Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Worldbuilding and Fantasy Counterpart Cultures March 16, 2012

Filed under: Books,Writing — katblogger @ 7:32 PM
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As I mentioned last post, my newest project is a fantasy book. A lot of fantasy books just recycle the same tired tropes. The Chosen One receives a call for help and travels on an epic quest with their doomed mentor (a prophecy may or may not be involved) to save the kingdom from an evil overlord. Sound familiar? That plotline can apply to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or Eragon, and that’s only scratching the surface. They can be done well, but I’m sick of them, so in this project I seek to overturn – subvert, to use TVtropes terminology – a bunch of them.

) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons”]A very common stereotype in fantasy books is the setting. I swear, whether you’re in a parallel dimension Earth, a completely made up story, or in the distant future, everyone seems to be stuck on medieval Europe. Sword fights abound, knights in shining armor rescue damsels in distress, and the culture, food, and typical clothing reflect medieval European norms (or what we think they were.) The rest of the world might as well not exist.

To counter this, I made sure that the two cultures explored in my book aren’t English at all. One is almost perfectly like rural Afghanistan – surprisingly so. I had a rough idea of what I wanted, started researching the country, and they matched. The other is  a bit like pre-industrial Russia.

When you’re building an entire world, you have to consider a LOT. That’s why so many people make it a carbon copy of the cultures they already know. If you’re trying to adapt a culture you’re less familiar with – or invent an entirely new one – it takes a lot of work.

How much work? If you’re curious, or interested in building your own new universe, check out Yuffie’s extremely helpful guide on Wattpad:

Taking an anthropology course, visiting other countries, or just reading a lot will also help. So what are you waiting for? Happy world building.


Fun With Characters March 12, 2012

Filed under: Books,Writing — katblogger @ 8:43 PM
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I have this thing about selfless characters.

You know the ones. The holier than thou, too good for this sinful earth kind of guys. You can tell them, “Hey, I’ve signed you up for this extremely high pressure quest that’ll probably kill you and definitely involve some maiming” and they’ll just ask, “When do I start?” They never seemed concerned with their own well-being, righteously striving for the greater good.

I read/watch these characters and call bs. I’m sure there are gloriously selfless people out there. But most humans are selfish creatures at least part of the time. We’re programmed to look out for ourselves, and it’s perfectly ok not to have suicidal grandiose impulses. For example, if I was about to turn into a vessel for some monster creature, I’d probably at least pause and consider the pros and cons before chucking myself into a volcano. But I digress.

The point is, characters are supposed to be real people. Relatable people. And that’s why most of my characters start out looking out for number one. Some of them are pretty much normal, while others are shockingly self-centered. It takes them a lot of time before they start doing things for other people, and I feel that it’s more realistic that way.

For example, a supporting MC in my newest project (tentatively titled Starborn after three changes – I seem to have a thing for S’s) starts out as a total jerk. The novel serves as a bit of a private joke about typical fantasy clichés, and I did my best to flip around a lot of the things you’d expect. This character is a subversion of the typical noble knight/warrior who lives by a code of honor and whatever whatever. Instead, he’s a thief buried waist deep in the criminal underground who isn’t averse to bending a few rules – or breaking them. He spends a good chunk of the book lying to and manipulating the main character (who’s supposed to be his best friend). Nice. Interestingly enough, he has his reasons – ones that seem ironically noble on the surface but are really motivated by self-preservation. When he finally straightens out (or becomes marginally less crooked, at least), it’s after a lot of time and development. People don’t change right away, even if they seem to. (Yep. He’s going to be a lot of fun to write.)

Maybe other people like the heroic archetype, and I’m just a curmudgeon with jade colored glasses. Either way, you’re unlikely to find any perfect self-sacrificing hero types around me. Just a lot of complaining, selfish real people who finally get up the guts to do what they have to do before it’s too late. Having that development and making that decision to completely change their character, to me, makes them even more heroic.