By Any Other Name

23 Jan

Tower of Obsidian Launched Ebook it’ll be 10 years ago coming up early February. I hate that it took me so long to do follow-ups, but hey a girl needs a good job and it’s not like I sat on my hands twiddling my thumbs. I do need to fix the stuff up that I wrote in the meantime, but it got me thinking about why I chose to write Tower of Obsidian and stick it in our past.

I also promised I’d talk about Not-England and Vaguely-France last post.

The two series that comes to mind that I either am reading or just finished The Ranger’s Apprentice or The Bonemender Trilogy, but these two children’s authors aren’t the only ones that do this. Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan is very similar, as well as A Song for Arbonne, while other stories like Ysabel or River of Stars feels like they’re either in our world or set in the historic past during a specific era.

There are certain advantages of doing it this way – for instance, A Song for Arbonne there is no Christianity, instead Kay used a different sort of religion that makes more sense for the story he is trying to tell us. Another reason this is useful is it allows the author to tell a story appropriate for the audience, but at the same time, those familiar with this era can expect similar customs, climate.  For instance, in Ranger’s Apprentice, Battle School was a way for select boys to become knights. The purist would say this wasn’t how it worked, but it works for the target audience, and there’s allusions to our world – the use of bows is legendary among the people from Araluen, particularly the rangers, and while rangers as a concept is enshrined in fantasy the English were renowned archers. The Skandians we interact with are basically Vikings, and are renowned warriors in close contact, but even when a raiding party returns with an absolute ton of bows they have no idea what to do with them. One or two you could write off – but in Gaul they are speaking French and in the fourth book, we meet the Tamujei, eastern riders who excel at conquering and battlefield tactics- AKA, Mongols. It gets the young reader interested in learning more about them while knowing this isn’t real – but it’s not so dissimilar to our world that people get lost or bogged down.

That being said I think some stories are better being served in our world – or at least a version of our world.

For instance, The Pyrdain Chronicles really utilize Wales as a setting. If the story was set in once upon a time, far far away in a land that didn’t exist, I’m not convinced it would have that same cultural impact. It explains away the fantastic – it’s bittersweet, at the end of the series, all of the fantastic elements of the world leave, but the myths and stories remain and are remembered as intrinsic to cultures and their echoes still remain to this day.

So, what are the various options, and what one is best for the story?

There’s no one answer – I for one foolishly assumed when I came up with the general plot of Tower of Obsidian putting it in Ireland at the end of the Viking era would be easy compared to building a brand new world – oh how naive I was. It wasn’t that I wasn’t willing to do the research – it was I had no idea how much I didn’t know setting out to write such a novel, and I picked an era I was interested in and a culture I consider my heritage.

Let’s examine a few different options. We’re not talking about flavour or feel = like is it a high fantasy, or more of a science fantasy, but what sort of world it is, and what sort of rules apply. I’ll probably forget one, so feel free to comment below:

Slipstream  -the most “literary” insofar as it’s typically the one most acceptable. Do the fantastical elements exist, or are they all in the character’s heads/delusions? Think Crow Winter by Karen McBride.

Urban Fantasy – I think of it really as fantasy which exists in up to date times, as I’ve read several “Urban Fantasy” where huge chunks take place in a rural setting. Thunder Road by Chadwick Ginther.

Portal Fantasy – People slip from one world to another, typically the protagonist comes from our world where things are ordinary and goes somewhere where things are quite different. Examples of this would be The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis or Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Alternative History Fantasy – I always consider this more along the lines of “how would the world be different if X existed”? So in other words, how might the world be different if we had technology X earlier, or in the case of fantasy, something existed that would have huge implications. An example is His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik.

Alternative World Fantasy – this is usually my favourite go-to to read because it leans into world building. We’re not on Earth, we’re in Hyrule or Westeros or maybe I’m just playing Golden Axe II. You may say, “What about Middle-Earth or Rand-Land?” and I’ll bring you to

Extremely past or Futureish Earth– Some authors take advantage that we think written history only goes back 10000 years, so they’ll set up a kingdom/world that took place say, 30000 years ago and ultimately blew us back to the stone age and that’s when our ‘written history’ began. I put Wheel of Time here, because there’s plenty of hints that it could be our future – my speculation of course. Something like Conan the Barbarian exists here.

**I am going to count any story taking place on a much-future terraformed world as this. If we were to make Mars liveable without technology – say give it an atmosphere and they blasted themselves back to the medieval era, they are effectively on a future-earthen “Colony”.

Vaguely Historical Fantasy  – this is where I’ll stick Ranger’s Apprentice. A purist will point out flaw XYZ – that didn’t happen. “Women couldn’t be couriers and a common boy like Horace could never be a knight”. “But we’re not really in England – it’s Araluen” “It’s bloody well England!” “Is it though? Because Horace couldn’t be a knight and Alyss couldn’t be a courier…” “…shaddap.”

I think this is a great option where there’s a story you want to tell but it’s not 100% historical. This could be things like literacy rates or the rights of women in that era.

Historical Fantasy –  It’s England or France or whatever, but instead of the pixies or dragons being myth they’re really there. They’re good at hiding from historical record, or they all went away. It’s been forever since I’ve seen Dragonheart, but this is pretty much it – we done killed all the Dragons. Way to go.

I’d put most fairy tales here even though they occur, “some kingdom far away long long time ago” because stories aren’t told in vacuums. Perhaps they’re like 1001 Nights were Aladdin takes place in China, but for exotic purposes only, it’s definitely reading like it’s still taking place in the Middle-East. Just reading the title, Hansel and Gretel you know that these characters and this story likely originated in Germany, even though it’s rather vague as to when or where.

As for where you should put your story, I don’t think there’s any single solid answer as to this or that being better, just an alternative. There’s strengths and advantages with putting your world in a familiar setting – or going out and creating something new and different for the reader to immerse themselves in. I think the popularity of beginner writers utilizing fanfiction is a testimony that there is comfort in using a familiar setting as opposed to a true open canvas, where you have to come up with calendars, climate, cultures, history etc.

For the Record, My Books:

Tower of Obsidian: Historical Fantasy

Dreams of Mariposa: Future Earth

Rogue Healer (Witchslayer’s Scion et all): Future Earth

The Mermaid and the Unicorns: Alternative World

Garnet and Silver: Urban Fantasy and Portal Fantasy, probably leaning slightly more towards Portal.

This is my larger, published work. Just because you’re well known for something, doesn’t mean you have to stick with the same ‘type’ again and again.

Also, guess what chick also just finished her rough draft of “Puppeteers”? This one, right here. It needs a better title, needs work, probably another scene or two to bridge it, but I just wrote the climatic battle sequence and man, I’m happy. Clocking in at just under 97k, I can tell when I’m done revising and making the characters… good, it’ll be probably in the 105k range. Of course, the niece wants a duology… *le sob* I’ll get to it, have to figure out an approximate story line for part 2 so I can give hints and allusions.

Maybe it’ll stop snowing and I can make it to Pinawa and visit my parents. We’ll see.

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