Archive | September 2012

Thoughts on World-Building

A critical component of modern fantasy writing is the process of world-building. You have a story to tell. Where will it be set? What are the unique characteristics of this world that separate it from Earth or any other? What kind of creatures and people live there? What is the culture of each of these? And a host of other questions must be addressed.

I’ve been involved with world-building for a good portion of my life, though for many years, my world-building was limited to a pen and pencil RPG environment. The needs of RPG world-building are somewhat similar to the needs of literature world-building, but I think the RPG environment requires more extensive work. After all, in an RPG game, the players decide where to go, not the gamemaster—no, the GM must be prepared for any eventuality. In writing, however, the author decides on everything. If the main characters of the novel are not heading into the arctic region of the world, there is no need to develop that region. I think this is a lesson I was a little slow in learning. For a while, I was spending one day out of the week on world-building while I wrote my next novel. The problem was: I was generating more material than I needed. I had several evil races and creatures in the area of Drisdak, but as it turns out, I will have difficulty working in just one. I think a more focused approach is called for.

What are the essentials? Well, I think geography is critical. I do have maps of my world (but I don’t have access to a scanner, so I can’t include them in my books yet). In any event, the maps I do have keep me from placing Drisdak north and south of Ansellian at the same time. That will prevent any number of embarrassing slip-ups like that. Additionally, you need to have some thoughts and ideas in place for the cultures of each of the main characters. Details of their religious orders, and what have you. This helps in developing the characters, their conflicts, and their beliefs. However, the main characters will require work beyond that. You shouldn’t limit their development simply to the confines of their culture. Just begin there. Start with culture, move on to religion, and then, ask what makes them unique and go from there. In my own world of Athron, the majority of the characters come from the same feudalistic society based largely on medieval Europe of Earth. There are exceptions, but that’s where I began.

Another critical component of world-building is the magic system. How detailed do you want this to be? Will it be as simple as a single magical talent like in Piers Anthony’s Xanth, or as complex as Brandon Sanderson’s Allomancy in Mistborn? In my world, magic entails an involved study with many different subfields. I began with the standard four elements that appear in a great deal of other literature—earth, wind, sea, and fire—and went on from there. I also have alchemy, and the study of runes as separate, but related disciplines. So, for example, a wizard might be skilled in flamecraft which gives him access to fire spells, but he also might know fire-based alchemy, and fire-based runes. A lot of this is actually crossover from my RPG development and it was intended that way.

So, to sum up, these are the essential elements of basic world-building for a fantasy world: geography, cultures and religions of the main characters, idiosyncrasies of the main characters, and last, but not least, the magic system. Start there and you are on your way.

And remember: you don’t want to befuddle the reader with too many details (I’ve seen that happen in other’s work, and it is something I’d personally like to avoid).

Winner of Blog Tour

Drasmyr Blog Review Tour

Congratulations to Lysette Lam, winner of my recent blog tour contest. As a result, she will be receiving a small collection of Vampire Wars metal miniatures: specifically, two Counts and two Slayers, plus three Drasmyr bookmarks. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Old Movie Review: The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The Hulk was pretty much my favorite superhero as a kid. I used to watch the old TV program religiously. Loved the haunting melody they played at the end. I’ve been waiting for an Incredible Hulk movie for years. The first one, “The Hulk” with Eric Bana (I think) was disappointing. This one, with Edward Norton, was not. A much better movie. And the cool thing is, the way the set it up, it doesn’t supplant the first movie, unless you want it too. If you liked the “Hulk” with Eric Bana, then you can choose to view this as a sequel, just with a different actor. That movie ended with Dr. Banner in South America. This movie begins (although there is a brief recap of Banner’s accident in the opening credits) with Dr. Banner in South America. So, is it the sequel to the Hulk or not? You decide.

 

Anyway, Dr. Bruce Banner was a scientist working on a gamma ray project when he was exposed to gamma radiation (of his own accord), and altered. Now, whenever he gets angry, he transforms into a huge green hulk, a beast of all muscle, and incredible strength. Of course, a certain general in the military wants to take the Hulk, find out what makes him tick, and replicate it for military purposes. Hence, poor Dr. Banner is constantly on the run, throughout the world, trying to avoid capture and potential vivisection. He’s also looking for a cure. One scientist in the U.S. is secretly helping him, and it is through that connection that he is drawn back into the United States. Of course, a superhero is nothing unless he has a supervillain to square off against. In this case, one of the general’s men, agrees to biological manipulation and ultimately turns into a horrible monster known as the Abomination, a beast so powerful, he can even give the Hulk a run for his money.

 

That’s the story in a nutshell. Basically, the Incredible Hulk is a Smash-Fest. But a well-done Smash-Fest. When I was a kid, I always watched the TV program waiting for the Hulk to appear. He usually appeared once in the beginning, then once again at the end. In this movie, the Hulk appears three times. And each time is pretty great. Satisfies the inner anarchist in all of us. If you are looking for dramatic plot, serious discourse, and well-scripted dialogue… you might like this movie. The dialogue was good, there were some clever lines, and what can be more dramatic than an unstoppable Abomination ravaging Harlem. But it’s the slug-fest that defines this movie. That was the whole point of the movie; that is the whole point of the Hulk. “Rawr… Hulk… SMASH!” If you are looking for chaos and mayhem and a big green fella kicking tail, then this is the movie for you.

 

I’ll give it four stars out of five.

Vampire, Werewolf, or Zombie? Which Would You Rather Be?

I haven’t done a completely ridiculous post in quite some time (excepting, of course, on my recent blog tour), so I figure I’m overdue. So, here goes.

 

The question of the ages. You are condemned to live the rest of your life as a monster, but you are given a choice: you can be a vampire, a werewolf, or a zombie. What is your decision?

 

For myself, I’m going with the werewolf primarily because that is the one where you retain the most of your humanity. I mean, a zombie, really? All you have to look forward to is shambling around the countryside, rotting from the inside out, or from the outside in, and looking to feast on brains. Your intellectual capacity is reduced to virtually zero, and you’ve come to accept monosyllabic grunts and groans as the pinnacle of communication. No reading philosophy for you! A step up from that is the vampire. Here, well, you’re dead. According to most traditions, you are incinerated by sunlight so it’s the nightlife for you. You sleep in coffins, and drink human blood. Gone are the days of feasting on hot chicken wings and beer; nope, just blood. Day in. Day out. Although you do have some funky powers, and you have retained your remarkable intellect, you also suffer from a variety of weaknesses, like the previously mentioned sunlight. But also, you can’t enter a building unless invited. You can’t cross running water. You are repelled by holy objects. And most importantly of all: you stink. No matter where you go or what you do, whenever you set up house, you are haunted by that ever-present, hideous odor of the undead. The stuff of rotting corpses and graves. A small price to pay for immortality perhaps, but not an easy one.

 

Compare the above, to the werewolf. Once a month (okay, maybe three evenings a month, one on either side of the full moon, if we are generous), you transform into a hideous beast and roam the countryside looking for someone to rip to shreds. You have little memory of these events, let alone control. The rest of the time, you are basically a human, often with extraordinary strength and keen senses. You can go around in sunlight; you don’t rot; and you don’t stink… although you might have a bad case of fleas. Some traditions hold that you are immortal; others, that you will die in your own time.

 

For myself, immortality does have something of an allure; I could learn a lot in limitless time, but eventually, I think, I’d get bored.

 

I think all three of the above constitute curses. Vampires and werewolves are usually associated with losing your soul… not so sure about zombies. If God is understanding and lets you into heaven after your zombie body is destroyed, then perhaps that’s the way to go. But ignoring afterlife concerns, I’m sticking with the werewolf.

Blog Tour Winner Update

For those interested: I’ve picked a winner from among the commenters on my last blog tour. I’m just waiting on confirmation (I need an address to mail the metal miniatures to). I will announce the winner here, when we have confirmation.

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