Thursday, July 28, 2011

On Conventions

So, the DFWCon has announced when and where the 2012 convention is going to be.  It's in a completely different place than last year-- which is a good thing, since last year's hotel can best be described as functionally spartan, and that's buttering it up-- and a few months later.  I don't know why that is, but there you go.  For those who are seeking representation and can spare the time and money to go, it's worth your while.  Even though I didn't meet my agent through DFWCon (or any other convention), I still found going to be a highly valuable experience. 

Also, ArmadilloCon is coming up in a month.  I am quite excited and nervous for this one-- it's my first time on the other side of the table.  I don't have a problem with public speaking (I was at one time an actor, after all), but I will be quite aware that on any given panel that I may be on, pretty much everyone else on that panel will be someone cooler than me.  I can easily come to terms with that.  I'm an excellent spear-carrier, after all.  I also just read some excellent advice on how to behave when on a panel.  I wasn't going to be in much danger of shameless self-promotion, but it's good to have that extra reminder now. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Another Map for another busy day

Today's post is another map.  A lot going on this week.  Maybe the next post will be a guided culinary tour through Druthal...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

That crazy muse

I have mentioned that the personification of my muse is something of a wild-eyed chain-smoking conspiracy nut that whispers crazy things in my ear.  The thing is, like most muses, he's less than reliable when it comes to giving me what I need when I need it.  More often, he gives me what I don't need when I don't want it.

Take a couple weeks ago.  My plan was to go deep into the word mines and come out with a more polished draft of Maradaine Constabulary.  Plan went awry, since I started hearing whispers of a grand empire that once spanned half a continent.   Then there was a cataclysm, massive magicks shattering civilization.  The only thing spared were a handful of outposts on a barbarian-populated island several hundred miles off the coast.  (Massive magicks don't cross the ocean, you see.)  Then, these whispers tell me about centuries passing on this island, until its civilizations grew to a handful of relatively peaceful monarchies in a renaissance of discovery and exploration.  So now they cross this ocean to find a land filled with dangerous and fascinating creatures, wild and uncontrolled magic, and the ruins and remnants of a lost civilization. 

What do these whispers have to do with Maradaine Constabulary, or even the city of Maradaine, or the world it's on?  Nothing.  Not a blasted thing.  But it becomes a thing that gnaws and picks and hisses in my ear until I write some notes, give it enough of my attention to mollify. 

Will I end up doing anything with this?  Hard to say.  History tells me that as an idea, it's going to sit in the back of my brain to germinate and ferment for a while before anything useful comes out.  Which is good, because I still have to get finished with the rework of Maradaine Constabulary.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Worldbuilding: Setting the Limits

I was reminded by Mike Caton's post about the sometimes artificial limits we place on our worlds when we are building them.  On some level, that's because without those limits, there's a whole other can of worms opened up that we, as writers, would prefer not to deal with.  Take, for example, my 2373 Space Opera setting.  In that setting, humans don't have artificial intelligence technology, robots or boutique cybernetics.  Why?  Because I didn't want to deal with that.

But how to explain WHY?  In that case, I put a dark chapter in human history (unimaginatively called The Cyber Wars) in which AIs tried to rise up against humanity.  Humanity prevailed, and from that point on put safeguards on their computer technology to keep it "dumb".

Magic is another thing that needs its limits.  I know one person who insists that "rules of magic" need to be defined early in a story, which I think may be going a bit far, but certainly as a writer, one needs to know what magic can and can't do.  In my various Maradaine stories, magic can't heal, touch the mind or affect the dead.  Magic is physically draining, and takes energy, and energy means calories.  Mages tend to be skinny and constantly eating. 

Magic also has to have an impact on society.  One thing I believe, and it's reflected in the technology level of most fantasy works being Medieval/Renaissance levels, is this: the presence of real, quantifiable magic impedes the progress of technology.  Impedes, but doesn't halt.  (That's why in Maradaine, technology is closer to 17th century instead of 10th.)

What ways do you all set limits in your worldbuilding?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Old School Influences, Part the Second

Please forgive a certain degree of incoherence in this post.  I'm not drinking coffee this week, and it's hitting me hard today. 

I need to confess something about my influences: I was never that big into Tolkien. Frankly, several times in my teen years I butted my head up against Lord of the Rings to no avail.  It wasn't until I revisited it in my twenties that I was able to get through it, once I figured out what parts I could skim and what to really read. Part of my problem is Tolkein is very, very enamored of giving things names, many different names.... and isn't all that interested in, you know, stuff happening.
"What happened to you?"
"As you may have heard, I was captured by the people of the hills of Jutrel, who are called the Jutreila, who are also known as the Hillmasters of Hemia. They took me across the Swamps of Sisssentaria, which the elves called the Illitírian Fens. This led us the the Pits of Helsinara, called Hudza-Küm by the dwarves and Úlieteza by the elves, where I was cast down, forever trapped."
"Then how did you escape?"
"You know of the one called Rathanor, also known as Jontor Helmin, also the Brown Wanderer, the Fox of Hulestia. The Elves called him Tríesiniilia, the dwarves know him as Hÿnsa the Bold, and the Orcs call him by the most terrible name in their language, which I will not tell you for it is most vile and despicable."
"Yes. He's standing right next to you."
"Well, he came and rescued me."

I admit, I'm exaggerating for effect.  But not by much.  The point is, Tolkien?  Not a big influence on me. 

So what was, then? 

If I'm being honest, I'd have to say it was David Eddings's The Belgariad.  I know.  I know.  It's completely derivative.  It's totally by the numbers.  Everything in here is archetype, and it's totally on purpose.  Eddings doesn't deny it in the slightest.  He puts his hook in you, and you're sitting there going," "Oh, hey, he's doing this here to hook me." and yet... hooked. 

What it really came down to was characters and dialogue.  Eddings was the first fantasy I read that didn't try to be "high" fantasy.  People talk like people.  There's a snap and a patter to the dialogue.  Despite everyone being on a big Save The World Travelogue Quest, people just chat and ramble on and tease and joke and act like a bunch of people who are traveling together.

And that's what elevated it above being just derivative and by the numbers.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Old School Influences

"It is pitch black.  You are likely to be eaten by a grue."

Those words either mean something special to you, or they don't.  If they do, then you, like me, spent much of the 80s (and perhaps even later years) sitting in front of an Apple II+ (or similar machine) playing Interactive Fiction Games.  Mostly from Infocom, which was the company that set the gold standard for these things. 

They made a ton of great games... and those games really were stories.  Though in raw text, none of them were probably more than a novella's worth-- maybe 20k words.  But the writing was typically so tight and effective that it packed significant worldbuilding and storytelling punch in those few words.  I was immersed, and I was far from the only one.

Probably my three favorites from Infocom were Planetfall, Sorcerer and A Mind Forever Voyaging.  It's probably not a coincidence that Steve Meretzky was the writer of all three.

Sorcerer holds a special place in my heart because it was the first one of these games that I honestly won, with no hints, walkthroughs or other help.  Just doggedly plugging away at it over and over until I got through it.  For a while I was totally stuck on one puzzle, and it wasn't until I thought about a piece of information given in the supplemental materials (the "feelies", as they were called-- Infocom was great at packaging as well as the games themselves) and hit a revelation ("Bat guano!" I actually said out loud wherever I was at the time, and I couldn't wait to get home to test my theory.  And I was right!)  Plus Sorcerer has a terrific Time Travel puzzle.  It's really great, fun work.

A Mind Forever Voyaging is great because it is little more than a rich, detailed environment.  Unlike most games, there isn't much to "solve", in the traditional sense.  But it's a fascinating bit of dystopian sci-fi that's worth experiencing.

How have these thing influenced me?  Hopefully, they helped me be able to do a lot with just a bit of text.  To create situations that characters have to think their way out of.  And to just have fun when I'm writing, keep plugging at it until I have that bat guano breakthrough that gets me through to the end.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Late Thursday Post is Late

I'm going deep into the word mines, dear readers, on something of a personal writing retreat.  So today you get a small map of the city of Maradaine.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day Worldbuilding Blog Post

So, it's Independence day.  I would like to say I'm a big American History geek, but I don't know as much about it as I'd like to.  (I blame my high school American History teacher, who, I kid you not, had a teaching style that mimicked Ben Stein's in Ferris Beuller.  That and I was a surly teenager who didn't study.)  But my American History knowledge is solid.  Not exceptional, but solid.  I can list of the presidents in order (though I might get a little muddled in the Coolidge/Taft/Hoover area). 

What does this have to do with worldbuilding?  Well, I recently pulled out my Druth History file, a document I hadn't actually worked on in several years.  It's actually a pretty thorough document, coming in around 15,000 words, and filled with plenty of information that will, in all likelihood, never have any relevance in any actual novel I write.  But I like having that information anyway. BUT, that said, it needs a re-write, mostly because I feel I'm a much better writer now than I was when I wrote it.

The bones of it are solid.  I don't plan on making any major changes to how the history of Druthal goes.  I do plan on tweaking the writing itself and fleshing out some more details.

One place where I plan do a lot more fleshing out is in the beginning of the eleventh century.  1009 in Druth History is a year of great significance, much like 1776 is in our history.  In fact, a lot of it is about restructuring the nation.  But what I don't have is (in my mind) enough information about the personalities that help shape that restructuring.  Much like how the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers were shaped by people like Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton and many others... I feel like I need to get to know more about the people who shaped Druthal into a Parliamentary Monarchy. 

Plus, I actually have some thoughts on making that stuff somewhat relevant to part of the plot of The Way of the Shield.  Because Dayne is going to be something of a Druth History geek.