Friday, October 15, 2010

So Many New Questions

I’m about to start writing my first other-world fantasy (not High Fantasy) and I’m realizing that it’s going to be more work than I thought before I start writing the story. This is my third book, but the first two are urban fantasies. I’m a pantser, so I don’t really plan my stories, but I always have a good idea of how the magic system (or whatever) works before I start. But when it’s not an urban fantasy, there’s so much more I need to know.

Like the animals. It’s a planet covered with mostly water, so I’m going to have fewer land animals and more ocean animals. So I can’t say things about how something is as big as an elephant, or looks like a rat – unless I decide those animals live there.

And speaking of, should I use Earth animals at all? Is a fish still a fish? A snake still a snake?

How do I go about creating new animals? How in the world will I pick names for them and explain what they look like?

Technology is going to be an issue too. I’m thinking maybe Iron Age-era levels of technology, but I have to determine what kind of advancements they’ve made. I’d think, on a water-dominated planet, their shipbuilding and ocean navigation would advance faster than land-based technologies, right?

The big one (for me) is Mythology. I can borrow from other mythologies, but it still has to be something new and fitting for this planet. Do they have many gods, just one God or believe in the general ‘spirit’ of certain things. Do they pray to their gods, have idols? Do they think their deities walk/swim with them or watch from on high?

And what are all the things I haven’t thought of yet?

Have any of you ever written an other-world story? How did you decide on all the details like what I mentioned above?

6 comments:

  1. Sounds like hard work... but good fun too. Creating whole new worlds where there is nothing to stop you from doing anything at all. Fantastic!
    Sounds like potential for a FAB book there!
    Good luck!!

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  2. On the animal front, I'd use some Earth animals that readers can identify and some new ones that readers will enjoy for the novelty value. Look at some pictures of real aquatic life for inspiration, and also ask such fun questions as: What would it take for a giraffe to survive underwater? What would carnivorous coral eat? What would a hippo crossed with krill be like? How would a bubble creature avoid being popped? I like making fantasy animals :)

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  3. You're an engineer... do you have any drawing skills? Like if I said that the monstro was bigger than a three masted ship, with a tail like the ship's rudder, rows of serrated teeth, and a vee of sharp eyes below his singular horn, would you be able to sketch it out?

    The same goes the other way... can you doodle fish, and then think... Hmmm.... That is the yellow-bellied doodlefish!

    I think you're on target with the ship building technologies... but you have to think... On earth, ships were built of wood. If the land is scarce, wood will be too... Think of Haiti right now - because resources are scarce, all the wood and trees on the island have been decimated for fire for cooking and heat. What happens in a world where there's no ready fuel for fires, let alone ships. What will they build ships out of? Fish scales? How do they keep warm? How do they keep dry?

    Some things to think about mythology on a water planet... Many religions and their myths are based on agriculture. Gods who keep the land fertile, the crops growing, the weather good... if you make them mad, you have droughts, and locusts, etc. Also, stability is important. God is the Rock. People build altars out of stone. Livestock is sacrificed.

    In a world where land is scarce, those agricultural norms come into question. The rock is no longer an apt metaphor. Altars, and even memorials, can't be built as people live on the water. Weather is probably still important, but they don't want rain as they would for crops - they want clear skies and steady winds. Maybe fluidity is prized. Maybe the gods are amorphous. I would look to the sea-based mythologies for inspiration... Poseidon, mermaids, etc. God could still be watching from above. The stars still shine in the sky. Maybe the sky is the ocean above, and the world is a bubble... What will happen when the bubble pops? This could be their apocalyptic vision.

    Have you read Perelandra by CS Lewis? It's set on "Venus," but described as a world covered in oceans. Apparently, a lot of science fiction of that period thought Venus was like that. They might be good references. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_in_fiction

    I think this kind of thinking is cool. Being able to create your own worlds is one of the best parts of being a writer or an artist...

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  4. In my book, which has elements of both sci-fi and fantasy, I had to answer these types of questions myself. The main theme that I stuck to in order to deal with it is "functionality." I specifically only created weapons, creatures, abilities, and worlds based off of what I wanted to accomplish with the premise.

    I like the term "pantser", because I think I'm the same way; I've convinced myself that a legitimate style of writing is to create characters and worlds that you love so much, you only write just to "see what they'll do next." To me, technology, creatures, and mythology were secondary, considered only when I wanted to include something that would add color and dimension to what was already there.

    Another technique to consider, if that doesn't work, is to simply add innovative twists (not necessarily realistic) to already existing realities. Like adding an important feature or two or combining two or three already existing ideas. With animals, something that I found some of my favorite writers doing (like C. S. Lewis and Ted Dekker) is to attempt to describe a completely foreign animal to the reader, but fall short because of the short-comings of the character's explanatory ability.

    Orson Scott Card did this with a few technologies in sci-fi literature by creating impossible technological advancements, and then when a character asked: "How does it work?" The response would be something to the effect of: "I don't know, not well enough to build one. We spend most of our time on astrophysics, but I know enough to get the idea." Then explain the general idea and be done with it.

    As for water versus land-based tech, in my personal opinion I think it would be interesting to see both. Some creative ways of travelling across the water perhaps, new ways of harnessing power based on how much water there is, or maybe some points of land that are isolated from the oceans for a long-term basis (for any political, religious, or ideological grounds). It would be fun to see more than one thing that normally happens on the ground take place over the water: like war, celebrations, marriage ceremonies, politics, "farming", or travel being the fastest here. I also think that you're safe with whatever animals you want to include, include earth animals (or something close) and made up creatures. Why not?

    Hopefully hearing a different perspective on the matter helps out a little. I wouldn't spend aching hours and hours of time on these things, but just enough to make it interesting.

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  5. I think it's crazy that BrerMatt specifically referenced Perelandra right before my post, when that was exactly the book I had in mind when I referenced CS Lewis in my own post. I think you should definitely check that book out, Sarah.

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  6. Congratulations on branching out. As someone who's been composing epic fantasies (albeit unpublished ones) since the age of twelve, I can tell you that the first thing you want to do is draw a map; and since your planet is mostly water, you'll want to include some "undersea maps", as well. These maps will help you with migration patterns, herd movements, weather, and the growth of civilizations both on and under the water. Remember, it's a fantasy, so having sentient amphibious creatures is not out of the question.

    As for technology, remember that necessity is the mother of invention. Don't create a single thing on your new world that its inhabitants would not create. If they create steel, then they need a reason. If they create ships, then they need a reason. And so forth. I'm thinking they'll need some way to plumb the depths of their oceans, but that's not my speculation to make.

    And don't worry about how you'd describe it. Frankly, when writing epic fantasy, you need to trash at least half of the English language, anyway. So many metaphors, comparisons, idioms, and even words will simply not exist in your world. When I write my fantasy on Word, I always catch myself inserting little "Idiom Alerts" in the margins for later rewrites. Boil your language down to its barest bones, and then create a whole new muscular and nervous system for it. You're creating a new style of speaking altogether when you engage in epic fantasy. Have the idioms evolve with the people. You're already better at that than you think (pantser *winks*).

    I'd love to offer you more advice, if you feel you could use it. Drop me a line on Facebook some time. *smiles*

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