Thursday, September 23, 2004

Creating a Mythology Part 1: Ancient History

This is related to my worldbuilding posts but also crosses over into plain storytelling, so I'm giving this series of blogs a new title "Creating a Mythology". With a project the size of Shaman and Diona you have to build a background for everything that happens. This means at least a little bit of world history, local history, character background and so.

I could have called this "Creating History" but in a fictional world filled with magic the word history didn't seem to fit but one definition of mythology is "a body or collection of myths belonging to a people and addressing their origin, history, deities, ancestors, and heroes" which seems to describe filling in the background of a fantasy world pretty well.

So the logical place to start in this is from the distant past and work up (of course I didn't start logically I did character backgrounds first). A tried and true method of creating a fantasy history is to study real history and adapt parts of it to what you need. As the famous quote goes "There is nothing new under the sun." now while this might not be true in an absolutely literal sense, if you take a look at history things do tend to happen over and over (I think because no matter how technologically advanced we become people are still driven by the same motivations), so history is a great source of inspiration. Just to name a few instances of where history has been used to good effect: in Star Wars the republic then rise of the empire and resistance to it's expansion parallels Roman history quite a bit, in The Belgariad and Mallorean by David Eddings the peoples of the world are strongly influenced by real people from history like the Romans, the Vikings, Medieval England, etc

The best way to do this I believe is to borrow from history loosely, following history too closely is going to be very obvious to any of your readers who have paid attention in history class. For example if you want say a large empire that influences most of the known world Rome is a great historical example but I wouldn't go so far as to give them Latin sounding names, put them in togas, and hold massive gladitorial games. In other words if you use big events make the details your own.

So how have I used this in my world? Well I decided that I didn't want any empires on Noadi's continent (the others don't come in to play often so I could have one there if I wanted) but fallen empires are great. They give a rich history of why things are the way they are, they set up an environment where while the empire is gone the people have become used to large scale trade and contact with others, they explain why some areas have more technology ( or magical knowledge) than you would expect in a small kingdom. Really the basis of the middle ages was the ruin of the Roman Empire.

So in the distant past about 1400 years ago (based on Noadi's time) a large empire that stretched over most of the continent crumbled. Not unlike the Romans this empire started collapsing due to internal problems, the peasants were unhappy because of food shortages caused by the negligence of the nobility, the nobility were to absorbed in it's own squabbles to see outside problems, and in the conquered areas the people were revolting against oppressive regional governments. Now the empire might have recovered from that if it were for a plague that swept over the land at about that time, wiping out huge segments of the population and so quickly that those mages who didn't succumb to it themselves didn't have the time to come up with a cure before it had already done it's worst. The empire crumbled from all the stress.

It's a simple outline, but it's also distant history. It doesn't need to be incredibly in depth except for areas where it's vital to your story to have a little more information. You just need to know how and why this history effects your characters and story.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Thoughts on Creating a Fantasy World Part 2 - Populations and Not Planning Enough

Edit 9/16/04: I didn't want to write a whole blog on this so I'm adding it here. Johnny Ramone passed away yesterday afternoon at age 55 due to protate cancer. The Ramones are a favorite of mine and it's sad to know there is only one member of the band left (Tommy Ramone). Punk fans the world over will miss him including me.

I've been going through this list of world building questions written by author Patricia Wrede, in order to get a more organized view of Diona. They are very detailed and really get you thinking about what you need in your world. Tonight I was going through the first world section that deals with the basics of geography and populations. And this is actually a very basic vital part of creating a world since without places and people you haven't got much but it an easy thing to overlook. I've been working on Diona for four years and reading that list of questions I realized that I had left out some very important stuff like population sizes.

Organization is something I'm not very good at so without a detailed plan of what I need to do I'm likely to overlook very vital things without realizing it, because like I said in my previous blog I tend to move from one thing to another as my chain of thought progresses rather than following a plan. I realize now that this was a big mistake. After reading the above list of questions and rereading the Rivan Codex I realize how incredibly unstructured my work on Diona has been and how it's hurt the progression of the world.

A good example of me really messing up and not planning was made apparent by this question on the list:
"Are there non-human inhabitants of this planet (elves, dwarves, aliens)? If so, how numerous? How openly present? What areas do they occupy (examples: dwarves in mountains or caves, elves in forests, etc.)?"

I know I want non-human people on Diona but with the exception of a handful of demons I really have no clue what I want for non-humans because they just haven't come up in my writing so far. This was my answer to it, you can see how very basic it is because I really don't have it planned enough:

"Yes. There are demons (not all are malicious this is just a catch-all term for peoples who live between the spirit worlds and the physical world) there are also people fully of the physical world who are not human. Humans are by far the most numerous intelligent inhabitant of the world due to higher birth rates. Non-human peoples have their own lands though some have traveled and lived among humans and with only a few exceptions they are not hostile towards humans and vis versa though there are occational clashes. Pretty openly present, they don't hide themselves but most people never see them because they tend to travel mostly to the cities and other trading centers so villagers wouldn't have contact with them unless they either lived near the lands of a non-human people or traveled."

What I should have is a detailed list of all the non-human peoples and what their populations are and where they live, etc. I'm planning to fix this quite soon but I need to do a little more earth mythology research before I start writing them up.

In general I've learned I really need to plan more. I fully intend to spend the next little while going through that list and answering every question I can, and then start working on answering those I can't. If you'd like to see the questions I've answered so far you can check it out here.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Thoughts on creating a Fantasy World Part 1 - Starting Out and the Importance of Research

Before I get to what I want to write about Hurricane Ivan has been upgraded to a catagory five storm, my brother is stationed with the Air Force in Tampa. I'm hopeing he gets through this okay and is evacuated with plenty of time. Anyone in Florida or has relatives there I really hope you and your loved ones come through this okay. Three hurricanes in one month is just too much.

There's a lot I could say about building Diona, enough for a years worth of blogs (so you'll probably hear about this some more) and I thought I should share some of my thoughts, experiences and mistakes with you.

I first started creating Diona back in late 1999 or early 2000. Back then it was incredible simple and really not that good, I've since scrapped everything from it except the name and the map outline (Diona happens to be the name of a small village in the Sahara that I came across in a National Geographic article and I liked the name). Mistake #1 that I made was jumping into it with no planning or research, I sketched a map and thought "Hey, it'll be easy to fill up the world!" I was very very wrong. First of all I had no idea what sort of world I wanted, I knew I wanted mages, and magic critters but that was it.

David Eddings in his book the Rivan Codex says to start with a map. Now I don't think a map has to be the absolute first thing you do, it does need to be done very early in the world building process, because a blank map with just the continents and other geographical features is incredibly helpful for planning where to put different people and determining the borders of countries.

I very quickly learned that I am utterly terrible at creating names from nothing, the majority of the names I use are historical names from various cultures (Irish, Finnish, Icelandic, Old/Middle English). And names are very important, a lake on a map isn't that interesting without a name and of course characters need names. That was how my research for Diona started, looking for names. As I searched I started finding more and more useful information for world building and I realized how awful a lot of my stuff was, I had no real plan a lot of what I had was really unoriginal and some of it was just plain dumb, so like I said before I tossed most of it and started over. I made a long list of everything I needed and started filling it in, four years later there are still a lot of gaps in it and things that really need more detail and filling out. It's a work and progress and probably always will be, from what I've read Tolkien never stopped working on Middle Earth so I may never finish working on Diona.

The first thing I did when restarting was really start thinking about what structure I wanted for my world. By this point I already had the character of Noadi forming in my head and knew I wanted her to live in a small village of semi-tribal people not controlled by any kingdom. For her to live in an area like that it had to be a place away from more settled areas, mostly wilderness, etc. This led me to thinking about vegetation and climate, where should I put forests, jungles, swamps, plains, etc. so I started reasearching that, one thing just keeps leading to another area of research. Vegetation led to farming which led to how advanced technology should be and so on.

Currently I'm working on really nailing down how shamans work, I've been working on some runes, casting circle layout, shamanic drumming (easy since I play drums so I really couldn't leave it out), what spirits they can communicate with and how, what spells they can cast and how, how companion animals work. I've done a some of this before but now I'm really working on the details to get it right. Most of these details will never show up in Shaman but I can guarantee a lot of it will show up in my comic or art.

That's it for now, I have lots more to say but I'll leave that for future blogs.

Some helpful places to go should you be interested in world building.

  • World building resources is a list of world building resources, the page has been around a while so there are a few dead links but the majority of the page is great stuff.
  • Suite 101 Worldbuilding has several good articles on world building.
  • The Language Construction Kit has how to create your own invented language and alphabet.
  • Medieval Name Archive an SCA site with huge lists of names.
  • Fantasy Mapmaking 101 creating good maps.
  • The Rivan Codex great book by David and Leigh Eddings that has a lot of the background material on the world that created for the Belgariad and Mallorean and the introduction has a wealth of information in it. If you want to see how a pro writer creates a world check this out, I've reread my copy several times since I got it last December. However I would not reccomend it to anyone who has not read one of the books based in this world because it wouldn't make much sense due to the many references to the actual series.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

First ever blog.

I decided so much is going on with me and I get so many questions from people asking what is going on with Shaman, my comic, Noadi's Pixels, and my life in general that I'd start a blog so I can keep everyone up to date. Of course if you have a question just ask and I'll try to address it either here or in an email to you.

So first of all I've redesigned both of my webpages very recently. The new design for has been up for about two weeks, and was put up today. Both sites have polls up asking what you think of the layouts. As a new feature on the sites I now have a couple cafepress shops, one for each site. Noadi's Shaman Shop is all merchandise featuring my artwork and the exact prints will be rotated regularly. Shaman RPG Shop is all stuff with a Shaman logo on it. I don't expect to make much if anything off these, mostly it's just for fun though by all means buy something if you like it.

Shaman is progressing very slowly. My programmer appears to have dropped off the face of the earth without giving me my battle system. So I'm left with programming the battle system myself which is obviously quite the setback. I do however have some wonderful friends who have offered to help where they can I really appreciate it, though they might now appreciate me when I start bugging them constantly. My wonderful composer Nynne has given me a batch of new music for Shaman and all of it is incredible, I can't wait to have a demo out if only so you can hear how it matches Shaman so well.

So for the other random stuff going on. The Shaman comic is progressing, I'm really not working on it quite as much as I should be. I've been doing some basic world building stuff for Diona like creating an alphabet/rune system, I'm mostly creating it for my own use though you may see some of the letters occationally in my art especially if I illustrate much spell casting. In stuff completely outside of Shaman I've been doing some beading, I made a rather pretty hair quill, you can see a picture here but it's pretty grainy because of my camera. I've been looking for stuff I can make reasonably fast that would sell nicely at a craft fair and I think I found one because really they only take 30 minutes or so to make, not counting the time it takes for the varnish and glue to dry and I'm sure it'll take less time the more practice I get.