Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guest blogger--R.F. Long

Note: regular blogging will resume Monday. Thanks everyone!

R.F. Long is a regular commenter on my livejournal, and an all-around great gal. So when she mentioned she had a new release coming up--The Scroll Thief, from Samahin Publishing--I invited her to pop on over and write me a guest post. Which she has done, admirably. Why not pay her back by buying her book? Check this out:

Love is the wiliest thief of all.

A Tale of Ithian

Malachy and his sister rely on his talents as a thief to survive the dangerous streets of Klathport, former capital of the once-great kingdom of Ithian. Stealing a few papers should have been a simple job. Instead, it nearly costs their lives and throws them into an improbable alliance with a shape-shifting official, a desert tribeswoman, and a healer of enchanting beauty.

Cerys is far more than a simple healer—and the roots of her mission go deeper into the past than anyone can know. She needs Malachy’s skills to recover a stolen scroll, one that can be used to rewrite history and, in the wrong hands, release the dark powers of the Demon Realm.

Her mission was supposed to atone for a dreadful, long-ago act. Instead, it unleashes a chain of events which sees them pursued through city and desert by the fearsome Dune Witch and a killer known only as His Lordship. Romance, tragedy, and adventure blend in a tale of a magical land on the brink of war, and five unlikely allies who, by putting their lives—and their hearts—on the line, have the opportunity to finally set things right.

But at a terrible cost.

Awesome, right? So go on! After you read the post, of course. Or, no, you can go buy it and come back later, that's okay too.

Fantasy World Building

I love it when a novel seizes your attention, when you just can’t put it down until you find out what happens next. Many factors contribute to this magic spell – plot, characters, conflict – but nothing will undermine it as quickly as world building which causes the reader to pause, to question and to scratch their head and go “huh?”
World building in “real world” novels is in many ways easier – it’s a matter of research and depiction, of filtering the appropriate information through the story without info-dumping it all on page one. There’s a shorthand to it that a large number of your audience will understand immediately.

But in fantasy novels its easy too, isn’t it? You just make it all up as you go along and hope for the best. You just have to know where to start.

Well, not really. I find that the world building that works for me relies strongly on consistent use of interlocking elements and determined questioning of the elements that make up the world. Just like plotting, an author has to sound like a four-year old, when it comes to every part of their fantasy world – Why? Why? Why?
When you’re creating a brand new fantasy world, or even offering a new slant on a very old one, it pays to consider the history and geography that have created the civilisations, the social, political and economic backgrounds which have brought about the current circumstances, the religious and magical developments which alter everyday life.

Do the different races live in harmony or are they divided? Are there social castes or a rich/poor divide? What sort of ruling class control each country? How would a hereditary royal court in a feudal society react to the rise of a militant theocracy in the neighbouring country? What if previously dormant magic was activated in a public manner, in a country in which magic is outlawed? What if someone could break a curse that has plagued them for centuries, by turning back time and destroying the culture which has developed since?

Many fantasies dwell in a pseudo medieval European world populated with fantastic creatures and magical beings, so beautifully defined and parodied in Diana Wynne-Jones “Guide to Fantasy-land”, which has led many modern writers to seek alternatives. This has led to a stunning diversification in the fantasy environments we encounter today – Lian Hearn’s Otori saga, for example, is set in a fantasy version of medieval Japan.

My novel, “The Scroll Thief”, draws on my honeymoon in Andalusia, the area of southern Spain which in the middle ages was the Moorish realm of Al-Andalus, known for magnificent architecture, sciences, medicine and poetry. We visited magnificent palaces and gardens, and when I came to describe the Realm of Ithian and its shabbier descendent of Klathport, I had the perfect starting point. The echoes of a war between such a place, ruled by the family of a Goddess incarnate and a more visceral, secular land to the north. And with that basic set up, the questions began – Why? Why? Why?

Of course in knowing when to start with world-building, a writer also has to know when to stop. No one likes an info-dump and too much world-building laid out by an over-eager writer, determined to introduce their reader to the fabulous new world they have woven. As much as you might research, develop, and no matter how rich the tapestry you might weave, not everything can make it into the story. Ultimately, many elements might never be used, not in this story, but they are there, backing up the rest, supporting the world built to house the characters and their conflicts, to allow the plot to play out. In the end, it’s time to let the world building stand on its own, and let the story take over.


kirsten saell said...

Excellent post!

Best piece of advice I ever got on worldbuilding was that the reader doesn't HAVE to know everything about your world--YOU do. A reader can often tell if you're just faking your way through a story with half-assed worldbuilding, but as long as you have your history/mythology/rules of society and all that crap clear in your own head, you don't have to disclose every tiny little detail.

Angie said...

But in fantasy novels its easy too, isn’t it? You just make it all up as you go along and hope for the best. You just have to know where to start.

Well, not really. I find that the world building that works for me relies strongly on consistent use of interlocking elements and determined questioning of the elements that make up the world.

THANK you, yes. [nodnod] I wrote a column on this subject a while back -- I wince whenever I hear someone chirp happily about how fantasy is so much easier than contemporary or historical because you can "just make everything up!" :D :D :D


If you just throw a bunch of random pieces together then you'll get a jumble of random pieces, not a coherent, functional world. Making up a good fantasy world is just as much work as researching a historical. It's a different kind of work, to a certain extent, but people who think you can do "Anything!!" in a fantasy just don't know much about fantasy.

Unfortunately there are editors who don't know much about it either, and some of these thrown-together monstrosities actually get published, which just encourages all the other people who think, "See! It's easy!!" At that point I want to start whacking people with a dead salmon until a few brain cells get jarred loose. [wry smile]

Anyway, yeah -- good post. [nod]


R F Long said...

Hi guys!

Kirsten, I totally agree. Although I'd say you don't have to "know" every little detail. Rather than your world should be tight enough in construction that if someone were to ask you an off the wall question you should be able to give them an answer off the cuff that would fit entirely into your world. I do think people tend to overcomplicate how much worldbuilding they actually need, filling journals with details etc but rather that the world *works*, the magic has consequence etc. You need to know your world intimately, but not spill that all over the page - how messy! :)

Hi Angie. I hope I will be avoiding your dead salmon - lol! But yes, too many people think you can do what you want with fantasy. A world needs rules (did I mention I'm a librarian by day? Shhh) and the rules need to be consistent. Glad you liked it!

Thanks a million for having me here, December. I've really enjoyed it!