Skilled Characters

My dearest friend texted me yesterday about a character who is an aspiring author who adores libraries and books about as much as she enjoys origami, self-styling herself as a paper sculpture artist. She worried that it was “too much” for the character, perhaps on the basis that female characters who openly celebrate their talents and hobbies are more likely to be criticized than their male counterparts (see: accusations of writing a Mary Sue). For a character in a modern setting, however, it would make sense if she, perhaps, listened to audiobooks while keeping her hands busy with paper crafts. Especially since said-character, as my friend revealed later, lived with a very sensitive and severe case of asthma, thus barred from many outdoor and physical activities. These are reasonable skills for the character that complement her personality and capabilities without disturbing the harmony of her characterization.

It left me thinking on some old writing advice I read years ago: Each character should have three hobbies, at the very least. Now, ignoring the blanket aspect of that statement (let’s just say I have that opinion concerning a lot of writing advice, that anyone reading tips and tricks for any aspect of writing should carry a huge bag of salt and take those grains regularly), I was, at first, skeptical. Wasn’t three hobbies too much, especially for characters who were very young, had little time/energy/ability to devote to these hobbies, and/or their environment was not conductive to cultivating the skills that accompany these hobbies?

But then I considered myself and could think of those three minimum hobbies in a heartbeat. I enjoy writing, reading, and trying to break video games. I then considered my parents: my mother enjoys watching movies, gossiping on social media, and reading; my father enjoys reading, woodwork crafts, and trying to break operating systems. Look at enough people, at their skills, at what they enjoy, and you can see patterns emerge that complement who they are. My mother is sociable and enjoys a good story (and, from my observation, the trashier the better), while my father is inquisitive and contemplative. I struggle with activities beyond my room, especially if they involve other people and the outside world, and I like to think of myself as curious and intelligent.

As people, they make sense. For writers, characters that make sense, that don’t trigger the reader’s “oh, bullshit” reaction and shatter their connection with the story, are what we should aspire for.

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Exodus of the Court of Autumn

Speaking of those who chase winds instead of the ladies, I have a matter of great comedy to share. Think of it as the matter I regard with my half-smiles, this millennia-long temper tantrum from a indignant, unlucky queen and, more to the point, the temper tantrum the Luminary and Emissary keep pinned to their office walls! If you cannot find the breath to laugh at that, Rilke, then I daresay you can hardly draw breath at all.

Have you noticed, that the vultures gather at our walls? The middle will challenge at the next full moon and, by saying that, the future shifts in your favor. Foresight is so grand a gift that I would be tempted to invite destruction just to spread it, except I will not, for I am no fool long given to dust.

And neither are you.

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Concordance of the Seasons

I have gathered, less for the name of history and more for the name of amusement, what records there are of the earliest pieces concerning the ladies of season. The Court of Spring recorded their primitive art, bless their futile efforts, for they are much unlike their cousins to the east, and especially unlike those who have denounced their lady in favor of far more frivolous and far, far more nonexistent entities. Perhaps you could consider the irony, that those who preserved so much of history were the first to fall. I would not consider it myself, but if I were, it would be with the manner of half-smile in which I regard the antics of our favorite joke.

Still, my dear, I do hope you find some measure of delight in the words of long-dusted artists.

Rilke
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Idle Thoughts on Naming

So, as I continue drawing the notes together for Shadows in Summer, I find myself reflecting further on worldbuilding.  Though I’ve written the most crucial points to the subject, or the points I name the most crucial, I still find myself examining the process upon which I give names to characters.  The trap of worldbuilding is realizing when you need to stop, for if you think too much on all the things that can be uniquely designed for your fictional culture, you drown yourself in the sheer weight of details.

Such as I am where gathering name pools for this story.  Typically I default to foreign names stemming from a superficial comparison drawn between the real-world entity and the fictional “sort-of but not really” counterpoint.  Or else I tap into the great portfolio of names assembled by authors who are resonant with a larger culture; the aesthetically-oriented Court of Spring taps into Shakespeare, with certain groups deriving from the same play (specifically, a trio named for Othello and a pair from Midsummer’s Night Dream).  Sometimes I break out my d10 and tables (such as this one) to try and create distinctive, unique names.  The majority of times, the names I create on my own sound like utter garbage.  I think Olmoro has the only name I’ve created that I actually enjoy; that stemmed from a lot of odd mouth movements while playing with the om utilized in meditation.

But is it laziness in worldbuilding to default to given names, rather than styling each process of naming individually into its culture?  Such that some may only have a syllable at birth, with others added through their life to reflect their accomplishments and deeds, or perhaps one where all children born in a certain year share the same name, where individual names are unofficial and traded between friends and family?

The hardest thing to do with fantasy worldbuilding is realizing that your humans do not, necessarily, need to be the same humans found in reality and, in fact, that they have the same naming schemes, the same marriage traditions, the same familiar structures, seems rather distracting in its laziness.

On the other end of the scale, of course, is overcomplication for the sake of overcomplication.  And there is the fact that humans in a fantasy setting are often a baseline, the bridge to connect the reader with the strange and otherworldly of the narrative.  Where would A New Hope be without Luke Skywalker, someone framed as so ordinary and human, to ease the movie viewers into a galaxy distinctly not our own?

So I will bite my tongue and fight the urge to scatter more deck chairs upon this ship.  I will have my queen named Artemis who, yes, should be connected to the real-world Greek goddess with her associations to women and the sport of hunting.  And she will have her daughter Lorraine, for the name is frivolous and sweet and prone to obnoxious nicknaming, which is certainly at the crux of Artemis’s motives for naming her child thus.

If a name works, a name works.  Don’t sweat the devil loitering in the details.

Worldbuilding: Integration into Narrative

Part I: Beginning the worldbuilding process with motifs.

Part II: Faith, religion, and mythology points to consider.

Part III: Diverse power structures to highlight individual cultures.

Part IV: Using “if x, then y” logic to color cultures based upon previous notes.

You have your world bible, carefully constructed from hours of research and self-reflection, with details pieced together.  There are pages upon pages describing significant dates to the culture and the specific festivities and rituals that accompany it.  You’ve sketched out the royal seal that integrates motifs of divine and mortal authority.  You cannot wait to walk your reader through the ceremonies where another partner is integrated into what the reader understands as something analogous to a wedding ceremony.

You may want to sit down for this.  For as lovely and wonderful as the story bible is, not every part of it is going to have a place to shine in your story.  In fact, I would hazard to guess that only a handful of details will have their place.

Welcome to the challenge of restraint for the sake of the narrative.

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Worldbuilding: Some Assembly Required

The end is upon us.

We began with the base values that emphasized your fantasy culture before taking upon ourselves to create gods and non-gods to emphasize and shape this culture.

Then, with this knowledge, we set about creating the mode of governance that best complemented these aspects of the culture.

Today, we look back on the decisions made regarding our fantasy culture over the course of the previous days to see how the directly color the world through “if x, then y” evaluations.  This can also be utilized to examine the opportunistic “wouldn’t that be cool?” ideas that threaten to undermine your previous hard work by being relentlessly awesome to include.

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Worldbuilding: Beyond Kings and Queens

Part I: Beginning the worldbuilding process with motifs.

Part II: Faith, religion, and mythology points to consider.

Monarchies are such an ingrained staple to the fantasy genre that they are referenced in the same breath as the dragon.  Part of the reason may be the role of monarchies across the span of history; from ancient Egypt and its pharaohs to continued existence of the British Royal Family in the present day, bloodlines being the determinant for leadership has survived centuries of humans living and dying that of course it would be a common option when designing a fantastical world.  They also tend to be the rule-of-thumb for fairy tales, the first stories we’re likely to encounter over the course of our childhood, which may also explain how quick they’re utilized in fiction.

On the writing end, monarchies can be rather straight-forward in terms of explanation.  Any reader can recognize a monarchy, but not all may grasp a system that is heavily inspired by an idealized form of socialism; God help you if you drop the word in narration describing that system, as socialism has so many connotations to it that, whatever your intent is for the story’s socialist system, your reader is likely to think of the tyranny of the Soviet Union.  In a fantasy story where political and courtly intrigue rarely, if ever, stumbles into the plot, a monarchy is a wise choice for the fact that it’s easier to say “the king’s seal emblazoned our currency” and move on than it is to divert from a plot focused elsewhere to help the reader comprehend your intricate representative democracy, or the nitty-gritty as to how the plutocracy in this culture works.

So please, do not feel as though you are unoriginal for selecting a monarchy.  The validity of it as an option cannot be denied, but it must be recognized as only an option.  But, if in the course of your worldbuilding, you discover that all ten of your fantasy nations are monarchies…It may be worth the time to evaluate whether there is another option to better express the individual morals and beliefs behind each individual culture.

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