One wonders what other common facts about everyday life we tend to ignore because of how seamlessly our technology helps us overcome those difficulties. Since most fantasy stories take place in pre-industrial settings that would not have most of these kinds of aides, it is worth considering working these kinds of facts of the human condition into stories.
This post is loosely inspired by Brandon Sanderson's habit of posting complete annotations for many of his novels and stories, detailing how the story changed and evolved throughout his planning and revision processes, as well as what thoughts went into certain key decisions. I've found those annotations incredibly helpful as I've been working to improve my own writing, especially the copy of Sixth of the Dusk in which he includes complete drafts from various stages of the writing process. My goal is to offer something in a similar vein here, aimed both at fellow writers, and those of you interested in learning more about what goes into bringing Blood Magic to life.
In any book, the author must introduce the characters, the situation, and the basic elements of the setting, but in fantasy and science fiction you might have a viewpoint character in the first chapter who isn't even human, living on a planet that isn't even in this universe. The very laws of physics might be different, never mind the differences in culture, history, civilization, and everything that goes along with that: systems of measurement, idioms, naming conventions, philosophical principles, mathematics, science...speculative fiction strives to introduce and immerse a reader in a world that might be completely different from that with which we are familiar.
Orwell, author of 1984, wrote an essay decrying the decay of the English language. Specifically, he lamented that when most people go to write or converse, they rely on stock phrases which they stich together into different patterns, rather than developing original content.
I've noticed something about my writing recently, a struggle that I've been having but have not fully acknowledged. The problem is this: I'm too focused on the form of the words on the page.
I admit that I've never participated in NaNoWriMo, despite it being one of the most popular events for the past several years for aspiring writers. The goal of it is to help people establish a writing habit, so it's not that I don't support the mission. In fact, I post writing prompts here on the site precisely because I want to encourage people to write more. And the idea of basically free-writing a short novel in the course of a month isn't a bad one. As unreasonable as it might sound, writing fifty thousand words in a month is not all that much of a stretch, if you're willing to make a routine out of it.
As much as I intend this site to be a publishing apparatus, a means by which to present my own works, and eventually those of others, to a broader audience, this site is also about the writing itself, what goes into writing stories and making characters come alive for a reader. By no means can I, or do I, claim to be any manner of expert in how these things are done, and certainly I cannot assert how they ought to be done. There is a void, though, at least to my mind, and it is a void which I believe that perhaps in some small way I can help to fill. You see, there are so many books out there, and so many people who would love to be able to tell stories like that, and yet the process by which authors arrive at their magnum opuses is shrouded in mystery.
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about the authenticity of different communication mediums. Its central claim was that, as methods of communication go, text-based methods are generally considered the least “authentic.” That is, according to their cited case studies and survey results, a plurality of people tend to consider emails or text messages to be easily faked, devoid of real emotion or sentiment, and a bit of a cop-out. Now, I realize that I am somewhat biased, being an author, but even outside of the realm of stories I think that the article takes an unfortunately confrontational tract. There are times, occasions, and circumstances that befit any communication medium, and in each one might be better than another, but that in no way detracts from another.
Today, we’re going to talk about math. No, don’t stop reading: for one thing, I only said that we’re going to talk about math, not that we’re going to do math, and for another, the whole point of this post is to talk about why it’s important not to allow our own perceptions of our abilities to interfere with our actual capabilities. This post in some ways is a follow-on to my post about the importance of reading, and really both of them could be lumped under the topic of education, but I’m not trying to propose a restructuring of the education system here. Reading and writing, to me, is about conveying information, and math is just another way of doing that. However it is done, mathematically or through words, it’s important that as many of us as possible understand both how to create and consume that information.
Perhaps it’s not terribly surprising then that I try to avoid introducing contradictions into my fictional worlds. For most of the time that I’ve been writing, I’ve operated in world creation under the premise that contradictions in world-building will drive readers away and make the world less believable. After all, overt contradictions would seem to undermine the idea of plausible impossibility, and leave the reader less immersed in the world. A contradiction can act like a sort of car accident that abruptly stops the flow of traffic and ejects the reader from the story.