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Boggling over Backstory

So, how important is it to include all of the tiny and potentially inconsequential details that you’ve labored over in creating your own world or your own version of our world?

This is a problem that I faced first and foremost in writing my fantasy manuscripts. Since I was creating an entirely new world, I wanted to hammer out details of the economy, the judicial system, class and caste, the ecology and environment, and of course, the history. To me, it was important to have all of this decided in case it was relevant to the story. And, admittedly, it was the more satisfying part of developing a fantasy world. This is the instance in which a writer becomes a god, capable of creating and destroying and turning the tides of evolution and development to suit his or her needs.

The problem, then, became how much of this information to include in the actual manuscript. For instance:

“Their rootstocks cultivated to limit expansion and their limbs pruned to prevent uncontrolled growth, the black-barked trees looked like nothing less than a phalanx of fastidious soldiers…”

This passage from Blood of a Godkiller shows up in the first chapter. The protagonist is, as is usual, a simple youth tossed into the larger world. He comes from a sharecropping town that handles the bulk of the apple supply for this small realm. Now, I know that the extent of climates inclusive to this realm is such that this particular area is best suited for apples. I also know that the powers that be have a habit of encouraging singular production to maintain control over the economy. As such, any attempt by the community or its landed lord to challenge the existing power structure would be met with an attack on their one and only sustainable crop. A history of ore production from nearby mountains had once provided this territory with considerable wealth, but meddling administrators worked to diffuse the monopoly by encouraging mining in another territory with similar access to ore veins.

My first inclination was to provide all of this information at the introduction to the settlement because I had assumed the reader would want to know everything they could about Wylard’s Ferry before moving on to the next new concept. After creating a relentlessly informative first chapter with absolutely no action, no plot formation, and no character development, I realized that I was writing an encyclopedia entry rather than a story. Well, no, that isn’t exactly accurate. It wasn’t until beta reader after beta reader told me the first chapter was a plodding mess of unwieldy facts that I realized my mistake. Even then, it wasn’t until much later that I was able to find it within myself to hack and slash my way through the morass to rewrite the entire chapter.

So, I went back through the original manuscript and peppered some of the information throughout. I wanted to incorporate some of the same ideas, but I needed truncated versions that could be incorporated without turning into lectures. So, in chapter five, I added to a conversation:

“We’ve kept the people poor for fear that inheritance rights among these xenophobic farmers and stonewrights might create an amassed wealth too far from Canon to be controlled,”

There I tackle the importance of why this particular territory is so poor in comparison to some of its neighbors. It actually leads into a specific instance in the sort of tactics used, including the introduction of a disease that causes women to become infertile, but that’s neither here nor there. The important this was that I was able to sneak in a bit more of what I thought to be a very important component of the backstory without resorting to endless historical accounts.

I put off the history of the territory’s once-wealthy past because it wasn’t entirely relevant to character or story development. I kept the information, however, and did include it in the next manuscript because it made much more sense there. And, as an avid reader, I don’t find it too offensive to continue learning about the world from book to book. I also waited to deal with the specifics of the ecology as it applies to the apple-farming community because the breadth of travels is larger. Where the first manuscript primarily takes place in a relatively small area, the second sends the protagonist across the realm. It just made more sense to delve into the broader ecology when it was actually relevant.

So, really, more than anything my thought is this: Developing a world from scratch is the most exciting, agonizing part of writing off- and other-world fiction. I’m still tackling with how I present the science-magic of the realm without explaining it. I’m still fretting over characteristics of places and people that I want to include, but cannot find a really good reason to do it. Ultimately, having a beta reader with superior grammatical and spelling skills (thanks, Mom!), the bulk of my edits are focused on turning historical discourse into descriptive prose.

Never mind the entirely different set of problems I discovered in maintaining some level of accuracy peppered with alternative history in writing the Steampunk manuscript…

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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Idea Seed

“Prior to the Godkilling, man and animal were left helpless in the face of a petty deity that wielded tools of making and unmaking on whim alone. His anger brought flood and famine and his favor gave tremendous power to those corrupt ecclesiastic orders that rose up to worship him. His power was the power to supersede the will of man.”
An excerpt from The Godkilling by Yrdwar Senelane, Collegium Historian.

This is the flavor text that opens the first chapter of my fantasy manuscript. The entirety of the story began with one idea: What if people could kill their God when they got tired of everything attributed to him. Believing that hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes are ‘acts of God’ or that one sports team wins by the grace of God and the other loses, presumably, because they’ve curried less favor with God is the sort of logic that allows a person to run the course of their life without taking much responsibility for anything. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma believes that climate change is false because the bible states that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night’. Blind faith in the face of science. So what if people could kill their God to end not only the natural events attributed to him, but also the fervor that his followers use to do damage to the society?

When I started writing Blood of a Godkiller, I wanted to create a society that existed not just godlessly, but in spite of God. Random and occasional attempts within the population to recreate a deity-based belief system are met with the harshest of punishments: death. Speaking of the dead has finite social acceptability to avoid reconnecting with the antiquated notion of an afterlife. Cursing revolves around creative use of the dead God’s anatomy and reinforces irreverence as a means of social control.

Oddly, though I expected to find this mythical place exciting and liberating, it evolved quite a bit differently. With no preternatural being to dictate the laws of society to them, the people within my fictional society took his place and were no better off for it. A vacuum of power was created in his displacement and, as might be expected, various human entities fought to take over. Despite my inclinations and as imaginary friends tend to do, the people of the realm developed almost independently of me. Because their God had been a physical manifestation that existed on the same plane as them, they were not only able to kill him, but they were also able to witness his manipulation of the world in real and actual terms. Unfortunately, despite their abhorrence for their God, they fell easily into replicating his manipulative form of governance once he was gone.

Nevertheless, this was the idea that gave birth to my first completed manuscript and the evolution of it gave me pause to consider our own reality quite a bit.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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