Archive for the ‘World Building’ Category

I was reading various news articles yesterday and I came upon one about a naturally occurring eternal flame burning behind a waterfall – and science has no idea how it is produced.  Which got me thinking about how a place like that would fit perfectly in a fantasy setting.  Fantasy worlds often have places of wonder in them, where strange phenomena produce all manner of natural marvels.

Now given that they are rare and unusual, even for fantasy worlds, they would attract attention, and any visit there is not likely to find the place abandoned, unless in a really dangerous and out-of-the-way place, and not always then.  Consider the climb up Mt Huashan in China, arguably the most dangerous tourist walk in the world.  People have been travelling along narrow plank walkways hammered into the side of cliffs for 700 years there.

So even the most remote places of wonder could have visitors.  You could have hermits and mystics and pilgrims there, merchants taking advantage of it to make a profit or even villages and towns built up around it.  Consider something like an eternal flame.  Maybe an enterprising dwarf tribe has set up there and have used it to power their metalworking business.  Free fire means lesser costs coupled with superior dwarven quality.  A win for all.  Well, the dwarves at least.

So when creating these places of wonder in your worlds, consider how the locals would react to it – and how they might try to make a profit from it.

As a history buff, this is the kind of thing I find interesting – beneath the Sea of Galilee in Israel, a massive, mysterious stone structure has been found, and no one is exactly sure as to its purpose.

It is also big – 70 metres across and 10 metres high. It was first spotted by sonar scan in 2003, and even a dive on the site hasn’t really worked out much about it, who made it, its age or purpose.

The full write up is available in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

As a writer, I like scattering such unknowns around my worlds, random monuments to past ages and cultures that remain mysterious and unexplained.

I have started a new section of the website that will explore the various nations and cultures of Sharael, having a brief look at their histories, appearances and more.

To start it off are the Maedari, about whom I mostly write. Strangely, though they are prominent in all the stories, I haven’t written one yet set in Maedar.

I will be slowly adding to this – and there are a lot of nations and cultures to add.

Professor Halir Ashford. Historian, Explorer and Adventurer. One of the favourite characters I’ve written so far. And a character who really shouldn’t have existed beyond a minor mention. It happens from time to time; characters take on a life of their own and demand a bigger say in things.

His story starts back with a novel I was planning (but never got around to starting). I needed someone to introduce the main character (Heric ‘Harry’ Ban, likewise a character that came about unexpectedly) to the adventure, and so I came up with Halir. he had been a friend of Harry’s father back during a war and was now a professor and historian. The novel was abandoned and the character would have been forgotten except for another novel I started sometime later, Winter Wolves.

Winter Wolves was my first serious effort at plotting and then writing a novel, and was designed to be a showcase for the setting and for Harry Ban. I even managed to complete a round draft. There was a need for a character who would draw Harry into events, and for that I went back to Halir and brought him along.

Though I finished the rough draft, I never got around to fleshing it out, instead, as is my want, I moved onto other projects and suddenly Halir took over somewhat. He got himself two lengthy short stories, Gifts and Sacrifices, and The Tomb of the Tagosa Kings, and then he got himself a full novel in which to star – Tears of the Mountain – which is the first novel I’ve completely properly.

It won’t be the last that Professor Halir is seen either.

Dragons are a ubiquitous element of fantasy. They are one of the first things most people would think about when the word fantasy is said to them and it is quicker to list fantasy series without dragons than it is to list those with them in it.

Dragons are also rather varied, with many authors putting their own take on it. TVTropes says it best in their Our Dragons Are Different entry – this trope deals with big (maybe) strong (possibly) scaly (sometimes) flying (perhaps) fire-breathing (at times) lizard (usually) monsters (traditionally).

Normally I’m one to buck typical fantasy elements but I have to admit that there are dragons in my setting, though as with others I’ve put my own spin on them. Dragons in Sharael are vast and powerful and ancient. And seldom seen. They also don’t have to deal with knights, their traditional foe, as knights never have (and never will) exist in my world. They also appear a little different than your standard dragons. While the fit the large scaly reptilian clause, they are based on a lizard native to Australia – the Thorny Devil, also sometimes called the Thorny Dragon. As the name suggested they are covered in thorns and coloured in shades that help camouflage them in the desert.

This is what one looks like.

Imagine one of them much, much larger and with wings and you have an idea what they look like.  If only I was a decent artist I’d give one a go….

Of late I’ve been making good progress with the rewrite of Tears of the Mountain, averaging two to three thousand words a day. Until last week, when I got sick.

Nothing terribly major, just the latest head cold that was going around. Unfortunately it stuffed my head up good and proper so that my brain decided it was a good idea not to do any thinking and my work rate plummeted putting my schedule way behind. Even after recovering enough to get back to writing it took me a while to get towards being back to speed again.

Writing for me is a bit like driving a car. Once you get out on the highway you cruise along smoothly and keeping up a good output isn’t that hard. However when you stop for whatever reason, you have to work to get back up to speed again.

It did get me thinking about sickness though in stories, especially fantasy stories. It does crop up now and then but is not really nearly as prevalent as it should be in a pseudo-medieval setting. Health was not all that good back then – medicine was as much superstition as anything. Plagues and diseases regularly swept through regions as things like causes and hygiene were unknown. Sailors got scurvy. Soldiers were more likely to die of diseases and sickness than in battle. Modern problems like obesity weren’t as common, being more restricted to the nobility who did have plenty to eat.

Of course the standard answer is that ‘magic did it’ in response to health issues. There would have to be a lot of magic healers on hand to deal with everything though, and it is more likely only the nobility would see them.

It does bare thinking about in terms of my world, that more people should get sick in the stories.

Trolls are one of the more interesting mythological and fantasy creatures to play around with, mainly because they are such blank slates.

While Elves are Elves (pointy-eared, long-lived, hang out in forests), Dwarves are Dwarves (short, bearded, live underground and dig up stuff), Dragons are Dragons (big, reptilian, flying and fire-breathing), it is not the case for Trolls. All Trolls Are Different as TvTropes put it. The reason behind that is because mythological they were so varied that it allows each author to put their own unique slant on them.

There are two that are my favourites – the trolls of Discworld and the trolls of Warcraft.

Discworld trolls use the more common stereotype of the big dumb troll, but not for obvious reasons. They are made of stone, with diamond teeth and silicon brains. The warmer the temperature, the slower their brains work until they can practically turn to rock in very hot weather in the daylight. In optimal conditions (ie very cold) their brains work much better and one troll, Detritus, almost worked out the Grand Unified Theory of Everything while freezing to death. Detritus is one of my favourite Discworld characters. A minor character at first, first seen working as a splatter (like a bouncer only much harder), he eventually joined the City Watch and ended up a sergeant.

Warcraft trolls are much differnet. Tall and lanky, they walk hunched over and speak in Jamaican accents, mon. They also sport tusks and mohawks, are incredible ancient and once had empires stretching across most of Azeroth, practising head-hunting, voodoo and cannibalism (though they got very good at it, so don’t need to practice anymore). The only word to describe them, as a die-hard Hordie, is awesome. And they get to be druids in the expansion – yay trolls!

I’ve been wanting to work trolls into my world for some time, but as yet haven’t found the correct form for them. I want them to be uniqueish, with my own slant on them, but not a clone of something I like. I’m thinking of folding them into the more traditional roles that elves fulfilled – forest dwelling creatures who are highly magical (which would explain their regenerative properties given the way magic functions in my setting), but obviously not looking like elves (or warcraft trolls.) Hopefully I can finalise the details before too long.

I first read The Silmarillion many years ago, back in high-school, and was blown away at just how epic the book was. It is pretty much my favourite book of all time, and if there was one book I wish I could have written, it is it. Now days epic seems more commonly used to describe those twelve 1000-page volume door-stoppers with more characters than a phone book. The Silmarillion is small by comparison, and the epicness in it comes from the characters and history and events, not from the verbosity and length.

Ever since I have wanted to right my own sweeping epic backstory for the history of my mythos, in the manner of The Silmarillion. Of course, being young when I first started out, it wasn’t particularly good, and borrowed too much from The Silmarillion. But as I got older and pulled the world apart and rebuilt it more than once, things changed and the backstory faded away and was mostly forgotten.

The recent announcement of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, and the accompanying trailer, got me thinking about it again. The idea of unleashing a cataclysm on the world of my creation has been one I’ve toyed with for many years, but only in the distant past has it really been appropriate and considered. And so the old gears began to churn again to put together that epic backstory.

I don’t want to do it in the manner of The Silmarillion, which is a straight out narrative telling of the events, but to leave it a bit more open. In particular I want to do it as told by one group, in this case the Arduq, and be their view of the events that transpired. In this regard I am drawing ideas that have intrigued me from two games, or game settings actually. One is the Warcraft setting the other the Elder Scroll setting. Both have a lot of history and backstory scattered through them and built up on but, with the Elder Scroll setting in particular, you are never quite sure if all the little bits of lore you come across are the actual events or not. There are whole websites devoted to the discussing and arguing of the lore of those settings, trying to piece it all together.

If I have a dream, it would be that my words become popular enough that it would inspire that kind of behaviour and that kind of debate. A lot of my stories already have scattered tidbits of history seeded in them, helping to give the world a more fleshed out feel. Some of them are fairly straightforward and make sense, others more obscure and may seem irrelevant so far. Others yet may be stated opinions that may or may not be true. In the upcoming Echoes of Dark Reflections short story, the Minotaur Nhaqosa is talking about the Arduq, and says ‘they were old when the world was young’. It is that kind of thing that leads to debate, hopefully 🙂

Of course, also working out the details properly now means less chance for errors to creep in. If I know what happened and how everything works, I wouldn’t be contradicting what has been said in earlier stories. It is too easy to do and is often seen in sequels that were never thought about when the original story was written – some things just don’t mesh.

The big thing now is to make it suitably epic; the characters, events and history. I have a few ideas already. Hopefully some will make an appearance here at some stage. While it will be the story I have always wanted to write, it is not the kind of story easily sold and is likely the kind of thing that only ever sees the light of day if one becomes very successful and popular. One can only hope and work hard to try and make it so.

At some stage I plan on redoing the whole blog, including expounding a bit more on the background to the stories and how they all fit in together.

To start off with I am going to do a series of post tracking through the time line as it stands now for the world of Sharael. No exact dates are going to be given, as none have been fully finalised.

They will also be done from the point of view of the Maedari, the people whom most of the stories revolve around.

The first one relates to the time before man, the Age of Myth, as told by Professor Halir, son of Aenir, in his treatise The Ages of Man.

The Age of Myth

In the time before man, in the distant past, there was the Age of Myth; a time undreamed of, when the world was young and fertile and rich in life.

There dwelt in those times the Earthborn, that is the ancestors of the Arduq and the Lifeborn, the Dragons. And they did did prosper and their cities were like unto jewels across the verdant lands of Sharael.

Yet to all things comes an end and war came to the fair lands from beyond the world, and the Powers of the Otherworlds did struggle for dominion.

Yet did the Earthborn and Lifeborn raise heroic challenge, but such were the powers arrayed against them that they were brought low and the fair lands marred and broken, and the remnants of those that lived upon it were scattered.

Thus was Sharael reborn into the harsh and desolate world that we know and the Arduq were left a diminished people and the Dragons remained a shadow of whom they were, seldom seen by any.

Yet their lingered in the world relics of these ancient battles, creatures from the Otherworlds, foul and fierce, to haunt the days of the coming of man.

The ages wheeled and past and within time the lands recovered enough that once more life could return, and thus it did, with the coming of the younger races, from where none could tell.

And thus ended the Age of Myths, the accounts of its days forgotten and it was no more, and history past into the Age of Stone.

I didn’t get a whole lot of writing writing done over the weekend, but I’m not too concerned because i did get a bit of background writing done, working out details that should have been done some time ago.

One of my main flaws is keeping all the details floating around in my head without really committing them down. The other one is lack of any real planning – I just write going on what is in my head.

Not exactly the best method. So when I actually did a plot synopsis for Winter Wolves it resulted in an actually finished story. One that is likely to be put aside and forgotten, but a finished one none the less.

Which just goes to prove I need to change my methods.

So over the weekend I sat down and wrote out all the plot points I had in my head and now have an outline, if only so far in point form. It is still basic, and needs expanding on and the order worked on, but it is there. One of the points simply reads ‘Party crosses desert following journal’. Nothing about what is written in the journal and how it helps them yet, just a simple note.

I’ve got an old cork board kicking around, and I’m thinking of getting some notepaper and using it for a plotting board, to really nail this plot down.

Ah, but that was not all that happened. I also worked on mapping. Maps seem an integral part of fantasy now – its rather rare to find fantasy books without a map in them.

I must admit to drawing maps myself all the time, and many times I have started one for the part of the world I’m writing in, but always keep doing major renovations on it. It never quite worked.

Oh, in the stories, I knew roughly where things lay in relation to each other and a vague sense of locations, but I could never nail it down properly. Part of that has to do with knowing too much about tectonics, the ways climate and winds work, rain shadows and deserts and the like – I always kept seeing something that just didn’t make sense.

But finally I got down something over the weekend that looks decent, everything fits in roughly where it should (though I may need to make a few minor modifications to stories here and there) and doesn’t offend too many rules of nature. It still will require a bit more tweaking, but it is close now, and has even clarified a few things for me.

But that wasn’t the end of things.

I also have a rough working timeline, for the first time ever it seems. Still finalising matters, but it spans four thousand years, from the time spoken of in The Cahuac Cycle, when the stone age began to give way to the bronze age, through to the events of The Tomb of the Tagosa Kings.

More to add to it, but the various stories written, and planned, and various other events are pinned down roughly.

There are also events that predate this history, the Age of Myth, but they predate the humans and other new races and the exact dates for them are rather vague, so they are remaining separate for now.

All in all though, I’m rather happy how things turned out. With that done I’m on a bit of a high and can eagerly return to the actual writing for the rest of the week.