Saturday, October 23, 2010

Developing a magical system

Ah, good intentions gone awry. I meant to post more about world building this week but I had to put down my beloved cat of the past ten years, Tacy, who had cancer. I posted about it more extensively in my personal blog, I won't recap here, but suffice to say I haven't really been thinking about anything creative. =( I'm feeling a little better today, though, so I'll attempt some blabber about magic systems.

I'll admit it, I find creating magic systems kind of a bore, especially what I think of as "sorcery" type magic. In Arestin, the magic I deal with most is actually telepathy, which I find more interesting. But, in the Magic Under Glass world, we have no telepathy, just sorcery. In Magic Under Glass it was kind of vague--Nimira really didn't come from a magic background so she didn't know magic or know much about how it worked, but for Magic Under Stone I had to figure it out a little better.

Some questions to ask oneself while developing a magical system:

--Does everyone have the innate ability to use the magical system?
--Are there different types of people with different abilities or potential abilities?
--Is magic something you study, or does it just simply happen?
--Are certain types of people forbidden from certain magics?
--Are certain types of magic forbidden, period? Or, the reverse--are certain magics only allowed to a few, like court magicians?
--How is magic categorized in the world? This may affect how magic is studied or thought of.

In Arestin, for example, magic is categorized as either "aggressive" or "passive" (they probably have a better word for it in their language), shapeshifting is aggressive, healing is passive. Moving something with your mind is aggressive, merely sensing it is passive. Traditionally aggressive magic is considered a masculine art and passive magic more of a feminine one, which of course annoys a lot of people in progressive modern Arestin, and affects how these abilities are perceived, just as our cultural perception of sewing and cooking being female arts and say, building shelves and sword fighting being masculine affects how these activities are perceived and taught. It's good to know these details about your world so they can come up organically in writing and make everything feel more rich.

In Magic Under Glass, magic is categorized by species: earth (fairies), fire (humans and also jinn), water (merfolk), air (winged folk). There is also spirit magic, accessible to all races and considered the most dangerous and mysterious. Every race kind of has their own rules and thoughts about magic, though. Some of it was based on legend and myth, some on astrology and some on mere common sense.

Sometimes it's kind of hard for my brain to juggle two worlds with two different magic systems! I tend to have a certain way I think magic could work and I have trouble writing about it working in a drastically different way in another world. There are still some major similarities between magic in Arestin and Magic Under Glass...but Arestin has telepathy and Magic Under Glass has a distinct spirit realm, that's the major difference.

In a relatively unrelated note, I realized today that the fairies in Magic Under Glass are really more like elves. If I had called them elves I probably wouldn't see the occasional bitchy review about how I didn't follow lore. (I'm sorry! It's an alternate earth with echoes of our world so I wanted alternate lore with some echoes of our fairy lore.) But fairies are hot and elves are not, and I need to sell books, so I guess I'm not that sorry. ;)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fantasy world-building, religion, and curse words/slang

I'm thinking--if I can find the time--I might do a few posts on fantasy world-building this week and some of the things that I consider when I'm world-building. This means I will be discussing the Magic Under Glass world (henceforth referred to, romantically, as "MUG world") and my Arestin world, which is an as-yet-unpublished world but I've been writing about it since I was 12 so I learned a lot about world-building from it.

Religion is just another aspect to consider when you're world-building, but it's one of the trickier ones because people can get annoyed about it. The most common religions in fantasy are, I think, belief in a pantheon of gods who may or may not be present as characters, or some kind of Goddess. I assume a goddess sounds more mystical than a god, and, well, you avoid that whole parallel with Judeo-Christian religion. Or, usually in Medieval-based fantasy, there is always the Evil Religion with Evil Priests and Oppressive Church in the Pocket of Evil King. Or you can just leave it out. In Harry Potter, for example, I always thought it was weird that Christmas was celebrated at Hogwarts but otherwise there was no mention of religion or religious holidays. I totally understood why she had it like that--goodness knows she got enough flak already--but it did make me wonder what people of different religions and beliefs would think of suddenly finding out they were a wizard, and what a fascinating story that would be to explore.

In the MUG world, I pretty much left religion out. Religion was an integral part of community life in the 19th century (it does come up in my Corsets and Clockwork story, in a casual sort of way); everyone pretty much went to church whether they really believed in it or not, and MUG is obviously set in an alternate 19th century, but then, do I make up an alternate Christianity for Hollin and Annalie? An alternate something for Nimira to have been raised with? What about fairies? Oh, the complications! Better not to mess with it.

In the Arestin stories, since I started writing them at 12 (Mists of Avalon phase ahoy) I went right for the whole goddess thing, so I could have a bunch of mystical women in robes and stuff. If you're reading a lot of 90s King Arthur retellings and listening to Loreena McKennit, what else would you come up with? There were two races in the world, the Goddess-worshipping Miralem and the Daramons who were of course all, "We will oppress your Goddess religion, rawr!" It was pretty typical at first. Over time, though, of course, things evolved and I worked out that the Daramons were quite different--their whole religious belief and how their moral choices were shaped wasn't even based around gods at all, but around reincarnation. I think if most of them believe in a God of some sort, it's more of a nebulous force of the universe than something you would worship. Daramons tend to believe in things that are more logical (at least, in their mind) than Miralem, and they don't generally pray or worship anything. They do tend to believe in karma, but I'm sure there is plenty of argument amongst them about who or what is deciding this karma, exactly.

This brings me to curse words and fantasy slang. I suspect that Daramon curse words are probably different than ours and some of them are probably based on these reincarnation beliefs, but how would you convey that without it sounding incredibly stupid? I don't feel that I could, especially since Arestin is a modern world with imported Earth culture and it would sound sooo jarring if Alfred was like, "By all the lives of my ancestors, the latest Arcade Fire album is awesome!" Or something. If it was an epic fantasy and he was like, "By the karmic power of the stars, this new broadsword is a dream!" that might sound a little better. (A little...) There is also the option of making up some word the characters can say all the time, but I don't like that either. For one thing, most languages have more than one word that is used all the time, but you don't want to throw in ten nonsense slang words, nor do you want to annoy with overuse of one. For another, what works in one language doesn't necessarily work in otherwise translated dialogue. Try throwing in Japanese curse words into English speech and making them sound right! The inflection is just all wrong.

Perhaps most importantly, the period you're trying to convey must be considered. Between the Sea and Sky takes place in a Regency-type world, so I felt I could completely get away with characters saying "Skies above!" or "Waters!" If it's replacing "Dear me!" or something, it sounds fine. If it's supposed to replace "Damn!", or worse, that might be...well, rather inadequate.

Oof. It's a lot to consider.

For more on the topic of religion in fantasy:
R. J. Anderson on religion in fantasy (I know I've seen another post from her on the topic but I can't find it anymore...)
Interview by Melodye Shore with Barry Deutsch, writer/illustrator of Hereville, which incorporates Orthodox Judaism and fantasy
Interview with Elizabeth Bunce at the Enchanted Inkpot where she talks about religious themes in "Starcrossed" and developing the gods in the book

Next time I might talk about developing magic systems. I already started blabbing about it in someone's blog comments yesterday so I think I can get a whole post about it...

Win a critique from me!

My friend Larissa is running the Florida Writers Association auction, so I donated a 20 page critique for their auction (to benefit literacy).

It only runs through 10/19 at 10 pm Eastern so don't delay!

Click here for details and see the rest of the critique donations.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Corsets and Clockwork update

Ooh, it looks like it has a cover!:

Also, a list of contributors:

Anna Aguirre
Jaclyn Dolamore =D
Tessa Gratton
Caitlin Kittredge
Adrienne Kress
Lesley Livingston
Dru Pagliassotti
Dia Reeves
Michael Scott
Maria V. Snyder
Tiffany Trent
Kiersten White

That's 12, it says 14, so I guess the description is not entirely accurate yet. I'm grabbing this from Amazon UK, so, ya know.

My story caused me a considerable amount of angst but it's done and I have to say I really like it and I had many enjoyable hours of research on airships and conjoined twins from it. Also I've read DIa Reeves's story and it ROCKS. This collection is gonna have some really good stuff in it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The agony of the sequel

Magic Under Stone is coming close to the denouement (a word I can spell but likely not pronounce!). I'm feeling a bit of panic.

Writing a sequel is really weird. With Magic Under Glass I had no fan base, no idea how anyone would respond to my work, what people would love and hate about it. Now I have voices in my head: People who want X, people who want more of Z. People who hate Z.

Well, I can never please every fan. But I'm my own first fan. I'd like to please myself, at least! Sometimes I worry if I've even managed that. You know, as a fan, I have my own expectations for the sequel. Certain characters I want to see more of, certain things I want to happen, and as I write, sometimes the characters don't cooperate, sometimes a certain character has turned out to be the kitchen sink--you know, there's everything in it BUT them.

It's the hardest thing when I really WANT something to happen and it just isn't fitting in. Augh. Fan me is so disappointed! Damn that Jaclyn Dolamore!

On the other hand, there have been some marvelous surprises. I'm loving two certain new characters a lot more than I expected. And I didn't think character X was going to turn up much, and they did, and they are awesome.

Either way, it's definitely going to be my longest and most ambitious work yet, and it's always nice to feel like you've moved up a notch in what you're capable of.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What rejections and a ukulele taught me about failure

I just watched the Oprah interview with J. K. Rowling, and was thoroughly fascinated. She talked a little about the importance of failure, which I thought was interesting since I was JUST mulling over failure myself yesterday. It seems like whenever I mull over something, someone else talks about it. Usually on a blog with 10x more readers than this one. Well, this time it was national TV, so my thoughts keep moving up even when I don't. ;)

I'm gonna talk about it anyway. Sometimes when I'm talking to teens or aspiring writers or whatever, I feel kind of bad, because I want to encourage people who are struggling to achieve their dreams. I ALWAYS wanted to be a writer, always wrote a lot, was always praised for my writing, had a lot of encouragement, etc. It did take me three years to find an agent and I really worked on my craft during that time, but it would be a lie to tell you that I started out completely clueless and awful. I was always good at telling stories. I don't feel it's braggy to say so. I could tell by the way people around me reacted. The same goes for art, although it wasn't my passion so I never honed it as much.

However, because I WAS really talented at certain things from a young age and I knew it, I tended to avoid new things I was NOT good at. Anything athletic, for example. I quickly gave up on learning to ice skate or do any sort of structured dancing, ditto karate, archery, or basically anything sporty, even if it interested me. Music was another one. I tried learning the guitar as a teen and dumped it pretty fast. I sucked at playing guitar. Learning to sew, you can add that to the list too. I deeply resisted learning to cook, too--it was only that my burning desire to eat decent food overwhelmed me.

When Magic Under Glass sold, I asked for a ukulele for Christmas. This time, learning an instrument was a new experience. Ukuleles are pretty easy to play in a basic way, so that's satisfying, but I still have to admit the whole world of playing an instrument is new to me. I don't know how things work or the terms. It's not intuitive to me. Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to do algebra when I look at ukulele lessons. There is nothing remotely special or impressive about anything I have EVER played on that ukulele.

I realized it's one of the first things I've ever done knowing that if I am ever praised or noticed for my ukulele-ing skill, that day is FAR, FAAAAR away. It's not like I write or draw strictly for praise or attention, but if everything you ever do is praised and noticed--at least sometimes--it's kind of hard to do something that you'll probably never be stellar at.

It's kind of liberating in a way I never knew. I can just mess around without any sense of pressure on myself. But I think I was able to do it because I've sold a book, and "proven" myself in my preferred area of expertise. And maybe because I'd learned a lesson by putting my book out there to agents and editors, something I couldn't do for a long while.

I wish I'd been easier on myself before. Why did I need to be good at everything? I didn't realize how much I feared failure, and might have held myself back from learning a lot of new things.

Succeeding in the arts (or probably, anything you're passionate about) is all about embracing rejection and failure, and learning from it, even when you're starting off with some inherent talent. For years I was afraid to query even though I thought I was a good writer. I must have suspected deep-down that I wasn't as great as I thought I was, and I was afraid to come down. There is definitely a deep fear about moving to a new level of achievement or competition, that what cut it before won't cut it there, that there are others much better than you are. The first rejection I ever got from an agent made me cry. The first rejection of a partial made me cry, and a full, and sometimes I'd just be in the midst of the process and random tears would sneak up on me: What if I'm never good enough? I thought I was special and I'm NOT. I am MEDIOCRE and my writing does not make anyone desperate to acquire.

But in other ways, I learned to enjoy even the process of submission and rejection. Every rejection meant I was OUT THERE. I was LEARNING. For years, I was afraid to do it, and now I WAS DOING IT. And man, even if I meant I had to step down from the protected tower, it also meant that I wasn't one of the people who just TALKS.

In hindsight, one of the things I'm most proud of about myself in the last five years is not that I succeeded, but that I learned to fail.