World Building: Maps, Words and Cultures

We return to Heath of Fire, and my social writing experiment.

Heath of Fire is set in a very, very odd time period, which I never really noticed until now. In one corner, you have a tribal, almost cult-run village, the inhabitants of which wear animal furs and yet can mine for stone; in the other corner you have a council that has access to, among other things, metals, mirrors, and literature. On the other side of the mountains there are trade caravans and quartz stones, and tomatoes.

It doesn’t really make much sense. I suppose the novelty of fantasy is that it can be a bit fragmented. There doesn’t necessarily have to be a reason for everything. After all, their world is a lot different to ours. Who’s to say that some cultures have access to books and some don’t? But at the same time it’s unnerving me to the point where I’m considering swapping the whole thing round a bit. I do like to do things a little different, but even I can see where I’m messing things up.

The lesson I suppose I’m trying to teach you is this: it does and can go wrong. If you don’t plan (like I famously don’t) and don’t research properly (which I also, famously, don’t), you can end up mixing timelines and things can get horribly awkward, and people start to ask difficult questions. As long as you have proper answers to those questions (instead of, y’know, ‘because I can’) you can get away with it for as long as you believe yourself. Myself, I’m starting to think that Heath of Fire has a nasty case of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.

The other thing that’s really pestering me right now is the language. Sure, it has to make sense to an audience; you can’t just write in a totally made up language and your characters still have to sound like they’re not Spock or an android. But that’s a fine, fine balance. My tribal characters use modern day slang like ‘okay’, ‘all right’, and yet call a heartbeat a ‘life-beat’. I’m struggling with the balance. Everyone sounds like they’re casually throwing fantasy terms in on a whim, and I know it’s my own fault.

The character of Heath himself is also a bit of a quandry. Heath doesn’t speak in proper sentences. In fact, his grasp of language is minimal. Sometimes he uses words that sound above him, or forming really quite complex sentences, and I have to dumb it down and yet keep him coherent. He’s a really fun character but he is presenting some problems.

That, my friends, is what editing is for. Heath of Fire is far from perfect the way it is, and I don’t want to start pulling it apart before its time – I need to finish typing the whole thing up before I even consider going at it with a red pen and a critical eye.

I could throw in weird time rifts. I could say that some cultures fear books, and therefore have no access to literature. I could even just ignore it all. But I’ll cross that tricky bridge when I come to it.

For now, I am perfectly content with drawing a map, which I find is more for myself than for anyone else’s amusement. I have a terrible sense of direction, and have sunrises and sunsets popping up all over the place unannounced. I work very well with pictoral reference and need the map to aid my writing process. As soon as a place crops up in the story, I pop it on the map. That way, I can keep the continuity right. At the moment, I’m finding that that’s all that’s right.

These, of course, are all just thoughts. I am not using Heath of Fire to tell you how to write or indeed how not to write. I’m simply presenting you, the reader, with problems. Ways to overcome them are many and varied:

  • Plan properly.
  • Research properly.
  • Keep track of language used and language not used.
  • Character sketch.
  • Worldbuild before you start to write.
  • Create your own language and stick to it.

It’s all a matter of following rules. They don’t have to be anyone else’s rules, just your own, but they do have to make sense. Cultures will obviously clash within your novel; some pieces of land just can’t exist where you want them to; characters must always make some modicum of sense wherever your story is set. As long as you’re comfortable, and can justify yourself, you’re way ahead already.

Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated on this matter.


**N.B. To The Generals, your books arrived at my house today! Expect them by the beginning of next week 🙂

**N.N.B. I actually made a little headway on Circle the other day – I shall comment on that in terms of challenges and obstacles. Son of Songs, interestingly, has fallen by the wayside. Perhaps both will be the subject of next week’s blog post.


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