Yesterday I got an Xbox One and Titanfall so no blogging or writing happened. If any blogging had happened though, it would have just been responding to the latest Butt Hurt of the Week from the SFWA/Typical WorldCon Voter/Glittery Hoohaw crowd, because this time they’re outraged and attacking a straw version of Toni Weisskopf because the real Toni said maybe they shouldn’t be so outraged and annoying all the time. Scalzi wrote a self-righteous response that was just the Internet Arguing Checklist point by point. Seriously, anybody who ever accused Toni of “hand wringing” don’t know Toni, because she is more the “neck wringing” type. My publisher is a total badass.
So you really didn’t miss much, but Titanfall is really fun.
Let me catch you guys up on what is going down on the writing front.
First off, my next book is Monster Hunter Nemesis. It will be out this summer. I don’t know when the eARC will release. The book is turned in. I got some technical corrections back from Reader Force Alpha that still need to go in. (because every bomb, bullet, airframe, and explosion in my fantasy novel about monsters has to be accurate!) Other than that, it is done.
Right now I’m working on a Grimnoir short story. This is another Jake Sullivan stand alone. Audible.com asked me for that. I’m planning on doing a sequel to Into the Storm shorty also in the next couple of months. I usually do a bunch of little projects in between novels, because when I jump into a novel I mostly see it through from beginning to end, and this next novel is requiring a ton of thought and effort.
I bounced several things off of Toni to see what she wanted me to focus my energy on next, (Having a ton of books under contract to be written is a really good problem to have) and she really wants to see this epic fantasy that I’ve been talking about for years. Sweet, because that is what I’m the most excited to write about anyway.
People ask writers all the time where they get their ideas. Writers know that is kind of a silly question because ideas are everywhere. It is rare that we can track back a whole book to one particular thing, only in this case, I actually have an answer. I listened to this song, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juEVrAM9WCE liked it, then listened to it again and for fun made up a scene in my head for it to be the background music for (Luckily I hadn’t seen the movie yet so it didn’t have any visual memories to correlate to). That scene turned into a short story, so I jotted down the quick rough, realized that it was part of a much larger story, wrote down enough notes to realize it was a novella that I didn’t have the time to write or a market for, so then I shelved it in my brain for a few months.
The scene? A man who has been lied to about who he is most of his life returns home and kills everybody. 🙂
It is one scene, that’s it, but it set the flavor. As I had more ideas that fit, I kept tacking them onto that story, until all of a sudden I had a fully fleshed out novel in my head, just waiting to be written. (that’s why I always tell aspiring writers to keep track of their ideas, and how if a good idea doesn’t seem to fit their current project, save it for a later one where it fits better).
The big underlying idea of the story came about based on a pet peeve of mine from reading hundreds of fantasy novels. Have you ever noticed how in epic fantasy there is this trope where some Legendary Hero saves the world from the Big Bad, and then there’s a prophecy about how in a thousand years or whatever a descendant of Legendary Hero will have to defeat the second coming of the Big Bad, only in a thousand years there is like only one Chosen One Descendant, and he’s the assistant pig farmer’s son, who now needs to go on a quest to become the new Legendary Hero?
Yeah… We’ve all read that. But here’s the thing. That’s not human nature. First off, if Legendary Hero guy saved the whole world from the forces of evil, and there is a prophecy about how his descendants will save the world in the future, he’s not going to have one kid. For the safety of the whole world he’s going to have ten wives and fifty kids. And even if he doesn’t, his kids are going to volunteer to have ten wives and fifty kids. And in a few generations you’re going to have the House of Saud.
Odds are that if there is a religious prophecy about how you are the potential savior of the world from the forces of evil, you can get away with being a dick. Of course, in the real world if you give a group of people an excuse to be jerks, they’re going to be jerks. Even if the Big Bad is real, sometimes the cure may be worse than the disease. And of course, if you push everybody else too far, they’re going to get really pissed off and eventually rise up and kill the shit out of you.
So Grimnoir trilogy wrapped up and next MHN out the door, last week I got down to business. 30 pages of notes, an Excel time line of 1200 years, and a bunch of hand drawn maps later I’m about ready to start the actual writing.
I’ve created worlds before, but not from scratch. MHI is our world with monsters. Grimnoir has more world building, but it is still our world, just 80 years ago after 80 years of magic. Dead Six is our world, only history veered off a bit, and a little bit crappier. This project? Holy moly. This is a fantasy and it isn’t based on any regular earth culture, so that is requires a lot more thought beforehand.
Have you ever read a fantasy and been struck by how something about that world just felt off? Or you get to some glaring inconsistency, or thing that shouldn’t exist, or doesn’t make sense, or had a moment of WTF are these people doing? I’m not talking the fantastical elements, because the author gets a pass for those, but things where the society, culture, or world just doesn’t click because there is some incongruous element that doesn’t make sense. I hate that too so I’m going to try really hard not to do it myself.
One of the best books for writers about world building is Guns, Germs, and Steel, only it is about understanding how our real world turned out the way it did, rather than creating a new one, but it should give you plenty of ideas for your imaginary ones.
Then the hard part is thinking through how an imaginary society works and the ramifications of all the things in that world. Okay, so I’m writing about a society that has a rather brutal caste system. That means I need to think through how it works. Who does what? Why? How did it get that way? Who grows the food? What is their economy based on? The system of government? So who enforces what? Why? Then what would happen if I did this? Wait, if I change this, what are the logical ramifications to this other thing? So on and so forth. It makes for a fun week, as long as I don’t think too hard about the fact that most of this stuff isn’t going to end up in the actual book.
That’s one important thing to remember for the aspiring authors, just because you can explain how something works doesn’t mean you should, because that can be boring. But it still needs to make logical consistent internal sense if the topic does come up in the story. I need to know the laws of my imaginary culture, even if I don’t talk about them, but at least it keeps me from hosing myself and writing something now that will screw me up in the future. If I know my history, even when I’m not talking about my history, I won’t inadvertently violate my own history. Basically, the more I think something through, the more real it becomes to me as the author, the more real it is going to feel to my readers when they read it.
Religion is going to play a big part in this one, but not in the traditional manner. I’m going to give John Lennon a world with everything he asked for in Imagine, and that world is a horrible place. I keep getting told that *real* writers push message fic, so choke on this, hippies. 🙂
One reason most fantasy worlds tend to correlate to an actual historical culture (or the popular perceived version of that actual historical culture) is because it is easier for the author to write and easier for a reader to relate to. Everybody kind of knows about knights and castles and that sort of thing, so those things have become accepted fantasy tropes, which is why you see lots of fantasy where you can pick out the pseudo-British and the pseudo-Mongols and pseudo-Vikings. It gives the author and the reader a good, understandable baseline to start with. Basic culture and even names start with a solid assumption. This is popular because it works well, but on the downside, then we have to listen to all the Glittery HooHaws bitch and whine about how come Special Culture of the Day X doesn’t have more fantasy based on it… Not that they can be troubled to get off their asses and actually create anything that anybody wants to read, mind you.
I really didn’t want to write a world based on any one existing culture, but it still helps to have a starting baseline to work off of rather than inventing everything. So I cherry picked a few historical things from different societies to help me with my laws and customs (hey, why recreate work that somebody else spent 2000 years working the bugs out of?) and mashed everything I enjoyed or thought made for cool story elements together.
Coming up with a consistent naming structure is a challenging thing, because names normally originate with some meaning from the parent language, and unless you want to make up nonsense words to serve as names, it is easier to look at an existing naming structure for inspiration. Plus character names need to have, well, character. Because I had two names that I used for the original story, and one was Thai and the other Indian, that’s where I started.
When everything was said and done I ended up with the outline of a story about a culture that was a weird amalgamation of Indian caste system, southeast Asian mythology, Mandarin bureaucracy, with a western nanny-state cronyism militant atheist mindset, and the Burakumin revolt against that led by a character who is a cross between George Washington, Genghis Khan, and the Punisher.
I love my job.
I wrote a test short story set in this universe. It will appear in the Shattered Shields anthology from Baen that is coming out in November. Shattered Shields (BAEN)