Category Archives: World Building

About the world building process (or in this case, the Land-building process), and trying to be original… which seems almost impossible at times.

Map of the Known Land

Greetings, all!

Today I kick off a new map project. I am editing the artistic “Parchment Version” of the Map of the Known Land to add more cities and geographical details while (somehow) not taking away from the beauty of the original. I will not try to include all of the information from the original hand-drawn version since I believe that would add too much clutter. So look for new versions in the near future here on the site.

Also note that the map now has its own page on the banner above for easier reference.

Sadly I have no new updates in terms of my ongoing quest for agent representation. There are still several irons in the proverbial fire, however, with three agents currently reviewing the full manuscript of THE PROVING. But patience is still the word of the day month year.

I am still querying new agents all the while, and I do believe that good news is coming.

More soon!

Kevin

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The Death of Dragons

I should have seen this coming.

AFTER I spent an entire post praising my originality since I managed to avoid most of the overused tropes in today’s fantasy writing, I started being nagged. By my own inner writer’s voice. “So what about that one or two super-stereotypical thing you DO have in the books??? It’s still there! And it’s still trite, overused, and played out. What are you gonna do about it???”

Then as if ordained from above, an agent and author who works as an Admin at Author Salon gave me one pointed comment. “Are you married to the use of dragons? Nowadays, having dragons in your pitch can be an absolute flush-word for some agents and publishers” or words to that effect.

Yup. The one area in which I failed the originality test. Me and my talking dragons. The ones that don’t even show up (as far as the reader knows) until several books down the line. Yes, they are an overused trope.

So I killed them.

Well, replaced them. The fact is, it doesn’t HAVE to be dragon-based. The way I used these two uber-powerful representative creatures embodying good and evil is sort of creature-neutral. It could be any sort of mythical beast, as long as its reasonably impressive looking and has some gravitas. Or can be GIVEN gravitas.

So dragons are out. And nothing else changes. They way they work, the way they are identified, their behind the scenes purposes, none of these things changes. Just the name does. And I am pretty stinkin’ happy about it, frankly. Yet another example of why I LOVE feedback.

Later, all!

~Kevin

 

Originality and World-Building

I am pretty excited, I must admit. A well-known, well-established agent just requested the full manuscript of Emergence for review. LOVE IT!  Hope springs eternal. But let’s talk about worldbuilding.

Does world-building have a dash in it? Still not sure about that…

One of my goals in The Tome of Greystone is originality. I don’t want to fall into the trap of re-hashing others ideas and concepts, no matter how cool they are and how excellently they would fit. A few months ago, I came across a web page listing something like 75 questions for the aspiring fantasy author. The instructions were to stop your writing project immediately if you answer “yes” to ANY of the questions because you are just copying fantasy classics. I started into the questions with a little trepidation… would I pass? Or was I actually no where near as original as I hoped?

I passed with flying colors. The questions were really just trying to weed out copy-cats of The Lord of the Rings and similar icons, so it wasn’t really hard. The closest I got to failing was the questions “Are you writing book one of a trilogy?”. Technically I could say yes, except for the fact that this trilogy is itself just the first entry in a larger set of books (like, 9 trilogies), so I let myself off the hook.

But I already knew that The Tome of Greystone was going to be far from Tolkien-esque in most ways. At the outset I determined that there would be no elves or dwarves or things like orcs nor wizards with staves in the books (okay, I do have dragons… eventually. Can’t win ’em all!). I even advertise this lack of fantasy norms in my oft-mailed query letter. But originality needs to go deeper than just NOT copying the greats. So here is how I would describe the key requirements for original world-building – as I applied them in Emergence.

1) Humans and Non-Human Races: Yeah, they just need to be new. I just don’t feel that any new fantasy is going to cut it nowadays if it features traditional Tolkien-AD&D elves, dwarves, half-elves, etc. I decided to go in another direction entirely. EVERYONE is human in the Lands of Greystone, with the exception of the dragons (which really are a race, but a very small one) and a few of the monsters (which are creations/servants and don’t really count as races). Of course, since the people of Greystone believe in neither monsters nor dragons, just the humans really register.

2) The Calendar: Most fantasy that I have read features pretty cool new takes on how different imaginary people-groups mark time. I think this is critical, and really helps with the immersive nature of good fantasy. I cheated a little here. The idea of making up names for months of the calendar and expecting readers to learn them gave me a headache. Then I thought, who needs 12 months anyway? So I created a 4-month calendar based on the simple division of seasons. Different, but instantly recognizable and relate-able to the reader (even the young reader). Generally speaking, each year is made up of 4 seasons called, crazily enough, Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter (always capitalized). Each Season is 91 days long. yes, I know, 364-ish days comprising a year is NOT original. Whatever. So the date might be Spring 44th, or the 1st of Fall, or Winter 89th.

Handling years is much easier. In Greystone they use the Ramagan Calendar (RC), named after some long-dead researcher named Fore Ramago.  He created number system for the years of recorded history that the people of the known Land have accumulated. This was not trivial, since there are almost no historical documents available that are more than 300 years old. Emergence begins in RC 1299. It’s also just as common for nations to number their years by the current ruling monarch, such as “Year of the King 22”.

3) Economics: I really wanted to do a good job on this aspect of The Tome of Greystone. Money systems, trade, business, commerce, banking, and shopping all need be more than original… they need to be natural. In the same way that we never stop to think about the existence of banks and money, about the cost of goods and services, about salaries and social classes, the characters in a good fantasy need to be naturally cognizant of such things. So the systems of commerce and money and trade need to be defined in detail behind the scenes in advance. Once that’s done, bits and pieces of these systems can be dropped into the story whenever it makes sense. I won’t go into detail here about the monetary systems of the Protectorates and surrounding countries, but they’re pretty complete. But at the same time, I hope not so complex as to become annoying.

4) Politics: Just as with economics, politics are huge. I have never seen a writer manage this part of world-building as well as Robert Jordan in The Wheel of Time. Second best would probably be David Eddings’ Belgariad. Without going to the level of those great authors, I do try to make the political machinations in Greystone original and compelling. But since they are NOT central to the story, a balance needs to be maintained.

5) People and Places: Idiosyncrasies, both regional and even at the city or town level, are a real part of our daily lives. Where I live near Cincinnati, there is an established norm for what people are like on the “West Side” of town versus the “East Side”. All of us can recognize a New York accent when we hear one. We all expect a certain type of behavior when we hear the phrase “Southern Hospitality”. Building these types of norms into the known Land is critical, I believe, for making the world more real. But they need to be original to the greatest extent possible… not copied from the accepted standards for fantasy novels (if such standards exist).

That’s all for now, friends! More to come…

~Kevin

 

Valley Girls in Greystone. Totally.

I received feedback this past weekend from one of the early readers. His thoughts really made me think, so I thought I would bring some of those thoughts here to the blog. In summary, his comments involved inappropriate voice from some of the characters… in terms of figures of speech, colloquialisms, and expressions (sure hope I am using “voice” correctly in this context!). Note that this isn’t the first time I have heard this comment. And I doubt it will be the last.

Generally speaking, the comments state that character X in the traditional middle ages setting Y “just wouldn’t say that”… where the “that” is a turn of phrase that the reader is familiar with from modern discourse. I have been very much in agreement with this idea in general. It would be distracting to have your contemporary fantasy realm heroes suddenly start talking like valley girls. You are taking the time to build an elaborate fantasy world, so why not also include language in your differentiators?

But this does raise a question: who’s to say what the common expressions are in a given fantasy world? What if, for example, the people of a given region DID in fact sound like, well, valley girls? If it worked for the internal consistency of the story and other world-building details, why not?

Of course, the answer is that the book would stink, that’s why. But there is a point in there somewhere. For example, where is it written that all American fantasy automatically means characters with english accents? And that therefore speak with conventional Brittish idioms?

So far, only one of the groups of characters I have come up with have Brittish accents and speak with the formal bent of the Queen’s english; the Bards. But the Falons, for example, seem to have Aussie accents, and Heartlanders have southern Kentucky drawls. So shouldn’t their speech reflect their regional differences?

Of course it should. But without distracting or confusing the reader by using words that automatically bring unwanted, out of place imagery into the story.

OK – enough for now!

Kevin

Questions of World Building

Be original. It sounds like an impossible task. Hasn’t everything already been done? Haven’t all of the good ideas already been taken? Do you REALLY want to be sued by some other author or film-maker if your book ever gets published and they think you stole their ideas? And even if you are not ever published and therefore being sued is not a risk, do you want to write yet another predictable, standard fantasy book with all the norms and structures most in the genre are used to?

I decided that my answers to all of the above are NO. And so the world building began.

Basic principles of the Lands of Greystone and the story:

1)      This is a Land, not a world. My old friends from High School will remember the idea. More specifically, this place has a completely different cosmology than anything we are used to in reality. The Land of Greystone is NOT a planet or a globe. If you are a bird and go east across the huge Erinor Ocean for a really long time, there is no guarantee that you will eventually get back to where you started. In fact, I can guarantee that bird that it will NOT ever get back to where it started simply by flying straight ahead. (As an aside, the idea of calling this place the Land of Greystone reminds me way to much of Donaldson’s “Land” in “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant”… but the word ‘Land’ is so generic, and putting Greystone with it sort of sets it apart, so I decided to give in on this point. Sure hope that’s good enough to avoid any issues!).

2)      Greystone (the Land) and the Greystone Protectorates (the Country) are not places where magic is a known quantity. To the contrary, daily life is much like late-middle ages Europe in our world. In fact, people who believe in or claim that they can personally use “magic” or special powers are suspected of being insane and subject to forced medical treatment. There are no magic users per se, no spells or magic wands, no wizards, nothing of the sort. There ARE people with special powers/abilities as a natural part of the story (lots and lots of special powers and abilities… magic is central to the story), but such people are very special and very rare.

3)      There are not the prototypical multiple races of intelligent life in Greystone. No dwarves, no elves, no fairies, no pixies, no dryads, no gnomes, no Narnia-like talking animals. In general, there are just plain humans (while there are different groupings of humans, sometimes distinguished by physical stature or looks). BUT… there are rumors of dragons in Greystone’s distant past, and of monsters of various descriptions. Both (intelligent dragons and various nasty monsters) will make appearances prominently in the story.

4)      The story is intended to read like a mystery novel just as much as it is a fantasy novel. Clues are everywhere to what’s really going on and why, and very few things that are in the story are throw-away material. I have always loved plot twists and gotcha moments, so I am trying my best to make them happen here – both on a small scale from event to event, and across what I hope will be multiple books.

5)      In order to push for more originality, I created a new calendar system for Greystone, a new monetary system for all of the countries of the known Land, and somewhat-new governmental systems for the main country (the Greystone Protectorates) and the surrounding countries. Lots of new political and cultural items sprang out of these items, which I can therefore rest assured are either original or only redundant by chance.

6)      This is not going to be a children’s story. I mention C.S. Lewis from time to time, but really that is just because I love his sense of wonder and his use of Christian allegory. There are many parts of this story that will be brutally violent, lots of scary monsters and death… not stuck in cavalierly, but with descriptions that capture what it would really look like if the events were real. There will not be any sex to speak of on-camera, but there will be innuendo. There’s no bad language that we can recognize (I invented my own swear words, parroting Robert Jordan), so all in all I would give the books a PG-13 rating for violence and scary imagery.

7)      I am relying strongly on 2 main tools: maps, and a glossary. I have multiple maps that give the lay of the Land, so to speak, that will be in the front of the book a la every fantasy story ever written ever. And I am maintaining a growing glossary of terms and people for the back of the book for my reference… oh yeah, and or the reader’s reference as well.

More to come!

~Kevin