The Multi-Verse

by Joshua Johnson

Recently, I started work on a second series set on the world of Zaria. It follows a new set of characters and a new plot.

One of the aspects of fantasy worldbuilding that I’ve never really had a chance to explore (for one reason or another) is the concept of multiple storylines built out of from a common base.

Many of my favorite authors have done this in one degree or another, and I’ve always been interested in doing it. So I’ve started.

I’ve found it very interesting to begin planning multiple novels or series using common worldbuilding, without having them directly related. This approach has many benefits but many drawbacks.

I’ve found it convenient that I can use a lot of the same basic world information (length of the year, seasons, geography) when I’m plotting out the new series. I also have a lot of basic information about the nations of Zaria that I’ve been able to expand.

On the other hand, trying to manage multiple storylines has proven to be a challenge. While the new story doesn’t happen directly parallel with my existing story, there’s enough information that I’ve had to adjust the planning several times. I think that the biggest challenge has been managing multiple timelines and deciding where along the technology timeline each story is going to be and why.

So what authors have you read that have used a common worldbuilding base to write multiple stories that do or don’t intertwine? What do you think makes these kinds of worlds better or worse than linear or consecutive storylines within a series?

The Evolution of a Landscape

by Chantal Boudreau

I’m not sure if this is true of all writers, but when I start writing something I decide not to finish, that doesn’t spell the end of it. If I’m creating a new story idea or novel concept, I’ll often beg, borrow and steal from defunct tales that I think have worthy bits and pieces which will serve as effective building blocks for something else – a literary version of reduce, reuse and recycle.

Sometimes it’s characters. In my sixth Masters & Renegades book (likely to be released a couple of years from now) one of the protagonists is a wizard name Angellica whom I recovered from the shambles of an earlier novel that never made it past chapter one. I liked her though, so I couldn’t let her die with the rest of the story, so out she came for something else.

Sometimes it’s objects. Angellica had a family heirloom, the weavecharm, I wasn’t about to abandon either, so I built it into book six as well. It actually proved to be a valuable plot device and inspired the next two books in the series. It placed an important role in those two novels as well – continuing on without Angellica.

Sometimes it’s places. Seaforest is the setting for most of book six, but it’s also the setting for part of book four (hopefully out later this year) and is mention in the first book of the series Magic University, since two of the characters have journeyed from Seaforest to the Admission Trials. But Seaforest, and it’s capital city, Feltrey, didn’t start with my current fantasy series. It didn’t even begin with “A Fly on the Wall,” one of my first short stories recently published in the Bellator charity anthology.

In fact, Seaforest grew up from a rather rough and ragged version of itself spawned by my disastrous trunk novel written in my teens and never to see the light of day again (I’m still embarrassed I let a couple of friends read it – it’s just awful.)

But I did want to preserve the basic concept. It was initially home to a rather primitive village in the woods alongside a salt lake the natives called a sea. I liked the rustic beauty of the area in my mind’s eye and I could relate well to it, because I grew up in a wooded area beside the ocean. So even though the novel ended up trunked, that wasn’t the end to Seaforest. In order to be used properly, however, because it was in its most basic form, it needed to evolve. While it had a foundation, it lacked history, it demanded politics and most of all, it cried out for character.

It didn’t get all of those things right away. I started writing a novel set in a neighbouring principality that touched on some of the nuances missing from Seaforest when it was mentioned – some of the politics…some of the history. That novel was tossed, as many were when I first started writing novels, but I kept the developments to Seaforest, determined to see it to its full potential.

I finally did manage to firm Seaforest up a little more when I used it as the backdrop for two successfully completed short stories, “A Fly on the Wall,” mentioned before, and a yet-to-be-published tale called “Eliza’s Shell” which was actually a non-genre story I converted to a fantasy format. Now I had Feltrey, the principality’s capital, established. I felt the place demonstrated real character with a good understanding of its history and background, as well as a strong impression of the landscape, flora, fauna and population. It felt real, but the short stories only gave a glimpse of the place as a whole. To finalize its evolution, it had to be openly explored.

That didn’t happen when I reintroduced the principality of Seaforest in Magic University. While important to Tom and Snyder’s backgrounds, Seaforest wasn’t an integral part of the storyline, so it remained mostly an enigma, talk about in passing by some of the characters, shrouded by secrets and suggestions. This did set it up to play an important part later in the series, which it does starting in book four, Victims of Circumstance. This is where Seaforest finally gets to display its development in all its complexity and detail. Locations are visited and everything from weather to architecture to high-end politics are discussed (all important to the story and not just thrown out there – I don’t like encyclopedic demonstrations of world-building.)

So that, in a nutshell, is how Seaforest evolved from an underdeveloped tract of land to a full and active principality playing centre-piece to my novels. You hear a lot about the creative processes involved in fantasy world-building, so I thought it might be nice to share some of my own experiences with this. I’d be interested to know how others bring their fantasy landscapes to fruition, be it by some assembly of individual components, evolving from a basic concept as I have done with Seaforest or some other way altogether.

In Too Deep?

World-Builder’s Disease is a term some people use to describe authors who focus so much on developing their world, setting, and characters that they fail to work on the plot and story. So how do you know when you’re in too deep?

If you ask anyone in my circle of friends and family, they’ll tell you that I’m a bona fide workaholic. I work two jobs, have a family, and go to school full-time: I routinely bite off more than I can chew. This habit translates over to my writing with all too much frequency.

When I first started building the world for The Cerberus Rebellion, I made a conscious effort to avoid falling too far into Worldbuilding. I finished the book with a deep understanding of my world, but without burying myself in the details. But as I’ve moved on to the next book and started developing the rest of my world, other ideas have piled on to my original plans and I’ve found myself neck deep in worldbuilding. And not just traditional worldbuilding, like writing biographies or working out the societies around the world of Zaria, but also in writing stories that will act as backstory or origin material for characters in my main line novels.

For readers, this obsession with worldbuilding can manifest in a couple of different ways: longer waits between releases, or if you fall into heavy worldbuilding in the middle of a novel and add so much information that the reader can’t keep track anymore.

I think the best way to realize that you’re too deep into world-building is by looking at the progress of the main novels in a particular setting and asking yourself if you’re creating backstory to flesh out your world, if you’re expounding on backstory for its own sake.

And once you do catch yourself too deep, bring yourself back on track!

Have you come down with a case of World-Builder’s Disease? What did it look like? How did you dig your way out of it?

Side note: During the month of August, The Cerberus Rebellion is going to be on sale for $0.99 at all major e-Book retailers to celebrate the upcoming release of Book 2: The Hydra Offensive. If you haven’t already, go pick up your copy!

Fantasy needs some science

By Scott Bury

Good fantasy writing has to maintain a strange tension, a balance that makes fantastic elements that are patently impossible believable.

The weekend before last, Chantal Boudreau wrote about basing her fantasy worlds and mythologies on the mythologies of Sami, Thracian, Serbian and Native American people.

I think this is a great idea for any writer of fantasy, because it adds many layers of meaning and symbolism to your writing. And it inspires a lot of ideas, too.

I did the same with my first published novel, The Bones of the Earth. While I made up the cosmology, all the mythology expressed by the characters, and many of the characters themselves, come from the mythologies and religions of ancient eastern European peoples, including the Greeks, Slavs, Germans, Celts and Scythians. Doing this also helped me choose names that didn’t sound like I coughed them out.

This helps maintain that balance and sustain the believability of fantasy because it adds some consistency. Any believable world-view has to have internal consistency. The readers have to be able to observe (through reading) causes and effects, and from those make predictions about further effects. As in, “Vampires don’t show up in mirrors, so this victim won’t see Dracula behind her as she applies makeup.”

In other words, a believable fantasy world needs some science.

Way back in the late 1970s, Larry Niven’s The Magic Goes Away applied the most basic law of the universe in creating a fantasy world: conservation of energy. The reasoning was this: magic required energy, so if there are witches and wizards who can, say, fly or animate a statue, where does that energy come from? Sure, the idea was sparked by the energy crisis of the time, and the story was pretty basic (a quest and a beautiful princess), but it was a refreshing take on the fantasy theme.

While I would never recommend that anyone do something similar to an existing work—I’m all about original ideas—I really like the idea of some kind of consistent underpinning, a single idea or a set of immutable laws governing the fantastical world. Sure, you can have monsters and wizards, magic spells and reanimated corpses, but there have to be limits, boundaries—rules.

Because if literally anything can happen, readers feel cheated. Even Superman has kryptonite.

Backstory

By A.M. Justice

How much backstory should I spoon feed my readers?

I belong to a large online writers’ critique group, and I see this question posted almost weekly. Every fantasy and sci-fi writer in the group hops on the thread and gives advice; time and again, the consensus can be summed up as follows:

  • Weave background information and world building into the narrative
  • Avoid data dumps of historical details
  • Under no circumstances put the backstory into a prologue

BowieThese days, prologues have about the same cache as mullets. They might once have been cool, even sexy, but now people just shake their heads and turn the page. I don’t care for mullets, but I do think prologues can serve as a useful gateway to a story (I used one to open Blade of Amber). So long as the first sentence (or paragraph) hooks me, I don’t care whether the heading above it reads “Chapter 1” or “Prologue.” If that hook isn’t there, I won’t read the book.

But back to backstory. When I’m reading the second or third book in a series, long recaps can try my patience. I may skim or skip, thinking tell me something I don’t know. Yet when I first read Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers was already checked out of the library, and in my desperation to find out what happened to Frodo and friends, I skipped ahead to The Return of the King. As the Wheel of Time slowly spun out the fate of Rand al Thor over about twenty years in real time (the story spans about three years), I stopped having the time to reread eight or ten or twelve volumes each time a new book came out. Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson provided readers with a glossary, which helped out during some who the heck is this guy? moments, but near the end of the series I wouldn’t have minded a few more flashbacks or even a full-fledged “previously on…” recap.

JamieThe Song of Ice and Fire has a rich backstory that not only provides historical context but also amps up the romance and intrigue. (Somebody please ask me my theory of Jon Snow’s parentage—I am dying to hold forth on this topic!) George R.R. Martin weaves Westeros’s history into the present action using rumor, dreams, visions, and the occasional bathtub confession. Yet Martin never recaps events from one book in a subsequent volume—the reader gets one chance. Like the fourteen WOT volumes, the SOIAF books aren’t intended to be stand-alone; they are mega-chapters in one very long, continuing story, and you have to read all the books if you want to find out what happens. And while we wait for Martin to publish the sixth book, we can either choose to reread the first five, or merely anticipate that we’ll lose track of all the players in this fantasy version of the War of the Roses. (Speaking of losing track, where’s Rickon?)

With The Woern Chronicles, I’m taking a different approach, writing an episodic rather than a continuing series. Like the Earthsea Cycle, The Woern Chronicles has an overarching narrative, but each novel contains a complete story that is “about” a different thing:

Blade of Amber: revengeA Wizard's Lot, A.M. Justice

A Wizard’s Lot: forgiveness

Scion of Sovereigns: redemption

Legacy of the Sacrifice: revenge

 

You don’t need to read Wizard to find out whether Vic fulfills her mission of revenge in Blade. You don’t need to read Scion to find out whether Ashel finds the strength to forgive in Wizard. Three people close to Vic seek redemption in Scion, and their efforts have little to do with Vic’s original quest for vengeance. Legacy will pick up where Scion left off, but in this final volume, Vic will find herself the target rather than the perpetrator of revenge.

The tricky part in this scenario is that Blade lays the groundwork for the other three books—the repercussions of Vic’s choices in Book One drive her and Ashel’s struggles in Book Two and haunt her family in the third and fourth volumes of the series. And because I intend each novel to stand alone, I have to explain a lot. Why is Ashel disgraced, disillusioned, and exiled at the start of Wizard? Why, in Scion, does Vic fantasize about killing her father-in-law while helping him remain in power? And why in Legacy is everyone afraid of Wineyll?

For readers to answer these questions, they need to know what’s happened in the previous books. To provide essential information without boring readers in Wizard, I use a lot of flashbacks:

The children run like harriers, clamber over each other for the arms of parents and guildmatrons. Surrounded by masks of panic, Geram looks for the one face that reflects not terror but triumph. Men are on their knees, screaming, their hands reaching toward the god whose coming they’d meant to celebrate that night. Women sob in each other’s arms, tear their hair. Hands claw his uniform, begging his help. Twisting out of their grasp, he catches sight of one little girl alone on the grass below, her thumb in her mouth, her eyes frozen on the stage. Following her gaze, he forgets the assassin. Rocking slowly, the queen cradles Prince Ashel’s head, King Sashal clutched between them in the prince’s arms. Deep, shattered sobs crackle from the prince, but the silent queen holds him to her breast, her face etched with the lines of a mother trying to shield her child from the evils of the world.

Oh no! Isn’t there a rule against flashbacks? Probably. However, I use them to not only recount vital information but also advance the story. In Blade, we see the assassination of King Sashal from Vic’s point of view as it happens, but in Wizard I use Geram’s memory of the king’s death to show his first glimpse of Queen Elekia’s humanity. The reader learns (or relives) how Ashel’s father died and also sees the planting of the seed that will blossom into Geram’s love for Ashel’s mother.

Scion and Legacy take place nearly two decades after the conclusion of Wizard, so I use flashbacks far less often and instead rely on dialogue and allusion to provide context. I’m working on revising Scion (in response to beta reader comments), so I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

 

Photo on 7-25-12 at 12.24 PM #3_2A.M. Justice writes fiction from distant times and places and chronicles journeys in the here and now. To see more of what’s on her mind, drop by the KnownEarth Works website, follow her on Twitter, or hang out on her Facebook page.

Perking Things Up

by Chantal Boudreau

I, like many writers, am a lover of coffee. I drink coffee every day, try to get my hands on the best coffee possible for my price range, and I have a cubicle shelf cover dedicated to coffee quotes and cartoons, known as “the coffee wall”. Considering how important coffee is to me, it makes sense that I include it in my writing from time to time, right?

In my recent FOODFIC post, “Flavouring Fantasy,” I discussed the idea of using mundane things like food and drink to enhance fantasy fiction, taking world-building to another level. The same exercise can be applied to most genres, even those not related to speculative fiction.

And while coffee is a mundane thing, it is still something I happen to be passionate about. They say you’re supposed to write about what you know, and I know coffee. Here are a few ways I’ve found to use my passions as fuel and fodder for my writing:

Realism/Research: I have much more enthusiasm for researching something I find fascinating or intriguing to begin with. Incorporating coffee into some of my more realistic, detail-oriented stories means I get to find out new information about something I really like. For example, writing my short story “Waking the Dead,” a tale linking zombies with coffee, required research into types of coffee grown in Haiti as well as rust, a fungal affliction that affects coffee plants. I had the pleasure of increasing my knowledge of coffee while gathering the facts I needed to make my story more believable.

Focus: Especially with short stories, I find having a focal point for my story facilitates the creative process and strengthens the plot. Several people have said the “Waking the Dead” is one of my better zombie stories and I would attribute that the fact that coffee serves as a central theme.

Simile/Metaphor: Sometimes when you need something to explain an extraordinary or supernatural event in a fantasy setting, the best way is to compare it to something else you know very well. Coffee has served as a tool for me, functioning for the sake of comparison in the past. Here’s an example from Magic University, describing Ebon, one of the competitors, drawing sustenance from magic:

He continued onwards, abandoning the map face up in the mud. He had not expected this would happen, and knew it meant that he would have to feed, something he rarely felt the inclination to do. This did not please him. Feeding took time and energy, and he had neither.

Arriving at what he believed was his destination, he began his search. He had no trouble locating the leather wallet that contained the token. He could pick out with ease the two glowing magical auras surrounding the purse, and they smelt absolutely heavenly, like the aroma of fresh bread or strong coffee. He salivated at the thought of absorbing all of that sweet, distinctly different energy. The one reminiscent of coffee was harsh and bitter, but strangely satisfying, the other somewhat bland, but slightly sweet and very substantial. That was the only one he intended to feed off of, absorbing what he could as quickly as he could. This was the plan, but once he started, he could not stop.

He had not recognized his hunger, had not realized just how ravenous he had become. He sucked back the spell’s energies, lost in the instinct to feed and absorb. Before he had realized it, he had completely devoured the first spell and had started in on the second. He had lost all track of time, and as the last drop of energy slipped past his ethereal lips, he stretched out, thoroughly satisfied and replenished.

As you can see, there are several ways to use ordinary but much loved things to spice up your story, allowing you different way of deriving greater satisfaction from your tale – or in my case, ways to perk things up.

And if you are more invested in your story as a writer, chances are, readers will be too.

Creating worlds

By Scott Bury

One of my favourite parts of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Ring was the maps. I’d spend hours poring over the depiction of Middle-Earth and the details of the Shire, Mordor, the land around the Lonely Mountain. I especially loved Pauline Baynes’ illustrated map of Middle-Earth. The complex and believable map was one of the main reasons that I preferred Tolkien to CS Lewis.

Pauline Baynes' map of Middle-Earth

Pauline Baynes’ map of Middle-Earth, courtesy Geo-Hackers http://geohackers.in/2014/03/monthly-maps-jan-feb-2014/

 

I developed a habit of drawing my own fantasy maps, with little triangular mountains, shaded forests, long, twisting rivers, mysterious seas and sheltered harbours. And I found that the more complex I made the map, the more convoluted the coastlines and twisting the rivers, the more realistic the map looked.

Fantasy writers by definition create new worlds. To reach an audience, the challenge is to find the right balance between fantastic — the reason an audience reads fantasy — and realistic, so readers can identify with the characters.

I think that one way that some fantasy writers succeed in this is by making their worlds big and complex.

Look at a real map and note how complex it is

map of Newfoundland

Newfoundland — a complex coastline Wikimedia Commons

Exploring a new world, through maps or text, is a major part of the attraction of reading fantasy.
And creating a new world is much of the fun of writing fantasy.

Some fantasy writers, like Bruce Blake in his Icarus Fell series, create a world very similar to the objective world that authors and audiences share, populated with a angels and demons, or perhaps impossibly beautiful vampires or werewolves. At the other end of the spectrum is the completely invested world with its own geography and societies, like in Autumn Birt’s Rise of the Fifth Order series.

As a writer, I think I prefer to lean closer to setting the story within the objective world we share with our audiences, and populating it with fantastical elements. My own has dragons, wizards, magical weapons, vampires, short people who live underground and more.

The real world is so much richer, more complex and varied than any imaginary planet or middle-earth-like setting. The world we live in is the product of millions of minds, of sets of experiences, sharing and intersecting and changing at a mind-blowing rate. Its possibilities for stories are endless.

The first advantage for the writer is that you don’t have to invent languages or names. So many imaginary worlds have character and place names that just sound fake. Tolkien’s only have any consistency and believability because he spent years inventing languages that the names come from.

For his Song of Ice and Fire series (adapted for TV as Game of Thrones), George RR Martin made a world that’s a close analog of our own. Place names and character names are the same as, or very close to, names from the shared, objective world:

  • Eddard, RIckard, Joffrey, Tyrion, Martell, Reed
  • Westeros, Essos, Harrenhal, Casterly Rock

Others are obviously invented or based on other fantasies

  • Argon, Drogo, Cersei, Viserys
  • Dorne, Qohor, Qarth, Valyria.

If you don’t have faith, you have to make it

Another advantage to setting your fantasy in the objective world is that you don’t have to invent religions. A little research can reveal beliefs, rituals and practices that are more bizarre, shocking, horrifying, unbelievable yet undeniably real than any you could imagine.

  • Cathars who willingly threw their children and themselves into fire lit by their enemies, so firm was their conviction they were going to heaven
  • blood and human sacrifice rituals of the Mesoamericans
  • sexual rites of the mesopotamians
  • cannibalism
  • worship of every animal from bulls to snakes to fish.

History is complex, constantly changing and debatable

If you’ve ever tried to invent a back story or a history for a character, let alone a world, you’ll probably find there is no convenient starting point. There’s no zero. Every action decision and relationship is the result of something that happened before. Even the Big Bang had something before it.

The history of a nation is the result of relationships, intersections and minglings of millions of individual story lines. People have goals and ambitions formed by so many different forces, and we can see by history their drive toward those goals can be helped by emotions, psychological and physical strengths and weaknesses, friends and enemies. Those relationships can change suddenly. A powerful king can die of a simple infection. The Roman Emperor Justinian was killed by a flea bite that gave him the bubonic plague.

I remember reading a poem in grade school about Richard III, King of England, losing the battle of Bosworth Field:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe the horse was lost,
for want of a horse the knight was lost,
for want of a knight the battle was lost,
for want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
So a kingdom was lost—all for want of a nail.

Sometimes, the greatest events with the most convoluted back stories revolve on the simplest things.

A lesson for all us writers to learn.

Scott Pic-ScottBuryBury is a journalist, editor and novelist based in Ottawa, Canada. He has written for magazines in Canada, the US, the UK and Australia.

He is author of  The Bones of the Earth, a fantasy set in the real time and place of eastern Europe of the sixth century; One Shade of Red, a humourous erotic romance; a children’s short story, Sam, the Strawb Part (proceeds of which are donated to an autism charity), and other stories.

He is now working onthe true story of a Canadian drafted into the Red Army during the Second World War, his escape from a German POW camp and his journey home. It’s tentatively titled Out of the USSR.

Scott Bury lives in Ottawa with his lovely, supportive and long-suffering wife, two mighty sons and two pesky cats.

He can be found online at www.writtenword.ca, on his blog, Written Words, on Twitter @ScottTheWriter, and on Facebook.

Faith and Religion in Fantasy

by Bruce Blake

turtle, turtle meme, flying turtleSeveral of the members of the Guild of Dreams were recently discussing (via Facebook group) their plans for upcoming blog posts. I didn’t know what I was going to write, so I made a smart-ass comment that I thought I might blog about turtles. Turns out I should have picked some other aquatic animal–mudskippers or jellyfish or something–because there’s a lot more going on with turtles than just a hard shell and an inability to right themselves if they get flipped bottom side up.

The first comment after my flippant remark mentioned Discworld, and the subject of faith naturally came up after that. Turns out that different cultures have long viewed turtles as a symbol of Heaven and earth, not just the imagining of Terry Pratchett and/or Stephen King (at the time I first read it, I didn’t get the turtle reference in IT, but I’m far more edumacated now).

“Do a post on faith in fantasy,” Chantal urged, the words smacking of both taunt and dare.

So I thought about and decided, “What the hell!” (The jokes will not be getting any better than that.)

For a guy who’s not religious (spiritual, yes, but not religious. I’m one of those 21st century Canadian west coast types), it comes up a lot in my books. Without religion, Icarus Fell wouldn’t exist. The idea of Heaven and Hell, God and the Devil is kind of a major plot point when your protagonist is brought back from the dead to harvest the souls of the newly deceased. Religion also plays a big part in my Small Gods series, though not your run-of-the-mill Christianity. Only in my Khirro’s Journey trilogy does it not play much of a role, though it does get the odd mention here and there.

To be quite up front, I didn’t think much about the subject until I picked up A Game of Thrones (didn’t George RR Martin change everything for prettyGame of Thrones, George RR Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire much everyone?). Sure, there’d been religion in the other fantasy I’d read up to that point, but there was something about the way he described the Seven, the old Gods, the Heart tree, The Drowned God, and all the others. So many religions, all of them with different rites, rituals, and beliefs, all of them unique. I know there are many other books and series that delve into the subject, oftentimes featuring gods as characters, but these were the first ones that seemed real to me. Maybe because they were religions being practiced by people who could have been us, not by elves and dwarves and such.

It was the textures and feels of Mr. Martins faiths and religions I held in mind when I was world-building for my Small Gods series. I wanted it to feel realistic, be believable. Some characters would have undying blind faith, some wouldn’t believe at all, some would want to but doubt, some would waver. And, of course, there couldn’t be only one religion, not in a fully realized world.

With my wife being the unshakeable burlesque diva feminist she is, I thought it would earn me some brownie points to make the religion’s central figure a goddess (known as ‘the Goddess’, strangely enough). After a little brainstorming, I decided the Goddess should be served only by women (a la Amazon.com’s namesake, but I don’t think they noticed). I know this isn’t exactly groundbreaking–Wonder Woman did it years ago–but I also decided I’d have different factions within the religion, each with a unique way to continue without the benefit of having men as part of their population. That’s where the fun began.

When Shadows Fall, Small GodsAnd, of course, if there was to be a ‘women-only’ religion, there had to be the opposite, right? A rogue and looked-down-upon group of men who worship a god and have distinctly different ways of doing things than the women came to life.

That, my friends, is the genesis of the major conflict for the story. Out of a desire to put a little religion into the book, an entire series was born. You can try out some of examples of the religion in the Small Gods series for free over on Wattpad with the prologue to When Shadows Fall and also The Darkness Comes.

I don’t expect any of my ideas to take root and become religions in our world, but who knows? If a science fiction writer can convert Tom Cruise and John Travolta, maybe anything can happen.

What are some of your favourite examples of faith and religion in fantasy? What writers do you think do it particularly well?

(PS – no turtles were hurt during the writing of this blog)

—–

Bruce Blake is the author of eight books, the owner of one white dog, and a lover of the serial comma (though he prefers referring to it as the Oxford comma). You can follow him on his blog here, read some stuff free on Wattpad here, or purchase any of his books at very reasonable prices here, here, here, or here.

World Building Leftovers

As a teenage fantasy reader, I was quick to note and admire authors who put in a lot of effort to build out the world they were writing about. Especially the ones that didn’t tackle sharing the information with the reader via an information dump! I like discovering a world through the sights and sounds of a character, through their sifting of memories to connections, through the chance phrase that a savvy reader can pick up on. There is a certain feel to a story set in a world that has been well thought out, a sense of continued time and the linking of places. I quickly became addicted to a well crafted story. Some people are happy with a strong plot: I like to be transported.

So of course, when I started writing I paid a lot of attention to world building. When writing Born of Water, I drew maps to help me wrap my mind around the world and then I jumped in to describing a place. But descriptions are boring, even for writers! What I found the most interesting was to learn about the myths of the places and people. That is how I discovered this legend of the Ashanti:

“The greatest legend of the Ashanti is that they, the first children of Myrrah, once nearly had conquered the world. This was a time beyond memory or record, during the earliest days. To thwart their plans to rule as demigods, it took Mhyrah herself to stop them. She remade her first children along with their mounts: dragons of this early land. The recreated Ashanti were given short lives, so that they would not again raise an army for battles. Instead, they would be involved with struggles within their kind for power and the survival of their culture. The Earth Elemental, who wrote this tale, said the Ashanti who had related it to her was only twenty-two yet was old and infirm as a man of grandfatherly years.
During this war before all other battles, some of the Ashanti had stood against their brothers. These Myrrah gifted with the very abilities the Ashanti had sought. These few, who had fought the insanity of their brothers, were given eternal life and the same power over elements that Mhyrah had, but with once exception. She gave them supreme control over only one element, but not all, by making them spirit beings of that element. They became the fire sylphs, water nymphs, air spirits, and earth beings that the Elementals call upon today to do their bidding.”

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I am also an ecologist by not only trade, but mindset as well. I love to see how interactions happen and the uniqueness that results from the combination of myriads of small details. It was easy for me to fall in love with the forest ecology of the Tiak:

“The headlands along the Fjords are often misty and subject to frequent, gentle rains. The Yisha trees, only found along this southern section of the Alin mountains, grow thick in these damp conditions. But, the pines need fire to regenerate. Only intense heat will crack the thick covering over the seeds.
There is a small click beetle that feasts on the wood of the Yisha tree. In the evening and during afternoon rains, the click of their wings can be heard throughout the forest. Over time as the click beetle infests sections of the forest, the trees begin to take up minerals through their roots: mica, iron, zinc, and calcium. The beetles eat this wood and ingest the minerals, forming harder and harder shells as they decimate the forest.
Every decade or so, dry winds sweep up from the Great Desert of Ak’Ashanti, which lies to the south. The winds cross the Bay of Tiak and push away the gentle rains. The land dries and withers. In the places plagued by beetles, the hardened shells take on a new purpose. When hard and dry enough, the beetles click and create a spark. The forest catches fire.
Smoke from the great fires rises on the hot winds, climbing high over the mountains. The ash mixes with the melting snow of the mountain glaciers, evaporating in the heat of fire and desert winds. Clouds form and the rains come again. The fires burn out the home of the beetles, reducing their population. And it allows the seeds opened from the heat to sprout, so that new trees will grow on the burnt slopes. The cycle begins again.”

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In the end, I went further than my characters may travel in the novel. I learned – or created as you choose – so much about this world. I can hear, smell, see, taste, and feel it. I think it really does make the novel richer, to know so much about a world and its many different cultures. I ended up with pages of notes that never made it into the first novel. So what do you do with sheets of world building leftovers?

You can’t reheat them for dinner on Sunday night.

It was my husband who thought of the perfect suggestion: Why not take it all and put it into a novel companion? I might not be the only one who finds strange details fascinating or well end up enjoying Born of Water more by knowing extra bits. It took some time to compile and I added more extras as well, such as “Day Before” stories on each of the main characters. The most fun though, was deciding to write the Companion as a series of research papers from members of the Church of Four Orders. It allowed me to promote the view of the Church. This twist, focusing on one viewpoint, has become one of my most favorite aspects of being a writer: characters may believe something completely, but just remember you shouldn’t believe everything you hear. Really, would you trust a stranger off the street completely?

The Born of Water Novel Companion is out now. It is even FREE at any of the links listed below. However, it’ll set you back 99 cents at Amazon. Of course, if you feel like telling Amazon that it is free elsewhere, maybe that will change!

Smashwords

Barnes and Nobles

iBookstore

Also available through ebook apps if the above doesn’t fit your reader. Search for Born of Water Novel Companion!

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Autumn