Saturday, May 28, 2011

Culture Creation: Creating Governments

As a lover of political fantasy, I also love creating governments. There are so many things to play with, so many ways to create something different, interesting, or filled with possibilities. The main thing I try to remember that every system is made up of the interaction of smaller systems.

For every government there is at least one revolution--which may or may not be "righteous," and may or may not be successful, or even all that active--and within every governing body, there are individual agendas. What these are and how they will react to a given stimulus depends on their makeup, beliefs and environment.

So, once I've decide what kind of government I want to write about, I consider what kind of culture I want to write. In Born of This Soil, I decided that the Pyrani would be a plutocracy, ruled by the wealthiest members of society. These would be the Merchant Prince/sses, and they would be in charge of exporting the nation's products and importing what the nation needs. Each tier of society is divided up by wealth and serves a specific purpose in the nation's economy.

Artists made up the poorest category, but because the Pyrani have a great appreciation for art in all its forms, artists are absolved from the plutocratic caste system. Regardless of how much they make--and some of them can become quite wealthy under the financial support of rich patrons--they are always immune to the responsibilities (such as taxes, community involvement, etc.) that the Pyrani associate with greater wealth and greater status. However, this also means that those labeled "artists" are also forever outside the mainstream of the Pyrani society. It's this twist in their government which ultimately allows them to create some of the conflict they do in the book.

There are many different types of governments. Monarchy is far from the only option (as much as us fantasy types love those kings and queens). Even within a monarchy there is room for loads of variation. Consider how you want the government to function, who you want to be dissatisfied with it, and how large a part it plays in your story.

Even if you're not writing a political fantasy, politics can fill in gaps in the plot, can deepen characterization, and give your world depth. Think about how much the politics of where you live affect your life on a daily basis. Most of us think of politics as something huge, something that deals with the needs of an entire nation, but these things have smaller ripple effects throughout a society.

You can find a list of different types of governments with a quick Google search. The point is not what system you choose, but how you blend it into the species, plot, and world that you've created. That's what's going to make it different, interesting, and fun to read. After all, I don't want an explanation of the parliamentary system; I want to see how it affects your characters lives.

I build every government which has even a chance of making it near the plot. I do this because I feel that it gives me access to details I might not even realize I need until later down the line. You can always worldbuild the basic. Write your first draft. Building anything else you realize you need. Edit. Worldbuild again, and so forth, but having the world laid out in front of me lets me add in things I don't need for the plot, but I need for the culture, the feel, the mood, the themes, the imagery, the symbolism, etc. Sometimes, if you don't have that to hand, it doesn't get put in at all.

So, consider how your characters (and species in general) feel about the government. What do they like about it? What do they dislike about it? How much of it is invisible to them because they can't see how it affects their lives? In SFF, governments tend to have a strong and visible effect on the characters' lives, but there are always blind spots.

The more you think about the government's effect on your characters, and the more you include characters with varying opinions of the government, the more fleshed out your government will feel to the reader. And, the deeper your characters will feel.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday: A Sign in Blood

This week's Six Sentence Sunday clip also comes to your from A Sign in Blood.

She stood on a hill, sunlight pouring over skin the color of dark honey, but a light shone from within her as well. Her eyes fascinated him. They were the color of still water reflecting a raging storm. She turned, as if she'd seen him. Her lips lifted in a welcoming smile and she raised a hand to wave. Then the blood flowed.


Check out the other Six Sunday posts at the official site.

Want to join in the fun? It's easy.

1) Pick a project - a current Work in Progress, contracted work or even something readers can buy if you're published

2) Pick six sentences

3) Post them on Sunday!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thoughts on Body Language and Senses in Genre Fiction

I think that body language has a special place in genre fiction, where we're so often describing creatures and species--that the reader hasn't ever seen before. Genres such as fantasy, science fiction and horror add a new dimension to body language in writing. Because it is such an important factor in human communication, one has to wonder how it would function in the interaction between species.

Even other species--aliens, mythical species, etc.--that are similarly shaped could have a completely different take on body language, gesture and facial expression. Other species with different body-forms, different methods of communication, and different limbs probably don't view it the same way we do.

Take cats for instance, as with many predators their vision is adapted to look for movement. This makes them particularly adept at reading visual body language cues. They communicate with flicks of the tail, eye movements and changes in posture that can be very subtle. For the most part, they only meow to communicate with us. Although, they have a full range of other vocal communications, some of which are too high for us to hear. If I were to create a species based on cats, they would be heavily dependent on body language and able to communicate well through gestures or movements. (And smells, but that's a totally different post!)

Even species that aren't meeting for the first time have a huge chance of miscommunication, lack of understanding, etc. Especially if the characters aren't trained in communicating with other species.

Of course, introducing body language is no different than introducing a language, and if it's so different that the reader can't understand it, you're going to have a tough time. Introducing this new form of language could be tricky. You'll need to introduce specific gestures and repeat them in a consistent and visible context. Possibly even having a POV character observe it. Doing this, however, can help to characterize the species you're introducing.

For instance, if your characters communicate telepathically among themselves and do not need to see one another to do it, they may have very little body language at all. What would that look like to a human who is expecting, even depending on, those cues to understand what's being communicated? Would they find it disturbing to speak to someone and not get those cues? It must be a little like communicating over the internet, and we all know how difficult that can sometimes be.

Body language, gesture and expression should spring naturally from the other methods of communication used by the species. And, in turn, those methods of communication should correspond to the species dominant senses. Unless, of course, communication is not vital to the species, which in itself is an interesting trait and certainly worth exploring.

Consider the methods of communication your species use, especially if you'll be using their viewpoint. Many species have a dominant means of communication, and supplimental ones. Species that can't make noise will have trouble communication over long distances, unless they're telepathic. Species that communicate by scent might be able to communicate at long distance, but how do they deal with communicating face to face?

And how would that communication hinder or aid their dialogues with the other species in the story? These details can sometimes seem to get in the way of your plot, but if you use them and work them into the story, they can give your created species and the characters within that species, added depth and definition.

Body language can also come into play in fantasy, science fiction and horror when animals are used as characters. Because animals use their senses differently than we, their methods of communication are different as well. Dogs communicate by scent and sound, so much so that humans listening to pre-recorded dog sounds can often distinguish the emotional context in which the sound was made. On the other hand, dogs carefully watch our body language and have no trouble learning gestured commands without a verbal cue.

Different animals respond to different cues and respond better to different forms of body language and non-verbal communication.

How do you use body language when dealing with non-human species? Do you find yourself using similar methods or do you try different approaches?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Worldbuilding: Creating Geography: Mountains

Mountains are another important and definitive factor. They affect the world in numerous ways, from the basics of the world--like weather patterns--to the cultures of the world--changing travel patterns and accounting for resources.

Mountains form in four distinct ways: there are folded mountains (the most common type of mountain), volcanic mountains, erosional mountains and fault-block mountains. How a mountain range forms is important to the type of environment that will be created and what type of rocks and minerals, will be found there.


Folded mountains occur when tectonic plates push against on another. To relieve the pressure, the plates are pushed upward and form mountains. This is also true of the mountains formed when two continents collide. The force of the collision can force the rock between them--which used to be sea floor--to squeeze upward, forming a mountain chain along the line of the collision. This is how the Himalayas formed, for instance, as well as the Rocky Mountains.

Volcanic mountains form as a way of releasing internal heat and pressure. They can form in chains or as individual mountains. In fact, most isolated mountains are volcanic. The Hawaiian volcanoes are great examples. Laccoliths are also an effect of volcanic activity, but these dome-shaped mountains form when magma fills a pocket between layers of rock, causing the upper layer to heave up. The magma inside cools and hardens. Bear Butte is South Dakota is an example of a Laccolith.

Erosional mountains are created when the surrounding land is weaker than a given pocket of stronger material. The weaker stone is eroded away by wind or water, leaving tougher rock to stand alone. These, too, can form solitary mountains. Some beautiful and wonderful examples are the erosional mountains of the Stone Forest in Hunan, China.

Fault-block mountains are similar to folded mountains, in that they are caused by tectonic movement. As tectonic plate move along fault lines, rubbing against one another, sometimes pieces break off and are pushed up when the tectonic plates move beneath them. Basically, fault-block mountains, as I understand it, are the rubble left behind by tectonic shifting. They're characterized by sheer cliffs. The Sierra Nevadas are an example of fault-block mountains.

Weather Patterns

Mountains can change weather patterns, having either an "orographic" effect or a "rain shadow" effect. On the windward side of mountains (the side against which wind blows) you get the orographic effect, in which there is dramatically higher rainfall. On the leeward side, you get the "rain shadow" effect. The mountains block rain and moisture-bearing wind, or force storms to peter out before they can cross the range. Land which falls in this "rain shadow" can be dry, even to the point of becoming a desert. Such as the Atacama Desert in Chile, one of the driest places on earth.

Culture Considerations

Mountains also create handy borders. While some will be navigable, others will not--or will be only by those who know them well. Nations often declare their borders along a range of mountains. Mountains limit agriculture as well, while it's absolutely possible to farm in the mountains, the form of the mountains present challenges. How your cultures deal with those challenges contributes to their tech, their philosophies, their religions, their agricultural cycles, calendars, and any number of other things. Even not dealing with these challenges (i.e. cultures which are non-agrarian) shapes the culture.

Terraces carved into the mountains not only provide land for farming, but can provide structure for buildings and cities higher up in the mountains. In any place where there is a lot of rain, making sure your mountain top, highly defensible city doesn't get washed away is very important. Machu Picchu is a glorious example of what people can create on a mountain top, even without a wheel and axle, or even iron tools. The terraces of Machu Picchu not only provide structure, but were engineered to drain rain water away from the city.

And if that doesn't fire up your worldbuilding juices, well I just don't know what will! So tell me. What gets you in the worldbuilding mood?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Upcoming Review and Giveaway: Katie Salidas

As part of the Immortalis Series Virtual Tour (banner over there on the right somewhere), I'm going to be reviewing Katie Salidas' first book CARPE NOCTEM and giving away a free copy on June 5th. Yes, it's a ways off, but the tour kicked off today in other places, and I wanted to give y'all a heads up. There are going to be plenty of reviews and book giveaways, plus loads more fun stuff, including a couple Amazon gift card giveaways!

So, if you're looking to comment and win free stuff (yay!) you can find the entire schedule here (scroll down to the calendar). I'll be posting my review, and holding a giveaway (my first giveaway!), on June 5th, so make sure to stop back by! Don't worry, I'll mention it again as the time draws near, this is just a heads up! :-D

Summary of Carpe Noctem by Katie Salidas:

Becoming a vampire is easy. Living with the condition... that's the hard part.

Alyssa was having the worst day of her life: she just lost her job, her friend ditched her, and while walking home, she was brutally mugged. Beaten, bloody, and moments from death, she thought her life was over, but this was only the beginning.

Rescued by the most unlikely hero, Lysander, a two thousand year old vampire, Alyssa is initiated into a frightening, eternally dark world she never knew existed.

Stricken with cravings of blood, and forced to leave behind all she knew, Alyssa is struggling with the change. And Lysander, her sexy but aloof sire, is the only one who can help guide her.

There's no turning back now. It's either, Carpe Noctem, or final death.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday: A Sign in Blood

Welcome to Six Sentence Sunday! This little clip is from my upcoming novel A Sign in Blood. Investigating the murder of her father, Chadri has one lead to follow...

Chadri retrieved the fragment from her pocket, turning it over in her hand. One of her father's associates had brought it to the family house after Chadri had taken it over.

It was a chunk of weathered sandstone that fit easily in her palm. Small, unfamiliar runes curved along one side of it, alive with a power unlike any she knew. It felt oily beneath her fingers. Such a small thing to kill for.


Wanna play along?
Check out the other Six Sunday posts at the official site:!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thoughts on Creating Character Voice

Character voice isn't something I write in a first draft. While I certainly try to give the characters as much of their own personality as possible, I don't feel as if I really know them until after I've finished. Over the course of the book, they develop their own speech patterns and word choices, they use different expressions, but it's spotty. I still have to edit so that I can make it all consistent.

But I don't think "voice" rests just in dialogue, and I think that the details of characterization and those of speech should work together, creating an overall feel to the character. When a reader reacts to a character's voice they're usually talking about the overall experience of the character. If these two elements are in tune with one another, they reinforces that character. When they're out of sync and conflict with one another, a character may not have a clear overall impression. Which, sometimes, could be the point.

Once I finish the first draft and have a firm grasp of the character and their motivations, I go back and edit for characterization. First I work on any section in which they have a POV, and start working in hints at their motivations, and any factors from their past which might influence those motivations. I start with the POV sections because they're the places where the character can express motivations most clearly and it gives me an overview of when, how, and why those motivations change.

While the changes may take place outside their POV, I'm able to pinpoint the changes and figure out exactly how I want to show that transition. Even if I can't show that change from the character's own POV, I can hint at the reasons there, and elaborate on them when the character's next POV rolls around.

Next, I work on the POVs of the characters who know them best. I work in the signs that those characters can see in them, so they're more subtle clues, but if I need to make something particularly clear maybe the POV character will make an observation about the character I'm working on.

Most of the time, only the subtlest hints go in any other POV. Sometimes nothing more than the observation of a shared glance, or a half-noticed wince.

I like to deal with multiple POVs, I like the idea of showing all the different characters and trying to reveal something about them, even the bad guys. So it takes time to layer all that in. I sometimes get frustrated because it doesn't all come at once, but that's the good thing about multiple drafts and readers! You have time and crit to help you add all of that stuff in.

How do you add character to your characters? Do you find you have to go back an add it in or do you find they start speaking for themselves even in the first draft?


And, completely off topic, sorry about the craziness with the posts. Blogger ate the last post (10 Must Read Blogs and Sites) during it's outage, and then I re-posted it and then Blogger brought it back. So Facebook and Twitter got a little spammed because the post came up so often. So, sorry! :-D

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

10 Must Read Blogs and Sites

There have been a number of fantastic blog posts recently, and I'm currently brain dead, so instead of posting something (hopefully) interesting myself, I am going to direct you to the brilliance posted by others!

1) The Tough Guide to Fantasyland's Exotic Locales and More Tough Guide: Helpful Natives by Shweta Narayan - These are homages to Diana Wynne Jones' book The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, and they are a total must read. (Yes, I'm sneaking two in there, this will be a pattern. :-D)

2) FutureStates - These are video mini-features made by numerous artists, all imagining the future. 2 Seasons worth of near future science fiction shorts that are very character focused. Wonderful. I found the link on N.K. Jemisin's blog, which is another must read!

3) In the craft of writing vein, we have Trusting Your Reader and Planting Clues in Your Story by Tabitha Olson. Both great posts that discuss foreshadowing and its use in writing.

4) Five Ways Alien Eyes Might See by Marian Perera and Science Fiction Problems: How to Write Aliens by Erik Marsh. Both about creating aliens and other species, and both great!

5) Lastly, we have two blog posts by Mooderino Loitering With Intent, about knowing your story, and Story Seems to be the Hardest Word, about relaying your story.

Well, there's ten links, even though there's only five entries. :-D I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Species Creation: Senses and Perception

I think senses and perceptions are an important part of species creation. How we sense and interpret the world around us is important. It extends beyond knowing what there is to sense. Our sense, compared to the senses of many animals, are very dull. We don't smell as well as a dog, we don't see as well as an eagle, and we don't have the extremely sensitive paws of raccoons. What we have is a more balanced sensory representation of the world.

But this means that there are a lot of things about the world around us that we're missing. We don't hear the sounds that a dog hears, and we're certainly not able to sniff out mold or follow a scent trail. That doesn't mean that other species can't, either. It is our environment which shapes our senses, and they evolve while we do. So, if a species evolved from, say, reptiles, their sense would more closely parallel that of their reptilian ancestors.

For instance, most reptiles don't rely on their eyesight, while some actually have very keen vision, others may only be able to detect variations in light and darkness. Others are totally blind. Snakes may have limited color vision, while other types of reptiles (turtles, lizards) are able to perceive a wider spectrum. And slit pupils can indicate a species that is active at night, while those with round pupils are generally active during the day.

All of these options and considerations revolve around just one sense, and one that isn't always dominant. Snakes have poor hearing because they do not have an external ear to amplify sound, but other reptiles have moderate or even good hearing. Snakes have excellent sense of smell, and a Jacobson organ which can convert tastes into smells. In addition, they have a sense we don't, special organs made to detect infrared radiation, allowing them to sense temperature differences as small as 2/1000 of a degree.

When creating a species with senses other than the ones we are familiar with, I like to consider how they process this information. Does their brain translate it into vision? Essentially giving them heat-vision? Or do they feel it along the surface of the organ? Constrictors (boas, pythons) tend to have these heat-sensing organs in their lips. What would it be like to be presented with a hot meal, if you had such organs?

How a creature processes this information is as important as them being able to sense it. Our brains interpret and filter all the information that our senses are capable of providing. Otherwise, we'd be overloaded, but this means that the brain is just as important a sense organ as our tongue, skin, eyes or ears. Our brains relate to us the information that it "considers" most important and that too is shaped by our evolution. If, for instance, one of our ancestors was hunting in the tall grass and their brain noticed movement that could be a attributed to a predator, the brain would put this information through immediately. However, if out of the corner of their eye they saw a rock that indicated nothing, the brain might filter out that information as 'unimportant.' It has nothing to do with what is happening, it poses no threat, why bother drawing attention to it?

So, consider a species' environment when you're creating. What preys on them? What do they prey on? What puts them in danger and what signs would they look for to give them warning? In addition to predators, consider weather conditions, environmental factors like poisonous substances, and the terrain. A species that evolved in a desert is more likely to be attuned to the movement of the wind than one that evolved in a dense forest.

Physical characteristics are also an indication of internal senses. For instance, because many reptiles--like snakes--don't have mobile eyelids, and instead have clear protective caps over their eyes, they have limited eye movement and tend not to rely on vision. Because they navigate by sound, bats have large outer ears, which take in vibration and amplify it. Outward physical characteristics don't exist in a vacuum. If you create a species with large ears or snake-like eyes, you also have to account for the change rendered upon their senses. And this works from the inside out as well. If you create a species which navigates by sound, large ears--or another such physical characteristic--are necessary.

What animal or theoretical senses most interest you? Would you rather be able to hear like a bat or sense heat like a snake?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Worldbuilding: Creating Geography: Coastlines

Okay, I'm on Twitter now. :-D You can find me @MarionSipe.

So, today, I'm going to ramble about geography in worldbuilding. When it comes to worldbuilding, geography is a complex subject. One with so many variations and factors that it would be impossible to cover them all, even if I did know them all. However, there are some basic things that can help you shape your world, and shaping your world will help to shape your cultures. However, since I am not known for my brevity, I'm going to be taking these basics one by one. :-D

I want to add here that these are only basics; everything is affected by its own particular and specialized environment. When building a world, sometimes you want to stick to what is easily communicated, but sometimes you want to create something unique and beautiful. I don't think the "rules" should necessarily stop that process, but if they can be worked into it, well... So much the better, in my book. :-D What do you think? How closely do you "stick to the rules" when worldbuilding?

Coast Lines

Coast lines are shaped by erosion. Sand is made up of rocks on the shore that have been pulverized, so the sand on your coastline will match the most common rocks and mountains there. If your coastline has basalt cliffs, the sand will be black, etc. Because different types of rock react differently to water, some sections of coast will erode more quickly than others. This can produce inlets, bays and sea caves.

A nation's coastlines are vitally important, especially if your nation trades with others or the people within it travel. But there are other factors to consider as well. Take the Great Barrier Reef as an example. This environment sits on a shelf of stone (continental shelf) which reaches out from Australia. It provides a home for numerous species of sea creatures because it is underwater, but close enough to the surface to receive sunlight. Coral thrives there, creating a couple thousand individual reefs, and provides the basis for a large variety of life, from sea anemones, to crustaceans, to fish, octopuses and any number of other creatures.

This kind of sea environment also affects the culture of the people who live there. It may create a large source of food of many varieties, but it is also a source of dangers. These effects can manifest in your world in a number of ways. For instance, because seafood could be so readily available, it might be considered 'common,' with the harder to catch or harder to eat items becoming 'delicacies.' Poisons derived from the sea creatures may be the most common means of murder, or because these toxins may exist in so much of the sea life, the peoples on the coast could even be immune to them, having ingested them in small amounts all their lives.

When creating a world's geography, I think the most important question you can ask is, "How does this affect everything else?" Because it does, in some way or another. Every change to the landscape creates a resulting change in the cultures, animals and other parts of the landscape.