” he remarked that he didn’t make the people unusual; the villain is really the darkness in the people themselves when caged for an extended period of time.  Chilling.

I’ve written before that the trick to writing a good fantasy or science-fiction is in the details, the world-building, if you will.  Ray Bradbury is another one who writes about ordinariness in the extraordinary:  suburban Americana on Mars, for example.  He also writes about the extraordinary in ordinary terms: a painted, tattooed man whose tattoos were done by a woman from the future.  He uses tattoos later, in “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” in more sinister fashion as the tattoos tell the wickedness of the characters and, through them, of mankind itself.

For me, I write fantasy because it allows me to step back and write about things at one remove.  I can pick and choose what “ordinary” elements I want to include and have more control over the world.  I can idealize some elements, as when I added magic to the world of TIGER TIGER, our upcoming release from Samhain Publishing.  As Rachel and I wrote the book, we spent hours roaming Chicago’s north side, looking for the neighborhood where the book takes place, deciding where to put The Factory, the restaurant and BDSM club in the book.  We roamed the lakeshore, exploring where Doc jogged on a regular basis.  All these ordinary details made writing TIGER TIGER feel more real, despite the unreality of weretigers and magic.

What about you?  What are your favorite fantasy stories?

Training the Eye

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There’s a common misperception that fantasy is about the imprecise, the ephemeral, the unknowable, and therefore the usual rules of writing and art do not apply.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, in fantasy, one must be more precise in order to create a plausible otherworld.

That’s all well and good, and many, many articles and books talk about worldbuilding with an emphasis on how to create fantasy worlds that capture readers’ imaginations.  But how do we develop that precision?

In learning to draw, the phrase “training the eye” refers to learning how to see so that one can reproduce what one sees.  The student learns concepts such as negative space (it is sometimes easier to draw the outlines of what isn’t there in order to get at what is there) as well as light and shadow.  In writing, we can learn to hone our descriptive skills in much the same way.

Close your eyes and imagine a room in your home.  It matters less which room, than that the room actually exists.  Now, imagine you are standing in the doorway of your room and look to the left.  In slow motion, look around the room in clockwise direction, slowly enough that you see everything in your mind’s eye.  Then look up at the ceiling, then down at the floor.

Set a digital timer or the one on your cell phone for five minutes.  Now, take out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and quickly, working off the top of your head, write down a list of everything you see.  Keep going until the timer stops; if you forget anything, just jump forward from where your eyes are currently and write down the next thing you do remember.  Try to keep the pen moving for the entire five minutes.

Try this same exercise tomorrow.  See what’s different about your memory the 2nd time around.  Then try a different room.

Next, write a one page narrative using this room.  Write it from the point of view of a character entering it for the first time.  Maybe they’re there to buy the house.  Maybe they’re an alien or a foreign creature who happened on the house.  Maybe they’re a dog or cat.  Whatever the case, use details from your list to salt and pepper your description.

The more realistic details you can put into your scenes, the more real they’ll feel to the reader.  This exercise segues well into creating a world that doesn’t really exist.  The more clearly you can see the otherworld in your mind, the more details you can put down on paper, the better able to season your description you will be.


“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
– E.E. Cummings

My links: Blog | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | LinkedIn | Pandora

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Noon and Wilder links: Blog | Website | Facebook
Team Blogs: Nightlight | The Writers Retreat Blog | Beyond the Veil | LGBT Fantasy Fans and Writers
Publishers: Samhain Publishing | Torquere Press

Check out BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Books.

Check out “Taking a Chance“, part of the Charity Sips 2012 to benefit NOH8, available from Torquere Books.
Watch for COOK LIKE A WRITER, coming February 2013 from the Guerrilla Chicks.
Watch for TIGER TIGER, coming July, 2013, from Samhain Publishing.

Fantasy Holiday Worldbuilding

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2012-12-10 post

I think one of the harder parts of worldbuilding is the development of a distinct cosmogony. George Lucas talked about that in reference to the philosophy in Star Wars. While it was based on Taoism, he said, it wasn’t enough of a philosophy to guide life. I can see what he means, from having written a couple new worlds. It’s difficult to create a fully-formed philosophy for a new culture, just as it’s a challenge to understand our current cultures and their varied expressions of religion.

On Persis, the planet where our novel Emerald Fire takes place, Rachel and I talked a lot about whether or not to have religion play a part and, if so, how large of one. For example, what does a funeral look like? Funerals and weddings are visible expressions of religion and their traditions are as varied as there are cultures on the planet. Did we want to do that on our planet? What religions did the settlers follow?

In the case of Persis, we decided to sidestep the whole issue and make them mostly Unitarian Universalist, with a visible similarity to Zen practices. This allowed us to have a priesthood that is under the radar and discrete. We do have Fundamentalists, in the Diggertowns, but their religion is more about being secretive than being religious. Other than that, we don’t have religion playing a large part in our world at all.

In a piece we’re working on, called Fear Not, we developed an entire cosmogony that is central to the plot. The creation myth has a direct effect on the plot because our characters were given their shifter forms by the goddess. Two goddesses, sisters, met two gods, brothers. The sisters both fell in love with the same brother and the one sister grew jealous of her sister’s love. The creatures they created started to war with each other, driven to it by the anger of their deity. The heroes were given their powerful animal shifter shapes by their patron deity in order to make more effective war. Religion is central to the culture in this story.

Each author resolves the situation in their own way for their stories. What are your favorite stories involving mythology? If you could create a world, what religion(s) would you give your characters?

Resources

“Philosophy and Religion in Star Wars,” Wikipedia entry, Accessed 12/09/2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_and_religion_in_Star_Wars

 


“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
– E.E. Cummings

My links: Blog | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | LinkedIn | Pandora

Knoontime Knitting:  Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Ravelry
Noon and Wilder links: Blog | Website | Facebook
Team Blogs: Nightlight | The Writers Retreat Blog | Beyond the Veil | LGBT Fantasy Fans and Writers
Publishers: Samhain Publishing | Torquere Press

Check out BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Books.

Check out “Taking a Chance“, part of the Charity Sips 2012 to benefit NOH8, available from Torquere Books.
Watch for TIGER TIGER, coming July, 2013, from Samhain Publishing.

Why I love historical fiction

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This isn’t going to be an annotated scholarly work on the Troubadours, and 12th century Occitanian culture, but I thought that I might share some interesting tidbits from my current research.

I’ll start off with something you might not know- Richard the Lionheart was, in all probability, gay. And so was his next-youngest brother, Geoffroy. And they both probably slept with the king of France. Which, any ardent student of medieval history probably knows, but it was news to me when I started researching my current wip. All I was looking for was the chance that troubadours had expressed homosocial desire… Which is much harder to find than I had thought.

A 17th century royal portrait of Richard I

 

 

 

However, all was not lost. I ordered a book called Listening to the Sirens (see below), and there were a few pages dedicated to a troubadour by the name of Arnaut Daniel… who was, possibly, maybe, if you took some of his lyrics a certain way, gay. The evidence is compelling when you look at it, but, you have to be sensitive to the subtext.

Arnaut Daniel was the premier poet and troubadour of his age (and many that followed), and he invented an insanely complex poetic form called the ‘sestina’. He also liked to use obscure language that had multiple meanings

 

 

Arnaut tramet son chantar d’ongl’e d’oncle          Arnaut sends forth this song of uncle and nail

a Grant Desiei, qui de sa verj’a l’arma,                    to Great Desire, which of his rod holds the soul,

son cledisat qu’apres dins cambra intra.                 a framework-song which, learned, the room enters.

Dezirat was the nickname of both Arnaut Daniel and Bertran de Born. It’s true, that the object of desire (ostensibly a noble lady) was quite often given a masculine code name (senha), but that doesn’t actually make it any clearer. There are quite a few words that he uses which could go either way – ver(g/j)a meant virgin, rod, branch, sceptre, and penis, intra meant to penetrate or to enter, and cambra had the double meaning of chamber and vagina. Uncle meant both a literal Uncle, and an older man who was a protector.  I have included a link to a good English translation below. If you read through it you’ll see what I mean. This was a naughty, naughty song.

Dante Alighieri includes Arnaut Daniel in his Divine Comedy in the section on Purgatory. The troubadour was apparently spending time there with all the other lustful hermaphrodites (ie. Men who enjoyed the passive side of of sodomy due to their feminine natures). Dante seems to have thought that quite a few men of letters ended up there, including a number that he knew personally and admired.

In the 12th century they didn’t really have a classification for people who were anything other than heterosexual. Any desires which deviated from the ‘norm’ were considered sin, although there were various gradations of it. If someone had sex with someone of the same gender in a consensual fashion it was considered to be a form of greed on par with charging too much interest on a loan… as long as it wasn’t done too often. If one went around raping people it was much worse to do it to someone of the same gender, and would probably send the perpetrator to hell.

As with all things in European society, the punishments and fears got greater as time wore on. By the 15th century it wasn’t a good idea to be anything different at all, including a leper, Jew, woman (of any kind, but especially an intelligent one), have a severe learning disability, or have any physical deformity (like moles, which were called ‘the kiss of the Devil’- I would have been burned at the stake for sure, since I look a bit like a negative Milky Way and I just can’t help giving people the dubious benefit of my opinions).

History is fabulously fascinating, and half of the joy of writing historical fiction is discovering a context to place the characters in. Also, knowing more about history can make your fantasy worlds more robust- you can cherry-pick elements to add depth.

I don’t know how long it will take me to write the story of Isodard and Berengar, but hopefully once I get everything set up it will flow like hot butter (and not molasses in January, which is my usual writing pace).

~Jennifer

This is supposedly a portrait of Arnaut Daniel (Bibliothèque Nationale, MS cod. fr. 12473)

Works From Which I Got Some Good Tidbits And You Might Like To Read As Well:

Peraino, Judith A. Listening to the Sirens: musical technologies of Queer identity from Homer to Hedwig. University of California Press, Los Angeles, 2006.

Boyle, David. Blondel’s Song: the capture, imprisonment and ransom of Richard the Lionheart. Viking, Toronto, 2005.

http://www.trobar.org/troubadours/arnaut_daniel/arnaut_daniel_09.php

Accessed on September 14, 2012

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Thorne has just recently published a contemporary novella called A Road Not Taken with Samhain Publishing.

Gender Stratification by Surprise

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When Rachel and I set out to write Emerald Fire, our novel from Torquere Press, we wanted to create a culture where male romantic parings aren’t just plausible, but part of the fabric of the society. In order to do that, we considered the age of piracy and the founding of the colonies on Australia, and extrapolated from there. In the process, however, we created a gender-stratified society by accident.

As a feminist, this intrigues me. I used to (and still do, in my heart-of-hearts) spell women with a y – “womyn” – and argue that there is such a thing as a patriarchy. Though some of my ideas of gender relations have mellowed with maturity, not all of them have. It still makes my blood boil that the posters required by the Labor Department in my former employer’s break room stated that in the state of Illinois, women earn $0.71 for every $1.00 a man earns. The fact that this tidbit is posted on a sanitized publication of the government like Minimum Wage requirements and paid time off just makes me ill. It’s not like the gender wars are over; they’ve just gone subterranean, at least for me.

On Persis, we created a class of worker we call “Keepers,” who fulfill the general duties of homecaring traditionally associated with “women’s work”: laundry, cooking, sewing, and tidying. Over the generations, each of the Keeps specialized in certain areas such as music, a particular art, etc. Keepers are only men; women go into the Guilds.

As we developed the world, both for Emerald Keep and for subsequent novels, we continued to focus on the men – mostly because those are our main characters, since the stories are M/M romance. But one day, we woke up and realized that, in effect, we’ve created a strictly stratified society in which men fulfill certain roles that women, by cultural tradition, do not.

Horrors! I immediately found myself wanting to write a novel of a female character who sneaks into a Keep to become a Keeper, or something similar. Rachel got into it too and we developed a character who runs off to become a Hunter and hires her own Keeper, but in a Contract with no intimacy involved. One day, she falls ill and the Keeper receives a shock when he finds out his male Contract is, in fact, not. We may or may not write this story as-is, or we might change it up and vary how we handle it. But I never expected to one day have to gender-bust in my own world that I created myself!

What surprises have you found, if you’re a writer, in your own writing; or as a reader, in your favorite novels?


My links: Blog | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | LinkedIn | Pandora
Knoontime Knitting: Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Ravelry
Noon and Wilder links: Blog | Website | Facebook
Team Blogs: Nightlight | The Writers Retreat Blog | Beyond the Veil | LGBT Fantasy Fans and Writers

Check out BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Press.
Watch for Taking a Chance, part of the Charity Sips 2012 Series from Torquere Press, benefitting NOH8.

Worldbuilding, M/M Style

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In the worlds of fantasy and science-fiction, and all the various permutations of them, one of the single most important elements for the writer to get “right” is the worldbuilding. The readers and viewers expect to be immersed in the worlds the author creates and as much time needs to be given to the development of that world as to the characters themselves.

Now, it’s my argument that we do worldbuilding whenever we write, because the “world” of our story has its own distinct rules and cultures. But that’s a minority view, and for now, let’s concentrate on the worlds of fantasy and science fiction and all the many ways they can be combined. In addition, there are some unique challenges when writing GLBT fantasy or science fiction that aren’t necessarily present in heterosexual environments – though that’s not always true.

Let’s start with the basics. What is worldbuilding?

Let’s take a look at a couple quick videos to get an idea. The first is from Star Wars.

What do we see from this brief excerpt? A desert world surrounds our hero, alien, with strange cars that don’t need wheels. A scary figure in black with harsh breathing threatens a young, beautiful woman. We then see a spaceport, similar to any port with incoming and outgoing craft but with unusual features such as droids and alien figures.

What don’t we see? Dogs, modern fixtures of everyday life, fast food outlets, cars, and other trappings of everyday life. We don’t see tall office buildings, nor do we see billboards. We do see police that look like soldiers (a bit like the German SS, actually), bigots, a teacher, our hero, and pet-like droids that tug at our heart-strings the way good side-kicks are supposed to.

Let’s look at a second scene:

Unfortunately, the scenes I’d like to post aren’t available copyright-free so I can’t, but this gives you a good overview of the world. In quick strokes, Joss Whedon, the creator, paints a picture of a place that is like Star Wars meets the Old West. One of the things I love about this particular series and the movie Serenity is that they got the ships “right” when they’re in space – they have no sound! Sound is a factor of atmosphere and gravity, and in space, there is vacuum and nothing to vibrate to cause sound in our inner ear. However, to my dismay, I watched several trailers and they all added the sound back in!

This actually proves my point, in a way. As we worldbuild, we need to make sure the details we create are meticulous and internally consistent. Firefly was the first space show to get that particular detail “right,” at least that I’m aware of. All the other shows, even Star Trek in its various iterations, add big booming sounds for the spaceship drives.

So, in essence, worldbuilding is creating a plausible environment in which your characters interact with each other and the environment itself. This is why I argue that setting a story anywhere is worldbuilding, because if you interact with the setting then you need to be careful to get the details right – or, at least, consistent. As Mies van der Roh, the architect, said, “God is in the details.”

The unique challenges faced by writing a story with same-sex partners is that the author has the opportunity to create a culture that plausibly accepts, or does not accept, such partnerships. If you want to write a world where two men can have a committed relationship and marry, form family unions with children and a white picket fence, then you need to build a world in which that could plausibly happen. Readers are sophisticated and will be skeptical since, in our everyday reality, being gay is not accepted and is, in some places, punishable by law. (For example, in the Soviet Union, up until its collapse in 1989, being gay was an offense punishable by death.)

In Burning Bright, Rachel and I set it in the world of “now,” but added things like magic and werewolves. But the culture is present-day America, set in Chicago, with all that implies. We didn’t sugar-coat any of the relationships and explore the consequences of being gay in a culture that isn’t openly accepting of it. From the military world the characters come from to the world of present-day Chicago, they must fight for acceptance or hide who they are. This affects each of them differently, according to their personality, just like in everyday life.

Their families, too, are affected by it. Some embrace their sons anyway, others disown them, depending on their own beliefs and desires.

In Emerald Fire, however, we decided to take a completely different tack and create a world where being gay was totally normal and accepted, and necessary for the survival of the people living on Persis. The planet is a desert world, too harsh to live on the surface for one month of the year, called Daymonth, and dangerous the rest of the time. Historically, the settlers protected their women and children and many of the traditional “women’s work” jobs fell to young men. Over time, training academies sprang up to help these young men stay competitive in the workforce and to collectively bargain, provide support, etc.

The most fascinating part of doing this is that we’ve created a gender-stratified society in which women are cloistered and protected. Without intending to at first, we created a situation where women who might want to become Hunters, say, couldn’t because of social norms. This allows us, later, to explore those consequences with our characters, but it was an interesting outgrowth of the worldbuilding.

In classical fantasy, there aren’t many GLBT stories, sadly. My favorite is by Mercedes Lackey, the series of The Last Herald Mage. In the first book, Magic’s Pawn, Vanyel Ashkevron has a secret, in that he’s gay. The story, however, isn’t about a gay boy coming of age – it’s a coming of age story first, and a fantasy epic, and his being gay is merely part of the storytelling. It’s an excellent story on its own merits and shows how worldbuilding, handled by an adept, becomes another character in the story.

One of the best examples of worldbuilding is Anne McCaffrey’s the Dragonriders of Pern. I can’t post the cover paintings here, though I could post a picture of the book itself; however, it’s worth checking out the site’s archives of official and fan art, here. One of the most amazing fantasy artists is Michael Whelan, who did many of the American releases of the Pern books.

What Ms. McCaffrey did, though, is create a world grounded in science and sociology. Settlers found a world in the orbit of a G-type star, just like our own solar system. They landed and interacted with the world in ways that, as we read about them, make sense and are logical and grounded. Rather than a fictional place, these stories become fiction about a place that becomes as real for the reader as the England of Shakespeare. Truly masterful.

There are many other excellent examples in the literature of worldbuilding. What are some of your favorites?