Tapestry Sample part 2–and exciting news!

Following up on my last post, today I have the second part of Garden, the sample from my upcoming Tapestry project. But first, some exciting news!

Yesterday I got my manuscript for The Astrologers and Other Stories from my editor, Yesenia Vargas. This is the first time I’ve had my work professionally edited, so I was a bit nervous. But it wasn’t as error-ridden as I’d feared. Once I go through the edits, I’ll be ready to start formatting–one more step taken!

This is where it starts to feel really real. Now I have a manuscript that’s been tinkered with, ad somehow that drives it home for me. I’m looking forward to my first real release!

In the meantime, I’m still working on my new project, Tapestry. Here’s the seond half of the sample I introduced in my last post:

Garden, part two

Metedre raced down the stairs and into the garden, her heart in her throat. Kthone didn’t contact her often—she rarely showed herself at all—but she had proved to be a great source of advice. She carried with her an immense store of wisdom, and was eager to share it with her—to the point, in fact, that Metedre often wondered if she were being groomed.
The scent of jasmine was cloying in the garden, but she reveled in it. The aroma of damp soil mingled with the flowers, creating a wonderfully textured sensation. She stepped out of her slippers so she could feel the grass on the soles of her bare feet, and found her way through the winding path, looking for her charge.
Kthone stood beside a tall willow—also imported, and sadly not doing well in its new habitat—both hands resting on a small knobbed cane. She was clothed in an earthy taupe robe, cinched at the waist by a thin green cord that could have been a vine. A tall flat hat was perched on her head and appeared forever in danger of falling off, though it never did. When she smiled at Metedre’s approach, her face folded into a labyrinth of wrinkles and she showed brownish teeth. Patches of coarse hair dotted her face and hands.
“Evening becomes you, Empress,” she croaked, her voice deeper than one would expect. Metedre nodded her thanks, folding her hands into the sleeves of her gown.
“Well met, my friend,” she replied. The unusually cool air chilled her, and she wished she’d fetched a thicker robe than the simpler shift she’d donned after Alkut had left. “And to what do I owe this visit?” She shivered, moving from foot to foot.
The Crone lifted a hand, as gnarled as her cane, facing a palm toward Metedre. The Empress knelt and pressed her palm in turn; a shallow warmth emanated from the Crone, filtering through her own body. She smiled.
“The warmth of the land permeates all; you are forgetting your lessons,” the Crone chided. But there was a lilt of humor in her voice. Metedre stood again, and nodded.
“I have been…preoccupied of late. My people…”
“Yes, yes, my child, I know of your troubles. They matter little, but weigh much. This land,” the Crone said, gesturing with her arm to include the whole garden, “has been transformed. You brought life to it, continue to nurture it. Your people weep for lack of resources, for want of fertile land, but it is all right here. This is all you need.”
Metedre nodded again, but her smile had faded. She had heard this talk before, and while she saw the wisdom in what Kthone was trying to tell her, the Crone simply didn’t understand the depth of the situation.
“My people are starving, Kthone.  Our population grows faster than we can feed it, and for the first time our Empire can’t seem to sustain itself. We have tried irrigation, rotating crops, cultivating hardier strains; nothing holds. We have imported dozens of species from Tornum, but this garden is the only place they grow and thrive.”
The Crone hobbled closer to Metedre, gazing idly around the garden as if taking it in for the first time.
“Yes. And this garden is a formidable achievement. This is harsh land indeed, all desert and sands. And yet you have wrought this bounty from the earth, teased it to your will. Why has it not been so elsewhere in Yzima?”
Metedre winced. It certainly hadn’t been for lack of trying. The problem was a source of water; Yzima had an extensive coastline, but little water flowed through the interior of the Empire. Most of the major settlements were on the shores, and industry followed—leaving little room for the cultivation of crops in the areas that were best suited to it. Many Emperors had tried in the past to pass reforms to clear that land, but the Empire had always been built on Industry; their wealth, their very livelihood depended on the kind of invention that pushed agriculture aside. Their factories and refineries and smelters needed water too, and it was a matter of simple economics that the results of that toil created more wealth than farming.
It had never been an issue before now. They were expanding at a record rate, and people were moving inland. The continent had been plotted centuries ago, and people were delving into the interior for want of space. But neither industry nor agriculture could function well in the expansive desert, and so the coastlines became more and more clogged with people competing for prime land. The result in recent years had created a sever issue of supply versus demand, as both major <industries> competed for the same scarce resources, and both flagged in response.
But Kthone knew all of this; they’d had this conversation several times before. Metedre saw the small woman’s smile and knew she was being tested.
“Other areas of Yzima haven’t received the attention my garden has,” she replied tentatively. The other woman nodded, encouraging her. “I have tended these plants tirelessly,” she continued, “even had the course of the River Umen turned to irrigate it. But the toil of my people hasn’t been any less than mine. “
“Their toil, no,” Kthone said, setting her cane aside and bending to the ground. She gathered a clump of soil, and waddled closer to Metedtre, pressing it into her hands and closing her fingers around it.
“Their will, perhaps not. You have life in you, Empress, and you send it forth as others send words of war and hate. These people, your people…they are hard and sharp, like the sands of the desert. They do not understand as you do. You are a mother, and have wisdom others lack.”
She smiled, placing a muddy hand on Metedre’s abdomen.
“Yes,” she muttered, gathering her cane.
“Mother?” he asked, “why are you out here alone? Who were you talking to?”
Footsteps approached from the palace, echoing in the silent night. Startled, Metedre turned, childishly hiding the soil behind her back, as if she’d been caught stealing. She couldn’t think of who else would be up at this time of night, let alone wandering through her garden. General Ohmelus, the General of Tauri’s armies, walked down the path, and she relaxed.
Metedre gestured behind her, but the gnomish woman had already turned away and was walking into the trees.
“A friend,” she replied. The Knight gave her a curious look, his eyes searching for this “companion,”but saw nothing. He didn’t pursue the issue. Instead, he nodded towards her clenched hands.
“It’s a little late for gardening, mother,” he quipped. “Or are jasmine saplings best planted in the dark?”
She ignored his tone—he seemed surlier than usual—and looked at the wad of dirt in her hands. A small spout had grown out of it, already arching toward the moon for light. Laughing, she tenderly planted it in the ground, wiping her hands on her shift.
“Come, Ohmelus, walk with me.” She offered her arm, and they strolled together down the moonlight path.

A World of Your Own: Worldbuilding part 3.

So we’ve touched on the importance of world building for any story–now it’s time to talk about creating your own fantasy worlds.
This is something I’m genuinely interested in, but have never really looked into until recently. The first novel I’d planned–started more than ten years ago and never completed–took place on a created world I called Gi. It had its own mythology, races, geography, and system for magic. I created it from the ground up, but I never had a process for doing so–I just did it. And because of that, there are numerous inconsistencies.
Now, I’m trying to rebuild that world in anticipation of the “Universe” I want to create as a setting for novels and short stories. The Astrologers–featured on earlier posts on this blog–is the first in this revamped world.
But how does one go about creating a whole new world? As you can imagine, it’s not too different from world building a non-speculative universe, as described in my last post. The difference here is that you have a lot more leeway in what you create, and how everything fits together.
That, however, creates an issue: the more freedom you have in creating your world, the easier it is to develop inconsistencies, as I did. It’s easier to forget a small detail you mentioned several stories ago, or give a character a name that doesn’t really fit into their culture. An especially important danger is changing something major part way through your project (i.e. ‘retconning,’), and forgetting to also change all the little things it affects.

Again, consistency is the most important thing!

So, of course, the main thing is being consistent. However creative your universe is, it should be self consistent. Your people behave a certain way; the geography makes scientific sense; characters of the same race share cultural values, language, and attitudes. World building is a large project, but as long as you’re being consistent, it’s not really that difficult.

What’s different?

The easiest step to take from there is to decide how your world is different from the real world. Does it involve magic, and if so, how does it work? Is this a completely different planet, or are you using Earth as a “template” and changing details? Dos the history of your world follow a similar pattern as our own? Are there comparable social groups? What sort of natural resources are important, and are they different from what we find on Earth? They say you have to know the rules before you can break them, and it’s the same idea here: start with what you know, and go from there.

How different?

This is where you can start getting really creative. Once you know the similarities between our world and your created world, you can start to take liberties. Really, you can go crazy here; the idea is to create something entirely unique, so the more creative you are, the better. You don’t have to think up the details right now, just the major points. In fact, getting mired in details is where I got into trouble with Gi as explained above: I wanted to add all these neat little examples of my creativity that it eventually collapsed upon itself because there was no unifying structure beneath them. So this step should be more conceptual than practical: decide what you want to accomplish with your world, what it will mean to the story, and how you can go about accomplishing that.

Details, details, details…

This is where the job gets challenging–though not difficult, as this should still be fun! There are a lot of websites around that can help you figure out what details to include, and to what extent. Maybe your story centres around a sociopolitical climate–so the variety of food people grow isn’t all that important. Perhaps you want to develop a deeply intricate religious culture, so mythology and theology should be key points of research for you. Or maybe you want to just write a hack and slash adventure, so thinking about politics or religion or history is needless.
But there are certain things you should generally be thinking about, without which you’re not really building a world in the first place. I’d say the most important–and the place to start–is your map. ProFantasy.com has a great suite of software that can help with this; it’s not cheap, but there is a free trial that can get you a quick ‘n dirty map. Or, draw your own.

The next most important piece of the puzzle is who populates the world. Are they humans? Elves, dwarves or orcs? Something entirely different? These are the characters in your story, so get all the details set down early. This is where you’ll thing about languages, culture, mores, history, recreational activities, societal taboos…and so on. You could go really deep here, to the point of creating detailed anthropological histories if your people or creating a language from scratch–and the deeper you go, the more involving the world will be. Just remember to be consistent!

After that, there are a lot of smaller details to think of. What’s the climate? Flora and fauna? Popular entertainment? Important cultural concepts? This is where the world really comes alive. One recent example I can think of is from the special features of the Game of Thrones DVDs, where they talk about creating the Dothraki language. They started by accepting that horses were crucial to their cultural identity, and developed the language around that concept. They ended up with a rich language that made cultural sense.

These details are also where you can get absolutely lost. Keep your notes tidy, and organized. When you come up with a new idea, edit it until you’re sure it fits in the world–and if it doesn’t, rework it until it does. If you need to change a pre-existing concept to allow for a new idea that would otherwise contradict it, make sure you erase it completely, or allow for an explanation if inconsistencies arise.

There are tons of resources for world building online, so for more information, I’d reccomend a Google search. But to start you off, here are a few great ones:

  • 30 Days of World Building: This is a step by stepguide that promises, as the title says, to help create a new world in 30 days. It’s a comprehensive list of things to think about–comprehensive enough that there are some steps you may not need, depending on how detailed you want to be. But definitely worth checking out. You can also download the guide for free in ePub, MOBI or PDF format.
  • Fantasy World Building Questions: This website breaks the creation process down into a series of categories, such as Geography, People and Customs, and Commerce. It’s a solid list, and by going through it all you will end up with a nice comprehensive world.
  • Paeter’s Brain: Free Worldbuilding Tools: A quick post about world building from a Role Playing Game perspective. It includes links to a couple wikis about various RPG settings, which could be good inspiration for your own world. There’s also a link for a town generator, and a city map generator.
  • Speaking of RPGs, I’m a big fan, and a member of a website called Myth Weavers. They have some great tools to help DMs build their own worlds; here’s an example of the wiki. Now, you may be asking yourself why this matters if you’re writing a novel–but really, most of the process is the same. A DM has to create a cohesive world for his players to play in. In fact, building a solid world is in their absolute best interests: because each of their players has a mind of their own, they’ll test the limits of the world in every way possible. A writer would do well to follow the DMs example.

That’s it for today, and for this mini-series on world building. But don’t worry: this is a topic we’ll come back to again, I’m sure. My created world is in something of a crisis, and will need some heavy work–and what better place to troubleshoot the process than a blog about writing and publishing?

In the meantime, if you have any other resources or ideas on world building, please share in the comments below!