This is an essay I wrote after giving a talk to my daughter's fiction writing class on the subject of world building in fantasy writng
World Building 101
World building is a vital but often invisible art in the process of fantasy writing. The superficial view of a fantasy world is as the environment in which a story or stories takes place. Looked at from this perspective, the most important things in the world are places for events to happen. Superficial world building focuses on appearances: what does the terrain look like, where are the cities, and so on.
These questions miss the most important element of world building. A world is not just where things happen, it is how things happen. A world reveals its nature in how things happen.
This gives a great opportunity in writing because the nature of the world becomes a character in a fantasy novel. The ways of the world can carry at least as much meaning as the personalities and choices of the individual characters.
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My two jobs have nearly opposite ways of handling language. Writing uses the humpty-dumpty rule that "when I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean." Computer programming uses the principle that a word means exactly what it is defined to mean with no wiggle room at all.
Does this mean that I'm walking around hitting myself over the head whenever I use a metaphor or suggesting that something more poetic than the word "while" belongs in loop constructions? Not really. Well, not often. Okay. It's been known to happen.( Collapse )
Truth, Stories, and Lies
I've been thinking a great deal lately about truth and lies and what people believe and why. By lately I mean for the last eight or nine years. I've been finding it very strange that so many people seem to believe things that not only don't make sense when you look into them, but don't make sense at first glance. Why do so many seem so willing to deceive themselves and to be deceived?
I think I've probably been exposed to no more and no less deceit in my life than anyone else, but two factors have made me look harder at it than I might otherwise have done: writing and having children.
Let's face it, young children lie a lot and they lie very badly. I don't just mean that they have what are known as "tells" in poker -- that is, really blatant signals that indicate their deceit. They also slant things in their own directions, and by slant I mean sheer cliff. Children's lies are simple things. They are self serving with blatant attempts at distraction or out-and-out belligerent denials. After only a little while any parent, aunt, uncle, sibling, or cousin of a child will quickly get used to hearing this method of lying and will not for a moment be fooled.
Mary Sue is the Root of All Evil
In setting straight my own mind on some matters before starting a new book, I came to the conclusion that one of the major annoyances of writing was even more of a nuisance than her dubious reputation said. For those of you familiar with the title character of this essay, please bear with me while I recap her career in slightly different terms than usually used to talk about her before getting to the substance of the matter.
Novice fiction writers hear many warnings from experienced writers, some gentle, some harsh. But of all these, one is always delivered with a certain savagery and frustration: "Get rid of Mary Sue."
The mere presence of this character in a story is enough to have it consigned with disgust into any editor's discards. But who is this innocent child, this poor woebegone saintly girl who everyone in her stories loves, and yet everyone in the real world except her writer hates? Who is Mary Sue?( Collapse )</div></div>
I decided to set up this livejournal because I realized that sometimes there are short essays I'd like to write and share with people and this looked like a good venue. I don't plan to blog much, but every so often there'll be a new essay. I'll also occasionally make announcements (new books and so on).