If you’re just joining me, you should know that I started blogging about my quick-starter world-building process a few weeks ago. You can go back and start here. Or, if you just wanted to read about the culture aspect, start here.

Like I stated above, we went over a quick and dirty culture build, starting with the building blocks: values/fears.

Once you’ve established that, this next step is pretty simple.

Let’s say you wanted your world to have a pantheon, or gods/spirits to worship.

Where would they look for them? In their values and fears.

A deity or deities can arise from each of the values, or one can encompass all of them. A single deity can be dichotomous – instilling values and fears.

Let’s look at the Romans: They valued many, many things, of course, and had dozens if not hundreds of deities of lesser or greater status, but for the sake of this article I am going to point out only a few.

The Romans possessed the greatest military force of its time. Ask any Roman in his day, and he might add that their avid worship of Mars (where we get the term “martial” of course) had as much to do with their prowess as did their physical conditioning, discipline and tactics. In any martial society, a way to replenish the population was absolutely necessary, so they venerated several deities presiding over different aspects (fertility, virility, pregnancy, sex, conception…). Feeding a population was also of utmost importance, so any deity related to the fertility of the land (Ceres as one of them, and she also held ground over life and death and rebirth of nature, and sacred law, and… you get it).

Fears can be leveraged in your culture, especially by people who are cunning enough to trick the people into thinking that whatever it is that they fear can be avoided, such as with sacrifices of people and treasures.

What if you don’t want supernatural beings acknowledged at all? How about that?

There are cultures that venerate or vilify actual historical figures (sometimes even alongside supernatural beings, imagine that! Ha!) Think of America’s Founding Fathers – George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere among others – who embodied values of strength, resilience, and the idea that men should be free. There’s the opposite, those who are infamous like Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin. But there could be a smaller villain in your culture, something like:

“Now you young’uns, don’t you go traipsing off up to that old cabin at wood edge yonder. That there’s the gateway on to Hell itself, old Shakey Jake butchering them youngfolk gone creeping up there and putting his curse on all round it. That’s why nothing grows in fifty paces all around. And it don’t matter he’s been dead for nigh on a century – if’n he’s done sold his soul so’s he can walk the earth again.”

You get the idea.

Sometimes you can even reach a serendipity – where you have a value that some venerate and others vilify (like Hitler who was adored by some seriously misguided people), and this is beyond awesome for you as a writer, because it means that there’s conflict! Conflict is at the heart of every story, and if you can build that into your very culture, then you can easily insert it into your characters’ lives and give them somewhere to “go” in the story’s arc.

So, what kind of values did you come up with, and how are you using them?

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World-building – yes, we’re still on that subject. This is the World-builders Anonymous. If you’re just tuning in, check them out from the first post HERE.

Tackling Culture.

Alright, not so much “tackling” as “touching on”. Like trying to drink the lake through a straw. Pucker up, and hope you don’t get a mouthful of fetid water. And it’s much, much deeper than you think.

In many stories, culture is HUGELY important. Even if your characters don’t go up against it directly, the culture in which they are brought up is going to influence just about everything they do, be it in protection/defense of their culture, or in spite of, or even against.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Imagine a character brought up in a safe, secure mansion whose practical world experience doesn’t go beyond the opulent, manicured courtyard of the home. His careful parents, mindful of their wonderful child, have sequestered him in their luxurious home and shower him with gifts and tutors and just about anything tangible he could want. His only other means of travel is through books. A character could remain there and be happy in that environment, only there’s no conflict in it, and the culture of security/luxury/protection is window-dressing to some other conflict presented in a story. Or it’s just a damn boring story where nothing happens (and yes, there are too many of those out there).

OR…

This kid could have it all but still feel like he’s missing out. He wants to travel, to see the real world (or at least what he thinks is the real world) through his own eyes, as he’s tired of all the servants following him around making him learn math and science and take baths. That’s creating all kinds of conflict, as he’s at odds with the culture he knows, and seeks to escape it somehow.

There’s also a place for a good-culture-threatened. Say we take the first character that has their world of security and opulence and is suddenly wrenched from it, or it’s destroyed outright. They’re going to fight to get it back. They might be turned into a slave, or have inherited debt and now can’t just live in their accustomed culture but work for it, which is a new thing.

In both cases, the culture creates a workable conflict for stories.

The great news is that culture doesn’t have to be developed deeply for it to be useful in your world-building and in the creation of conflicts. After all, how many of us can describe in detail our own cultures? Yet we still live in them, or in spite of them.

Let’s say you really don’t have anything else planned just yet, no characters, no language. Culture is an easy one to start with. Why? Because it’s really based on a concept of values and/or fears.

So you ask yourself: what three things (physical/concrete things or concepts) does your culture value/fear the most? Note: this is not generally what the character values most. We’ll get to that.

In the example above, I used SAFETY/SECURITY, LUXURY, CHILDREN.

In this culture, since Safety/Security is important to them (and we will expand “them” to mean the whole society, not this one family, for the sake of the example) and so they will have spent resources to develop a place for themselves that is safe and secure. Possibly by means of an efficient, large security force, either a military or police (depending on where/who they perceive the most threat is coming from). They may even have very restrictive laws, if the idea of “liberty” isn’t very high in their value system, which is doesn’t seem to be considering how sequestered they keep their child. They live in luxury, which could mean that they were either producing something of extreme value, were shrewd traders or they used that military/police force to seize the resources of others to fuel their lifestyles. And their children are kept behind closed doors, in protected spaces, given anything they want (generally not a good thing, the kind of treatment that turns kids into entitled snowflake monsters).

This could end up being a very dystopian culture, and definitely one where the kid not only dreams of getting out, but of finding a way to change it or escape from it to go where he wants to go and do what he wants to do. And you can see on each level what kind of fight he’s going to have – his parents, for one, who’ve “sacrificed” for him. The society itself, which strains to protect children, especially from themselves.

Whew! That’s a lot of ground already covered and I haven’t even started. But to get you started, try to come up with those three concepts and you can start building around that. Next week, we’ll take those three concepts and build something else that may be vital for your world: a pantheon.

So, tell me below what you came up with for your concepts and the conflicts you can build.

 

In this installment of my Worldbuilding series (if you are joining me late, you can start viewing the others here), I am going to address something that I love to do with WB-ing that is both random and designed: History.

Okay, I can hear the groaning out there, since history tends to be one of the least favorite subjects in school. I’m a nerd there, once again, as I just LOVE history and appreciate it more and more the older I get. But this is easy history, because you, as the writer, get to make it up.

One of the problems I first encountered with some awful stories—including ones I had written—is that the world is designed around the characters that I loved creating. While it makes sense, as you wouldn’t want to go placing a Feudal-Era Japanese Samurai in the middle of Depression-Era New York City, it sometimes gets out of hand in that the world is NOT providing enough conflict that really sharpens the characters.

Flat world* settings are tailored to the character, mostly to showcase the character’s abilities rather than revealing their weaknesses so that the character has something to surmount. Some of this is a very deliberate way of overpowering their character and turning them into uninteresting Mary Sues, because the author can’t bear to do any harm to their character. All writers are at least a little guilty of this as some point in their career, if not in every first draft.

So how do we get over this?

By introducing a little randomness, of course.

In the real world, we have almost no influence over our world (aside from decorating our homes, or helping out in our communities, etc.). We can’t wave our hands and have the entire political system go from being one of two-party power-mongerers preaching that they will be the ones to save you and instead victimizing everyone for the sake of votes into one that is truly run by the people, for the people. BUT… the latter is not nearly as interesting as the former for a source of conflict.

Which brings me to a rule I try to follow: When in doubt, make the world more brutal.

Most importantly, you want your world to feel “lived-in”.

Unless you are deliberately writing a story where the world only exists when your character is there, and doesn’t persist when he is not, then the world needs to be a “lived-in” place.

I’m going to use another video game as an illustration here. Many video games up until the 1990’s had a static, persistent world. When you showed up at the merchant’s, they happened to be open and they happened to be exactly where you needed them to be, ready to buy and sell to you no matter what time of day or night. The world revolved around you, the main character. Enter Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. For the first time in my memory, if you showed up at a certain time, the shops would be closed. The occupants wouldn’t just lock up, either, but follow their own routine of taking a walk, or going to the tavern, or slipping off discreetly with someone they shouldn’t have been sneaking off with. They had their own lives that went on whether you were hunting down that Belt of Speechcraft or not, and wouldn’t sell to you unless you came back the next day, during business hours. Bethesda’s title Morrowind (ES III) does this with its world-building, if not the characters (who were persistently in their same spot) but by the incredibly rich history unraveled by the presence of literally hundreds of books, stories from the characters themselves. Your character as a possible “Nerevarine”, would be a re-incarnation of the Ashlander’s hero, Indoril Nerevar, foretold to return and set things straight according to prophecy. In order to give that prophecy weight, it had to exist in a well-developed world, and boy did they ever get that right in Morrowind.

Anyway, back to that “randomness” – to keep the world I am creating from becoming too “me”, I use tables to randomize events. While there have been others of my own creation, one of my all-time favorite go-tos is AD&D’s Oriental Adventures book from back in the 80’s.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons – Ninjas and Samurai, Oh My!

Inside, you’ll find a table of “Yearly Events”. The writers intended for this to be more of a way to drive a current campaign. However, I have adapted it in order to randomly get 10 or so historical events that helped to shape the culture or cultures I am creating. Selecting events that happened in the past is a way of introducing more conflict, but more importantly, giving the world you are creating a “lived-in” feel. The events as presented are vague enough to be tailored to virtually any world, not just the setting in the book, and also just enough world-building to give you a taste of what might have happened in your world’s past without filling in too many blanks while you’re writing to make the development of the story stale or too pre-structured. And they can be significant enough to stand in for pivotal historical events.

Generally, what I do is roll the dice about 10 times, and then pick at least one of the events to be that ‘pivotal’ moment in history, just as we in the Western world have Christ’s birth delineating us as AD and BC**. If I start with one event, I will roll a d20 for how far away from that pivotal year my characters are, and a d20 to reach backward from that moment. Then I scatter the events with some more random die rolls (it changes all the time, so it wouldn’t do any good to post my method here, unless you are REALLY interested).

In this way, I’ve come up with some rather good ones for stories I have written and am in the process of writing.

Hawkblood: Saint Lorico’s Decree. This one came from the entry “Legendary Hero”. At this point, Saint Lorico is a figure a little like Martin Luther and a little like Robinette Broadhead. Yeah, seriously. But not too deeply built, at least not yet. There’s also the possibility of a second one, much older.

Belly of the Beast: The Crossroads. So far, this moment has only been defined in my personal handbook on the stories of Ennid the Havok. (Note: while *I* know the pivotal date and the stretch of time between that and the time in which the story takes place, the characters do not. They don’t have to know. And neither does the reader…yet.)

Umbra: The Visitation of the Fallen Suns (Again, I know, but the characters don’t, not yet.)

 

Have you created any worlds where you threw in a history? Have you resisted the urge to use it as an info dump prologue? Do you know of any published works that DO throw in a history-of-their-world info dump? Please share in the comments below!

 

*as opposed to Flat Earth, which is a very weird movement to discredit science and convince people that the world really is flat and our solar system is heliocentric. I won’t glorify it by linking it here, and a little google-fu will find you more than enough material to make your day.

 **And, yes, I use Anno Domini and Before Christ and object to the rather stupid adoption of Common-Era and Before-Common-Era as a way to just erase Jesus Christ’s name from the calendar without changing anything else surrounding the computation. It’s petty, at best, especially since there’s nothing “Common” about the so-called CE. And the ones who wanted to change it to be based less on a spiritual figure and more on some shoddy cover-up/denial, they might as well change the names of the days of the week and months to erase that too, since the former are based on Norse gods and the latter on Roman gods and a mortal who was worshipped as a god.

This week I wanted to take a step back from the craft of worldbuilding and look at one of my favorite examples of what it can do for any story. I present: The Elder Scrolls.

The game series just celebrated its 25th anniversary and has gone through 6 full-blown, stand-alone games, some games not numbered in that timeline, various mobile device spin-offs and one huge MMO, there has been a LOT of development. If you’ve read my other blog posts, I may have mentioned that Morrowind, by far, is still my favorite, and that game came out in 2002, so only 8 years of development had been completed at that time, but…

According to Todd Howard (director and head producer at Bethesda Softworks), Patrick Stewart said, upon receiving the reference for the game’s character Emperor Uriel Septim VII: “I got the notes… Never in my life doing any role have I gotten such detailed notes and I loved it.”

First, let me clarify “development” here, as anyone who works with computer systems/games/etc. realizes this word really means to build up the game by creating its functionality, its mechanics, etc. In the case of the Elder Scrolls, it wasn’t just development in this sense, but also a real creation of new things, with ways every piece interacts in the world.

In ESIII: Morrowind, they really knocked the ball out of the park with Alchemy. To make the skill interesting, there had to be ingredients. Ingredients come from varied sources, and this is where the worldbuilding got interesting—they created (intentionally or not) a kind of ecology to support the harvestables within the world. A lot of plants and fungi exist around the massive province of Vvardenfell, with parts to pick that have certain beneficial or detracting effects when eaten or put into potions. But there are also creatures, not to kill just because they attack you (as just about everything does in most of these games) but to gather their parts as ingredients as well. ESIV: Oblivion and ESV: Skyrim would continue this practice, and Skyrim introduced Blacksmithing which enabled the player to build and furnish their own houses, further using the harvestable ingredients. But it goes beyond that. Plants weren’t just ever-present. Players had to find them (which was a major quest in Oblivion and in Skyrim) in their native or preferred habitat, or sometimes in pots around the area of the world which each game covers.

And that’s just the biology.

Its history is rich as well. There are a massive number of in-game books, and just stopping to read some of them not only confers skill points but also a great deal of history and culture developed for the game. Fiction is represented by stories like A Dance in Fire and Poison Song, both of which span multiple volumes. Non-Fiction includes topics like The Real Barenziah, Buoyant Armigers: The Swords of Vivec, The Oblivion Crisis, written, of course, after Oblivion. There are even books of riddles (Red Book of Riddles, Yellow Book of Riddles) and children’s books were introduced in Elder Scrolls Online (Brave Little Shalk). There’s also one tongue-in-cheek book, ABCs for Barbarians. You can check out an overview of them here. One of my personal favorites is the Lusty Argonian Maid, not for its content but for the way in which it’s been inserted into the world. At the time of Morrowind, it was supposedly written by Crassus Curio, a pretty colorful Imperial aligned with House Hlaalu. It was apparently a coveted classic by the time of Skyrim (reference cave of books), but in ESO is claimed to have been a much older work (implying that Curio took the story as his own, as the events of ESO is 800 years before he lived – not to mention that the people of Tamriel’s minds haven’t gotten any cleaner in the 1000+ years, hehehehe).

Let’s not forget some other cultural aspects – whole pantheons of gods and god-like beings were created to be worshipped, shunned, fought over, like the Nine Divines and the Daedra, the latter of which lend their dark shapes to the already very surreal landscape of Vvardenfell. The characters names illustrate the differences in their cultures, with Argonian names such as “Scales-Like-Gold” or Orc names, Gruf gro-Bargh or Hurna gra-Rohk, denoting male and female respectively. Imperials have befittingly Roman-sounding names (like Crassus Curio mentioned above, or Caius Cosades – the developers must have had a thing about using the initials CC to make the weird old guys in the game…). There’s even astrology with its own system (which has sadly gone by the wayside after Oblivion), from which your character can pick the star under which they are born, be they Steed, or the Tower.

I could go on. Really, I could. But you should experience the games for themselves, since most if not all are still available in one way or the other (GOG.com, or Steam, with tons of mods for them on Nexus). Or read here, if you’re not really a gamer, but still want to get the experience of an expansive world.

Last week, I admitted that I am a full-blown world-building junkie. That post included my influences and some of the more valuable references I like to use (although I am always looking for more, so if you know of any, please let me–and my readers–know!). You can check it out here.

This week, I want to go over what I usually use as my “second step” to building the world: names.

To create names, you need LANGUAGE.

Just as much as building worlds, I love languages. I speak several well, and can read/translate a few more, so the next step was actually building one of my own. What I USED to do was just create a vocabulary, and used Excel spreadsheets to make dictionaries (I may even still have some of those, although that was several computer-hardware-iterations ago). I don’t recall exactly how I got to use the class I use now, but I somehow think it was tied into Karen Traviss’ research on her novels about the Mandalorians (what Boba Fett is supposed to be) and creating a language for the Mandalorians. If not, I apologize, but sending you on the proverbial wild-goose-chase is not what I intended. However I managed to get there, I found Holly Lisle’s Create a Language Clinic to be an awesome resource for going even deeper into language creation. (Disclaimer: if you click on that link and end up purchasing a copy of the clinic for yourself, I will get some compensated. But I recommend it even if you navigate away and find it on your own!).

So why all that fuss, you may ask?

Well, before I start giving anything on my map a name, I like to have the “available” characters (sounds) of the language in place. It keeps it pretty consistent, like a real place, which is essential to lending it any kind of credibility.

You know, unlike this unpronounceable garbage:

Mister Mxyzptlk

So I don’t end up with something like that, I work through some of the basic exercises until I get the sounds, consonant clusters, and eliminate at least one vowel from “availability”. I don’t go in neck-deep unless I just want to build a language. I don’t need–and don’t recommend– Tolkien-esque language creation. (But I recommend The Silmarillion if you want to see what a master at work.) Then I create a bunch of syllables from those words, and using the pool of syllables, start to build words and conventions for the language, kind of like the way “burg” in German denotes a town/city of some sort. Holly’s clinic (see link and disclaimer above) walks you through this. (That’s only the beginning of her book on creating a language. She takes you thoroughly through everything you ever loved (or hated) about English grammar classes in school.)

Does it preclude me from creating poetic names? Not at all – I just “translate” them. One example is that for one novel I have written (first draft, percolating in the background while I am working through the “How to Write a Novel” class), I had a place I called “Hummingbird Ridge” on my pre-language go-around. After I created the language that would include/refer to that region, I gave it a name in the language that the culture interpreted as “bee-bird ridge”. So while I wasn’t sure if I even wanted a hummingbird-type creature in my story to make it a reference, I ended up not only with the name for a creature that was essentially the same, but also a reason for it to have been named that. You can blame that on my muse.

I also like to refer to existing cultures to get a “feel” for their language and its construct, and also its concepts. But that, my friends, is a subject for next week’s blog.

So what references have you encountered? Maybe you threw a dart at a world map to get an idea for how a language would sound, or spun and globe and stopped it with a jab of the index finger? Maybe you just did a random search on Google or Bing or whatever search engine you prefer and ended up in a very weird spot.

Let us know below!

Normally I don’t post on Mondays, but I really wanted to get this one out, for two reasons. The first one is this:

Holly Lisle’s How To Write a Novel class is discounted for one week only (1 APR-8 APR 2019). After that week, the price goes up and doesn’t come down, nor does she offer sales later on. If you buy now, you get a rough cut of the class, but any updates are forever FREE afterward. I’ve used her classes before, am working my way through this one now, and love the way she teaches. It’s practical with real exercises, not that theory/feely/zen stuff pushed by a lot of so-called writers. If you were considering taking a class like this, do it now. Disclaimer: I recommend it because I use it, but if you click the link below and purchase the class I will get some compensation.

How to Write a Novel – by Holly Lisle

 

The second reason is ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE.

Last week, the Elder Scrolls series of games turned 25. Now, I am old enough to remember when Arena came out, even though I didn’t have my computer with me at the time to play it (I was on active duty then, far from home). Of course the cover of Computer Gaming World garnered a LOT of attention for the title. I wonder why…I’m guessing that at least one of my brothers still has his copy.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary, Bethesda released a free copy of Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Game of the Year Edition. I couldn’t have been more ecstatic. While I still have my old copy that I got when it was on the shelves(!!!), some of the younger members of my family who also love the Elder Scrolls (Skyrim) were able to download it.

See? I even have my well-worn, tabbed copy of the strategy guide, which I dug out in order to play it through again.

Also free was Elder Scrolls Online this weekend, so I decided to take the plunge (so to speak) and see what all the fuss was about.

I was underwhelmed.

Now, Morrowind is still my absolute favorite of all of the titles. When it was released, I picked it up thinking, “Hey, this will be fun.” I installed this little gem not expecting anything more than to be entertained with a new RPG.

No words can describe how it blew me away. The first beats of Jeremy Soule’s magnificent somber, soulful theme tugged at me like no other music for a video game had, capturing the essence of the character’s experiences and the otherworldliness of the setting (and still gives me the shivers – it’s far better than Oblivion’s “marching” version and Skyrim’s “war-chant” variation).

Then I got to see the world – floored again. No trees, all mushrooms! I’m something of a novice mycologist (a “fun-gal”, if you will). Virtually all of the creatures are reptilian (and probably another reason the Dunmer so easily turn Argonians into slaves, thinking them of little higher thinking capacity than their kagouti or guar “cousins”). It was true fantasy, a weird, impossible world that no other game, let alone a first-person role-playing-game got close to emulating. The bizarre architecture where the Imperial Forts are the ones that feel very out of place, the crazy, twisting Telvanni towers, the volcanic ashen lands. Swamps, mines with “glass” and “ebony”. You could LEVITATE – that’s right. Levitate. And you had to, in those towers, but if you were good at enchanting you could add it to anything (you could also do it with the tool…) and cross the whole of Vvardenfel from the air. Just watch out for those face-munching cliff racers. Even Bethesda couldn’t recreate that novel weirdness until the Shivering Isles expansion of Oblivion. The caves under the north in Skyrim start to head that way again, the glowing fungi world with the crimson Nirnroot (it’s name escapes me at the moment). We get a real dose – a real tease, actually – with the Dragonborn expansion and a trip to Solstheim, where some of the fallout from trouble at the Red Mountain made its way over to the Nord-occupied island.

And the story! You could, of course, play it any way you liked, but if you go through the main storyline, it feels like you’re experiencing a novel. Humble beginnings, a child born at a certain time of uncertain parents, to discover, and prove, and manifest as the true hero of the story. (Don’t even get to do that in Oblivion, as Martin is the hero and you’re just a tagalong, and in Skyrim, well, everyone is more annoying–oooh, Dragonborn!– than that Arena superfan from Oblivion).

In short (or long, as the case here), Morrowind is an almost insurmountable masterpiece.

I went into ESO with one major goal – wanting to experience Vvardenfell the way I experienced it all those years ago. Boy, was I disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong–the world of ESO is STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL (no, I am not apologizing for all caps). But it is compressed. Like a Reader’s Digest version of MW’s Vvardenfell. And it’s not just my memory expanding on me, because I did a quick play-through of getting to Caius Cosades just to test against it, in case it was my old age. Getting from Seyda Neen to Balmora was a trek, and a dangerous one at that. At any moment, one of those horrid little kwama foragers could jump out at you, or a cliff racer swoop in ready to eat your face. There was real danger, real tension that the trip you were making might be your last, before it even begun. Unless you decided to hop in a Silt Strider and make the trip more safely. In ESO it was like, “Head on the path north from Seyda Neen and… oh, there’s Balmora. Um… yay.” Same for Vivec City. And, if along the way, an alit or nix hound happened to attack you, well, dozens of heroes would just by you and hack/slash, no more critter. Yay. Not. There was a heavy dose of isolation in Morrowind that made the world so wonderful. I get that the Vvardenfell of MW was the entire game, and this one is part of a much larger world, but compressing an already-extant world into a peanut shell ruined that part for me.

You get to experience it fresh, clean. Not the case with ESO, where everyone is a hero, running around with incongruous names, on mounts that don’t look like they belong in the universe of Elder Scrolls let alone on Vvardenfell (with the exception of the guars, who are awesome looking mounts!). All followed by a bunch of nonsensical pets, which only adds to the off-putting impression. To be “fair”, Bethesda seemed to get away from what made their games awesome with each iteration after MW.

In MW, you get to slowly unravel your part in the world. There’s a cryptic dream warning from someone you only much later learn is Azura. In ESO, you get slammed with the knowledge that a Daedric Prince is using you. In MW, you don’t get to meet Vivec until much later in the game. In ESO, you’re chatting like pals after a few short jaunts here and there to serve him (at least there’s the satisfaction that, in MW, you get to end the god-poseur. Gratifying).

The other thing that really bothered me was the “prettification” of the characters. I LOVE character creation, especially when there are a whole bunch of sliders to really tweak the look and make them unique. Morrowind had none of that – you selected a race, a gender, a hairstyle and a face. Oblivion had the sliders, but everyone looked like bloated ticks, no matter what you tweaked (I heard that there were mods that improved the look but I never used them). Skyrim did it right and did it wrong – lots of sliders, but the man races all looked alike as did the mer races. I couldn’t tell a Bosmer from an Altmer, despite them being unmistakable in the previous titles. At least in Skyrim, every last one of them looked like they had a hard life, which is realistic. In ESO, everyone is a supermodel version of themselves. Sure, there are some scars and bits of other physical detractors you can add but the orc females are like idealized elves with green skin paint and stick-in tusks. It’s laughable. As if someone ugly can’t possibly be heroic.

And before you accuse me of being a hater, first, shut it. This is my opinion, and I am fully aware that ESO is meant to attract the lowest-common-denominator paying players, and builds in the mass appeal with all of the ridiculous things that people who used to flock to WoW and other games like it are expecting. Players that just hack and slash in the world ruin the FEEL that made that world wonderful in the first place. Was it fun? Yes, but not in any way that made Morrowind wonderful, or even Oblivion or Skyrim great games. I think I will stick with single-player games.

Now, I am just waiting for Bethesda to recognize that Morrowind is such a masterpiece that all it really needs is a new-graphics/physics overhaul, with maybe a few tweaks to bring the character/inventory interface up to speed. Oh, wait, Bethesda’s not, but someone else is… TESRenewal.com

Hurry up, guys. This gal’s getting old!

Hello, my name is T. R. Neff, and I am a world building junkie. Yes, I admit it, and I am happy to say that I am far from being the only one.

I started early in life, too. I loved those maps in the front of the fantasy novels in my brothers’ book collections. I drew my own maps and landscapes from those places (some of which were good, some of them pretty terrible and thankfully no longer extant). As I got a little older I was drawn to the tables in the Dungeons & Dragons books—the ones that helped to create worlds and environments on the fly. Thus comes my first reference:

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons World Builder’s Guidebook.

  1. This was one of those seminal works that helped dungeon masters create entire worlds for their campaigns. While I did play the game (you know, before computer role-playing games, where you had to use pencil, paper, dice and a whole lotta imagination!), my main interest was on the dozens of tables that helped to create randomization of continents, of geography, of cities/towns/hamlets, etc. There was even a table that helped figure the likelihood of certain fantasy-game staple professions inhabiting a city. Included with it was a pad of different kind of blank maps on which you could draw the entire world or focus in on regions. Many of these were hex maps, which any old-school role-playing enthusiast recognizes as the very best way of calculating distances for your traveling heroes. (The AD&D Boxed set had some really nice maps with clear acetate hex-map overlays for figuring travel, and was a marvelous tool for those who wanted a “clean” map but still needed a way to calculate if the hero could really reach Jemia from Roscor in less than a day…)

Why random? After all, we authors create worlds, right? Well, sometimes when we create them we conform them to all the things we know and like, and don’t let anything get too brutal for the characters we create. If we introduce tables like this, we can create a world of adversity that our characters have to deal with. We can pit them against unknowns, and see how they react. After all, that IS “character”.

 

 

Not content to settle for just the entire world that was possible from using the WBG, I remember coming across this gem:

ARES Magazine – Article on New Worlds of the Solar System

It was a series of tables for the Star Frontiers science fiction role-playing games that helped create solar systems on the fly. I used them constantly to create not only the world (using the above book) but put it in a whole system that could have things like eclipses and conjunctions and even some weird things like binary stars or twin planets. The systems could tell you how many planets and of what approximate size would be the most realistic for the types of star or stars. Water, weather, even life/technology levels could be randomized from the tables, although for most of my worlds I didn’t bother with the last several, especially if it was a fantasy world. The article was thoroughly indespensible for my worlds in space, and dictated the rather “difficult” planet in one of my stories yet to be published (set in the same universe as Clones Are People Two).

I think I even have the magazine somewhere around here, but if you could get yourself a copy, or if the article is available legally online for free, it’s worth taking a peek the next time you want to create a solar system for the world your characters are inhabiting.

 

And now, one of my new favorites, Holly Lisle’s Create a World Clinic (No Picture)

(Disclaimer: I am not an affiliate of Holly Lisle’s work, and particularly love this book. If you click on the link above and end up purchasing a copy for yourself, I will be compensated).

I don’t always agree with Holly[1], but here in World Building I discovered by reading her work that we are very much alike. As any other world-building junkie knows, and she points out, there’s an inherent danger in overbuilding (if you’re doing it for writing. If you do it as a hobby, build to your heart’s content!)

Why?

A) We –yes, I absolutely include myself here– never start writing because there’s always more world to create before we start.

B) It’s stealing time from writing other things we should be writing (like any other geek-thick hobby) and

C) We want to use EVERYTHING we create, somehow.

I won’t go into detail with my favorite part of the clinic, but if you purchase a copy for yourself I am sure you will guess what it is. THAT exercise alone was worth the price for me, and helped me have a whole lot of fun world-building but keeping it THIN enough to not let it impede the writing process.

WHEW! That’s a lot for me on world-building, and it turns out I have even more to say. But it will have to wait until next week… Hope to see you again!

 

[1] If you find yourself agreeing with any mortal being all of the time, you risk becoming a sycophant of the major ass-kissing variety, and you cease to be you because you start conforming to whatever you think THEY want you to be. I am NOT saying that Holly does this, as she absolutely does NOT and is the furthest thing from being a sycophant/conformist/ass-kisser, and one of the major reasons I respect her even if our opinions on a few things aren’t even close to being similar.

As anyone who is Irish, or who wants to be, knows, this Sunday, 17 MAR 2019, is Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s a time to turn our thoughts to Ireland, a land rich with tradition, creativity and inspiration. There are stories like The Quiet Man, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, and The Crying Game. They Irish have given us the Wee Folk (see Darby O’Gill), bands like the Cranberries, (RIP Dolores O’Riordan), the Dropkick Murphys (okay, okay, they’re just a heavily-Irish-influenced band-born-in-America, but  man, they give one hell of a show!) and Flogging Molly (ditto, on both counts!). The island’s birthed horrors like banshees and U2 (okay, okay, I liked U2 up until Zooropa. But now I just run screaming). Speaking of horror, there was a particularly awesome game inspired by and taking place on the Emerald Isle, Clive Barker’s Undying (EA, if you are reading this, pull your head out of your collective rear. Single-player games are NOT dead. You’re suffering from Ford-itis: if you made something people wanted to play, they would buy it. Or let someone else finish Patrick Galloway’s story. I am sure I am not the only one with a few ideas…)

All that is just to say that it’s not just another holiday, especially not just one to tilt back plenty of emerald-tinted pints, but named for a Catholic saint (although, that’s not a bad idea…Or try a little whiskey…)

Now for the disclaimer: I am not Catholic. Not even close, and I find the word “abhorrent” to be terribly insufficient to describe the abuses and cover-ups that have occurred over the decades (probably centuries!). However, I find the whole deal with saints and their stories pretty fascinating. If you’re a regular visitor, you may have read my little spiel on Valentinus, AKA Saint Valentine, several weeks ago. First the red, and now with the Green, as I tackle Saint Patrick!

Like the rest of them, he got the rename treatment from his Latin name, Patricius. He wasn’t really even “Irish” but sent there as a missionary in the fifth century, originally coming from a place in Britain that is now known as Ravenglass (how cool is that name!?) . Among several works attributed to them, he wrote an autobiography, one in which claimed to have been kidnapped by pirates(!) and subsequently escaped, returned to his family in Britain but then ended up back in Ireland to come spread the Word and convert the Celts.

Just like Saint Valentine’s Day, there are a few symbols that evoke the holiday, but none moreso than the shamrock. Where did that come from? According to legend, Patricius himself plucked one from the ground and used it to illustrate the Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And what about the whole snake thing? That one happens to be my favorite, how Patricius kicked them all (along with the other reptiles) off of the island. I imagine a reptile roundup, herding the snakes and the geckos and the komodo dragons and forcing them off of the cliff like a bunch of lemmings! Alright, so it’s far more likely that Ireland never HAD any snakes, but it’s great fodder for some good stories… I have to be fair here, too. I actually LIKE snakes, and don’t mind at all when I find a shed skin in the house, or see one slithering away just as I flip on the switch. Not really fond of finding them in the toilet bowl, still alive…

I could go on and on, but what kind of writer am if I don’t encourage you to go read about these things for yourself? Here’s a link to get you started.

And, if you’ve ever felt an “Erin go Brach” shout-it-out moment coming on, let me know below!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

 

Genre Focus: Science Fiction

Posted: March 6, 2019 in Uncategorized

Let me state this first: genres are a generic construct created by booksellers to classify products and make it easier for shoppers to find the books.

I would argue that there are few books that would fall solidly under any single genre umbrella. Think of some of your favorite novels, and examine them honestly for any other elements that are present — romantic show up quite often in so many others, and romance has its share of sub categories (historical romance, fantasy romance, contemporary romance, science fiction romance, etc.). So addressing any one genre in particular may seem to be a losing battle, but genre still serves its purpose in finding readers.

With that caveat acknowledged, I’ve decided to take a look at the different common genres in which I write, and bring up influences that may or may not come from the same type of source material.

This premier week I am taking a look at Science Fiction.

Although I love so many different categories of stories, science fiction has remained nearest and dearest to my heart. The first movie I remember seeing was Star Wars, in the drive-in theater (do they have these anymore!?!), and just being entranced by every single moment of it. Now, Star Wars (which has long since been renamed Star Wars IV: A New Hope), isn’t pure science fiction, especially when a lot of the “science” has had many liberties taken with it, and its been recognized as Space Opera, a sub-genre. But that “opera” is key. There are elements of the budding romance between Han Solo and Princess Leia, and plenty of humorous moments (love the dry droid humor!).

So what makes a story “science fiction”? Is it space and space travel? Surely, there are an overwhelming number of stories where this is present, if not the primary element. Such as Fredrik Pohl’s Heechee novels are some of my absolute favorites. Among all the other sub-genres it touches on, it includes the idea of space travel as a complete unknown and one of the central conflicts. While humans have limited means of travel away from the earth and to the Gateway asteroid, the Heechee aliens who came before them, so long before that they left all kinds of things behind including mushroom-like space ships. It’s these ships that form the basis of the conflict–the inhabitants of the asteroid have extremely high rents for everything, including air, and the only way they can make any kind of money is by “prospecting” — signing up to go out on these ships and hoping they will find something to make the trip worthwhile. And, of course, making it back at all, since no one knows what will happen on many of the vessels until someone gets in and uses it. Those on the asteroid only vaguely know what the controls do and the screens mean, so every trip in a different mushroom is a huge gamble. (And this is only scratching the surface of everything these novels are about. Robinette Broadhead is one of my absolute favorite protagonists, deeply flawed but sympathetic characters. Pohl was a master at creating rich characters affected by the science).

But there are many examples that don’t even acknowledge space or space travel which are definitely science fiction. Think The Time Machine, Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Lots of travel here, but they never leave the earth to encounter their strange new worlds.

What about those strange new worlds, and aliens? Their presence in the story is dependent on space travel (even if how they got here may just be taken for granted), but it could be the aliens visiting us here on earth. Or it could be visiting alien worlds without the typical space travel, like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars. (And there we go with the drama and romance again…)

I could go on for a very long time, bringing up many other possibility that makes it “science fiction”, but the bottom line is that any particular element is subservient to that masterful question, “What if…?” There MUST be some element of posing a question, a situation set up to examine at least one answer and its particular consequences.

Asimov approached this in various ways, one of the core being (with liberties taken to the exact nature of the question he was asking) “what if robots are created with sentience and live among us?” As they are man-made, are they subject to the same laws, or is someone else entirely responsible for their behavior, since they were the original programmers?

In my short story “Clones are People Two”, my question is “what if the clones created from a formerly-deserving individual are executed along with the one who provided the DNA when he commits a felony?”

Let me know what you think belongs in science fiction to make it such? What are your favorite science fiction novels, and the elements that make them stand out?

You can purchase Clones from Amazon or Smashwords if you are so inclined. And if you do, be sure to leave an honest review!

Read an EBook Week is Here!

Posted: March 2, 2019 in Uncategorized

Starting March 3rd and ending March 9th, 2019

Time to defenestrate those excuses for reading! (That’s just a fancy way of of saying “chuck it out the window”–thanks MST3K!)

Books over at Smashwords are on sale for this great event, and it’s your chance to pick up some great reads on the cheap. I’m offering some of my books for FREE!

T. R. Neff at Smashwords

Just click on the link above and shop the deals, then let me know what you think! (And be honest, at either end of the spectrum. How’s a writer to improve if she doesn’t know where to shore up her weaknesses?)

In case the link above doesn’t apply the code, use KE84Z when you check out.

Happy reading to ya!