Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Omnipotent World Building: The Troubles and the Triumphs

World BuildingPerhaps this entry should actually be called “The Troubles and the more Troubles…” Creating a world from scratch is no easy task. I envy all of those writers who set their novels in the here and now, or historical fiction authors who, through meticulous research can find the framework for their imagined worlds. Even J.K. Rowling rooted Harry Potter somewhat in the real world, her magical world was an extension of it. The same could be said for Star Trek, where there is the ready made framework of earth (albeit an earth of the future), so at least there are some parameters to follow.

ready-built worlds

I look at Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, or the world in Game of Thrones or MiddleEarth or Earthsea, and all of them have logic and depth. There are political systems, rival factions, creation myths, ancient legends, detailed family histories. All of these points on which I am flip-flopping all over the place. Looking back at the first 2 Discworld novels: The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, the structure of the world itself was quite raw, and much less established than it is today. In fact, somewhere in my overflowing library of books I have an early map of the Discworld, and there are definitely some new landmasses that have appeared since the early days. But that aside, the essence of the Discworld were still there in the early books. The gods, the way magic works, where the Discworld came from, the governmental structure, the tribes, etc. All the basic building blocks were there. All the points I am having trouble with.

This is what I know: the world of Four and Twenty Blackbirds is the land where fairy tales exist and evolve. Black and white and primal. I don’t know if there are any gods, but there are definitely monsters, lots of them. As yet, I don’t know how the world was created, how my main city was created, or the many other cities and nations that there are or the rivalries between them, and how they may influence my story. These are all questions that I have to answer.

World building to do list

I am currently working on my creation myth, but I think I should put my world building to do list down here for clarity:

  • Origin of main city, and what is the archtitecture like (building materials, etc)
  • Origin of surrounding cities
  • Political structure of main city and surrounding cities, and rivalries and alliances thereof
  • Trade – what are the traded commodities and who has them
  • What is the monetary system
  •  NGOs that influence city life – street gangs, secret societies, family alliances, pirates, etc.
  • History of important figures, legends and old blood feuds
  • Where does magic come from and how does it operate.
  • Geography and ecology and how that affects the movement of populations
  • Are there any gods?
  • Where do the monsters live?

Don’t get me wrong, I have a thought about some or all of these points at one time or the other, and have worked out the basics on a lot of them. However, I haven’t made any concrete plans or worked around how one point would influence the next. Perhaps I am overthinking it, but I feel that if I don’t get the basics right, my story can’t progress any further than it has. Perhaps this might require further research into the building of worlds…

Any other suggestions of points I should consider and may have overlooked are very welcome.

Dark and Brooding Cover Art: Shaun Tan

Outer SurburbiaThey say that you should never judge a book by its cover, but we all know that that’s codswallop. We all do it. The cover can set the tone for the entire book. It can widen an audience, appealing to those who would never otherwise pick it up.

Judging a Book

I feel like I’ve been mentioning 50 Shades of Grey far too much of late, but it is a classic example. On the face of it, with the loosened tie flung casually against the limited blue colour pallette (see picture below, far left), the unsuspecting observer would assume that it was crime-fiction. Judging a book by its cover is the reason that the Harry Potter series begun churning out a simultaneous “Adult” edition and a “Children’s” edition – to appeal to both markets (see picture below, far right). One of my personal favourite set of covers is the original Terry Pratchett covers by Josh Kirby, what a dude (see picture below, second from left). I also recently mentioned a fantastic example of amusing cover art for Fifty Shades of Alice in Wonderland -worth a peek.

Quality covers

My cover artist of choice: shaun tan

As always, my cart is way before my horse, but if I could get anyone at all to create the cover for my progressing novel (or perhaps series of novels), it would be Shaun Tan. Shaun Tan is an awesome Australian illustrator who has won countless awards. He has an amazing dark imagination which always has a touch of humour. I am a huge fan, and am a proud owner of Tales from Outer Surburbia and The Arrival. His illustrations have a real folklore-ish and fairy tale-like quality which I think would match well with my story in Four and Twenty Blackbirds. There is also a touch of steampunk in his work, which is a genre that I really enjoy. I hope my words could live up to his artwork. Ah, to dream.

*The illustration above is from Shaun Tan’s Tales from Outer Surburbia

Writing in a Fad-Driven Market

Recent Book Fads

For the last couple of years, it’s been Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games and (heaven-forbid) Fifty Shades of Grey (and yes, I have read all three of the books, but that’s an exposition in itself). Before that, it was Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Twilight. Looking back at this list thus far, I realise that have read them all, bar Twilight (NB Twilight has been recommended to me as a great trashy read, but after only managing to stomach watching half of the overly teenage-angst-ridden movie, I have no impetus to read it – perhaps a classic example of should have read the book first. No offence to Twilight fans intended, I know that my younger self would have been relishing the world that Stephanie Meyer created). Before Twilight, there was Harry Potter. ‘nuff said.

But this is just the thing. The entire book and film market has become hugely fad-led. One big thing that turns the tides of commissioning for all the publishing houses. Who in 2005 would have understood an entire section of a bookstore being dedicated to Paranormal Romance? But there we go. Yes, to a degree, the market has always gone in the direction of the big thing. The children’s market sees it a lot: one year it’s aliens, the next it’s cowboys, the next it’s dinosaurs, who can keep up? Maybe it’s just me, but I really don’t feel that the adult market had this sort of tunnel vision until the last decade or so (man, that makes me feel old). Not that there is anything inherently wrong with these books as fads. Some of them are brilliant works of literature, as well as being thoroughly entertaining. It’s just that it makes the market more volatile, and tending towards a singlular pursuit for a given time. Which basically means that if you are not of the correct trope, you’re unlikely to be published, and if you are of the correct trope, you’d better get busy finishing off that novel (my personal debilitating issue).

The particular reason it worries me is the fact that fairy tales are hot right now. Really hot. Look at the movies that are out: Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and Red Riding Hood (2011) (as well as the upcoming Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), which looks dire btw), and much more prominently the TV series Grimm and Once Upon a Time. Granted, except for Once Upon A Time, none of these has made a huge splash, but they are indicator of the fas. I really enjoy watching Once Upon a Time and recommend it highly, but it does hugely dilute my material. It is pretty much a parallel of the work I’ve had in the pipeline for years. Yes, true, there’s no such thing as an original story, and far less so when you are rewriting existing works. The worry is still there though. I have to get my arse in gear, finish and publish my book Four and Twenty Blackbirds in time to latch onto this window, because it may be a decade or more before it comes around again. My only saving grace (thus far) is that I have not yet come across a new fairy tale-esk novel of note. But it’s only a matter of time. More application of arse to seat and pen to paper is required, methinks.