Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

18 June, 2012

Welcome to My World: Gods

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Continuing on the general theme of gods, I’m going to shift from the factual to the fictional, and talk a bit about D&D gods. This post will have a pretty different tone than the previous Welcome to My World posts, being a bit more meta and not really directly related to the other posts in subject matter, but should you want a look at them anyway, you can find them all here.

I just wrote an exam paper on the definition of gods – problems of definition are a pretty central concern in religious studies – and throughout writing it I was distracted by thoughts of how I could apply this to fiction. This post is part of the result. One of the core set of terms used when discussing definitions in this kind of field is emic and etic. An emic definition is an internal definition, a subjective and personal one. When you ask a Christian to define the word “god” you will get Christianity’s emic definition – or more accurately, this person’s emic subset of Christianity’s definition. An etic definition, on the other hand, strives to be objective and neutral, capable of spanning all variations of – in this case – gods in various religions. A purely etic definition is of course as impossible as a pure objectivity in the humanities, but the point is to get as close as you can. The guy who coined the terms based them on phonemic and phonetic, and they have a similar relationship of culturally determined versus universal.

To bring it over to the game, in the core D&D 4th edition, there are several gods listed in the Player’s Handbook as suggested options for divine characters. In my own world, I have kept this core pantheon pretty much as it is so far, but that may change in the future – perhaps even in the writing of this post. Several of these core gods have also been given statblocks – that is, they have stats of the same kind as any other monster, and can be fought and defeated in battle by the players. I have seen, on several occasions when this has been the topic in various forums, people who are downright angry about this. The gods should not be statted out, they say, they are embodiments of eternal concepts and therefore indestructible. It is basically a case of these posters’ emic definition of gods not fitting well with the game’s definition – nor indeed with several religions’ definitions, but that’s beside the point here.

Within the game, however, there is a definition of god that for the game world is completely etic. D&D is after all a world where many rules are a great deal more solid than they are in the real world. The Dungeon Master’s Guide defines gods by their abilities and limitations. They are “powerful but not omnipotent, knowledgeable but not omniscient, widely travelled but not omnipresent. They alone of all creatures in the universe consist only of astral essence. The gods are creatures of thought and ideal, not bound by the same limitations as beings of flesh.”

This is still a very vague definition, being more poetic than practical – only the bit about consisting of astral essence is concrete. In the Draconomicon, however, there is a more definite and rule-bound definition for the word “deity”, found near the stats of Tiamat. A deity, within this universe, is a being who:

  1. Rolls saving throws when an effect is applied, rather than at the end of their turn, AND
  2. Is completely unaffected by player characters below level 20, AND
  3. Speaks the magical Supernal language, AND
  4. Discorporates when it is reduced to half its hit points, leaving it weakened, but not dead.

I think it is safe to say that the “god” spoken of in the DMG and the “deity” of the Draconomicon is the same category. It is very much a game’s definition, which makes sense, as this is a game. “God” is a word that is as narrowly defined within the game as the name of any other monster – and D&D famously has different monsters under names that in the real world are synonyms. It is all about carving out specific niches.

When it comes to making up the cultures of the world the game is set in, however, I am tempted to return to the vaguer definitions of real life. My paper wasn’t just on gods, it was on supernatural, or rather superhuman, beings in general. Now, within a D&D world, it doesn’t quite make sense to talk about superhuman beings as the core of religion, because there are oodles and oodles of superhuman beings in D&D, and chances are the players characters are among them.

I am tempted to, within the game world, expand the word “god” to include anything that is worshipped – so that what are in the game’s technical terms primal spirits or primordials, are called gods by the common citizenry who happen to belong to their cults. I worry that this might end up being just confusing, though, since the game has a built in etic definition of the word already. Some of life’s complexities are not worth reproducing in a game, simply because it becomes boring or confusing rather than fun, and the problems of definition faced by religious studies seems like such a one.

So let me focus on the beings which meet the game’s definition, then. Without going into specific deities, I’ll instead tell you a bit about how I do deviate from the standard set-up in my view of them.

The standard cosmology posits a universe where the two poles of the Astral Sea and the Elemental Chaos stand opposed. Somewhat inspired by Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, I’ve taken this one step further, and decided that somewhere in the Elemental Chaos there lies a core, a heart, of pure change. A single point of unending change, which is never the same from one instant to the next. Likewise, in the Astral Sea, there lies a heart of pure permanence, a place of absolute unending stillness, where nothing can live or move or breathe. These are the poles, the cores of the universe, two equal opposites locked in eternal balance, radiating change and permanence and creating all things as they touch.  A tiny speck of change seeps into the area around permanence, and you have the Astral Sea, a place of serenity and preservation, but where change can still occur. On the other end you have the Elemental Chaos, where the merest touch of permanence seeps into the shores of change, enough that there can be things for more than an instant.

From the astral essence, then, you get gods – beings of permanence with just enough change in them to be beings at all – capable of thought and movement and will. Their counterparts, the primordials, are beings of change with just enough permanence to be beings at all, to have will and a semblance of form.

It follows then, that the gods are at heart conservatives. It is not in their nature to change their ways, or to change at all. Even the ones who claim change and invention and progress as their domains, are in the long view conservatives. They are creatures of permanence. It is no coincidence that those among them who flirt the most with change and chaos are the ones that have lost their sanity.

Though they are credited with feats of creation, they are not, as a group, creators. They are preservers. It was the primordials who created the world; the gods merely preserved it, locked it in its shape. The gods did not create souls, they do not know where they come from or where they go, they just bound them in flesh. Gave them that bit of permanence that keeps them in the world, for a time. The inhabitable universe is a mix of chaos and permanence; the gods merely represent one of the extreme points of the axis. They are powerful beings, very powerful beings, but being nonetheless, who can indeed be killed.

Because, really, what is the point of having evil gods in your game if your player’s can’t face them in the climactic showdown?

4 June, 2012

Welcome to My World: From the Ashes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

For previous posts in this series, see here.

After the great earthquake of 205 BR, civilisation basically collapsed throughout the known world. Both of the great empires had fallen, and the damage caused by the quake eradicated most other realms as well. The towers of Iorotákher had crumbled to dust. The world entered a dark age, with almost no sources to reveal to the historian what happened next, so there is not much to say of this era.

A couple of centuries pass before we have solid documentation of life in the Arkhosian plains again. By this time, the plains had settled into a new status quo, divided into innumerable baronies and principalities, all competing for wealth and resources. The seven cities were still there, for the most part, but were greatly diminished, and did not hold the power over the surrounding plains they once did. The dragonborn were still the most populous race in the plains, but members of other races too managed to place themselves in ruling positions in some of the territories. What few dragons were left had retreated from civilisation, to brood in solitude.

The first step towards establishing the modern Arkhosia came with the founding of the Church of the Chosen One, which represents a new direction for the draconic cult of the plains. Few details have survived regarding everyday cult in the religion of the empire, but it is known that all the draconic deities were venerated – Bahamut, Tiamat, and dead Io. The Church of the Chosen Ones takes a different route – it is a henotheistic church, focusing only on Bahamut, and it vilifies Tiamat.

The church dates its founding to the year of the Revelation, and the event which also gives the current Arkhosian calendar its point of reference. One of the surviving dragons, a bronze dragon, received what he claimed was a revelation from Bahamut. The name of the dragon, for he surely had one, is forgotten now; he goes only by his title: Kuzhpéri – the Chosen One. He wrote down his revelation, emerged from his seclusion, and established himself in Stakhrokénzi, where he founded his church and began to spread his new teachings. Though the new teachings were often radical – the revelation banned blood sacrifice and the making of idols, key components of traditional cult – the church proved to be immensely popular in the chaotic situation in the plains. With its message of unification and vision of Arkhosia as the holy land, it provided a glue for the fractured societies in the plains. This proved to be a very powerful idea, as the church slowly spread its influence across the plains.

In the 281st year of Revelation, a dragonborn boy named Anhem was born in the northern plains, in a town a few miles south of the Barási river. In 309 YR, he succeeded his father as lord of that town. In 316 YR, he launched a campaign of conquest and unification, with no less of a goal than to recreate Arkhosia as a single realm.

Anhem was, by all accounts, a devout member of the Church of the Chosen One. Whether his reunification project came as a result of piety or simple hunger for power, has been hotly debated by scholars since the moment of his death. The plains had been a collection if independent states for nearly five centuries, and few among its noble rules were eager to submit themselves to a new king, but Anhem proved to be a gifted military strategist. After he had begun to gain momentum, he also received the full support of the Kuzhpéri and his church, which by this time had a great deal of influence in the plains. The reluctant nobles were forced, one by one, to submit to the new order.

In 323 YR, Anhem the Great was crowned king of Arkhosia by the Kuzhpéri, in Iorotákher, and the new Arkhosian state was formally born.

Arkhosia today, though it claims continuity, is a poor imitation of the old empire. The nobles of the plains eventually surrendered peacefully, and in so doing, managed to get some of their terms into the new order. Some of the most powerful lords of the realm agreed to elect Anhem as their king, but secured to right to also chose his successor. The church, in return for the support it gave Anhem, was given a great many privileges, including final approval of the ruler – the lords elector choose the next king, but he is only truly given power when crowned by the Kuzhpéri. Though the lords elector can in theory choose anyone to be king, the rulers of Arkhosia have in practice always been descendants of Anhem. The electors often try to choose the child they assume will be the weakest, allowing for a strong nobility under a weak crown. This policy has met with varying degrees of success. The current king, Anhem II, ascended to the throne in 477 YR at the tender young age of 10, but he has proved in later years to be a strong king who has severely curtailed the rights of the nobility. Even with his efforts, however, Arkhosia now remains a much more decentralised realm than the old empire.

Iorotakher remains the capital, but it has lost its status as greatest city to Stakhrokénzi – which has also accumulated a good deal of power as the seat of the Kuzhpéri. In terms of territory, the new Arkhosia consists of the full plains north of the Iorostákhi, up to the Barási, as well as territories along the coast as far south as Kepésknikh. Eastward, it contains Idád and parts of the Ezhvísi, but stops well short of reaching Akhír, a city that has proved very resistant to assimilation into the new realm. The great temple of Tiamat in that city still stands, and the inhabitants are sceptical of the Church of the Chosen One and resistant to its missionaries. The church has sent an epitrope to Akhír, but his flock is not large.

In truth, the situation in Arkhosia today is far from stable. The nobility, the crown and the church all battle each other for influence, while a new group of wealthy merchants has emerged in the cities and begun to demand its share of the power. The Church jockeys for further expansion, to begin re-establishing the empire of old, while the crown resists any aggressive expansion for fear of leaving its back open to the nobility. The church’s iconoclasm has driven other cults underground, and caused resentment among the non-draconic populace. Despite all the friction, there is also prosperity. The cities grow again, trade flourishes and the relative stability has allowed scholars to work in peace. As the 502nd year of Revelation draws to a close, no one can tell for sure what the future of Arkhosia will be.

28 May, 2012

Welcome to My World: Empire

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

For the previous posts in this series, see here.

The history of the world is the history of empires, and no empire has ever been greater or more prosperous than Arkhosia.

There are a variety of factors which influenced Arkhosian expansionist policies, but chief among them were overpopulation – Arkhosia had a surplus of dragonborn, and, more critically, of dragons. The years immediately following the creation of the empire were good ones, with excellent harvests and mild winters. Combined with the stability the new government created, this led to great population growth. When the string of good harvests ended and was followed by leaner years, the population surplus became unsustainable. This led both to the creation of the dual citizenship system, where the dragonborn became formally the preferred citizens, and to the empire’s expansion.

The surplus of dragons was perhaps the bigger problem. The peace imposed by the empire led to fewer opportunities for young dragons to advance at the expense of established territories. Expansion provided an elegant solution. An unestablished dragon was either given a new clan of dragonborn, or took over an existing one, and then left with them to found new settlements or assume ownership of existing cities. The dragon was thus guaranteed both territory, wealth, power, and a voice in the Council of Wyrms, with minimal risk to itself and the full might of the empire behind it – a very advantageous deal. At the same time, the empire could spread out its population, and claim more land and more revenue for the state.

As with all things Arkhosian, it began with the river. The first new settlements were along the Iorostakhi, further inland than the seven cities themselves. These cities in turn became bases of operation for further expanding the area of influence in Ezhvísi and towards the Iron Hills. The larger city of Akhír was founded at the edge of the Nummelweald, to tame that wilderness. Eventually, Tundarokar too became an Arkhosian holding, and all of the sacred river was under imperial control.

By this time, expansion was a policy in and of itself, beyond any immediate need to disperse population – it was a perpetual engine providing wealth for the centre, and order for the periphery. With rule consolidated in the riverlands, expansion continued in every direction – north, through Askarovor and into the frozen wastes beyond; east, across the Basin Plains and the Central Steppes to the Border Mountains; south, all the way to the endless jungles; and west, into the Sapphire Sea and the Spice Isles. It was, of course, not simply a matter of peaceful colonisation – war was often the means of expansion, and the Arkhosian military grew quite adept at subduing local populations. Askharovor was only won by bloody battles for every settlement taken, and throughout its history, the empire had skirmishes with the nomadic barbarians in the Basin Plains. It was in the expansion of the empire the militarisation of the dragonborn clans began, and where their ideology of honourable warfare developed.

This is Arkhosia’s golden age, the era that passed into legend. Iorotákher burned to the ground in 1022 BR, and the Golden King had it rebuilt as the true jewel of the empire. It’s seven shining towers are still remembered in song.

The expansionist phase of the empire ended when the eastward movement was finally halted by a nation that was organised and powerful enough to withstand Arkhosian advances – the empire of Myklafar. relations between these two great empires were tense from the first moment, not surprising considering they both desired to expand into the same territory. Nevertheless, a peace was brokered, and tentative relations established. Trade between the nations did not exactly flourish, but it flowed. There was never to be friendship between the two powers, however. Within Arkhosia, the desire for continued expansion to the east coast was never extinguished, and there was general scepticism and disapproval of the Myklafari culture. The leaders of the rival empire were gradually demonised in the Arkhosian conciousness.

When the nobility of Myklafar actually did make deals with devils and became tieflings, this triggered a sort of moral panic in the Arkhosian elite, and the relations soured considerably until the war finally broke out in 338 BR. The two empires remained at war with each other for the next 133 years – meaning that peace was never declared between them. The war consisted of three main campaigns, with gaps of ceasefire between them, each of them bloodier than the last. Dragonborn perished on the battlefields in the thousands, and dragons were blasted out of the sky by tiefling warlocks. The war resulted in a severe culling of the dragon population and put a final stop to Arkhosia’s expansion elsewhere. the wealth of the empire was now turned to fuelling the war machine for an increasingly bitter conflict of attrition. Myklafar suffered similar losses, and the war raged on with neither empire gaining much of an advantage.

The end of the war was also the end of the empire. The tieflings had managed to convince a dragon of the Council of Wyrms to aid them in assassinating the other members of the council – ostensibly to end the bloody conflict by removing the entrenched leadership of the empire. This betrayal nearly wiped out the remaining dragons of the empire, including the Golden King, and thereby also the ruling class. Without any leadership, Arkhosia collapsed, each of its provinces left to fend for itself and with the Myklafari forces posed to swallow the whole of the continent.

This would effectively end the Arkhosian empire by itself, but the betrayal was followed only a few short days later by the greatest cataclysm in recorded history – the great earthquake of 205 BR. Scholars hesitate to call it a natural disaster, because the scale of it is unlike any other natural earthquake, but if it was caused by some outside agent, no one knows who or what it was. Theories have ranged from a Myklafari doomsday spell gone wrong to divine intervention. What is certain is that the quake shook the whole of the continent to its foundations, destroying cities and settlements all over the known world. Myklafar was undoubtedly hit worst – the epicentre of the quake was within its borders – and great portions of its landmass, including its capital, simply broke off from the continent and sank into what is now the Micklesea.

In Arkhosia, cities were levelled and roads destroyed. The empire was lost beyond any recovery, and much of its knowledge and secrets were lost with it. The sources we have for its history today come mainly from the far peripheries – private libraries in the Spice Isles and recovered hoards from the far north. The great empires had crumbled into dust. Five hundred years of chaos and barbarity would follow.

10 May, 2012

Welcome to My World: Arkhosian City States

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

For the first post in this series, click here

The recorded history of Arkhosia can be divided into four distinct periods. It begins with the city states period, encompassing the time from the founding of the seven cities until their unification. Next follows the empire, where the new state expands its borders drastically. This period lasts until the end of the great war with the tiefling realm, Myklafar, which signals the start of the third period, a dark age where records are few and far between. Finally, there is the current period, the new kingdom, following the formation of the Church of the Chosen One, and Anhem the Great’s reunification project.

But let us start at the beginning. It is difficult to date exactly when the seven cities – which, counting from the mouth of the river and up, are Stakhrokénzi, Azíd, Zeïár, Miákis, Ézhva, Iorotákher and Idád – were founded. The Arkhosian plains have always been a fertile land, and host to many people, and it is quite possible that settlements on the sites of the cities have existed as far back as the end of the Dawn War. Traditionally, the founding of Iorotákher has been dated to 4873 years before the Revelation, but the basis for this tradition is lost if it ever existed. Stakhrokénzi claims to be “the eternal city”, and its position at the mouth of the river might give the claim some weight – it is without a doubt a place ideally suited for settlement. Here too, however, we lack clear evidence for a precise time of founding. Linguistic evidence suggests that the great bathing festival in Zeïár pre-dates the founding of the city itself (as the name contains the root ze, “bath”), which indicates that the city was not founded until after draconic cult was already well established in the area. Scrolls found in ruins in the Market Desert, which mention trade with “the cities of the north”, have been dated to the 25th century BR, but are too vague to be considered definite evidence for cities in the plains at that point.

The first truly verifiable reference to the seven cities is found in a letter written by the Patriarch of Tundarokar to his counterpart in distant Oversae, in the year 1750 BR. The letter speaks of the dragons in the cities by the lower river having created a new race of servitors for themselves. Not only does the letter confirm the presence of at that time already well established cities, but it also gives a tantalising glimpse into another of Arkhosia’s ancient mysteries, the birth of the dragonborn.

After the advent of the dragonborn, our sources become more secure, and more abundant. From the descriptions of life in the cities during this later part of the period, we can make some educated guesses about their founding. Each of the cities had as its ruler a single dragon. It is a well-observed pattern of dragon behaviour that they will sometimes install themselves as lords and protectors of humanoid communities, and claim their settlements as part of their territories. Given the relatively large number of dragons in the plains, it is possible each of the seven cities were founded when a dragon decided to assume ownership of a smaller, less organised community. As the city states grew in power and size, they claimed more territory further away from the river, thus expanding their influences across the plains. A study of the many and varied dragonborn clans shows that in that early period of their history, they formed family groups around several dragons, which indicates that there were many lesser dragons in the territory controlled by the cities – perhaps overlords of their own tributary settlements. There are some accounts that paint the cities as similar to other dragon autocracies, where the general populace is little more than slaves, but most speak of the humanoids as full citizens with rights, similar to the situation in the later empire.

The dragonborn gradually became the most populous of the humanoid races in the plains, and formed the core citizenry of the city states. It is clear that the early Arkhosians thought of themselves as a single culture, though they were divided in several states, and trade between the cities flourished. There were occasional wars between them, the clash between Ézhva and Miákis in 1513 BR being the bloodiest example, but on the whole they seem to have been remarkably peaceful. At least twice, conflict between cities was settled not with battle, but with single combat between the cities’ dragons. As dragons are used to fighting each other for territory, it is quite likely this was a more common occurrence, but that records of them have simply been lost.

When the cities united under the so-called Golden King of Iorotákher, in 1302 BR, it was hailed as a great show of unity and the common purpose of Arkhosian culture, but in reality it represented a tremendous loss of status for the other six cities, which became in effect tributaries themselves. The exact circumstances which led to this move are lost, however; likely edited out of the history books by the king – now emperor – himself. All that has been allowed to survive are texts hailing the new nation as the fulfilment of both the will of the gods and of the people – a sentiment which is now echoed by the Church of the Chosen One. The dragons of the other cities were unquestionably allowed to continue ruling them, however, and also given a voice in the running of the new empire in the Council of Wyrms, so the reorganisation clearly did not come as a result of a complete defeat. Whatever the cause, the cities were now united, and the empire was born.

7 May, 2012

Welcome to My World

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I’ve spoken a bit about world building, and my D&D world specifically, before. I am not currently running a game, and am unlikely to find the time and energy to do so any time soon, but the world for it is still swirling about in my head, wanting to get out, so I’ve decided to indulge this desire by posting a bit about it here. Killing two birds with one stone, this will also help me codify some of my more nebulous thoughts.

Like I said in that previous post, my D&D world is based heavily on the default D&D world found in the 4e source books, but that isn’t really a world in and of itself. The books contain broad strokes and some few specifics, but leaves huge blank spots for each DM to fill in. It is intended more as a framework for sparking creativity, and that’s how I’ve ended up using it – taking the bits of the framework that I liked, discarded the bits I didn’t, and filled in the blanks with stuff both of my own devising and stuff filched from other sources.

One of my favourite ways to give an imaginary world the illusion of depth is to refer to and quote from imaginary texts internal to it, a text that an inhabitant of the world would have access to. As a result of this, my descriptions will probably take on a similar flavour, of something produced within the world itself – that’s just the mindset I like to get in while writing things like these.

Right, I think that’s enough preramble. I’m just going to dive into a little explanation of the geography and background of Arkhosia, the dragon empire.

When speaking of Arkhosia, it seems impossible not to begin with the Iorostákhi river, because that is both the beginning and the heart of the realm. Along the banks of the red river lie the seven cities that birthed the realm, and it remains the main vein of travel and trade on the Arkhosian plains.

Mythology tells of the dragon god Io, who did battle with a primordial monster called the King of Terror. The monster killed the god, carved him in half with a single stroke. The two halves then sprang to life as the gods Bahamut and Tiamat, who together killed the King of Terror, but Io was dead and his blood spilled on the ground. Pious Arkhosians will tell you that the battle happened above the Blood Mountains, and that the god’s blood pouring down upon them formed the river that still runs there to this day, and hence bears the name Iorostákhi – Io’s blood.

A more prosaic person would say that the Blood Mountains in fact get their name from the red clay which is so abundant in them, and whose presence in the watershed is also the cause for the river’s distinctive colour – which in any case is not nearly so red as the poets would have you believe. The myth of the river which is still in some way the literal blood of the creator of dragons is too strongly ingrained, however, for that interpretation to have much popularity outside certain academic circles. Untold generations of Arkhosians have seen the river as a sacred and tangible presence of the gods in the world, and the conception of Arkhosia as the holy land is buried deep in society. Though Io is dead, he still plays a significant role in Arkhosian religion, and the bathing festival held every three years in the city of Zeïár is a good example of this. When the dragonborn race appeared, it was generally assumed that the power of the river was in some way responsible for their creation, though the details surrounding their genesis are unknown.

Regardless of whether the mythical battle really occurred above Arkhosia, it is certainly true that the area had a much higher population of dragons than the rest of the known world, though that is no longer the case. When the seven cities formed, the dragons were the ones who ruled them. Though Arkhosia is often called the empire of the dragonborn, it was always ruled by dragons even after the dragonborn became the most populous of the races in it. The dragonborn clans themselves were always organised around a single dragon leader.

The Arkhosian plains cover a large area, but they are centred on the river. Even as the empire grew to encompass a full quarter of the world, the river never lost its place as the heartland, the life blood of the realm, and the seven cities always maintained their position of power. As for the circumstances of their founding and forging into a single civilization, that will have to wait for another time.

A map of the Iorostakhi region

I'm not great at making maps, but it's not like I can afford to pay people.


3 May, 2012

Writing on a Schedule

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

All right, time for some rambling. The time is rapidly approaching midnight, and if I am to stick to my schedule I need something to go up, and I have no good ideas popping up.

The thing is, I do have a few ideas. I have a list of draft posts which consist mainly of a title and maybe a few words describing the core of the idea, but these are ideas I think are pretty good, and they require a certain amount of time and effort to do right. Lately, I have not found much of that time. My writing, as a result suffers, as I try to squeeze out something passable despite lack of inspiration and time to polish.

Now, forcing yourself to write regardless of quality has some merit. That’s part of the reason why I made this schedule in the first place. It’s also the core idea behind NaNoWriMo; quantity can in some cases be better than quality. If you don’t write some crap first, you won’t get to the good part later. I read a book on writing once that said the first million words you write are practice, and don’t count. Even if you publish books and win awards, put them away, and keep practising. I don’t recall who wrote that book, but presumably he’d written a fair bit himself, and the message seems sound. You have to write through the crap and the duds to get good enough to write the real things.

I’ve tried my hand at NaNoWriMo a couple of times. Once, I even made the target, 50 000 words written in November. The other time I petered out after 14 000, as I found myself without time – there’s that word again – to devote to the project. November just isn’t a very good month for that sort of undertaking, I think.

In neither project did I have a clear idea of what I wanted to write. I had some characters in mind, and a couple of settings that I still think are pretty neat, but no clue whatsoever on plot. Both of the texts ended up being mostly a series of events without much conflict attached – a very long introduction, essentially. The first go, the one where I actually finished, was a story about a young ghost. The idea was that ghosts and goblins and all manner of mythological creatures were actually related beings made of some dark energy, and they had set up a society of their own on the other side of reflections – not mirrors, mind you, reflections. The story was basically this young ghost, having been born in the real world, travelling there and settling in … and that’s that, the end. 50 000 words of exposition. Like I said, no good ideas for plot materialised. I might go back to it at some point, though, I think there’s something good to extract from it.

The other attempt was much less developed, but also a concept I’m more excited about and which I absolutely intend to return to. It was a fantasy about a group belonging to a monastic religion focused on fire worship establishing a small foothold in a Victorianesque industrial city on the far side of the world. Picture a Buddhist missionary monastery opening in 1850s London. Except they can control fire. Anyway, I didn’t really get far enough for much plot in that one either, but I’m real invested in the world building there.

Right, that’s stream of conciousness for you. Started with whining about blogging, ended up talking about writing fiction. The point of it all was the idea of forcing production, as I’ve done for this very post here. Actually, I think it ended up not being half bad. Made me want to star up the fiction writing again, too, though I doubt I’ll find the time before the holiday. Still, not bad, twenty minutes before the deadline.

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