Worldbuilding Wednesday (on a Thursday): Religion

This is the post I never got the time to write yesterday. I had the afternoon free, and I knew what I wanted to write about for once. But when a friend you don’t see very often (but wish you did) asks if you want to come with her to IKEA, and there are things you really need there, you don’t say no. I had put off a trip to IKEA for quite a while now, but I didn’t buy a single thing I didn’t need. That must be a first! But when I came home I was exhausted, so… no blogging for me.

Anyway.

Today’s (or yesterday’s, technically) post is about worldbuilding religion. I used to find religion quite difficult. How did I decide how many religions? Would there be a true one or not? How could I make the gods (if there were more than one) believable and logical and smart? And then I realised…

I didn’t have to. Why should gods necessarily be aloof and logical and wise when so many religions have deities that are petty, rash, rather stupid, quick to anger, quick to throw aside their people or creations and so on? Most likely the religions of my conworld would not be less so. Religions and mythologies are made by people, after all, and are as diverse and strange as people are.

Then there is the question of whether there would be a true religion or not. When I say “true religion” I mean that there would be gods that actually exist in that conworld, gods who possibly created the world and keep it going. Perhaps there is just some sort of force that kicked it into gear and then disappeared, perhaps there were gods but they disappeared, or perhaps the gods were as meddlesome and interfering as in, for example, Greek mythology. I used to love reading about Greek mythology, but you do get the impression that, as a human, if you had anything whatsoever to do with the gods, you were fucked. Sometimes literally.

But then you have another problem. How does the world keep going? If the gods are fallible, how come they have created something that works so well, when there are so many conditions that needs to be met for a world to actually work? It has to be the right distance from a star/sun, the right size with the right gravity, the right composition of the atmosphere… On the other hand, there are ways around everything, and you don’t have to really bring it up (if you’re worldbuilding for a book, that is). For example, perhaps the world was there from before and the gods just used it. Perhaps the current gods took the power from wiser gods. There are many solutions that open up to many interesting things – maybe I will write another post on worldbuilding religion in the future.

In my current conworld, I decided to go for the drama. Perhaps it is my inner Greek mythology geek that’s behind it, as the Greek gods had a flair for the dramatic, but it was also what made everything come together.

Long story short: In the beginning, two gods were created, in order to create the world. The eldest wanted to plan it properly before doing anything, while the youngest went ahead and created Ayamar behind his back. It wasn’t very thought-out, and the eldest ended up creating a new set of gods to fix the mess, before killing off himself and his brother. I have still not decided whether or not he succeeded in killing his brother.

But the new gods… had their problems too. There were at least three contenders for being the god of magic, and while one was reasonable, the other two… not so much. One of them wasn’t called The Mad God for nothing, to put it that way. And there were other problems. One thing led to another, and it ended up in the Great Wars, following a period where most magicians had god-like powers that caused quite a bit of insanity. It ended up with two gods dying and the rest (except one) withdrawing from the world (only able to influence it through their priests and temples) after making so that things would work on their own, and a LOT of bitterness and resentment. That resentment, along with misunderstandings and assumptions about which gods were on which side, has continued ever since then, leading up to quite a bit of wonderful plot.

This is why I like worldbuilding. This piece of religion/history in the previous two paragraphs enabled the plot of Rogue Sorcery (it doesn’t really have anything to do with the gods or the priests, but part of the mess that was left behind. Most things were fixed, but nothing is completely fail-safe, and magic turned out to be one of those things) and several other stories.

The moral is this: Your world and its religion doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact it might be far more interesting if it isn’t, because then there are implications of that, and you would have to know how people deal with that, which would make a more fleshed-out world. It might not cause the premise of an entire series, as it did in my case, but interesting backstories are never amiss. Don’t be afraid to veer away from the standard fantasy religions or what you consider logical or realistic enough. Read a bit about real-world religions – logical and realistic are not words I would use for very many of them.

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday: Fantasy Education

(Yes, I admit it, I have a thing for alliteration. Worldbuilding Wednesday, Saturday Snippet, what will be next? Thunderous Thursday, a series of rants?)

It’s no secret that I’m extremely fond of worldbuilding. In fact, not having finished planning the empire in which Rogue Sorcery will take place, in detail, bothers me quite a bit more than not having actually written Rogue Sorcery does. I routinely put tremendous amounts of effort into creating tiny little places or random maps and names of countries and towns, complete with trade routes and border disputes and system of government, or characters, cultures, languages and writing systems, creatures and species – most without even intending to use them in any story. Some of them still end up in one, but most don’t. So I thought, why not make worldbuilding posts a general thing?

This week I thought I would write about education. At the time of writing (Saturday) I’ve just spent a few hours working on the educational system of Talduni, which is the empire in which Rogue Sorcery will take place. As with any other aspect of worldbuilding, I couldn’t just come up with a few schools and be happy with that. Since the empire is a big place with several very different provinces, it would be strange if everything was exactly the same from place to place, but considering the emperor, there needed to be some system to the madness.

Talduni is very loosely based on the middle ages in some respects. I don’t want a carbon copy of medieval Europe, however, so I’ve tried my best to change into something at roughly that stage of technological development but which is its own thing. For example, I drew inspiration from medieval nobility and feudalism, but Talduni isn’t really feudal even if it has a noble class. And when it comes to education, I quickly realised that the way education worked in the middle ages would not fit.

Arodhi, the emperor, is a powerful sorcerer and has ruled the empire since its beginnings quite a few centuries ago. You could say a lot of things about his reign, but his main goal has always been to not rule like his father (who ruled a much smaller area) did. And under his father’s rule, commoners were illiterate and the powerful kept their power by keeping the rest ignorant. At the same time, Arodhi has the second-largest library on the continent and values learning a great deal.

But then you have to combine that desire with several other issues, such as the practical concerns of the poor (who of course prefer that their kids help put food on the table), the areas with very little population, the wishes of the rich and powerful, the needs of the society and so on. And if you’re like me, you end up with a very long list of schools and types of education (and that’s before I’ve even started on what types of education and training the various schools actually offer). In other words: A clear case of “Catrine is overdoing it again”.

However, I thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve come up with (whew, it’s more nerve-wracking to share what I’ve come up with than I had thought):

  1. Village schools: Teachers travel between 3 or 4 village schools (which again take students from several villages if they’re close enough), offering basic training within reading, writing and maths a week a month. This is inspired by the schools here in Norway back when education started to be offered to everyone. I liked the idea not only because I got to put in some actual history-inspired things, but because it doesn’t require as many teachers nor as much sacrifice on behalf of the families.
  2. District/borough schools: This is the city equivalent of the village schools, but instead of a full week every month they offer classes twice a week.
  3. Temple schools offer education for particular groups – either groups that hold a special interest to their deity, or people eligible for priesthood/temple work, in which case it is always followed by apprenticeship and later work.
  4. Academies: Schools for those who can pay, basically, and who have finished their 2-3 years at the local district/village school. These vary quite a bit in length and subjects, and can be everything from practical training for a profession to general education for the rich.
  5. Continuing schools: Sort of like academies, but cheaper and more useful later, from 9 years of age.
  6. Apprentice schools: Typically once per week, aimed at teaching apprentices theoretical skills they need to know. A typical thing they would teach is the laws connected to a certain profession, or the history of that profession, for example.
  7. Guild schools are run by a particular guild or trade organisation. Instead of being once a week, this is full-time education which includes both practice and theory as well as apprenticeship, and leads directly into guild membership. Not all guilds or regions have these.
  8. Universities: Not much different from current universities.
  9. Funded academies (purely administrative term): Schools funded by individuals and organisations. Vary wildly in subjects and requirements, but typically teach within only one field, for example the Academy of History or one of the schools that train doctors. In many places funding a school means quite a lot of status for the very rich, so there are quite a few of these.
  10. State academies are also very varied, and typically train people for employment in the province or imperial administrations, military or education (village teachers), to mention a few.

As you can see, quite a few of these overlap – some are for poor people or people in less populated areas, while others are for rich people or those in cities. They would necessarily work quite differently and have quite different concerns. It must also be said that the country is a rather large empire, and as such some schools are more common in certain areas, while others elsewhere. And since the empire itself is so varied, I wanted the education system to reflect that. With the rest of the empire in mind I didn’t find it logical that the school system would be as organised and streamlined as it is today, and I wanted the “official” school system to only ensure that people had very basic skills – leaving plenty of different people and organisations to fill in the gaps.

How does education work in your world?

 

 

Plotting, worldbuilding and books on writing

I am finally doing it. After putting it off for so long, I have finally revised the plot for Rogue Sorcery. I wrote everything onto flash cards (initially wrote “slash cards” – that brought up quite a different set of associations) so that I could move them around afterwards. It took its time, of course, but paired with watching “Buffy” on Netflix it was quite alright. I could do it on the computer, of course, but I can visualise far better where each scene should go when I have actual pieces of paper in front of me. I was surprised by how little I needed to fix, but then I had done a rather thorough job last time around. Now I just need to re-enter it into Aeon Timeline and decide how the changes affect the timeline, and then I think I have fixed it as much as I need to do before the second draft. There are probably still problems left, but things tend to change rather dramatically when I write them anyway and I cannot really see any of them at the moment.

Before I start writing I have some worldbuilding left to do. Several systems of government, three cities, some local history and a couple of timelines, as well as fleshing out some of the characters more. And making city maps, which is in the “cannot wait to do” category. I absolutely love drawing maps. I’m not overly good at city maps, really, but I think I’m better than last time I tried, and honestly, it will be fun. The last item on that list is to figure out where the various plot-related places are in the respective cities.

Talking about plot and editing, there is one tool that has been utterly indispensable for me for the past few days. It’s a book called 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron (one of my favourite authors), and while it is really a book on how to write faster, it has been so useful I cannot even begin to describe it. Particularly the chapter on editing for people who hate editing – it was like it was written specifically for me. But also things like story and scene progression, editing and planning, characters, and sprinkled in between there is a lot of advice on how to think so that you don’t make things impossible for myself. I really recommend that you get it; it is very, very cheap on Kindle (if you don’t have a Kindle, you can use the Kindle app). I believe it was only 0.99 or 1.99 USD or some ridiculously low amount. And it is SO good! I have vague plans of using it to actually plan an entire novel before I write it this NaNoWriMo. Perhaps that’s the key to reaching the glorious 250k (which I failed to do last year. Still, I think 175k as a pantser is very good, if I’m to say it myself) this year?

Lastly, there was a personality test going around a while ago, based on how you write (word choices and frequency, I presume). It turned out to be a great argument against putting too much faith in such tests – according to it, I haven’t got a creative bone in my body, and it stated that I do not have any patience for art. In fact I scored 0% on being artistic. Clearly writing novels, painting, drawing, composing songs, worldbuilding, making up languages and doing photography are neither creative nor artistic! Such tests cannot take every single variable into account, even those that don’t automatically assume that just because you prefer that things are logical and systematic, you cannot also be creative. Much like my high school teachers who were surprised that I liked – and was good at – both science and languages/art. Just goes to show you should not let anything or anyone dictate your own perception of yourself…

Had it judged the quality of the writing, on the other hand, I suspect it might be a different story. My dislike of editing also extends to blog posts…

Imperial worldbuilding

When I started writing the second draft of Rogue Sorcery some (read: far too many) months ago, I quickly realised two things:

1. The plot needed work. As in, really needed work.

2. It was perhaps not a good idea to have it all take place in an empire for which I have only ever planned the capital. Not even that – the palace of the capital. And a small village in the northeastern corner of the empire. The rest of it has been much like a blank space. And to continue on my newfound fixation on lists, there are two things this leads to: A. Bad stories, and B. Stories I don’t like. I hate stories with bad worldbuilding with a passion. There are some exceptions to B, but the point still stands. How can I, who have been known to dislike an otherwise good book for years purely because of lazy worldbuilding, write a story which takes place in a nearly blank and very sloppy world?

Answer: I cannot. It will not happen. (Overuse of italics and commas, however, apparently will happen)

As a result, the story has been on hold for the aforementioned months, excused by the need to worldbuild. But then I will need place names, and then I will of course need the language, for which I of course needed to not only make the current version, but the proto language and another dialect. However relevant and important those things are, it doesn’t give me the right info to write the story. And considering that the empire is very important in Natural Sorcery and subsequent stories that aren’t part of the Sorcery Cycle but still set in the same world, I need to start planning the important stuff and let the details come afterwards.

I was alone at work today, so while eating lunch I came up with a plan for constructing the empire. It’s a big country, so it’s not realistic to know everything, but considering who my main characters are, there are some things that are more important than others. I decided to simply post all the questions on here, just in case someone else who are doing worldbuilding might need them. I have split them up into empire-wide and regional questions, but for most countries that distinction isn’t necessarily relevant. Sorry if some questions are repeated, and sorry that the order is… somewhat random.

Note: While the starting point for the culture and the empire was medieval Europe and the Roman Empire, I have never intended to make a carbon copy of either. The empire has its unique history that is very much influenced by certain other things in that world, and the goal is rather to make an empire that would work in its own right, with its own views and history and tendencies. For example, the nobles (though I so far use the English titles) will have other privileges and duties, and the status of various groups might be different, as will the view on crime and punishment. I do use the real world as inspiration, but not necessarily more than that.

Empire-wide:

– The main regions of the empire is very strong and mostly self-governed. What is the empire’s presence in the regions like, and what is decided by the emperor? Do people think of themselves as citizens of the empire or the region? Is there some sort of central council?
– How does the empire keep the newer regions under control?
– How are the armies coordinated?
– How are the borders protected?
– Are the borders between regions fairly open or closed?
– How are relations to other countries taken care of?
– Can people come to the emperor/capital with petitions/cases?
– Central laws/legislation, imperial courts as opposed to regional ones
– How do the people in the empire view outsiders/foreigners?
– At which point do problems become the emperor’s business and not just the regions’?
– Any population groups that are discriminated?
– Status of women
– Status of men
– Make names for the various titles and functions of the government.
– What do they call other countries and people?
– What is the stance on religion, and what is the “official” one? How does it blend into the daily lives? Are temples/priests supported by the empire or themselves?
– Empire-wide education
– Brief history of the empire as a whole (wars, acquisitions, etc etc)

Regional:

– Place names (English translations first, since the language isn’t finished)
– What used to be in the region before? Old contries, provinces, uninhabited land etc.
– How and when did the region become part of the empire? Why? (Something that the empire wanted, old grudges, old territory, enemy land for example)
– What do the people feel about being part of the empire? How do they feel about the ruler of their region?
– What is the official title of the general (the preliminary name of the ones directly under the emperor, but it doesn’t feel right – they’re sort of a mix between generals and governors and nobles (if you only look at the “ruling their own lands” part)
– How are things kept running in his absence?
– Who rules at lower levels? Nobles, councils, courts, administration etc
– Who is responsible for what in each part of the region – religion, business, education, legislation, law enforcement…
– Which groups have high and low social standing?
– How does the army work? Draft, volunteering, time of service, ranks, duties…
– Protection/law enforcement not carried out by the army
– Important places and cities
– Notable noble families and other important groups/families
– Important guilds and trades
– Brief history, development, notable events
– Patriotism and loyalty
– Distinctive characteristics of the region – what is it known for? What does it specialize in?
– How has the ruler/general affected the area in terms of attitudes, strictness, laws etc.
– If the responsible general has changed, how was it received by the people?
– How are leadership (below the generals) passed on? Inherited, elected etc.
– How democratic are they?
– How are the common people viewed?
– How are the borders protected?
– How do they view people from other regions?
– If they wanted to leave the empire, could they?
– How much will they put up with from their ruler?
– What religion is the most prevalent in the region? If this differs from the most common one in the empire as a whole, how are the gods worshipped? Are the temples and priests supported by the government, or discriminated? Relationship between this religion and True Religion. How much do people think of religion in their daily lives?
– In the emperor’s region, do the people identify as citizens of the empire or the region? Are there any differences between this and other regions?
– Are people free to move between regions? Are new inhabitants welcomed or distrusted?
– How does the region view any non-human inhabitants (apart from elves)?
– How does the region’s people’s view on elves differ from the emperor’s? Has it changed?
– Status of women, men and children, if differing from the empire-wide tendency, and their rights
– How are rebels/criminals/troublemakers/enemies/spies etc etc treated?
– How are roads and communication? Postal or messenger services?
– Where can people get help if they need it? What about if they have no money?
– How prevalent is begging/homeless/poor? Are there slums? How bad are they?
– Typical city layout
– Fortifications
– How prevalent is crime? How effective is law enforcement and the legal system? How does punishment for crimes work? How severe are the punishments, and do they use prisons? Is there torture? What rights do criminals have, and how are criminals treated afterwards? Are things like community service, slavery and similar used as punishment? Any time limit?
– Is there any mafia/mob/other organised crime?
– Brothels and prostitution – open or hidden? If hidden, how are brothels disguised? Are they legal or not, and if not, do the authorities know about them?
– Culture and entertainment – what are the popular forms of entertainment? How are artists viewed? Are there many or few professionals, and which genres/types? Troubadours/minstrels, actors, dancers… Is art also used by temples? If so, is art mostly secular or spiritual?
– Are there any parts of the population without the same rights as full citizens?
– Noble titles – what are they, what duties and privileges do the nobles have, and how does it differ from the rest of the empire? Do the nobles prefer the region or the capital?
– Regional capitals and their importance
– Have the nobles ever tried to grab power for themselves? Has there been any rebellion or uprising of any sort? How was it shut down? Did they compromise to reach a solution?
– What holidays are celebrated?
– Customs throughout the year and where they come from
– Important rites through a person’s life
– Importance of community

…and suddenly it became a lot more extensive than I had planned. Well. At least I don’t have to write all that much about every topic (although knowing myself, I probably will anyway).

 

On undeveloped settings and worldbuilding

On Facebook I’m in a conworlding group, a group for those who like to create constructed/fictional worlds and cultures. Today I stumbled across a link to Dr. Zahir’s Ethnographical Questionnaire, which in many ways are similar to P. C. Wrede’s Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions, only with a different focus. It made me realise how little I actually know about the setting of my stories.

When I write, I feel like I know my conworld very well. I know the general geography, I know the characters and their stories, I know some politics, some history, some religion – but it struck me that even if I write from a rather large geographical area, I don’t have the faintest idea about the cultural differences between each of the cultures. I don’t know what they think of as taboo, what kind of culture clash there would be for one travelling from one to the other, what they value the most, what kind of manners they have, how they dress, what their rites and rituals are, how things work in specific cases… I planned quite a bit for the elves… but I cannot really remember it.

I had intended for this to be my big first draft year, but I might have to make it my worldbuilding year instead. I decided fairly early on when I started writing that I didn’t want a paper cutout world, where you could see that there was very little beyond what the story needed – in fact, where the story and its characters seemed to exist in some sort of vacuum.

No, I wanted real worlds. Worlds where it seemed you could step through the pages and smell the world, almost. Where you could see the hustle and bustle of the Pru Puragul markets and see, almost without needing to be told, that they are different from the equally busy markets of Ainethor. Where my character would travel across the country and encounter not only language barriers (there is a Trader’s Tongue, but far from everyone speaks it) but cultural barriers as well. For example, one of my main characters is a female adventurer, who for practical reasons dresses like a man. How different would her reception be, depending on where she was? I don’t necessarily need or want to write everything into my stories, but I will need to know.

Things definitely need to be done. I think I will have to find my worldbuilding file in Scrivener and see what I have done, and spend some more time with it. I’m currently writing a second draft, so certain things need to be planned soon…

Not that I’m complaining. Worldbuilding is fun. I’d just forgotten how much I really needed it… 😛

Small things causing huge changes

…but first, a rant.

After a long break from digital painting I finally decided to get back into it a couple of days ago. Aaaand… evidently that should not be easy. Not that the painting was harder than usual, not at all. But first my version of Photoshop had expired. No worries, download the new trial. Some frustration that you cannot actually buy Photoshop anymore, you have to pay monthly, but eh. At least I can afford to use it legally. But what was this? My pen has… no pen pressure? Opens tablet driver. Isn’t found. Cue small panic attack. Open Wacom website. Download driver. Realise it doesn’t work, because I have to remove the previous driver first. Delete driver. Change antivirus from AVG (who doesn’t like Wacom drivers, apparently). Download driver again. It works. Then, today, same problem again. Cue slightly larger panic attack and some cursing. Discover that this is a known problem with 64bit operating systems. Guess what I have? Blergh. Roam the Wacom website again. Find out that it sometimes helps to remove tablet preferences. It works, hurrah! But… wait. That nice picture with the smooth shading and nice colours are… different when I open it in any other programs? What is this? Realise that with new version of Photoshop comes none of my old colour profile settings. Eeeeven though nothing was wrong with yesterday’s picture. Cue Google abuse and words that should not be said in polite company. Finally, solution. For today. Probably new problem tomorrow… Is this a ploy to keep me from finishing my plot before November?

Btw, this is the result.

Aand now for the scheduled post.

One of the most interesting things about writing, in my opinion, is how much small things really can change a story. Sometimes just a small addition can make a plot suddenly work, which is an awesome feeling. And then there are things you just hadn’t taken into account.

For me it is the addition of a calendar. I have had a calendar for my fantasy world for ages, but not until I got Aeon Timeline was I able to fully use it for my stories. Until now my stories have been set in a world that just changes between summer and spring, it seems. It only worked in the story where the whole point was that the seasons had stopped changing. It certainly won’t work in a story whose location is known for its huge differences between the seasons.

With the addition of the calendar into my plotting comes some unexpected changes. For example, I realised that they would have to travel from City A in the middle of winter. I cannot move the start of the story, as it will cause the same problems there, and they just cannot stay longer in the city. It will just have to play some role in the story – while they won’t be able to get far, the same goes for their followers.

The main challenge is the last month of the year, which is three days into their flight. The last month of the year, known as the Standstill, is dark. As in – no light whatsoever. Short explanation: Magic. Not only is it dark, but there are dangerous creatures out and about. Nobody does anything outside whatsoever during those days. They’ll just have to find a cave where they can hide out until it’s over. Or maybe there’s a village or a farm nearby.

The fun thing is that there will be more such instances. In some cases it will be easy to implement and will make the story better, in other cases it will be more of a challenge. But a fun challenge. I love this kind of thing – I love being surprised by my story, and I love when one of my systems forces me to go outside my comfort zone.

The good thing about it is also that it forces me to show my world, too. I have worked hard on making my world somewhat unique, but with the way I have told the story so far, it could have happened anywhere. I want a story that fully belongs in the world it’s set in – not just in some aspects, but in everything. I’m not talking about vast descriptions of every detail and culture and historical aspect – no, the little things, the mere glimpses that this place is different and interesting. Just enough to add to the story, not detract from it.

Well, it’s late, and I feel like I’m starting to ramble. I forgot half of what I wanted to write here and have written a lot I didn’t plan. Time to go to bed!