Hi, Lou Hoffmann here, very happy to be visiting The Novel Approach, celebrating the recent release of Key of Behliseth, the first novel in The Sun Child Chronicles. (Thank you TNA!)I planned to blog about ‘world building’ in a fantasy novel—you know, what goes into creating a world that works differently than our own everyday reality. But, as I began to laboriously catalog the steps in the process, I was tapped on the shoulder, and someone behind me cleared his throat.
I turned, and there stood Thurlock Ol’Karrigh, the wizard who meets up with Lucky, the MC in Key of Behliseth. Now, let me tell you, it is an alarming feeling to find a 1,000 year old wizard towering over you with a scowl on his face. Nevertheless, I attempted to be polite.
Me: “What is it, Thurlock?”
Him: “You’re wasting your time, Ms. Hoffmann.”
Me: (after waiting for more information and getting none): “What do you mean? I’m writing an important blog post.”
Him: “You are answering the wrong questions. If you want to be a wizard, you must answer the question ‘why,’ not what.”
Him: “It’s obvious! You are explaining how to create a world! Even I, the Premier Wizard of the
Ethran Sunlands, would never attempt such a feat.”
Him: “Stop arguing. The question is ‘why.’”
So, I turned back to my keyboard, muttering, “What the heck?” under my breath.
“I heard that,” he says.
I bit my tongue in order to keep my temper (also reminding myself he could probably turn me to a scarf and pull me endlessly from his sleeve). I tried to think of precisely what ‘why’ I should try to answer. I settled on this:
Why did I ever think I wanted to build a fantasy world with a cantankerous wizard?
The answer is easy (if you take it logically). I needed someone who could educate Lucky. I use educate here in the original sense of the root words, meaning, “to lead out.” Lucky’s predicament is a magical one, but he’s in a world without magic—a world so much like our own. He can’t get out of trouble on his own, and he needs someone who can provide a little information and a lot of guidance, someone who can help him find what he needs inside himself and begin to use his own strengths.
But, you ask, how do you make a 1,000 year old wizard fit into a world without magic.
Ha! That’s where I got clever! The wizard is just visiting! He’s from another world with an very different reality. For Lucky, he’s just what the doctor ordered!
Thurlock: “Oh, another little earth saying! I love those quaint metaphors!”
I wondered to myself whether that statement deserved a thank you. Was it a complement? Or perhaps I should just tell him to stow—
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” said another deep and rather nice voice. A very nicely made (written) warrior stepped in front of my desk.
“Han?” I asked.
“Of course! Who else do you know who could read your thoughts?”
“It was rhetorical,” Han and Thurlock said together.
“Just get back to the questions ‘why,’” said Thurlock.
Well, okey dokey artichokey, I thought, and a very puzzled look appeared on Han’s (gorgeous) visage. I did what the wizard said, and got back to why.
Why did I put Han in the story?
Another obvious answer: have you seen this guy? Hunka hunka burnin’ OMG! Well, there are some other reasons too. To quote the warrior himself, as he explained to Lucky:
“All powers have limits, lad. Yours too.”
Even though the Wizard is powerful, there are things he can’t deal with, and talents he doesn’t have. Some more mundane skills are necessary if a struggle is to be fought well on all fronts. And for a homeless teen, struggling to be as ‘normal’ as possible, a wizard like Thurlock is far too lofty to be easily approached. Han comes from the same magical place as Thurlock, but his skills are physical and mental, not magical, and he fills the position of go-between and communicator quite nicely. Han is also the one who understands Lucky the most, because they have some things in common. . And did I mention he’s gorgeous?
Thurlock is glowering at me again, and Han just looked at him, rolled his eyes, and walked away.
Me: “What is it now, Thurlock”
Thurlock: “There are more ‘whys’ to answer! Keep your mind on your work!”
Me: (in my mind): Oh bug off, you old coot! But he has a point, I admit. For instance this:
Why did I add a cruel magical personage to the mix?
Simple answer, that really ugly (from the inside out) woman (No seriously, Lucky says at one point, “Those have got to be the ugliest eyes I’ve ever seen.”) does the same thing all antagonists do—provide a focus for the eternal struggle in its current form.
Thurlock: “Oh, Ms. Hoffmann, that is truly a poor explanation. Not that its wrong, but you’ve shown you’re even worse at explaining than me! You’ll never be a wizard. I don’t know what ever made you think you could be one.”
Me: “I never—”
Thurlock: “Just go back to the ‘what’ questions. You should have just stuck to them in the first place!”
Me: “You’re the one who—”
Thurlock: “Stop arguing. Just do it.”
That’s it, I thought, the last straw. I pulled out a can of anti-character spray from my desk drawer. I didn’t have to use it (which is good because it’s expensive). Once I pointed it at Thurlock’s face, he simply vanished. Well, in stages, first his body, then his arms and staff, so that only his wrinkly, scowling face remained. It then disappeared with a pop (throwing some spit my way), and I found myself once again alone in my office. Nice.
But then I did just what he said, got back to what I wanted to say in the first place. Keeping it simple, here’s a few thoughts that occur to me about fantasy fiction and creating alternate worlds.
For starters, we should keep in mind that an author builds an alternate reality in every fiction. In “contemporary” or “historical” fiction,the author attempts to create a world that looks as much like the “real” world of the appropriate era, bending it just enough here and there to allow for fictional characters to occupy it and live out the story. That requires make-believe, with rules. The author decides which rules will apply, which to break, and which new ones to make in their place.
The process is exactly the same for fantasy fiction. To tell a valuable tale, a fantasy world or universe must be systematic. In Key of Behliseth I created two worlds in an alternate universe in which the system allows for different rules (or resources) to be available on each separate world. Whereas many creatures and characters in both worlds resemble the mundane, neither has a system identical to the one we live in—at least, as far as we know.
Above, I said an alternate word to use for “rules” is “resources.” I say this because each set of rules allows characters to access different possible sources of power, and each likewise has limits on what types of power can be accessed, or if there is crossover, how big of a toll accessing the resource takes.
Take Thurlock for instance. He resembles a grumpy old man in both worlds. He has the ability to use his native magic in both worlds. But, when he is in the world that he is not native to, using magic costs him much more in terms of energy drain, and the magic itself is more limited. If this wasn’t so, any wizard from his world, Ethra, and come to Earth, and wreak complete havoc without a negative consequence. This could work if that was the tribulation an author wanted to visit on the world. But usually, it’s not.
I’ve known authors that spent several years doing nothing but creating a world—lining out every creature, the lay of the land practically inch by inch, great detailed histories, and everything anyone could ever ask about the characters, civilizations, and customs. This is what I call Tolkien-esque fantasy, because that is what he did. However, I always keep in mind that Tolkein’s wonderful books came very close to never seeing the publishing light of day. Further, even Tolkein spent years amending things that he later realized didn’t mesh in Middle Earth. Advance creation of a detailed world poses the problem of inflexibility—in other words when your character insists on some action or feeling or consequence, the world may have to change to accommodate it. In addition, an author runs the risk of having put all that work—years of laborious (though possibly also fun) world-building, and having many of the details rendered meaningless, because even an epic tale is small in comparison to an entire world.
Even if I wanted to build a world in that way, I would not be able to stick to my guns and see it through. “Why?” you ask, because Thurlock has twisted your thinking. (he-he). It’s because my characters are the drive behind my fiction, no matter the genre. And characters, as you have seen, tend to have their own agendas, and they’re very stubborn when it comes to compromise. So I put a universe together loosely, informed it with systems, created enough history and topography to explain the whys and wherefores of those systems, then plunked some not-fully-realized characters down in them. I start to tell a story, but they take over, and as they do and react and feel and think, they become round and solid and ‘real,’ and the world they live it is revealed.
And that’s how I fall in love with them. And that’s why I keep telling their stories.
Thanks again, TNA, for having me and listening to me and my cray-cray characters argue! Readers, thank you! (Be sure and enter the giveaway!)
On his way to meet a fate he’d rather avoid, homeless gay teen Lucky steps through a wizard’s door and is caught up in a whirlwind quest and an ancient war. He tries to convince himself that his involvement with sword fights, magic, and interworld travel is a fluke, and that ice-breathing dragons and fire-breathing eagles don’t really exist. But with each passing hour, he remembers more about who he is and where he’s from, and with help, he begins to claim his power.
Lucky might someday rule a nation, but before he can do that, he must remember his true name, accept his destiny, and master his extraordinary abilities. Only then can he help to banish the evil that has invaded earth and find his way home—through a gateway to another world.
1st Edition published as Beyond the Wizard’s Threshold by Marion Margaret Press, November 2010
The Giveaway: Free E-copy of Key of Behliseth