As part of my Guest blog series for authors and fellow bloggers I am proud to present another guest blog spot. I am very excited andauthor of The Summerlark Elf, The Missing Thane’s War, and now The Council of Tymenthia (The Four Kingdoms Saga Book 3)
The Council of Tymenthia (The Four Kingdoms Saga Book 3) is DUE OUT 5-3-16!
So go grab a copy!
“Worldbuilding the Uncanny Valley: Walking the Line Between Real and Fantasy”
By Brandon Draga
Earlier today, a fellow writer friend tweeted out some inadvertent advice, stating that whenever he’s in a writing rut he has a propensity for delving into some research on his writing subject, claiming that this helps to reignite his inspirational flame. Now, while I’m a firm believer that writing techniques and rituals can be as diverse as the writers to whom they belong, I absolutely agree with my friend on this point, at least personally. In fact, over the course of writing The Council of Tymenthia I underwent several day-long research sabbaticals, looking up everything from weaponry to period-correct military slang.
Also language. I had a lot of fun researching languages.
During one such research day (read: six hour YouTube binge session), I found myself descending into the rabbit hole that is the evolution of the English language. It turns out that, in and around what would have been the Arthurian period, English sounded a whole heck of a lot like Icelandic; barely recognizable. Neat, huh?
Kinda makes you think, though, about all those portal fantasy/time travel movies and books where modern-era characters are transported back to the dark ages. I mean, aside from likely being immediately cut down by some poor dirt farmer who thought them a demon, someone speaking modern English would sound to said dirt farmer like they were speaking in tongues!
These are the things that keep me up at night, everyone.
The fact also happens to lend itself to the question of dialogue in fantasy fiction, and from there into the greater question of fantasy worldbuilding. This, in turn, leads us to right now, this blog post that you’re reading.
So it feels a lot to me like the fantasy genre as well as its readers have really reached a level of maturity where, above all else, a story’s believability must be watertight. People are simply not willing to suspend their disbelief the way they once did, or at least not in as great numbers.This can lead fantasy writers into one of two different camps of realism, and I thought it might be fun to take a look at them.
Probably the most well-known, and easiest example of this camp is George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire cycle, but really this applies to a number of low-magic, often darker-toned books. Oftentimes, the book ends up reading less like fantasy and more like secondary-world historical fiction. For many, notably older readers of the genre, this can scratch that perfect itch of being realistic enough that their co-workers aren’t going to balk at their reading it, but unrealistic enough that it still scratches the itch that’s been there since they picked up The Hobbit in grade school.
This is the camp that, like Arnie Niekamp of Hello From the Magic Tavern, “doesn’t want to talk about Earth stuff.” I mean, if you’re going to write something in a secondary universe, what business does anything from our universe have being present, right? Let’s pick up some Kameron Hurley or China Mieville! Let’s eschew elves in favour of tusked bird-people with pseudopods in place of legs, who ride chitinous lizard mounts!
Booth of these camps are, of course, full of fiction that is incredible. That said, as unique and interesting as both these camps can be, both are not without their own pitfalls. For instance, at what point does a more historically accurate book just become a retelling of the Battle of Agincourt with the names changed to protect the innocent? Similarly, at what point does a gonzo book’s dialogue and world become so contrived that the reader literally feels like they require a translator? In both instances, and indeed even throughout the more moderate examples that exist in the broad spectrum that is fantasy, we as authors are constantly straddling this line of believability.
Let’s take a look again at dialogue. Does your world have slang? Of course it does. So what does this slang sound like?
Peter V. Brett once wrote of his Demon Cycle setting that he used “night” in place of “fuck” by virtue of the fact that the night, when the demons come out, was the most terrifying thing to his characters. What’s interesting is the fact that he went on to say that he eventually just had the characters say “fuck”, as the alternative felt anachronistic. Conversely, we look at Brian McClellan, whose characters have consistently used “Pit” in place of “Hell”; or Scott Lynch, whose dialogue is so rife with contemporary curses that I maintain the only person who could properly adapt his books is Guy Richie circa 1998.
Now, if we look at the entire gamut, from a Dance with Dragons to The Lies of Locke Lamora to Perdido Street Station, we can agree that, at their cores, all these stories are adored by their audiences, and I think that speaks far more to the stories they tell than anything else. Just as much as the most overused tropes can be overlooked if their written well enough, so too can the most flagrant attempts to subvert them. So yes, go ahead and write something that’s a perfect summation of Flemish serfdom in the 14th century, or write about a society that runs on cheese, whose protagonist is an iridescent psychic slug. Whatever you do, just make sure that, above all else, you’re writing a story that will make people care about that serf, or that slug.
Oh, and be consistent. Whether you want your slug to say “shit” or “qwunt”, at least stick with one or the other for the duration of one book.
About the author:
Brandon Draga was born in 1986, just outside Toronto, Ontario. His love of all things fantasy began at an early age with games like The Legend of Zelda, Heroquest, and Dungeons and Dragons. This affinity for the arcane and archaic led to his studying history in university from 2005 to 2011. In late 2012, he began writing a D&D campaign setting that would lay the groundwork for the world of the Four Kingdoms. Brandon still lives just outside Toronto, and when he is not writing enjoys skateboarding, playing guitar, and playing tabletop games.
The Council of Tymenthia: The Four Kingdoms Saga Book 3