Writerly Notions: Worldbuilding & Copying

I’ve realized why my writing often lacks a “spark”. Most of the writing sources I follow or consume (and how my mind interprets them) indicate that fantasy — culture, customs, history — are just copies of this world. And copies are just reflections. More to the point, it’s hard to believe a copy-world is real on its own terms. Which makes it hard, I’d wager, for others to believe in fantasy world that doesn’t feel real, that is only a copy.

On one hand, I want to create real imagined fantasy, advice and convention tell me I have to copy. But if that’s all I have to do, why would I write at all? (If I wanted to do historical fantasy, that would be great, but I think I lean more toward imaginary fantasy. That is, fantasy that isn’t heavily historical.)

Once I started trying to “get serious” about writing a lot of the spontaneous imagination dropped out. While research is necessity for good writing, if the initial groundwork is just trying to copy the exact replica that is (or might be) the inspiration for a fantasy culture, will that seem real?

For me, a lot of rooted worldbuilding comes from percolating off nature and creating myth (the moon is a dragon’s eye, four bats created the world). Or if not nature, than fairy tales. And if not fairy tales, than just…ideas? (flurma birds that roost on the tips of crystal trees where fluff grows, whose plumage turns blue before they migrate)

The trouble is figuring out  what this-world culture I’m inspired by and taking conscientious actions. Often with humans, I do know, but that’s in a copy-&-paste way, rather than deep roots. (Other than one or two fantasy human cultures.)

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Knowledge is Key: Questions to ask yourself as a creator

I’ve been thinking… When you (as a creator, especially white ones) decide to add diversity to your cast…

First, gold star.

Second, here’s some question that may help make sure you don’t make as much a mess of it as you might. (I can’t gaurentee these are fool proof; they’re just a logical procedure I think makes sense and I hope will be helpful. Additionally, it’s what I try to do in my writing, though this isn’t limited to writing.)

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Embalming and other fun stuff

A/N: I actually wrote this near the beginning of the month and meant to expand it with resources and links. I may do that later. But for now, have my preliminary research.

So, this NaNoWriMo my story is a homage to Over the Garden Wall, colonial New England autumn and anything to do with the dead. Since my main character is a necromancer in training.

From the beginning I knew that my MC was traveling through the lovely autumnal setting because he was going to get something as a means for the next (and final) stage of his initiation into becoming a full-fledged necromancer.

That, naturally, led me to a quick inspection of what ingredients were needed in preserving dead bodies — as I had an inkling that whatever it was, had some connection to body preservation, so as to ensure either easier transportation or …?

Either way, my preliminary investigation gave me these substances to work with:

  1. cinnabar
  2. bitumen
  3. various cedar oils

I have a feeling the final substance/item will be one of my own invention, with mixed properties of this world substances.

Writing Research | Ancient Commerce & Trade ♥

So I started reading The Great Sea by David Abulafia and instead of reading it in order, I skipped right to chapter 6 of Part Two “The Lighthouse of the Mediterranean” (pg. 149). Which, as you might expect since the book’s all about the Mediterranean Sea, focuses, so far, on the ancient city of Alexandria.

I adore ancient Alexandria (can you feel that way about a city?) so this chapter so far as made me squee in joy.

Here are some choice quotes. The links are just for my future reference.

“[Alexander] decided to found a city on the northernmost edge of Egypt, on a limestone spur separated from the alluvial lands of the interior by a freshwater lake” (149).

I love this one because it gives a really distinct and unique visual in my mind. Plus, I like cities near or on lakes. (Tenochtitlan is another favorite historical city of mine).

“What was exceptional about it was its sheer scale: three miles (five kilometres) from west to east, and about half that from north to south: a long, narrow city, said to have resembled in shape a Greek cloak, or chlamys. Its harbors featured prominently in the plans, separated from one another by a long mole that linked the new city to the island of Pharos of which Homer had spoken” (151-2).

This one…just wow. I love the details of size and shape. Again, it creates a visual city in my mind.

“But Alexandria also became the one of the liveliest centres [sic] of reinvigorated Greek culture… What is distinctive about ‘Hellenistic’ culture is that it was not the preserve of Greeks; Hellenistic styles of art reached Carthage and Etruria, and Hellenistic ideas captivated Jews, Syrians, and Egyptians… [and] it was the Hellenistic world, and Alexandria in particular (rather than Hellas itself), that produced some of the most famous names in Greek science and culture: the mathematician Euclid, the inventor Archimedes, the comedian Menander” (152).

Yay! The diversity, the science, the art, the expansiveness. It just excites me so much! Also, I appreciate the mention that Hellenistic culture wasn’t really the same as Greek culture; yes, it was rooted in a certain period of Greek culture (400 B.C, I think?), but those little seeds percolated into other areas which created the Hellenistic culture. Fun times!

“Alexandria was of fundamental importance in the spreading of this new, open, version of Greek culture across the Mediterranean; it became the lighthouse of Mediterranean culture” (152)

I just like the metaphor.

“…there did exist a flourishing metal industry, and exports of gold, silver and bronze plate became one of the strengths of Alexandria, along with the export of textiles, pottery, and — a particular speciality — glass” (156).

This one’s nice because it gives me a sense of what’s in the city, like what would be in shops and be sold. Also: glass. It’s important in my writing, especially the story that has the Alexandria-inspired city.

“One of the most enthusiastic markets for these goods was Carthage…[and] Carthage was valuable to the Ptolemies because Spanish and Sardinian silver was funneled through the city” (157)

This just amuses me for some reason.

“Alexandria thus established itself as one of the major business centres [sic] of the entire Mediterranean” (157).

“…links beyond the Mediterranean — through the Red Sea to India — ensured Alexandria’s role as the prime entrepôt between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, which it would maintain with only occasional interruptions for two millennia” (155).

I really like these quotes just because of how it reinforces the idea that Alexandria was a city of commerce, stretching all the from India to Spain. Which is one of the reasons I love it.

And that’s about all for now. Gosh, I love ancient history, especially the Hellenistic period. Joy! ♥

Also Alexandria itself is especially unique just from my perspective as a writer, since, as I said above, it’s more directly relevant to my writing; it’s an inspiration for a major locale in a long-enduring story (it’s on it’s fourth draft by now). So yay (?) for that, I guess.

Either way, ancient Alexandria is awesome. ♥

Works Cited:

Abulafia, David. The Great Sea. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. (paperback edition)

Writing Research | Πλούτων & χθόνιος

Let’s talk about my favorite kind of deity in mythology. It’s a special Greek-based kind, deriving from χθόνιος or khthonios, which I think should mean “of the earth” and more specifically means “in or under the earth“. What fun, right?

It refers to deities that live under the earth, not to be connected with deities of the earth (or Γῆ). It’s a nice mixture of the plenty of the underworld (riches, wealth) and the somber atmosphere of the underworld (death, graves, souls).

The Greek Πλούτων /Ἅιδης1 is a nice example of this. Even though Hades is better known as Pluto in his Roman guise, the name seems to derive from a Greek word that relates to wealth. Hence it was Hades’ more positive (and wealthier) aspect. Other Greek deities include Persephone, Hecate, and Demeter.

I can’t quite explain it, but I’ve always been very partial to this idea of deities or beings. There’s an edge of danger to them, of course, but there’s also wealth and wonder. I like to picture it as vast sparkling cities under the earth with jeweled flowers or trees, but where there’s still the scent of decay and dirt and maybe the voice of ancestors. It’s important (and central) to my writing.

1 Pluton/Hades

Writing Research | Thorn Apple, Love Apple

I’ve decided to start posting some of my haphazard or in-depth research here. I doubt it’ll be anything elaborate, just ideas and fascinating (scientific) facts. I hope people will find it interesting or perhaps be inspired with ideas of their own. 🙂

Original post on tumblr

Apparently tomatoes, potatoes, and nightshade all come from the same genus Solanum. [List of species]. And I’ve learned that referring to tomatoes and other species in the genus as apples is moderately common.

For example there is the Solanum linnaenum, also called “The Devil’s Apple” or “Apple of Sodom” and seems to have originated in South Africa. It’s also become an invasive species in Australia and other regions of the Pacific. xx

There’s also Solanum icanum, which is found not only in South Africa (overlapping with Solanum linnaenum) but from the Middle East to India. It’s also called “Thorn Apple” or “Bitter Apple”. x

image of Solanum incanum | I really like your location and looks. Let's write a story together!

image of Solanum incanum | I really like your location and looks. Let’s write a story together!

For an engaging and (I feel) fairly informed history of the name “love apple”, I recommend “Why is a tomato called a love apple?” by Molly Edmonds.

And according to dictionary.com a “love apple” is:

  1. a tropical, tender plant, Solanum aculeatissimum, of the nightshade family, having prickly leaves, clusters of large, star-shaped white flowers, and red, tomato-like fruit.
  2. Archaic. the tomato.

Solanum aculeatissimum does not seem to have clear habitat origin, but a large portion of the Solanum genus is from Central America and South America, with some in Africa, a few in Asia, and other regions of the Americas and Pacific.

For example, the Solanum americanum or American nightshade or glossy nightshade is located from the Americas to Madagascar through the wide swath of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Southeast Asia. x | x | x |

image of Solanum americanum | Hi there! People confuse you with black nightshade!

image of Solanum americanum | Hi there! People confuse you with black nightshade!

So…with correlations to poison and apples, even by loose association, is anyone seeing a “Snow White” theme here?

Put the fairy tale in Central or South America. Put it in Morocco (via trade from Spain who got tomatoes from the Aztec). Put it in Malaysia since Solanum americanum is actually poisonous, I believe. Put it in the Middle East for Solanum incanum?

Or put it in a fantasy world based on the aforementioned cultures. It sounds like fun to me.