Can You Believe That?

The title is apt on two levels. It was the original title to this article, which talks a bit about how I developed the world for The Healer, but it’s also a nice gasp at my audacity in recycling material.

I apologize if you read this on one of the forums our gang posted to back in February. I don’t usually repost something that’s already out there, but I figured many of our readers here are new and frankly, after pushing out more than 12000 words on my latest tome in the last three days, my brain has gone dry with regards to genius tips on How To Write.

What I need to do is refill the mental well. Without further ado, here’s a shortlist on how I topped it up in the first place:

~*~

I should have acknowledged two unknowing contributors to The Healer: Stephanie Bryant, author of 30 Days Of World Building exercises associated with Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) and Conrad Phillip Kottak, author of Anthropology: The Exploration Of Human Diversity.

Stephanie’s brief lessons encourage you to look at aspects the average writer (me, for instance) doesn’t consider when developing a story setting, particularly when said writer usually writes contemporaries. Full disclosure: I don’t read a ton of fantasy. I’ll read anything with a great romance and I follow some of my favorite authors wherever they go—although not too dark—but The Healer was a departure for me as far as writing goes. My worst nightmare was that purists would point and laugh at the author trying to write a fantasy.

Stephanie saved me by forcing me to look at layers of economy, politics, recent history, cataclysmic events, sky, land, resources, religion, language…

And then dear Conrad stepped in, or rather, my husband rescued Conrad’s text book from a garage sale and I said, “Why on earth would you buy that?” He said, “It might be interesting.” I rolled my eyes and ignored it until I needed it.

At which point I opened it and learned that humans are kind of predictable in the way our civilizations evolve from hunter-gatherer tribes to chiefdoms to fiefdoms, all with common hierarchy types and pretty soon you have a King and the only entity that can be higher than a King is, of course, a god.

Interestingly enough, the looser the organization, ie, nomadic tribes, the closer and less defined their gods are, like in the water and the trees and the wind. The Greeks and Romans were pretty complex and they had quite a cast of thousands with their belief system. Their gods and goddesses had specific jobs to oversee: war, harvest, the underworld. Same goes for the Egyptians and Aztecs.

Belief systems are all about explaining the world to ourselves. (Why does the sun rise? Why did my child die?) By the time a civilization reaches empire stage, they tend to have a single god that is eternal and omnipotent.

Fascinated by this, I decided to have three distinct cultures in each of these stages: the Shotes are highly evolved and expanding under the will of their single god, Whirla. The Kerfs are agrarian, wanting their gods of harvest and fertility to keep them safe and fed. The Alvians I made tribal, no real belief system because they’re in tune with nature.

I forgot to mention John Vaillant in my acknowledgements above. He wrote The Golden Spruce, which I read in Book Club a few years ago. In it, he talks about the Hawaiians having songs that belong to a particular tribe in exactly the way we accept ownership of land. The Haida people of The Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida’gwaii) have stories that only one tribe may tell. It’s like trespassing. (Or pirating against copyright, I suppose.)

This was such an interesting perspective, I had to touch on it with my healers. You see, the Alvians are as human as the rest of us, and began growing jealous when one tribe had stronger healers than another. To defuse infighting when marriages were arranged that tied up the strongest lineages, they began to broker mating deals.

Alvian customs don’t allow them to marry and Athadia is meant to rejuvenate her race by making herself available to the best Alvian men she can find. This goes directly against the way Vaun was raised. Conflict! I love conflict.

Finding a workaround taxed my tiny brain and none of my unknowing mentors stepped in to help. Luckily, Fate had a plan.

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