Visualizing Mythology

aelianus-netThe key story from the mythology of Arveniem for my novel The Ring of Adonel (which I’m still working upon) involves the wounding of Adonel Aelianus and the consequent making of the Sun.

The Myth

The short version of the myth is that after Adonel had made his Ring from a pebble of the Step of Heaven (the mountain where the Attondar entered the World), Cadar saw the Ring and wanted it. When Adonel refused to give it up, Cadar seized Adonel’s Wind Sword and struck his fellow Attondar, blinding him in one eye. Adonel’s blood spilled onto the Step and burst into flame, such that it began to melt the world around it. Cadar fled with the Sword, and Adonel renamed him Caimcadar (meaning “bent Cadar”). And because of the danger to the world, the remaining Attondar lifted the burning mountain peak and cast it into the sky, where it became the Sun.

The Artwork

This piece of artwork was actually done on a gold foil background, but the scanner cannot  reproduce it as it is – it came through black. It still looks very striking that way.

This is the moment immediately after Adonel was struck, as the flames are leaping up.

Posted in Artwork, Novels | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

To Elve or Not To Elve (Do You Call Them Elves)

I’m being flippant, of course, turning “elf” and “elves” into a verb. But more and more it seems to be a rising issue for fantasy writers as to whether or not one should include them in one’s fantasy world.

I suppose it depends on what the writer wants his or her world to be like, of course.

But let’s consider the reasons why it is an issue at all.

J.R.R. Tolkien is a big reason all by himself. The world he created in Middle-earth is so well established in readers’ imaginations now that it has become the Mount Everest of fantasy-world creation. How do you make yours distinctive, even when you want to do something similar?

Added to the problem of “not being Tolkien” is the matter that Tolkien tapped into some very primal aspects of the Elder People. He avoided the diminutive pixie-types that had become popular in the late Victorian/Edwardian ages — such as Tinkerbell in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan  — in favor of the tall (adult sized) beings similar to the Celtic Sidhe or the elf-peoples of Northern folklore. When Tolkien has already absorbed the alternate options, it’s hard to do something different.


So what do we get? Lots of tall, exotically beautiful beings who look somewhat like ordinary humans who have “magical” powers. They may or may not be immortal, usually they are very long-lived at least. And they can do stuff we can’t. And author after author includes such beings because they are apparently “required” by the genre.

We’re talking about what gets called High Fantasy here, not the current trend of contemporary urban fantasy that seems to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the mix, from zombies and vampires to every species of magical being the author can lay his or her hands on.

I was talking with another author recently (at a writers’ conference where we were sharing a presentation on world-building and setting), who said he refuses to include “elves” in his fantasy population. He had, in fact, created a species that initially (in the first two books of his series) has all the presentation of being “elves”, but are in fact, something quite different (almost monstrous looking, given the cover art for the third volume). He was pleased with his choices (as any writer should be). But it amused him that a reviewer of the first volume had actually complained about the presence of the stereotypical “elves.”

"Drawings of elves" by French illustrator Jean-Baptiste Mange

“Drawings of elves” by French illustrator Jean-Baptiste Mange

This is the problem authors face in creating a fantasy world. There are some limits to your options in populating the world. If you get too “alien,” you start to move into the feel of “science fiction” and not “fantasy,” what with explaining and justifying the physical appearance of the “elves”. And you still have to deal with the creative impulse to include beings who are “like us but are not us.”

I’ve written of this problem before — I wanted to consider what worldly immortality might be like, if it were natural to at least some creatures of our world. It is, after all, what lies behind vampire stories: the desire to be immortal, to not die in this world, to continue our earthly existence. My interests in this question were similar to Tolkien’s, so I think it was inevitable that my creatures would end up being very similar to Tolkien’s elves. I’m certain I’ll be criticized for “copying” Tolkien, and that I’ve just transplanted Tolkien’s elves into my world and given them a different name.

I have my own well-thought-out reasons for including the not-Tolkien’s-Elves in my creation of Arveniem. But I will admit that I’ve read various fantasies, obviously influenced by Tolkien’s work, where I could not see the reasons why the author included elves, other than the “peer-pressure” of familiarity. There’s the Chinese Menu approach that has come out of role playing games of “types” of characters to include on a team, and some sort of “elf” is usually added to the mix for who knows what reason. It is these instances that generate the stereotype and the negative responses to the stereotype.

So, back to the original question: “to elve or not to elve?” Do you include elves (or whatever you want to call them – I call mine “Fynlaren”), or don’t you? What is their nature, if you do include them? What can they do? What can they not do? What do they add to your world that it did not have otherwise?

Fantastical creatures of any sort should have a point, for the author at least. Make it a good one.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Dealing With Immortality In Fiction

(Originally Posted on Live Journal — Dec. 6th, 2009 at 7:33 PM)

There was a discussion on sartorias ’ LJ some time ago about Elves in current fantasy. What makes them different than being “ordinary humans with magical powers”? This led to mentions of Elves being immortal. (I’d meant to get this written and posted for weeks, but better late than never.)

scribblerworks-ghostsNow, one of the things that has always fascinated me is the huge differences between the experiences of immortality and mortality. And certainly, Tolkien’s choices in his works have something to do with my outlook. But I was always left feeling that he had not resolved the matter of what happened when an Elf had his or her body destroyed in some fashion. It wasn’t clear in Tolkien: there apparently was some sort of “reincarnation”, but it was not clear how it worked.

So, when I started constructing my own fantasy world, and chose to include a race of beings who were, well, cousins to Tolkien’s Elves and would be “immortal”, I had to consider what it meant to be Mortal — what was the ultimate fate of a mortal soul? Being Christian, I do believe in a “life eternal” — but for me, the eternal is outside the material world and outside time. Which meant, to me, that if I was to call someone “immortal”, they would need to be immortal inside the material world. Basically (using the terms of my own faith), the immortals in the world cannot die and “come into the presence of God”. Instead, they are still stuck in the world.

Which forced me to consider the matter of ghosts. Mortal souls don’t stick around (in my fantasy world, Arveniem), so they wouldn’t be ghosts. But if the body of an immortal were slain, what then? The soul becomes disembodied. But I didn’t like the idea of lots of disembodied spirits blowing around, so I decided they would become “refleshed”. The word “reincarnation” does actually mean the same thing, but it comes with the whole baggage of “being reborn as a baby”, and that was some place I did not want to go. For me, I believe that each new life is unique, which leaves me ambivalent about the reality of the general perception of reincarnation. So rather than drag that ambivalence into the fiction, I looked for a different solution.

My solution was that if my “elves” – I ended up calling them the Fynlaren – were somehow “killed”, that is, had their body rendered non-functional, separating the spirit from the body, the “dead” body would disintegrate (dematerialize) within three days. And in the meantime, the spirit would once again take on a material form. But this time, the form would reflect the reality of the spirit. So, if an adult “died”, the refleshed form would be adult. A consequence was that if the Fynlar’s spirit/soul had somehow become warped, the new body would reflect that. But that was a secondary consideration.

With that decided, I could then say that a Mortal’s spirit when his or her body was killed would go right out of the World, and into the presence of God, totally separated from those inside the world.

This very basic but crucial difference in their fates gave me grounds for much potential tension between the mortals and immortals. And yet, I don’t start the story with it blatantly evident. But it underlies a lot of what happens in my story.

Because so much fantasy I’ve encountered in recent years has “immortals” thrown into the story, but the authors don’t really seem to have considered what that means. In one book (by a friend, actually), her elves don’t seem to be immortal, but they are supposedly very long lived. Yet, it does not seem to play out that way – her heroine is taken into an “elven” family, and they all seem to be aged the way an ordinary human family would be, and they behave that way.

Even if the children of an immortal race go through the stages of infancy, childhood and adolescence at the same rate as a mortal race, once they reach adulthood, aren’t things going to be drastically different for them? For one thing, since they may have an indefinite expanse of time, matrimony is not something they would rush into. After all, what’s the hurry? As long as he or she is not marrying a mortal, of course.

Which is one of the main issues in my novel, The Ring of Adonel – one of the Fynlaren has married a Mortal woman, and they have a son, who has just reached adulthood. What happens next? Because Gwyric, the Fynlar, has been very much in love; he hasn’t considered what will happen as his wife ages or dies, he hasn’t considered the nature of his son.

That too was something I had to evaluate. What does happen to the children of a Mortal and Immortal? I made an arbitrary decision that any such child would be Mortal; that person would possibly have a much longer life-span than an ordinary Mortal, but that was all.

Anyway, the point of all this explanation is that having spent so much time working out the consequences for my own writing, I tend to get impatient when I read books where it is obvious that no thought has been expended on the issue of the differences between Mortal and Immortal.

I’m left wondering why that is so. If an author makes the statement that his or her “elves” are immortal, and yet does nothing to really make them different, what was the point? What do they get out of it? What does the reader get?


calimac wrote: (Dec. 6th, 2009 09:17 pm (local))

What are the authors trying to do? They’re trying to push buttons. Same as with authors who copy other aspects of Tolkien, like references to ancient lore and evocations of myth. They see it done well by other authors; they treat it like a plug-in feature that they can use to. The fallacy is in thinking this will automatically create the same effect.

The fate of Tolkien’s Elves is not discussed in LOTR, but it’s a lot clearer in the posthumous works. They are naturally immortal, this much we already knew; that they can be reborn if killed is newly-learned, but they retain their self-identity, so it’s different from normal accounts of human incarnation.

But what’s most critical is the ultimate fate. Elves are immortal, but only within the world. They do not have the kind of immortality meant by a Christian “life eternal.” They know the world’s temporal extent is finite, and thus so is theirs. Men die, but their spirits go outside the world. The Elves don’t know what happens to them there, but the Christian reader does.

Brilliant evocation by Tolkien of his own religious beliefs here.

scribblerworks wrote: (Dec. 6th, 2009 10:41 pm (local))

I agree.

This was one of the things that was very important to me – that issue that the Elves do not know what their fate is at the End of the World. They don’t know if they will get to share the fate of Mortals or if they will cease to exist entirely.

And again, I had to make a decision for myself about what will happen to my Fynlaren. But they don’t know what that is.

As a consequence of all this, for my characters, it led to the Fynlaren being very studious in avoiding war in general and the killing of Mortals as much as possible. They would rather move away then be responsible for ending the life of a Mortal. At least, that has been the way they have acted up to the point of this story.

As for other writers, again I agree that far too many use immortality as a plug-in, without considering the real consequences. It’s rather frustrating to me to encounter it. Especially when one can see that otherwise, the writer is actually rather competent.

degaston wrote: (Dec. 12th, 2009 03:46 pm (local))

I think calimac’s point about pushing buttons is well-made, and it’s likely you’d find comparable buttons or issues in any genre when the fiction gets generic.

I understand your frustration when you say “what’s the point,” but maybe you expect too much of us! After decades of D&D, video games, and best-selling fantasy novels, we all know what elves are like: tall, slender, blonde, good-looking. Good fighters when you push them. Rather snooty and stuck-up around lesser races. But it’s nice to have them nearby when the generic Shadow Wraith Spectre things attack, or when you have Scroll of Annoyingly Ambiguous Ancient Lore to decipher. Oh yeah, and they’re immortal. Did I mention that?

As for what we get out of it, for authors I’d say a shortcut and for readers an expected comfort level. I mean, you’re not asking us to think about this stuff, are you?

So I share your pain. A couple years ago I re-read the Silmarillion for the first time since the 1980’s. From this somewhat-more-mature perspective I was deeply impressed by the nuances of Tolkien’s portrayals of the elves, and even more so by the complexities of their relations with the Houses of Men in the First Age. So much ambiguity, resonance, misunderstanding, glory, and tragedy – in “real life,” as it were, nothing’s simple when mortals meet immortals and become their allies. And yet despite the conflict and anguish it was only through that fragile connection that Middle-earth was redeemed.

Of course, Tolkien had the advantage of studying ancient source materials for decades in the original languages. These days some might call that cheating.

Posted in Novels, World Building | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Late Night Ideas and Surprise Foreshadowing

I had some interesting thoughts on how writers come to include foreshadowing in their works. It isn’t always planned.

(Originally posted on Live Journal — Jun. 28th, 2009 at 8:17 AM)

Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I got an idea for something coming up in my novel. I thought, “Oh, hey, that’s an interesting idea. I’ll write it down in the morning.” Of course, you don’t always remember in the morning things that occured to you late at night, especially just before sleeping. Happily, I remembered that point too. I went back into the living room, turned on the light, went to my desk and got out the notebook where I write down the odd out-of-sequence ideas that come to me about the current work.

I have to say that it is really, really tempting to explain the specifics of what this idea is, because the way it fits in with the story is very satisfying. But, because I think it will make a particular moment in the story even more emotionally powerful, I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

But I do want to talk about it generally.

Part of the thing about this idea that came to me is that it pays off something set up in the early part of the novel. In an early chapter, I introduce something that (at least so far) has never been explained. Within the world of Arveniem, this Something has a very active role in some stories. It’s just that in The Ring of Adonel, it doesn’t. In RofA (as I call it sometimes), this Something doesn’t even come near to do what it is designed to do.

And I have to admit that that has always puzzled me. “Why doesn’t this come up in RofA?” I wondered vaguely, from time to time. On the one hand, there was the possibility of just deleting mention of the special nature of the Something, since it didn’t seem like there was going to be a pay-off inside RofA. Except that the special nature serves as a trigger for something else (in this early incident) that really is important to the story (and the characters outside RofA that will descend from my hero). But it just plain seemed that why it was a matter of concern was not going to be explained in this novel.

For a long time, I just ended up shrugging it off. It was what it was, and if it never got paid off in The Ring of Adonel, that’s just the way it was going to stay. It does have a HUGE pay-off in another story, and I was content with that.

So, when this idea came to me last night, i got excited! “Oooooo! If it gets that pay-off, it will also pay off this second incident over here too! That’s going to be so cool! It’s going to make this particular moment even more powerful!”

(It sucks to have to talk in generalities, because it’s so cool! But I really want to keep it as a surprise.)

scribblerworks-sayers-chess-setAnyway, the fact that it came together with another incident in the book reminded me of something Dorothy L. Sayers discusses in The Mind of the Maker. The point she makes is that in good writing, all the pieces hold together well, that they all work toward the satisfying end. The example she uses is from Gaudy Night, where two things she needed in the story for different reasons worked together for a more powerful impact. At one point, she needed to have Harriet finally relent toward Lord Peter, and allow him to give her a gift. Because she has been bristling with resentment of gratitude over the fact that he saved her life five years before, she has refused anything that looked like a gift from him. So, when she finally relents, she knows she has to choose something of meaning, something of value. It’s not about the expense of the gift, it’s about whether it is appropriate as a gift: something that will delight her, and something he would be delighted to give. She chooses a set of antique ivory chess pieces, and he is overjoyed to give them. Later, for plot reasons, Sayers needed to have the “villain” of the story destroy something of Harriet’s, in order to show the escalating violence of the Poison Pen culprit that has been harrassing the College. The culprit destroys the chess pieces, so thoroughly that only one pawn remained unscathed. Sayers describes how after the book had been out, she was at a function talking with a reader, and the woman said to Sayers that as soon as the gift was bestowed, she KNEW the chess pieces were doomed. Sayers was much struck by this observation on the part of a reader of a coherence that she as the author was unaware. As noted, the gift was given because Sayers needed to mark a change in the Harriet/Lord Peter relationship. The gift was destroyed because she needed the separate plot incident of the culprit turning on Harriet.

So… this confluence of ideas for me is similar to Sayers’ experience. I needed the Something to have the nature it does for reasons that are actually external to The Ring of Adonel. But there is also an important point about one of the characters that will be enhanced when the explanation of the Something finally does happen. There is a coherence of this creation that I had not anticipated. My instinct that the Something really does belong in this story was correct from the beginning — I just didn’t know the why of it.

I suspect that this is where many creators go astray in creating worlds. They get an idea for something in their world, and put it in. They know it fits, but they don’t know why. So they try to come up with the why, forcing explanations on it. Then they’ve committed themselves to an explanation that later on may not hold up (either within their story or within their world).

It is very, very hard for human creators to accept the inexplicable. “I don’t know why this is here, but it belongs here.” Nobody really wants to admit that, because it sounds like you don’t know what you are doing. Even though you KNOW the “rightness” of the presence of that inexplicable item. Outside readers (when the work is still in process) keep expecting your encyclopediac explanation of what this thing actually is, and why it should be present in this story.

But creativity doesn’t work that way. Sometimes you get ideas that just feel right, that feel like they are part of the weaving of the story, the weaving of the world, even though you don’t know why. The why may come a long time later than the initial idea. The creator just has to trust his or her sense of “rightness” in the face of the inexplicable.


calimac wrote: (Jun. 28th, 2009 09:19 am (local))

the woman said to Sayers that as soon as the gift was bestowed, she KNEW the chess pieces were doomed.

So how much more surprising and interesting a story it would have been if they weren’t?

scribblerworks wrote: (Jun. 28th, 2009 10:35 am (local))

How surprising would it have been if the chess pieces had not been destroyed? Not very, I think. But it also would not have been “more interesting”.

The thing is, I don’t think the reader’s intuition that the chess pieces were doomed was a case of “predictability” of the sort that is lame, cliched invention. It is, rather, a leap of the engaged imagination. The impact of the destruction of the pieces in the story carries so much more weight – Harriet’s initial reaction is “I loved them, and you gave them to me!” And it says so much about how far she still has to go in understanding to reach the point where she is ready to commit to the relationship. And Lord Peter remarks on it. It adds a layer to their relationship and the issues Harriet is dealing with.

If the culprit had destroyed something else of Harriet’s, it would not have had the same effect. Destroying Harriet’s own scholarly paper would just have been a repeat of the attack on her former tutor. And Sayers was too good a writer for that kind of redundency. There was nothing else available as target, at least nothing that had any significance for the reader or for the story.

I know from experienc the kind of “I just KNEW” reaction Sayers’ reader was describing. I’ve had such myself. Most notably when I was reading Patricia McKillips Riddlemaster books. [If folks have not read the trilogy THIS IS A SPOILER! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!] I got to the end of the first book, with Morgon captured, betrayed to Ohm by Deth, and when Deth tells him (after Ohm has declared that he is the High One), “I am his harpist.”

The final paragraph was the perfect ending —

“No,” he [Morgon] whispered. “Oh, no.” Then he felt the word well up from some terrible source, tear out of him, and the barred doors of the High One’s house split from top to bottom with the force of that shout.

As I read that last sentence, the revelation flashed through me that I KNEW that Deth was actually Yrth — a fact that would not be revealed until late in the third book. But knowing that thing did not undermine the power of the story — it increased it. It made me excited to read the story to get to the confirmation of the revelation.

It is an intuition based on meaning, not on plot predicability. Sayers’ reader did not know HOW the doom would fall, and that made the intuition exciting and enjoyable to her. But if the destruction came because of mere plot reasons (and I’ve read too many stories where such things happen because the plot requires it and no other reason), the predictablility of it is indeed uninteresting. There’s a lack of engagement when meaning is left out of the equation.

In fact, I can point to a specific example of where the author does turn away from the “predictable” ending. At the end of Eddings’ Belgariad, Polgara’s ordinary, mortal true love is killed, and the possibility of his resurrection is given to her. She begs for his return, and offers to give up her powers and immortality for his return. He is revived — BUT not only does she NOT lose her powers and immortality, HE is given powers and immortality!

That. Was. So. Wrong. It offended my story sensibilities, because it meant that the Good Guys achieved their victory At. No. Cost. To. Them. And it totally destroyed my enjoyment of the whole story. It was a cheat.

There are times when going against the “I just know” impulse really is the wrong thing.

What storytellers really want are surprises that when you get on the knowing side of them, you look back on the story and go “Oh! NOW I see how it fits in! Yes!”

(Heh. I think you touched a passion point for me. 😀 )

calimac wrote: (Jun. 29th, 2009 11:11 pm (local))

How very strange that you should cite that moment from McKillip, as I would name it the worst and most nonsensical moment in all her otherwise excellent work. Only Darth Vader saying “Luke, I am your father” surpasses it as a gigantic authorial CLANG.

I’ve been trying to forget about that for 30 years. Thanks for reminding me.

scribblerworks wrote: (Jun. 29th, 2009 11:47 pm (local))

How fascinating!

Huh. Interesting. Because I had that intuitive leap forward at first reading, I suppose I’ve never stopped to look at it more objectively. I was certainly thinking from the beginning of how some of her names were too obviously “portentious”.

Structurally speaking, it is a necessary moment of (apparent) betrayal, and has to have weight. But yes, looked at more objectively (pulling off that intuitive coloring), Deth’s delivery of the news and his attitude about it is far more … casual? than it ought to be, thus making Morgon’s reaction overly extreme.

Huh. You’ve given me something to think about. 😀

calimac wrote: (Jun. 30th, 2009 07:39 am (local))

“Necessary”? BS.


Posted in Novels, Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Archeological Creativity

(Originally posted on Live Journal – Feb. 9th, 2009 at 9:29 AM) Or would it be creative archeology? scribblerworks-archeological-digThe last couple of weeks I’ve been transferring information from two notebooks into a program on my computer. Now, that might sound rather innocuous at the start, but it is, in fact, nit-picking and time-consuming. You see, back in the dark ages, when I was in high school, I got inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien. I had been doing some writing prior to reading Tolkien, but his works delivered that extra “umph” that really got me going in writing. I began a fantasy novel — which I did eventually finish after I had graduated! I even submitted it over the transom to Ballantine Books.

Thank God, it was rejected. I believe it is buried somewhere in one of my boxes of papers that have never been unpacked since I moved to California (Update 9/18/2016 – it is. All stowed away in storage for the present.). But I did finish it.

After I finished it, I lavished a lot of creativity and time building the world for it. Trying to write stories in that world. But they never really satisfied me. During this period, I was at college at the University of Houston, studying literature and training myself to be an even better writer. But I didn’t feel that my little created world (I had a huge world map I made, even!) was really gelling. So I stopped. Not writing entirely, but just working on my fantasy world.

Off I went to graduate school, which brought on additional considerations about my own creative process. Delving into Tolkien’s Silmarillion also made me look again at how I had been creating my fantasy world. I had started out with my initial novel, and had then tried to create the background for it, the mythology to fit the story I had. And that just had not worked. So I restarted while in graduate school.

I decided that I would just let it form organically. I would keep a notebook for ideas and write them down as they came to me. And – most important to me, it seemed – I would not impose names on characters and places until I was sure I had the right name. So, the early versions of some story ideas begin with things like “the daughter of the man who founded that city on that peninsula” — because nothing had a name yet. But it worked. The mythology started building itself, and it felt much more organic and (more importantly) mine.

Instead of feeling that I was borrowing or copying from Tolkien or John Milton (the two principle inspirations), I felt that I was just creating in their tradition – because I shared their outlook or impulse. The material grew from inside me, rather than pasted in from outside. The problem was – and is – that it did not come in any linear or orderly fashion.

I’ve come to believe that creativity does not want to be “orderly.” One day, I might be working on a mythological matters and the next scribbling down the idea for a story that would (in the created world’s history) occur a couple of thousand years into its history. With no names. Eventually names would come along and attach themselves to things and people.

Slowly, over the course of seven years, the key elements assembled themselves. (I can say seven years, because I dated all the entries in the notebooks – there are two of them). But now that I am working my way toward the end of The Ring of Adonel, and looking forward to actually starting writing out the other stories of Arveniem (the created world), I realized I needed to organize all that material. Thank heavens for Writer’s Blocks (the program I’m using). It helps me shuffle things around and add to sections easily. But even so, there’s a lot of opening and closing files going on, since I have topical files within the main Arveniem folder.

I started by working backwards through the notebooks, because I figure the later entries would have the most final version of stories and ideas. That way, as I come across the earlier, discarded versions, I don’t have to type them and then delete them. I am finding it interesting how some details have changed from their original concepts. But of all the changes, the one that most amuses me is one of terminology.

When I began, so deeply influenced by Tolkien, I called the race of immortals who were born in the world (as being distinct from the immortal angelic entities who came from outside the world) “elves”. When I’d written a few chapters of The Ring of Adonel, the invaluable sartorias  recommended that I not use that terminology – so as not to be so much a copy of Tolkien. I eventually “found” the term “Fynlaren”, which became completely organic to the material. So now, as I read through the notebooks, when I read the word “elves” or “elf”, my brain automatically translates it to “Fynlaren” or “Fynlar”.

I was doing some work on it yesterday, and I actually laughed at myself when I realized at one point that the translation activity had become so complete that I looked at the word “elves” and didn’t even SEE the letters e-l-v-e-s. I “saw” F-y-n-l-a-r-e-n. Heh.

Part of my mind regards all this work as “make-do procrastination”, because I’m not generating new sentences and getting either the novels, the scripts or the short-stories closer to their completion. But the other part of my mind says that this is work I do need to do, for the benefit of future work. But boy, it IS work.

Posted in Novels, World Building | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Getting This Launched

I’ve been delaying getting this blog up and launched, because I was debating whether or not to give the fantasy works their own domain. But I decided not to. ScribblerWorks was always intended to have a lot to it, so this is just one corner of the place.

I’ll soon be recopying to this blog a number of posts from my LiveJournal that deal specifically with either my novel The Ring of Adonel or with the world-building for Arveniem itself.

When I get around to addressing the navigation bar menu, all of those will be for the main ScribblerWorks site. Special matters within the fantasy material will be sorted and indexed by way of the Categories and Tags the blog template uses. Beyond that? I haven’t decided.

But at least I’m getting started with this.

Posted in Website | Tagged | Leave a comment

What Do the Not-So-Simple Folk Do?

(Originally posted on LiveJournal)

I’m not entirely sure what sent me off on this train of thought this last week. It certainly did not entirely begin with the matter of how one’s personal occupation and interests can affect one’s speaking vocabulary.

I’ve been gathering various thoughts and information in order to begin some serious revising on The Ring of Adonel. In fact, I’m contemplating doing something most writing instructors and gurus tell you not to do — revise early chapters while moving ahead with later ones. But I’m going to do it anyway, because I’m willful. Or, at least, I’m going to try it.

This last year, I joined a prose critique group (this focused on science fiction, fantasy, and horror). The group has read two chapters of The Ring of Adonel, and been very appreciative. For that I am grateful. It’s very, very agreeable to have readers (especially intelligent readers) express pleasure in the story you are telling. But they’ve also given me some very good notes that I can use in shaping some revisions.

One of their criticisms was not having a sense of what two of my characters really looked like, beyond their general coloring and the fact that they are tall. And I can’t argue their point: I actually had been rather vague about that. Perhaps not intentionally, but as I think back, I know I had been wrestling in my mind things like “pointed elven ears” and such. I’d gotten as far as mentioning the slight upward cant of the eyes, a look that tends to travel hand-in-hand with the pointed ears, but that was about it. Whether they were slim or bulky, massive or ethereal… I hadn’t really addressed those more physical manifestations. So I had to start thinking about that — and I’ll have to make the textual changes that will convey my final decision (it’s still being shaped).

But growing from that was also my sense that in many ways Gwyric and Darael – the high lords of two different “Houses” of the Fynlaren – talk too much like each other. Gwyric is the high lord of the Adaren, a people who are given to dreams and visions (precognitive, usually). Darael is the high lord of the Rinden, who are more connected to what could be called the “spiritual state” of people and objects, an ability that can extend to sensing the traces of someone in places that person has been recently. Those aspects, of course, can give certain coloration to how they talk.

But I started to wonder, “What do they do?” In all the years I have been developing and working on this fantasy world of Arveniem, I surprisingly had not asked myself that question. The story opens with Gwyric laboring at a forge, so obviously, he can do the job of blacksmith. But it had not occured to me to ask if that was his regular occupation.

So often in “high fantasy” the lords are shown doing “ruling” — that is, they are involved in their court intrigues, planning military campaigns, being judges of conflicts in the lives of their followers. And I’m not trying to say that those are not appropriate for characters in those positions. But with the Arveniem material, I had set up that they Fynlaren, being immortal in the world, try desperately to avoid warfare as much as possible. It’s not so much that they are worried about the bodily death of other Fynlaren (they can sense that the immortal spirit of that individual remains “in the world” and eventually regains flesh), but rather that they do not want the responsibility of ending a Mortal’s life. They don’t know with certainty what happens to mortal souls, and so they avoid war as much as they can. But that’s just one part of their life.

Another aspect of their immortality is that they are also very communal. Farming, herding and hunting are community activities, and they make sure all members of their community are fed and cared for. The individuals might make or create something that is not a “community item”, but it is almost entirely for pure pleasure of making, as a gift for someone else, or because someone needs something. And as immortals, they don’t need a lot of governance decisions made. So the “high lords” do not spend all their time being “high lords”.

It was easy enough to see that if Gwyric was at home with the forge in my opening chapter, it might be because that is what he does regularly: iron work. Farming tools, horseshoes, various implements, these could be what he makes as his “day job.” So, what, I asked myself, does Darael do?

This was harder. In the story, at least so far, he has been an observer mostly. And an organizer. But what does he do? I was puzzled.

Now, all along, in the background material, there had been something…. heh, there had “been a thread” that the Rinden could weave a wonderful fabric. A finely spun, finely woven fabric that was called “the sheen”. Basically, it’s the silk of Arveniem. So there it was. Apparently, when he’s not mulling over things, organizing and analysing things, Darael is a weaver. My heroine Lilyn is a weaver, and I actually had written that she had been taught the skill by the Rinden (she’s a mortal, you see, so this would have been a great honor). So why not have her teacher actually be Darael? It certainly made sense.

But now, it occured to me that I had cues for adding variances to the speech patterns of these two characters. They’re going to choose different metaphors and imagery based on their occupations.

It feels funny that after all the years this stuff has been dwelling in my head, I can still be learning new details about the communities and characters that I thought I knew so well. But it is also very satisfying to know that the “new details” are not at odds with what went before, but rather have been lying latent within the material, waiting to be nurtured until they could sprout and bud.

Which brings me back to the matter of fantasy in general and the concept of social productivity of overlords.

Governance and administration is, of course, a genuine occupation. Even though many fantasies don’t really dwell on the fact of this, but rather glide over the forms. The lord holds court …. but we don’t really get a sense of what is involved or what could be involved: two neighbors are disputing the boundaries of their properties because a stream changed course; a messenger from an other region has come asking if the lord or his people have supplies of some commodity to trade; a hostile but not-too-distant tribe is making plans to raid during the summer and the lord has to decide how to deal with this – should he send peace offerings now, or mass an army to meet a possible invasion? That sort of work can take up a great deal of time. (In fact, in the historical novel I’m working on about Lady Godiva, I mean to show her husband dealing with just such issues — and it’s a big job, on top of the fact that he does not dare further alienating the king.)

Heh. I’m not sure what my complaint is here. Because no, I don’t really want to read a fantasy where the daily counsels and court hearings of the lord are presented in detail. Perhaps it is just that I want a surer sense that the author understands these requirements of the job, when they chose to designate a character as “Lord of BlueHaven.”

What do these upper-class fantasy characters do with their lives? What is their contribution to the societies in which they live. They have to be doing something more than standing around looking beautiful and glittery and awesome.


sartorias – Jun. 1st, 2010

These are all excellent questions.

Like you say, we don’t want to see a story filled with political minutae, OTOH I have a tough time staying with a story in which a powerful king, whose style is implied as hands on, seems to do little but hang around his throne room wearing great clothes, or disporting on the royal beautyrest with his favorite of the moment.

scribblerworks – Jun. 1st, 2010

Indeed! I think it can become a cliche. Because our lives are so different, and Americans in particular live in a society structured so differently, I think it’s a certain gap when fantasy writers don’t think it out more thoroughly. “Oh, it’s a fantasy, let’s just go with the structure of nobility and such,” without even really understanding how that structure worked.

This is one of the things I’d be striving for with my Fynlaren — that to “outsiders” (the local Mortals and to people from other regions), there appears to be a hierarchical structure to the “tribes”. But in actuality, the high lords are such because they are quite literaly the “first” in their tribe (the “First Awakened”… but to explain the whole would be an entry onto itself)). And they have come to be trusted as the judges and guides of their Houses (tribes). And that is all. They are not otherwise any more special than any other Fynlaren. Well, except Gwyric, because he is the favored of Adonel… but that’s part of what the whole book is about. 😀

Heh. Sorry…. obviously my brain wants to be working on the novel.

banzailibrarian – Jun. 1st, 2010

There can be a lot of ceremonial involved in ruling, which might be evolved as part of the spiritual aspect of ruling or might simply arise to keep them too busy to get in much trouble, depending on the direction of your writing. Think of all the time spent prepping Louis XIV and his ilk for public appearance — the levee, the dressing, the minute political ramifications of who gets to do what to get him dressed. Could take half a day or more. But on a far more rarified level, think Galadriel and her maidens making lembas or spinning hair into bowstrings — items made by royalty that have a certain extra blessing to him. Or ancient Greek kings with religious roles in the plowing and the harvest. Perhaps Gwyric’s metal working and Darael’s weaving have a spiritual or ceremonial significance? And therefore they must spend a certain amount of time on them.

scribblerworks – Jun. 1st, 2010

That’s a very good point about the ceremonial aspect of ruling. And it certainly is something that can be made use of in many places.

It made me smile in connection with this particular example, though. Mainly because of how I designed the Fynlaren and how they conduct their lives. I had decided that because they were immortal-in-the-world, that they would not bother with “rules and laws”, at least not the way we do. Life to them is cyclical like the seasons. And because in my mind they have a more spiritual connection to their world, I felt that they would shape their lives according to rituals. And up to this point, so far as they knew, there had not been an instance of someone intentionally doing wrong to another of the Fynlaren. Sure, disagreements.

So I wanted the “day jobs” of the high lords to be just that. Sort of matter-of-fact exercises of benefit to the community, rather than sacred, symbolic blessings on the craft. And in fact, in the second chapter, we meet Darael’s wife Ilona in just such a fashion (that is, the matter-of-fact way) — she’s a baker.

Still… the ceremonial performance of a mundane task… that could be interesting fodder for a story or two. (Makes note in files.) Thanks! 😀

Posted in World Building | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Terms For a Fantasy World

(Originally posted on LiveJournal)

Dictionary toolOne of the things about creating a totally new fantasy world is that you don’t want it to sound too much like “this world”. And I certainly didn’t want to sound like I was copying Tolkien bit for bit.

Today, I was going along, working on some new text in The Ring of Adonel, moving the story forward, and I had a character say “I will go tell the lords.”

And I stopped.

Because, the reality was that he was doing more than just talking to those the common folk would consider “lordly”. He was going to talk to the leaders of the three Fynlaren Houses. One of which now is actually a woman. And suddenly, I realized that I wanted a term that was not quite as laden with gender baggage as “lord”.

So, I wanted a term that would refer to these specific characters as the principal figures of their “tribes”. And I didn’t want it to be a really obvious borrowing from real world cultures.

After running through the thesaurus looking for possibilities, I decided to start mining Old Irish. I’d studied it in graduate school, and have a grammar book, that glosses a lot of the vocabulary. So I drew up a list of English words that had meanings that could be applied to the position under consideration: head, crown, leader, first, lord, one, master, rule, sight, voice, king. As I grazed through the book, other possibilities of meaning suggested themselves: high, great, very great, highest, treasure, gift, I judge, holds fast, hero, forehead. In the end, I went with one of the words for “high”, ard, and a term for “prince”, mal. Combining them, I get ardmal (sing., with ardmalen for plural — the “-en” ending for plurals has already been established).

Of course, after coming up with the term, I then had to go back through the manuscript as it stands and replace the terms. Except that not every instance of “lord” is being replaced, because it is still used as a generic honorific. And then, also, there’s the decisions about when to capitalize it and when not to.

I believe it’s these little touches that are important to creating the sense of place, the sense of existence, of a fantasy world. Especially for dealing with things that we don’t have.

It’s also one of those things that I felt satisfied with. Probably a detail others won’t be interested in, but there it is: today’s achievement in my work. 😀

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Story So Far

(Originally posted on LiveJournal)

Adonel and the RingI recently completed a chapter of The Ring of Adonel that had a goodly share of exposition (this is chapter 14). Not only that, when I got into the writing, I realized that what on the outline was supposed to be one chapter was going to have to be split into two. Part of it was that I had underestimated the time it would take the characters to get from Point A to Point B (as in averaging about 25 miles a day), so I had to write in stuff to fill the time (things that would happen anyway, I just thought some of it would be later).

Anyway, after finishing chapter 14, I started feeling anxious about the flow of the story.

You have to understand, most of the first part of the book was written years ago. Then I got stuck at a major point. Once I got past that point, I started moving into “new” parts of the story. New in the sense that I haven’t had it on the page before. I’ve been thinking about the rest of the story a lot, but that’s not the same thing as living with it on the page.

On top of that, it has been quite a while since I read the work straight through, the way a reader would. I’ve reread sections, to refresh myself about character attitudes and discussions. I’ve reread chapters doing revisions, correcting typos and tweaking sentences. But all that is not reading the work for the story.

So, I decided that to help me move forward into the next chapter, and to find out if chapter 14 really is as “slow” as I was thinking it was, I needed to reread the whole to myself. I’m reading it out loud.

The first thing that surprised me was that it really does move along nicely. All these years, I’d been concerned by the first three chapters — there are a lot of characters and relationships being introduced. I’d wondered if they were slow. Happily they are not. I’m now up to chapter 10.

The main thing that struck me about doing this is how easily I can get removed from a sense of the whole when I’m working on the immediate portion of the story. Yes, the “Big Picture” of the story sits there in the background, holding everything together. But the nature and quality of the work previously done becomes almost invisible, because I’m so focused on making the immediate portion work.

Another thing that struck me is that in the years since I began the story, my skills as a critic and editor have grown a lot. And it pleases me to exercise those skills on my own work, and find that … it is not bad stuff. (Okay, I know every writer thinks that of their own work – we wouldn’t be able to do it otherwise. But I do feel the work is “good enough”.)

These are encouraging things to find. They energize me to keep going. When I have lots of projects on my slate, all in various stages of “production”, it is too easy to get discouraged and shift to something else. And I really want to finish this book at long last. Reading the work aloud to myself is helping me keep on track for that.


sartorias – Apr. 14th, 2009

Go for it!

scribblerworks – Apr. 14th, 2009

Working on it. I have to say, you inspire me! I was thinking the other day, you have earned a dedication, since your early critiques turned out to be so important to the story!


sartorias – Apr. 15th, 2009

O lord. I’ve learned a whole lot since then.

Posted in Writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Adventures in Naming – Arveniem

(Originally posted on LiveJournal)

I’ve been nose-to-grindstone the last couple of weeks, working on getting the manuscript of The Scribbler’s Guide to the Land of Myth (plug, plug!) ready for BookSurge to do their magic on it. So, working on my fantasy novel has been simmering quietly on a back burner. And it’ll wait a bit longer. I’m almost done with the spell-check on The Guide, and then I need to beef up an outline for another project. But, I’m hoping in a few days to get back to it.

Still… in the back of my mind, I’ve been mulling over a minor problem. What shall I call my created world? Tolkien called his “Middle-earth”, but mine… isn’t “middle” anything.

Creating a world

Now… this might seem like an odd sort of problem: does it really matter? Well, it does to me. Because once I finish The Ring of Adonel, I want to get on with a few other stories — The Siege of Iren and The Drowning of Jernathien in particular (don’t know if those will be the final names, but they are two of the BIGGER stories waiting on me). So, I wanted some sort of umbrella title for these books. Like “The Chronicles of Narnia”. Except that Narnia is just one country within Lewis’ created world, and my stories don’t all take place in one similar country. In one sense, it’s all about the potential marketing. “The latest volume in the Chronicles of XXX!” And I’m planning to set up a domain for the fantasy titles. (I’m ambitious, if nothing else.) But I’m not planning a series, like the Harry Potter or Artemis Fowl books. So, no calling it by a character’s name either.

So, I’ve been mulling it over. I even prowled through what I call the “idea notebook”, looking at the lists of names, terms and words that struck my fancy, which might be woven into my work. But nothing was leaping off the page, proclaiming “Here I am!”

Then last night, I was making the trek from my work in Culver City all the way through Hollywood toward the Burbank area, for a meeting. On surface streets. So I had time to think of various things.

And suddenly, this word popped into my head.


I liked the sound of it. The feel of it. But I had no idea (at that moment) whether it was something I’d heard, read or otherwise absorbed from the world around me, or whether it was something spontaneously generated in that instant.

It seems to be the latter.

Arveniem. The Created World.

I think I found what I was looking for – or it found me.


margdean56 – Jan. 5th, 2009

I like the sound of it, but it does seem to echo Tolkien’s “Arvernien”.

scribblerworks – Jan. 5th, 2009


I admit, I’m not that up on all of Tolkien’s names. So the name of Earendil’s residence (I had to look it up!) was certainly not in present memory. That may account for the sense of familiarity that came with “Arveniem” presented itself.

Well… too late to change now: it’s implanted itself and insisted it IS the “correct name”. Heh


The Scribbler’s Guide, of course, has now been published and is readily available.

The Drowning of Jernathien – although still only at a conceptual stage, has gained the title of The Treasures of Darkness and will very likely be the next novel I tackle once I finally do complete The Ring of Adonel.

And, of course, I opted to make the Arveniem site just part of the ScribblerWorks domain, instead of a domain all its own. For one thing, it means I don’t have to track maintaining an additional domain name.

Posted in World Building | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment