Notes From Brisha: The World

Hi friends.

I thought I’d give you all a snapshot of the complete map of Urthrite because the image I have posted before is a tricky one, angled and zoomed in and all that. Here is Urthrite in its entirety. No tricks. The whole thing.

And let me amend that statement by saying this is the whole map of the known world…If you know what I mean. 😉

Ain't she a beauty?

Ain’t she a beauty?

On World-Building

Most fantasy enthusiasts would agree that world-building is vital for the life of any particular novel. Just like a character, the landscape itself should have dramatically vivid attributes that define it and set it apart from the monotony of average  fields, mountains, rivers and seas (and even those can come alive with the right details). An imaginative author can design a world that is as memorable as some of the best characters of that genre.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of material to work with–much more than just an array of flora and fauna which may or may not be alien. Worlds have scars and weather patterns (consider Sanderson’s Way of Kings and the brilliant world defined primarily by its volatile storms and wind-hardened creatures).

Think also in terms of cartography. What makes Kevin Anderson’s Terra Incognita series so intriguing? Or The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? Even the inhabitants of that world don’t know what lurks over the horizon. It makes for some wonderful suspense. Some authors think big, taking in whole atlases and mythologies; some think small, ruminating on an old building or focusing on one city in great depth.

Wrapped up in all these considerations are seasons, animal behavior, abnormal catastrophes, storms, etc…and above all: Culture. The world is tied inseparably to the people and the people to the world. How do they shape each other? The fantasy/science fiction author has to become a biologist, and archeologist, a historian, and an anthropologist all at once. Not to mention a psychologist and a linguist. The best writers employ a whole college of disciplines.

We fantasists have to be as much in this world as anyone else. We have to be paying attention. Doing research. Learning, jotting stuff down, and drawing maps. The best imaginary worlds are still tied to ours in important ways. There are no rules, but there are guidelines.

This brings us to the wonderful paradox of fantasy. Readers need some realistic grounding and will therefore complain if a world has no anchor in reality. If the seas are made out of toxic wastes, the fish better be monstrous creatures who can breath it. If the whole world is covered in snow, people won’t be wearing sandals. Usually a fantasy world will have great similarities to ours with only small, plot-defining differences. It’s easy to get out of hand. It’s easy to forget the world for the story and both suffer from malnutrition.

Landmarks are a good way to avoid loosing readers. Reminding them of that unstable volcano in the vicinity of the spider-infested forest where the action is taking places could be a beneficial detail–especially if you plan on making the lava flow later. Introduced landmarks should be used, should become part of the plot. One of the most common complaints about certain fantasy authors is that they’ve become over indulgent to the world they’re creating, adding details that don’t add to the understanding of the information important for the plot. This is a fuzzy line, but when an author’s writing for themselves it’s noticeable.

The best fantasy authors can develop a world that gives readers a sense of it’s vastness or character without throwing out unnecessary details. Here’s a panoramic view of Middlearth that Tolkien gives us in The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s good stuff:

“It was now as clear and far-seen as it had been veiled and misty when they stood upon the knoll of the Forest, which could now be seen rising pale and green out of the dark trees in the West . In that direction the land rose in wooded ridges, green, yellow, russet under the sun, beyond which lay the hidden valley of the Brandywine. To the South, over the line of the Withywindle, there was a distant glint like pale grass where the Brandywine River made a great loop in the lowlands and flowed away out of the knowledge of the hobbits. Northward beyond the dwindling downs the land ran away in flats and swellings of grey and green and pale earth-colours, until it faded into a featureless and shadowy distance. Eastward the Barrow-downs rose, ridge behind ridge into the morning, and vanished out of eyesight into a guess: it was no more than a guess of blue and a remote white glimmer blending with the hem of the sky, but it spoke to them, out of memory and old tales, of the high and distant mountains.” – Chapter 8, The Fellowship of the Ring

It sets the scene for the impending adventure. Tolkien uses colors, the placement of the sun, names of places, and all the points of the compass to paint before us a tapestraic picture of a world that seems more real every moment. It puts you there. That’s the key to world building: make it real to your readers. Transport them to the world.

Let’s Go!

Photoshop Design project: We were asked to link a phrase and image that were not intended to connect in order to alter the meaning. I was going for humorous,wondering what e. e. cummings would think of one of his most famous lines as linked to bovine ambitions. It’s not really a project worth any of the skills I’ve picked up in this class, but we just started moving into images with text to form meaning, so the exercise is appropriate.

Exercises are great. This took me about two minutes.

Exercises are great. This took me about two minutes. Easy points!

Let’s be honest…the grass does always look greener on the other side, and right now, with graduation just over that white picket fence, I’m trying to figure out whether the grass is real or just a photoshop altered mirage.

I hear people saying that these college days are the golden days, the sunniest days. It never gets any better than this! Granted, these maxims mainly come from faculty who never really left college in the first place, and from where they sit it just isn’t as fun as it used to be.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Hopefully. Now that I’m ed-u-ma-cated I should have the wits to find some of that grass. Even for a poor writing major with no street compass. I should have the guts to do a bit of exploring.

Sure, I’ll hop that fence with style and take whatever leafy green shoots I can find…Nope.

I’ll probably trip up and land on my face, feet tangled in the place I just left. Most events in life happen that way. The good thing about the ground is that’s where the grass is. (that’s the sound of a metaphor stretching to its ripping point).

Hopefully God has it in mind to smile ruefully and let me trip my way into a green patch. I’ll keep faith in the suspicion that the best things in life happen because of our blunderings and his design. It’s wonderfully humbling, but it’s no wonder Scripture constantly compares us people to livestock.

“Golden days” probably has more to do with one’s eagerness and earnestly and less to do with actual circumstances.  That’s what I love about this line from e. e. cummings that I plastered on a Google image of cows. The eagerness. The excitement about whatever the hell is over there we don’t know let’s go.

I love cummings’ use — or lack of — punctuation. It’s a small gesture that creates an entire style, and, as readers, we feel the excitement of it. There’s no time for commas or periods! Let’s go go go! (Cows wouldn’t know how to use punctuation either, so you see how this is all coming together).

I guess I can’t speak with any integrity about the woes of the daily grind when I’m used to the twists and surprises of college. Keeps me sharp. Can’t complain now, and maybe I won’t complain then when I’m munching on grass that’s exactly the same shade of green as the stuff I just left. That’s pretty green. Bitter on occasion, but, hey, it’s not worse and it’s not bad.