Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Building A World

I’ve always enjoyed books that transport me to a different time and place. It’s no surprise that speculative fiction and historical fiction are my favorite genres to read. I love Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne Rice, Mary Renault, and Robert Graves to name a few. As a child, I devoured books about Arthurian legends and the Tudor court. Horror, fantasy and science fiction also appealed to me. Recently, I’ve discovered historical fantasy and have been enjoying books in that genre.

So how does an author go about building a world? I can’t speak for other writers, but I’m often asked how I developed my Immortyl Revolution series.

First off, I find inspiration doing my research, and then I let imagination take over. Every writer should be a reader and not just in the genre in which one writes. For the third novel in the series, My Fearful Symmetry, I’ve done research on everything from British street slang to Sanskrit mantras. There are so many resources available on the web and in the library from which the writer can draw inspiration.

Any subject is of value to the writer. I studied costume history and design in college as a theater major, and I can’t tell you how valuable that knowledge has been. An understanding of geography, politics, religion, art, and music can enrich a story and set it apart. The important thing about creating a world in speculative fiction is sticking to the rules you create for your corner of the universe.

Nearly everyone knows about old vampire legends and is familiar with the conventions dealing with vamps from movie and pop culture . Some authors choose stick with them, while others decide to depart from them. This is the realm of make-believe, and there is much room for interpretation. I think it’s fun to play around with the old myths and come up with reasons behind them or find alternatives to them.

As a writer, I find it a challenge to take all kinds of information found in research and throw it into the pot to concoct a completely new culture. In any world, there are various cultures and subcultures with distinct rituals, rules, and beliefs. Opportunities for conflict arise when these factions clash. The trick is to give layers of detail without overwhelming the narrative with descriptive passages. I try to use action as much as possible to reveal custom. The way a character wears his clothes, washes his hands, or prays can reveal a lot about that person’s cultural background and character.

The world of Immortyl Revolution brings to together many elements of research and reading that I’ve done over the years. I’m a bit of a history buff, and writing about vampires gives me an opportunity to throw people from different time periods together in a contemporary urban setting. Cara Mia deals a lot with Mia (the heroine) becoming a vampire and her struggle to survive as a modern woman in an ancient culture.

Women and children in the ancient world often had a rough time, as did males who were poor or enslaved. These societies were largely patriarchal, and so is my Immortyl culture. My bad old boys aren’t about to change their ways in the modern world. This oppression gives Mia and Kurt a lot to fight against in Twilight of the Gods.

My vampires fall into three main classes. The first group is the ruling class, elders and alphas, exclusively male. Then there is a soldier class, referred to as dogs, that is also male. The third class is made up of male and female slaves who provide companionship and sex to those above them. Among these are the adepts of the ancient arts, temple dancers and courtesans, who are in a sense Immortyl celebrities, famed for their beauty and talent. These devotees of the Immortyl cult of Kali come into the series in book three, My Fearful Symmetry. The adepts are often pawns of intrigue within the chief elder’s court.

At the bottom rung of Immortyl society are the sewer rats, bands of runaway and cast-off slaves. These are mostly kids and teenagers in form who were cruelly trafficked by their masters and live like feral animals in very poor conditions. They become the backbone of the revolution.

The series plot, the race to capture the secrets of immortality, was inspired by articles I’ve read on biotechnology. I opted for no magical powers in my world, except for the magic worked by a DNA molecule. My vampires are biologically altered, not the undead variety, so they behave a lot like mortals in many respects. Still, my Immortyls have enhanced physical abilities.  They can’t go out in the sun and can drink only human blood. I like some kind of “kryptonite” to limit my vamps. The fun was in coming up with the reasons for these limitations.

Immortyl Revolution is a “closed” world. Up until this point, the Immortyls have kept their condition secret and only a handful of mortals know about them. In subsequent books, that world will begin to open and create more conflict for the characters.

Speculative fiction offers so many opportunities for an author. Every writer has unique experience and knowledge to share. There are so many worlds out there yet to discover and mythologies yet to create. I look forward to both reading and writing about them.

Here is a link to a great resource for world building basics.  On the SFWA site, Patricia C. Wrede gives a helpful list of questions for the author:

No comments: