Archive | April, 2023

Spring is Finally Here (What Happened? No seriously, what happened??) and Philosophical Meandering with World Building

13 Apr

It doesn’t feel like April on account that we had the usual birthday blizzard, but this round with no False Spring in which for a week in March, we’re all breaking out the shorts and deluded winter’s done. I have been stupid busy with work that it doesn’t feel like mid April; I guess I find out if the strike vote goes forward soonish; we’ll be mandated to work and I’m not against that. One of the few mandates I agree with, actually.

Oh, and Ballad bloated right up and is now a 160k monster. Imma give it to my niece for feedback and I may make some distinct changes, but as of right now I’m happily working on a supplemental novella and the sequel. One scene absolutely needs to be revised but I have my Magus Gambit stuff on the forefront, so Ballad and its sequel are going to be taking a backstep. Honestly I’m probably going to edit some other projects and let it percolate.

That being said, because it’s a spinoff with two planned chonky novels I’ve had to delve into world building; also because I want to write a sequel to The Mermaid and The Unicorns so I might as well do some work. I talk about it below.

Factoring in Religion and Real World Parallels into Unique Fantasy Worlds

C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia is famous for utilizing the character of Aslan as a stand-in for Jesus, but that is hardly Lewis’ only use of real world religion or philosophy in his fiction. If you have a chance to read his Space Trilogy, I recommend them – a little more dry among his fiction, the character Ransom goes to Mars and then Venus, and then has a run-in with Merlin in the third book. The trilogy deals with philosophical matters, with the first two books being about meeting a world that didn’t have a fall quite like ours, and the state of their respective societies. My favorite novel, Til We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, is about Cupid and Psyche from Psyche’s wicked older sister’s perspective. It’s about her possessive love and how she rails against the gods and her perceived injustices. I also recommend being familiar with the source story before you read TWHF, but it’s not necessary.

I think it’s more than possible to talk about religion without making it overt of the defining factor. I recently watched The Windfeather Saga, and it definitely leans towards having a Creator God, even if we’re in an original world and their issues aren’t necessarily the same as the ones we have in our world.

When I’m writing some of my fiction, it’s easy to draw on real-world influences, as books like Rogue Healer and Dreams of Mariposa are set in our world, or if they’re Garnet and Silver, our world exists and others run parallel. I look at other creative properties, and appreciate when the creators take their time to do it right, and so if I’m going to set several stories in this world, I’m going to do it right.

A Ballad of Wood and String is set in a parallel running world, and it’s meant to read like a fairy tale world. I want it to be incredibly friendly for younger readers – in other words, don’t stress out about XYZ factor that would be obvious in a grittier, more real life book: Your princess CAN have Blue Dye Number 14 for her dress even though it’s only possible with synthetic, plus the gowns are pretty and contemporary with certain medieval/fantasy aesthetics. Aaand probably more importantly: If you want a mermaid from your culture they’re splashing around with Daphne and Oshiera no questions asked. You want realism where cultures don’t move around as much and are more homogenized and there’s more real life consequences: Go read Rogue Healer or some of my other books. That isn’t to say that I don’t deal with real issues and it’s all just a silly romp, but it’s not meant to be a cynical take on fantasy.

So my multiple-fold issues with wanting to expand on a story set in an alternative world is once again, stories aren’t told in vacuums. I should at least respect source materials – in other words, I am using kitsunes and jorogumo in A Ballad of Wood and String, but it’s set in a world where I made up rules about mermaids, unicorns, river nixies, and wyverns. I am expanding on what’s already there, but how do I incorporate Japanese Mythology in a world where there’s no explicit Japan? (The answer, is there’s no Jolly Old England or France or whatever either; figure out how the world works and be consistent, often with a blend or my own twist).

I use knights and squires, and as I’m doing research into knighthood, I’m faced with not a quite uncomfortable fact about the warrior class and I couldn’t get away from Christianity and it’s impact on knighting and their codes. I rewatched Kingdom of Heaven – didn’t like it as much as I did when it came out, because it feels like that the characters were either weak or mouthpieces for modern day audiences or even the writers.

Or I could just pull a Legend of Zelda and explain NOTHING until I suddenly need to retcon. Come on, it’s  kind of hilarious.

It wouldn’t be a huge deal if I glanced over ideas but I don’t like pussy-footing around uncomfortable things. I enjoy world building; it’s one of the things that draws me towards fantasy in general. I want it to be a world that’s almost a parallel to our own – influenced by myths and stories from places like England, Japan; some cultures that are the equivalent to Christianity while others adhere more strongly to Bhuddism (oversimplified and friendly, of course), shoot we can look at non-religious philosophies like Stoicism and our calendar and if I want the seasons to run the same. All of it doesn’t technically exist until I explicitly say it does, but I want a reader to feel immersed and like they know the equivalence does. It’s meant to be friendly to young readers, so I want it to feel similar enough to our world. That means if a young reader is into the story, and wants to imagine their culture that I might not have introduced properly, they can phase it in without issue for a fanfic or whatever.

I’m still in the middle of reading the books, but a series I think that does this very well is Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember Among the Ashes, where when we’re dealing with characters like Ifrit and Ghouls, I can tell there’s legend and mythology inspired from our world woven into a world that is distinctly not ours. There’s also other parts of the world that are only hinted upon but feel actualized; like hey, there’s different tribes and systems going on well beyond the focus of the story. I can pull analogies from one culture as being heavily inspired by say, the Romans, but with hints of say, this culture from Greece as well. It all blends into its own thing, but is not so foreign that a given reader feels lost.

So, what do the people of this fairy-taleish realm believe? Do I just keep it intentionally vague or use obvious analogies to distinct cultures and eras? Or, as my creative consultant niece is concerned, when a kitsune takes human form, are they distinctly Japanese? Someone likes Genshin Impact; don’t ask I haven’t played a real video game in years. (You know you’re getting old when you play a playlist of ‘name that video game theme’ and you don’t recognize any of them but your nieces and nephew do).

My short answer is when I say I want to include everyone in these stories and make everyone welcome, that includes worldviews and philosophies I sometimes don’t fully understand by merit of can read about it academically, but miss the bigger picture. I don’t like going for a cheap aesthetic, if that makes any sense.

It would be boring to have a fairy tale world where the characters weren’t like us – but I don’t need to have a word-for-word retelling of our religions and cultures – but I’m not opposed to having characters with a reimagined, fantasy-appropriate culture existing in the same world as it expands. There are no true real-world parallels – there are no Knights Templar, or specific types of Samaurai from a given era.

And before you ask, yes there are Japanese-coded characters in the story beyond just the kitsunes; it’s not as obvious as when I said Espy and her family are black but, the difference is The Mermaid and the Unicorns is a middle grade book and I didn’t want anyone to pretend I meant anything other than what I said.

I have another blog post I was working on like a month ago (that’s when I like started this one, hahaha) but I might switch it up and talk about costumes and designing clothing. I dunno, depends how busy I am but I am on a drawing kick.