04 August 2013

Here There Be Monsters: A Worldbuilder Essay

One of the endlessly fascinating things about writing to me is creating the world in which your characters live; the rules by which they bargain with their reality.  Of course, writers do this all the time, but when not writing in the fantasy genre, I think it has to be a lot more subtle, because there are a lot more rules that we would be familiar with and more able to call on a mistake. 

My story is a fantasy story, and the cultures, regions and countries involved took a long time to solidify in my mind.  But it was really a labor of love, because once you create your own world, you want to imagine it as vividly as possible.  I read somewhere that creativity is nothing more than a person's ability to synthesize and collate all their previous experiences and everything they know into something new.  This is why it's so important for writers to not only do, but read.  Anything and everything. 

Non-fiction is especially helpful to me.  In the beginning (of my writing attempts), my worlds were huge masses of loose particled ephemera, waiting for my own personal big bang.  While this set of questions by one of my all-time favorite authors, Patricia C. Wrede, helped me train my world particles, like dancing fleas, it wasn't until a friend pointed me to this blog, about the psychological aspects of world building, that things really coalesced for me.  Stray Feathers pointed me toward Eliade's Patterns in Comparative Religion, at almost the same time that another source, unrelated to writing, pointed me to Joseph Campbell's magnum opus, The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

Now, I'm human.  I'm not only human, I'm a college student human.  I have read neither of these books cover to cover.  But I have read between a third and a half of both of them, and even that gave me some serious tools to whip out and begin shaping my worlds in ways that even I didn't expect.

An example is that today, I invented a demon bull.  This demon bull is a servant of the Moon Goddess of a culture whose patriarchal deity is the Sky God, or more often, the God.  The Moon Goddess in this culture is the keeper of prophecy and the underworld, and the demon bull is more or less her Cerberus.  This is relevant because, wait for it, according to Eliade, the Moon is linked with either horns or horned bulls in multiple religions!

It was also a bit of a quandary, though, because at the same time, I invented a random bit of street culture for the capitol city of the set of characters I was currently working with.  I can't decide whether to use:

Practically dancing, the Vizier jabbed both index fingers in the air like a street urchin flashing a thief-clan sign.

Practically dancing, the Vizier jabbed both index fingers in the air like a street urchin imitating the Moon Goddess’ demon bull.

I think the first is a bit sharper, and takes less of a leap of understanding on the reader's part, but it's awfully hard to give up the symmetry of echoing a real-life folkloric trend with my fictional religion.

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