Monday, 31 December 2012

Creative Writing Tips: World Mechanics

Applies to Fantasy and Sci-fi

Looking at:
Access to magic or training

This post looks at how the fantasy aspects of your world work;
technology and advancement are mentioned in another post.

"Apply logic in places where it wasn't intended to exist. It assured that the Queen of Fairies has a necklace made of broken promises, ask yourself what it looks like. If there is magic, where does it come from? Why isn't everyone using it? What rules will you have to give to allow some tension in your story? How does society operate? Where does your food come from? You need to know how you world works.
   "Fantasy works best when you take it seriously. Taking it seriously means that there must be rules. If anything can happen, then there is no real suspense. You are allowed to make pigs fly, but you must take into account the depredations on the local bird life and the need for people in heavily over-flown areas to carry stout umbrellas at all times."
- source: Writers and Artists; Writers' and Artists' Yearbook.
   He then goes on to say that we're trained while young not to question these things. Magic may well have a source, but you don't need to know that to enjoy the story. It's also generally accepted that if there were 100 people in a room, perhaps only 5 of them would wield magic.
   The above is an excerpt from Terry Pratchett's input in the Writers and Artists' Yearbook 2012. I had always believed most of what he had said, and I was so proud of myself when I read it and thought to myself 'I've already done most of this', because it is important, and if anything can happen, it does lack suspense, because how would you, as a reader, know what they were doing was wrong? Yes they could be murdering people, but is it frowned upon in those societies? Or is it a frequently occurring thing that no one wishes to think about but no one has the intention to stop? Maybe it's a religious or "righteous" thing to do. These are the kinds of things you need to know.

   I sat down a few months ago with my boyfriend (he is a massive help in such areas) to come up with other places magic could come from, and I came up with a few good ideas. This means that I can write other worlds where magic exists, where magic comes from other sources, where it may be a physical thing, or simply a trick of the mind, and also makes it unavailable to any Tom, Dick or Harry who want to wield it so they can indulge their laziness or trolling habits.

   The best place to start with this is thinking about your characters and how you envision them wielding their powers, or their fighting style if no magic exists in such place. Or, as mentioned above, flying pigs and other unlikely wildlife.
   I'm obsessed with magic, so we'll start there.
   I don't like wands. I really don't. I don't like the idea that this power that isn't available to everyone anyway is still only available to those who are able to wield it and have wands. Plus, watching Harry Potter, only Voldemort seemed comfortable holding one. I personally prefer hands, shaping magic from the palm of the hand and directing it with the palm and fingers. If I have to use physical items, I'd always opt for staves, they have a far more elegant and wise look to them, and also look like they could channel much more powerful spells. But in this case, I also have to decide if staves are absolutely necessary, or if they just increase the intensity or improve the handling of spells.
   Consider other things with magic too: do spells need to be spoken? Is there a chant or incantation to be read aloud? Are items required? Or can it simply be a flex of one's will like telekinesis? And if spells are to be spoken, are they spoken in their native tongue, or some old, long-forgotten language?

   How about creatures? Are there any animals there that are unique to the world? Can they tap into magic of some kind, on a more primal level? Or maybe even a higher level? Do these animals, magical or not, have some kind of tie to civilisation? Messengers or mounts, or simply large and unruly pests? Or animals that live alongside them due to some kind of religious belief, or because they can offer something other animals can't that they need frequent amounts of?
   I don't often create creatures, but in my trilogy, I've created a bird I'm particularly proud of. I've also found that creating creatures can be great fun, too - you can experiment with new shapes and colours that would be more difficult if you were building a humanoid race. I really enjoyed creating her, and though I have no intention to create others for this trilogy, I certainly will in other works.

   This post doesn't look at technology, that's another post altogether. Instead, this post looks at how the fantasy aspects of your world work. These things may not all be planned out together. You may add smaller details that may need equal explaining further into your work - I do it all the time. I can't count the number of times I've rewritten my plans while writing my story to accommodate a new idea I've had while vaccuuming. But things like magic that may play a large role in your work and world, and likely decided to include before you even realised it, are important.
   I do realise that I've had a lot to say about preparations before writing, and I've doubtlessly made it sound far more complicated than it is. When it comes down to it, you use your imagination, and then fill in the gaps like 'how' and 'why' - or, that's how I do it, at any rate. It works differently for everyone. Remember while reading these posts that you do have the option of just picking up a pen - or even opening Wordpad on your pc right now - and just start writing. That's exactly how I started Kysharok. The details were an afterthought, but, again, not an afterthought I've put much time into. I know how I work when it comes to writing, and after writing for 9 years I know what works best for me, so I also know that my characters and story will unfold at a pace I can keep up with, and that when I need to stop and think, I can do so, and still pick up right where I left off.

   To make it simpler for you, write down all the fantasy features you're including - magic, dragons, other races, perhaps even beliefs if you wish to go this far, though another post covers things like this - anything important that you feel you ought to be able to explain if someone were to press you on it. Write them all down, then brain storm. And make sure to write down even your bad ideas. I find I can't come up with anything new or better if there's an older and worse idea floating around. It generally won't leave me alone until it's on paper, but it helps to clear my head. I think it's partly due to worry that the idea may be of use at another time or in another work and when I finally have use for it, I'll have forgotten half of the important detail.
   I am partly insane, so I talk to myself out loud on a ridiculously frequent basis as well - basically, whenever I am alone. I realise this makes me a bit mad, or hints at some kind of mental instability or something, but it is a truly massive help with coming up with ideas. My train of thought is clearer when I talk it out to myself, I can expand my ideas quickly, and adequately, and I can come up with 'why' and 'how' with little trouble. Of course, the trouble then is remembering it all. I've wanted to get a voice recorder for some time for this - it would be worth the money since I've talked to myself all my life, and while I've tried to stop, it's only grown stronger since I started this trilogy in 2010, so I've given up trying to stop and I'm embracing it instead. I'll introduce you to my friend Lawrence soon, too. He's part goldfish, part  spaghetti and part quartz. His humour is a bit dry, though.

   But no, I do encourage you to get some kind of idea as to how things work in your world. You won't necessarily need to write it all out and include it in the story, but you may end up mentioning it in passing at some point anyway. I did, and it wasn't distracting or too wordy at all. The sooner you think on it, the longer you have to simplify it into a bite-sized state in your mind. It can also help to dictate what can and can't happen in your story. Sometimes it can be an inconvenience, but you need to set limits. You may be the god and creator of the world, but without limits it'll just be a sludge of colours, magic, rainbows, dragons, explosions and pretty dresses. All at once. This is how I pictured it, yes. Lawrence is looking at me like I'm mad now. And Seeg is looking at me looking at the air beside me like I'm even madder.


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