world building woes

Recently I started reading an enormous book (700+ pages) that had, among other things, fantastic world building. History… no, it wasn’t just history. It was economic history, military history, artistic history, mythological history, the history of arcana, discrepancies between the histories and difference of opinion based on source. It spanned racial customs, clothes, weather, standards for different classes, idioms, the difference between different districts in a city, children’s skipping rhymes. It included little details, always relevant, always practical: a minor character took a room not far from a butcher, and the main character can’t help but notice the smell every time he comes by to see her. And the method of immersion into this world was so well done that finding more about it felt as if I were slipping into a steaming bath, or cuddling up to a down blanket. I get excited when the author writes a few pages of summary or explanation; I feel as if I can safely laugh at the show-don’t-tell Nazis now that I’ve seen it done so well, so efficiently, in such an entertaining and smooth fashion.

I have a difficult time reading new books. I can’t turn off my internal editor, which tends to focus on plot, theme, and composition. So when I’m trying to read for fun, I keep finding myself considering the question, ‘If I’d written this, would I be proud of myself?’. When I find that the answer is ‘no’, I tend to stop reading. And when I find something as detailed, complex, and well-done as this, I start raising my standards. My novel just got a little worse.

June was ‘Villain Month’. That seemed to go fairly well. I think I need a ‘World Building Month’ next, a concept that was mentioned a few weeks ago. I do want to finish this draft of my book first, but there are fifteen days of July left and roughly twenty thousand words to write. And I get anxious the closer I draw to the grand finale. That puts me at 1,333 words every day (including this one) until July. … On the bright side, it’s not as bad as NoNoWriMo.

Here are my goals, then:

  1. 1,333 words a day until the book is finished. I estimate that will let me finish the book before August.
  2. Finish ‘The Name of the Wind’.
  3. Write a book review.
  4. Possibly send girlish fan-letters to Patrick Rothfuss.
  5. Start the hype for ‘World Building Month’. Set it for August.

I’m imagining that World Building Month will be more useful to writers of speculative fiction than contemporary fiction. Even so, solidifying a good, living setting does deserve some attention. So, since Villain Month met with such approval, I’ll be doing the same thing. Anyone interested in signing up and joining in the event are welcome.

showcase of villainy, part iv

Villain Month

As promised, here is the last showcase of the month-long villain series.

This ended up being more difficult than I thought it would be. Just spending time thinking about the antagonists was useful, and it was fantastic seeing other people join in. Thanks to everyone participating!

I spent the week focusing on my last villain of the four I meant to go over, Sorche du Remerdii. I also wrote a closing message and introduced a bonus villain-type, the king’s secret police, nicknamed after the silver masks that they wear.


Saint Know-All finished a few more drawings, and bid farewell to the month.


Nilah wrote a short article about human predators, in regards to the villain month project.


Aldersgatecycle focused on her last villain, Sally Din.


Nymeria wrote about Orion Novak, Dahlia Laras, and posted a gallery of her villain portraits.


And, last, even though she wasn’t actually participating, Worderella was kind enough to write up a few posts on villains on her blog as a kind of villain-month-tribute.


Closing links:

A list of participants
Showcase of villainy, part i
Showcase of villainy, part ii
Showcase of villainy, part iii

Thoughts? Comments? Shall we do this again someday? πŸ™‚

A ‘hero month’ idea has already been put out, and I wouldn’t mind spending some time dedicated to world building as a future project…

good villains don’t pull punches

Easy to say. Much, much harder to pull off in writing. Why? Because realistically, there’s only so much that can be done to a character before they break. The more realistic the story, the more the reader identifies with the protagonist. The more the reader identifies with the protagonist, the more the events in the story don’t just happen to the characters– they happen to the reader, too.

I’ve toted my love of George Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series before. Why? Because a very well developed character, a beast of a fighter that had been developed painstakingly for three (long) books can win a fight, take an injury in the process, and die of tetanus. There are so many characters in his books that he can realistically kill a huge portion of his cast like that. It heightens your sense of danger for the favorite characters, it takes away the safety net, and the knowledge that some of these characters are not going to survive the next few hundred pages makes the material gripping. Good villains don’t pull punches.

The problem with imitating this style, however, is that stories that aren’t a series of 200k novels have a much smaller cast. You can hurt them, you can kill them, but know that whatever pain and torment they go through… it’s not just going to magically go away. These characters are going to have to last you till the end of the story. And a good villain, a good danger, is going to hurt what it comes across.

I’m about sixty percent of the way through my book. My heroine has already broken her arm twice, and during plotting for future chapters I’ve very nearly decided that I’m going to shatter her knee and kill a side-character that I’m rather fond of. There is no healing magic. She’ll never run again, or walk without her staff. Why? Because there’s a villain with the advantage who is clever enough to find her. Take away his advantage, let her win the struggle immediately, and he’s not much of a villain. On the other hand, give my antagonist what he seeks (answers for her possession of a dead friend’s mask) and he will kill her. Good villains don’t pull punches. There is no ‘before I kill you’ monologue. No last requests. No ‘by the power of sheer will’ victories. No drastic change in skill when it’s convenient for him to lose a fight.

Why do people love a good villain? Because that struggle between the characters, the wavering balance of power, the trade of victories and defeats is what makes the adventure. Without tension, conflict, that sense of danger and concern for losing something precious… there is no story.

villain: redaechyl: introduction

Redaechylβ€œThe true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

Redaechyl

My least developed villain, the bully-antagonist that picks a fight and almost gets my hero executed for attacking a king’s favorite. He doesn’t even have a surname… not that I know of, anyway. I couldn’t even remember his first name without looking it up.

Here’s what I do know about him. This is the type of man that I can’t stand– I would probably kill him myself if you put me in a room with this guy for over five minutes. He’s the type that would kick over your sandcastle at the beach when you’re not looking, the schoolyard bully who will run to the teacher to tattle on a fight if it didn’t go his way, who would never miss a chance to jeer and point out your faults. Pretty, blond, tattooed Redaechyl, who wears specially made shirts and jackets to allow his large gray feathered wings the freedom to stretch and glide.

Wish me luck on this one. Just thinking about him makes my hackles rise.

villain: tarren kanichende: if the hero

A quick note on Danache linguistics–

The most common letter combinations are ‘ch’ (sh), ‘rr’ (split r), and ‘ii’, which is the same as the short ‘i’ but reserved for the end of words, such as the names Arielii and Remerdii. The letter ‘y’ is one of the most common vowel and changes from a hard to soft pronunciation depending on surrounding letters. ‘Rylan’ is hard (Rye-lan), ‘Wyrren’ is far softer (Were-ren).

Tarren II Kanichende
(tahr-ren kahn-E-shen-day)
β€œThe elevated place.”

I’m thinking through the novel again and imagining how I’d write this book if, without changing any of the events, I tried to make Tarren the hero. If Blue Crystal had been told from his perspective, what would it turn into?

Different, certainly. Tarren has the unfortunate habit of stereotyping the people around him, with the exception of his children (but not his wife). Moreso than them, his closest companions are a pair of pet tigers, Time and Fate.

Things I’ve come up with so far…
Continue reading

villain: tarren kanichende: introduction

King Tarren II Kanichende de Marlaβ€œThe first and worst of all frauds is to cheat one’s self. All sin is easy after that.”

King Tarren II Kanichende de Marla

I’ve always had problems with King Kanichende– he makes threats that sometimes he doesn’t keep for some reason, and his drive wavers and falters. I’m not sure if this is a fault on his part, or if I’m trying to keep my protagonists from being killed immediately (short book). I’ll start with what I do know about him.

Tarren adored his little sister.

Arielii Kanichende, the golden princess of Vastii. Beautiful, graceful, popular Arielii, full of dry wit and wry humor. Arielii could make a fool out of anyone, build up or destroy reputations. Arielii had wings, and was so thin that she could glide across the chasm their city was built around and make a show out of it. Tarren had been against her marriage to Chyril Jadis to begin with; he wanted Arielii to stay in the royal city and her marble palaces, not travel over the god-forsaken surface to marry. Arielii left too eagerly, too happy for a chance to see new things, though Tarren would have done anything to bar her (and tried, unsuccessfully– he still thinks that someone had told Arielii of his plans to stop her).

Arielii went to Renideo to her new husband, who lived in a flatter, less glamorous manor amid a series of underground lakes. She wrote to Tarren on occasion, always promising to return to see him, and told him that while the buildings were less than impressive, she loved the swans, which lived across the cavern with the lakes between them and the humans. They were white, but where they lived the algae glowed, and it cast a blue light on their plumage. Blue swans beating their wings against the water, flying over the city, with plenty of room for her to join them. When Tarren became the king, he had his inside men within Renideo start to give him regular reports on his sister. She didn’t seem to be missing him. She had a daughter, a half-wit, which she let the servants raise in hopes of a better child. Several years later she was pregnant again, and that was the last that Tarren heard of her directly.

Tarren’s inside man detailed the facts of her death thus: Arielii had survived the labor and was doing well, while her son had been stillborn. Her husband and half-wit daughter went into the room and were left alone. When they left the room again, Arielii was dead, and the retarded girl stopped speaking entirely. She didn’t say anything again until she was almost ten. Chyril married again, and his next wife also did not live for long. By the time the territory directly south of Chyril’s holding turned hostile, Chyril was on his fourth wife and kept a private harem, but no other children. Wyrren Jadis, Arielii’s daughter, was nearly twenty. Despite the obvious mental ability retardation the girl was reputed to have written a long, detailed thesis on a highly dangerous form of magic, probably ghostwritten by one of her father’s practitioners for the sake of her reputation.

The rebellion of Aiche to the south was almost convenient. Tarren set his inside man to stage the presence of his assassins in Chyril’s castle and demanded his niece pay him a visit– she could have three maids, but no guards of her own, and would be returned after the rebellion, provided that Chyril did not join or come to the aid of Aiche. Chryil agreed, and sent his only child.

Wyrren Jadis de Renideo had her mother’s golden hair, but her face was stiff, immobile. Her eyes didn’t open more than halfway, her mouth hung slightly open, and she never moved her eyes– she turned her entire head when she wanted to look at something, a stiff, ugly mockery of his sister’s features. She came with three maids, one pretty, the other two as ugly as herself, one fat, the other scarred and sallow. She also came with a slave bound in gold, a serious looking red-haired man who wore a sword at each hip and moved like a bodyguard. Her father had set her up with a man as a ‘possession’, to claim him as property to give his daughter her own guard, Tarren was sure. Despite the breech in terms, Tarren was satisfied enough that the girl could be tricked into revealing the details of his sister’s murder.

villain: kione remerdii: family

Just a villain-ramble. I tried to do a character-building sheet (he protested, saying that his tastes made him out to be a snob), then an interview (I protested– he was plotting to torture me until I agreed to let him triumph at the end of the book). So here’s some basic information on Kione.

(Oh, and it’s my twenty-fourth birthday today. At least three people have plied or are planning on plying me with food. πŸ™‚ It’s making me wish I could eat more than five bites of anything.)

Kione Remerdii
Also, Kione, with diamonds in his hair, Kione, celestite lord, Kione, of blue crystal.

Family
Kione is an only child, mostly due to his race’s high infant and child mortality rate; the Mordache are almost human, except for their access to ‘The Art’, a magic that comes too strong and often too hard to control at young ages. He had had a brother, who did not live past three. After he died, he was replaced with a bastard Mordache boy who showed great promise– or at least, good health. He was given the name of Kione’s dead brother, Sorche Remerdii, and raised as a noble despite the child’s outlandish looks– kinky curls and slanted eyes. Incidentally, Kione brought Sorche to Vastii when he traveled there, and upon his promotion gave Sorche real political power by binding him in gold: the symbol of a high-ranking slave, letting them represent their master in all matters and effectively turning him from the bastard foster-brother into Kione’s second in command.

That had worked out better than Kione’s father had intended. He had wanted his son to keep good company, but when none of his siblings had lived and none of the other gentleman’s children looked as if they’d challenge him, he picked Sorche for his promising talent and constitution, as a brother and a rival. Sorche has always been the healthier of the two, since Kione never grew above 5’8 and didn’t excel at the Art or in physical prowess.

Kione’s father, much like Kione, was a workaholic and a perfectionist. He was always finding ways to improve his holding, and under his care the Remerdii territory grew rapidly. Kione was often put in charge of people or places and given no help. The boy would grow and improve, or he would fail and be punished. By the time Kione reached his mid-twenties he was left to deal with the entire holding, then the diplomatic relations with other territories, essentially coming into his inheritance without his father showing any signs of growing ill. It was his father who suggested that the king was an incompetent fool, and that Kione should take his position from him, if he could. Kione surveyed the king’s city, found several weaknesses, and went to exploit them.

Of course, his method prefers double-dealing, treachery, and mass murder, but no one’s perfect. Right?

His mother was of relatively little importance. She acted more as a decoration than anything, always quietly in the background happiest when left to her own devices.