We would like to welcome Tanya Huff back to the Book Pushers. She graciously agreed to let us see a bit into her author brain in honor of her latest release The Silvered which released on Tuesday. Don’t forget to check back later today to see what E thought about it.
An Interconnected Dependency
Because I write both contemporary fantasy (also called urban fantasy) and heroic fantasy (also called created world fantasy) I occasionally get asked which I prefer. And the answer, of course, is it depends.
There’s a certain joy in creating a world from scratch — raising mountains, filling seas, drawing borders, placing towns and cities strategically. Deciding on religions. On politics. On social conventions. Will it be swords? Or guns? Glass in the windows? Magical healing? Pseudo science? You are the master of all you survey!
Of course, there’s a lot of work in creating a world from scratch as well since everything is interconnected. You put a meal in front of your character and you’ve already had to decide on not only your geography — surprise, not everything grows everywhere — but on your trade levels and to a certain extent, international diplomacy. Not to mention that character’s personal economic status.
Creating a world requires the writer to have a fairly broad knowledge of the hows and whys of this world. And since most heroic fantasies involve quests, nine times out of ten your characters will be crossing a border — where the food will change and the styles will change and the language will change although there’s always blurring in the border district itself.
Language is tricky; profanity doubly so. If you have a character saying “Damn it!” you’d better have that character believe in a religion that includes damnation. “What the hell are you doing?” Requires Hell. Scatology is usually good. Well, for swearing purposes at least. And what do we do about that fine old Anglo Saxon synonym for copulation? If you have even one conversation in your book between two soldiers, this is a valid concern.
Adam’s apple. Your world’s religion has no Adam. What do you call the thing in a man’s throat when you want to describe a swallow. Yes, there’s a number a things you can call it, and I have, the point is, you have to think about this sort of thing all the time in a created world fantasy.
Sometimes it’s nice to set the story in a world we all know. Where the connections are pre-made. Where your characters can have a hotdog at the ballgame without having to get into the moral implications of cooking and eating man’s best friend. Where the research involves what’s there not what could be there if you did this instead of that.
Which is not to say that contemporary fantasy doesn’t come with its own complications. In contemporary fantasy, you’re taking the known world and skewing it. You’ve introduced magic. Do people know? If not, why not? Are you using the acceptance of vampires or werewolves or fairie into the world as a metaphor for minority rights or are they here to kick ass and take names? This sort of thing becomes particularly important if you’re writing a series that goes on for any length of time because you can only tap dance in front of human nature for a book or two. There’s one heck of a lot of money being spent on staying young and beautiful for as long as possible; you dangle immortality in front of people…
Also, in contemporary fantasy, you have to get the geography specifically right. In a created world, like The Silvered, I can research the geography from Zurich to Paris in order to get my characters from the mountains to the capital of the empire but I don’t have to put the rivers in the same places or tuck in the towns or have exactly the same flora as long as everything growing will survive in that climate even if in our world it’s growing in the Rockies not the Alps. If, however, I have a character in The Enchantment Emporium go down a street in Calgary I’d better make sure that street doesn’t run one way in the other direction. Make that kind of a mistake and people will tell you about it. Trust me.
So, if you ask me which I prefer, contemporary fantasy like The Enchantment Emporium or created fantasy like The Silvered, and I answer that it depends, the next logical question would have to be: What does it depend on?
It depends on which I’m writing at the time.