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December 27: mapping worlds and fandoms, cont'd (for [livejournal.com profile] joyeuce01) [Tumblr crosspost]

This is the world of The Sum of Things, my unfinished NaNoWriMo attempt from 2004. A bunch of the world-building is older than that, though. I have printed files from my family's first computer, which I believe we replaced when I was sixteen, so I probably started noodling around with this world when I was thirteen-ish. (You may have noticed that I was really into creating worlds at thirteen: Kerr, Firsthome, and Kanos all date back to that period, as does Intarre, a world I have never gotten around to physically mapping.)

The basic idea is that Kanos is a rather precarious multi-ethnic empire that began as a military alliance against periodic invasions from across the western mountains, swallowed a bunch of surrounding regions via marriage and/or conquest, and then spent a century or two slowly falling apart from internal tensions. The component regions are Alland and Auvern (the heart of the original alliance), Orifan, Mandaking, Ayden, and Damiland. Auvern, Orifan, and Damiland are all ethnically distinct regions; Alland, Mandaking, and Ayden are separated only (ha! "only," she says...) by cultural differences, and the beginnings of linguistic splits in a previous common language, which itself was the legacy of a previous empire.

The most relevant external enemies are Dorin Rhae, Halo, and the undrawn western regions beyond the mountains and highlands. Dorin Rhae is larger than it looks on the map. Tobal, Caermarin, and Nezzany don't extend much past the physical space their names take up; all the rest of that area is actually Dorin Rhae. The Dorinians are ethnically closely related to the people of Orifan, and there is both a lot of cross-border tension because of old internal hatreds, and a lot of cross-border cooperation, particularly with Orifani separatist movements. Halo is a sort of feudal theocracy, and has been fighting a slow-motion holy war against the rest of the Eastern Lands for centuries. It's as much about land as about faith, really, but Kanos is both the closest country and the one physically in possession of former Haloro territory, so it takes the brunt of the attacks. And the semi-nomadic people of the western high plains often get pushed eastward either by drought or by the movement and expansion of other peoples and nations to their own west, which puts a constant threat on Kanos's western border.

I didn't draw a map until late 2005, a year after I'd started serious story writing, and many, many years after I'd first started imagining the world out of the ether. But I do use it as a reference, and here it is. (The scribbly lines are mountains.)

Kanos and the Eastern Lands

This is a vast region! Kididama (which is a region rather than a country, and encompasses everything north of Kanos, Sheneska, and Halo) stretches past the arctic circle, while Ghisa and Skyora are both in the tropics. (The actual arctic circle is off the top edge of this particular map.) The Eastern Lands are home to three major religions (and dozens of minor ones), numerous ethnicities, and hundreds of languages. They are likewise divided by climate and internal geography. The various lands do share a few cultural touchstones, however, which are mostly related to the nature of magic and souls in this world, and to a couple international organizations that deliberately foster certain ideals that aid their own survival.

I want to get back to this world as well. I was never sure exactly where Talin and Ranna's story was going, and I'd like to find out...


December Talking Meme: All Days
edenfalling: stylized black-and-white line art of a sunset over water (Default)
Way back in 2004, I attempted to write a fantasy novel for NaNoWriMo. The Sum of Things stalled out around 20,000 words -- which is sadly typical of my life -- but it's still alive in the back of my mind and I go poke at the rough draft or my background files every now and then.

Here is some world-building on the royal family of Kanos, which I feel like posting partly as a public kick in the pants to myself, and partly just because I think it's pretty nifty and want to show it off. *wry*

Background: Kanos is a semi-feudal multi-ethnic empire ruled by queens who are always descended from Deyrilea Nishal Mordrin (one of the empire's two founders; the other, Daluran Silverblade, abdicated and his requirements for a successor were deliberately impossible to fulfill) but who must be elected and confirmed by the Assembly of Nobles. Their direct power is also extremely restricted by the time of "The Sum of Things," but this doesn't mean Kanos has become a functional democracy; it just means the empire is a disorganized mess. The current queen -- Ranna, one of my two main characters -- had no interest in the position, but since she wound up with the title, she's trying her best to actually fix some of the problems with her country... whether her country particularly wants to be fixed or not.

Inheritance Rules in the Mordrin Line )
edenfalling: headshot of a raccoon, looking left (raccoon)
This story is set in the same world as The Sum of Things, my very, very unfinished novel that was my failed attempt at NaNoWriMo in 2004. "Defender of the Faith" takes place about 1200 years before "The Sum of Things," in what later became the nation of Halo, a country more or less permanently engaged in holy war with Kanos. The old Haloro religion was polytheistic. Their new religion, Novi Samhiva si Temor (the Church of the Living Savior), is monotheistic, considers all other religions lies spread by evil demons to keep people chained to the endless cycle of reincarnation, looks forward to an apocalypse and subsequent perfect new creation, and is violently evangelical. You see, their apocalypse can't happen until a certain percentage of the people of the world have 'cast off their chains,' i.e. converted to Novi Samhiva.

"Defender of the Faith" is a story from the early days of Novi Samhiva, when its adherents were fighting to have it legalized and sheltered from persecution by the leaders of the old Haloro religion. It was an evangelical faith from the beginning, and its adherents were never pacifists, but the concept of holy war was several generations in the future. I think you don't tend to get forcible evangelism until you have some form of state power behind you, and until the ritual duel between Shemoni Kikalava and Jonoma Topio, state power was emphatically against Novi Samhiva.

Defender of the Faith )


On the one hand, I think I've written more in the past month than I did in most months of 2008. On the other hand, I am not finishing "Secrets." *thwaps self for being so distractible*
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I managed to get Iruka into "Guardian" -- granted, he's on the other end of a phone conversation so you don't get to 'see' him, but still. He's there!

(I'm not sure if Konoha has telephones, but I accidentally mentioned phone numbers as an aside back in "Apartment Manager," so I went with it. However, the Konoha phone directory is interesting, since it doesn't always list a street address to go along with the phone number -- ninja are paranoid that way. Civilians may or may not list their addresses, and businesses almost always do, since they need to be easily locatable. *sigh* I think too much about these things.)


I also twiddled away at my novel, "The Sum of Things," which is now at 21,500 words, give or take a little. I've finished the revisions to the parts I wrote in 2004, and am back to forging ahead into new territory. I had to revise things for several reasons:

1. I finally worked out the magical system, and had to adjust some things based on it.

2. As I wrote, more of the sociopolitical structure of Kanos and the Eastern Lands came clear, and I had to retroactively incorporate it.

3. I had to differentiate Talin's and Ranna's narrative voices. This was the big one.

Talin seems to think in terms of nature metaphors and similes. He pays attention to the weather, the scenery, the position of the sun, and things like that. He also thinks in religious terms, is fatalistic, and can get extravagant with figurative language -- in his mind, not out loud. Ranna, on the other hand, thinks in terms of games, secrets, and webs of relationships and influence. I can get descriptive in her POV sections, but the imagery is more concrete. There are also a couple of dialect/accent differences between Talin and Ranna that I needed to refine. Ranna is from a region with a residual, distinctive twist on verb tenses -- she's worked to erase that from her speech, but she slips sometimes, or lapses deliberately in certain situations -- whereas Talin uses some word choices and ways of beginning sentences that are peculiar to the middle south of Kanos.

There's also a perspective difference in the ways they relate to other people. For all that she's focused on interpersonal relationships, Ranna has very little compassion -- her reaction to a brewing war is to think that it's a waste and the government is stupid, not to worry about the potential devastation and loss of life. On the other hand, Talin, who holds himself apart, is empathetic and sympathetic. It's an interesting contrast. I wanted to write a practical, ruthless woman, and a sensitive man, even while I forced Ranna into a role where she has to work indirectly and shoved Talin into a traditional warrior role. I like the effects on their characters.
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Thanksgiving happened. It was good. I did the non-denominational, non-actually-religious blessing, as usual (I'm getting pretty good at them by this point), and we had turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole (without which it simply is not a proper Culmer family holiday meal), stuffing (which I don't eat), sweet potato something-or-other (which I also don't eat), a nice mixed-greens salad, and colossal black olives (which really are colossal -- truth in advertising: who'd have thought?). Dessert was pumpkin pie and a tiramisu cake, which was good but the whipped cream topping was a little too much. It threatened to overwhelm the nice flavor of the cake-and-custard bits.

The rest of the family went to watch Good Night and Good Luck at about 1pm, leaving me to watch football and occasionally baste the turkey. Well, that football game (Detroit vs. Atlanta) was disappointing. When I don't much care about either team, I want a game with tension. Atlanta casually walking all over Detroit is not what I'd call tension.

The Dallas vs. Denver game at 4pm was much better. It even went into overtime. I like it when that happens. :-)

(I am a terribly casual football fan -- like most things on TV, I can take it or leave it, and I pay no attention if it's not right there in front of me -- but watching the games is a Thanksgiving tradition.)


I have been plotting ways to fit magic into the various religions of the Eastern Lands. It works most easily, I think, down in Tvikar, because Lonai is a singularly flexible and forgiving religious tradition. Witches and wizards must have done some wild contortions to keep magic accepted in Halo -- Novi Samhiva si Temor is very doctrinaire and suspicious -- but I suspect they may have managed to wind magic into the very framework of that religion, as a fundamental part of the conflict between the Savior and the Lords of the Wheel. (Novi Samhiva is one of my favorite pet religions -- it's incredibly fatalistic, massively xenophobic, and violently evangelical. It's a weird conflation of some native Haloro traditions, early Rosaism, bits and pieces of Manakardit beliefs, and a reaction against early Rosaism. Plus, it has holy wars. From a region that's geographically like Scandinavia. This amuses me.)

However, I think that magic is most 'developed,' so to speak, in Rosaic lands, because Rosaism is more likely to drive people to organize and codify ideas than Lonai is, and yet it's more flexible and open than Novi Samhiva. It also has a rather complicated cosmology and depth of symbolism -- which can be interpreted in many varying ways, since there is no single authoritative text, tradition, or religious leader/center of worship. Plus, Rosaism isn't focused on worship as much as Lonai or Novi Samhiva are. It's more focused on philosophy and on rituals and the organization of a person's life. This is not to say that worship is unimportant, but that the powers of the world aren't considered to be 'above' humans in the central ways that matter, so most prayers are more like requests of potential patrons than like a spiritual channel between the worshipper and a deity.

Anyway, what that means for magic (and science/technology) is that the Rosaic lands are a little more biased toward experiments and attempts to make sense of the world. In Halo, there already is a way to make sense of the world, and it's very hard to challenge or change that system. Down south, the impulse to generalize and systematize isn't as embedded in the culture -- this is not to say that Tvikar, Ghisa, Skyora, and Monadnok haven't produced interesting cosmologies and philosophies, but that that sort of thing is not really an issue they focus on.

Mneh. I call myself a writer, but it's so hard to put concepts into words sometimes. Or to make them explicit, I suppose -- it's much easier, in some ways, to write the story and let them be implicit in the characters, actions, description, and dialogue.
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So. I actually sat down a couple days ago and worked out the magical system for "The Sum of Things," so I would know once and for all what is and isn't possible in that world, and so I could adjust various social systems to account for the effects of magic. I'd already known it was a fairly subtle sort of magic and not much useful in war (I declared that at the outset, because I wanted to write a story about people slashing at each other with swords, not people hurling fireballs or what have you) but now I have wonderful little knock-on effects like the high value of copper and the prominance of glassblowers in the Eastern Lands, and further differences between cities and the countryside. Plus, I have invented the magical equivalent of Edison's lightbulb, which amuses me greatly.

However, this left me with a slight problem: in the original conception of the story, I used a spell to move Talin to a certain place and make him meet certain people... but that sort of spell is now not permitted. It literally does not exist.

I beat my head against that for a while until I realized that I didn't need magic. I can do the same damn thing -- well, produce the same effects -- with completely non-magical means. And the new plot point works even better, because it gives Talin and Bren some actual characterization and motives instead of 'guy in grip of mild compulsion spell' and 'faithful sidekick.' Besides which, the more I think about it the less convinced I am that Talin would be particularly amenable to subtle suggestion spells. He's a quiet guy, but he's very determined to be in charge of his own life and to not let anybody else determine his choices anymore. Now I can have Bren trying to figure out a mystery of sorts, and Talin going along because A) Bren knows how to persuade him into things and B) he thinks going to Arre-Lus will be a useful bit of misdirection and will let him and Bren vanish quite handily into the thousands of people who live in the city.

Naturally his plans don't work out, but he has no real way of knowing that. (Or rather, he refuses to admit the possibility, because he is in denial, the poor silly boy.)
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'Tis raining. However, 'tis also oddly warm, probably in the lower sixties (Fahrenheit), so I didn't mind the walk from my apartment nearly as much as I thought I might when I heard raindrops committing suicide against my windows this morning.

I've been reading Guy Gavriel Kay's Sarantine Mosaic duology -- Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors, that is -- and so far (about 70-odd pages into book 2) I like it very much. He has an interesting style, very understated in a way. It's the sort of style where you're on page 60 or so, and nothing terribly exciting is happening but the story has a quiet interest, and then you blink and you're on page 250 and it's still not terribly exciting and yet you haven't put the book down and you feel you've really gotten to know the characters as people, and you'd rather like to know what happens next. It's a deceptive sort of storytelling. (This is not to say he can't do exciting when he needs to -- his chariot races are quite gripping.) There's something about his use of fragmentary sentences that I find slightly jarring, but I don't know if that's something he always does or if it's part of the stylistic effect he's going for in these two books, the sort of careful division into pieces that mimics the visual effect of a mosaic.

He hardly uses any magic. He's interested in people, and in cultures and things like that. So it's not just Ursula LeGuin who can write things of that sort and get published. There is hope.

I always worry about that, because a lot of my original stories clearly don't fit in any genre but fantasy, and yet they're not particularly 'fantastic,' so to speak. If I let the magic in at all, it's quiet and humdrum and not terribly reliable. I'm much more interested in technology, if anything, and more than that I like to construct societies. They're sort of thought experiments -- along the lines of "Let's set up a group of people with this sort of religion, that sort of physical environment, this sort of political system, those external problems, these internal problems, these centuries of history (and this common view of that history), this language, that economic system, this view of justice and punishment, etc., and see what happens" -- out of which I pick a person here and a person there, poke them, and see what they do.

"The Sum of Things" has a more complex plot than I usually go for, but it's still fundamentally the same thing. I set up a country within a region, built other nations around it, gave them all a long and fractured history, played around with three great religions (which reminds me: I really must get around to defining at least two others at some point, as well as the remnants of a sixth religion that was subsumed by Rosaism), set up some interesting metaphysical truths that do not correspond to objective reality as we know it on Earth, picked out two people who are both victims and drivers of events in a turbulent period, and am watching with interest to see how it all plays out. I know the rough outlines, but the characters (or my subconscious, pick whichever you like better) fills in the details as I get there.

The trouble with magic is that once you open the door and let it in, you have to be honest about its effects... and they are wide-ranging and strange in ways that are hard to imagine, in the same way that the internet or recycled soda cans would be hard to imagine for someone a hundred years ago. Magic becomes a system, and has spillover effects. It can't just exist when you want it to and conveniently be ignored all other times. That's hard to work into a world, so I tend to keep it muted, make it too big and fucking dangerous to be of much practical use, or leave it out altogether. (Why yes, I am lazy.)

Hmrph. I seem to have completely wandered away from my original topic, whatever it was, so I think I shall close by saying that it's still raining, and I still don't much mind. Unless, you know, I step into a giant puddle on my way home later. I'll mind that, if it happens. :-)
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Ranna and Shae have proceeded not to cut a deal after all, but have at least opened the avenue for future dealing. It would, I suppose, be too much to ask for them to trust each other at this point, but it never fails to irritate me when my stories/characters up and do things I haven't planned for. Yes, it usually makes things better in the long run, provided I can keep hold of the reins and make sure all the new ideas merge smoothly into the overall structure, but it really makes me wonder why I (subconscious) can't tell myself (conscious) what I'm doing before the words appear on the page and flummox me.

Grr. And in the course of their conversation scene, they proceeded to reveal various fashion trends of Kanos (specifically of the nobility of Alland and the citizens of Arre-Lus) and standards of beauty which I will have to go back and incorporate into Ranna's previous scenes. Well, at some point I'll have to do that. But I now have a legitimate excuse for her to wear heavy cosmetics when she's wearing her 'queen' persona, to the point where she looks quite different from her natural appearance.

See, Kanos is a multi-ethnic country. Part of this is because it's composed of various regions that were conquered or assimilated through marriage treaties, but part of it is because the land itself was invaded and settled by several waves of people from across the western mountains and plateaus... and those people were later culturally subsumed to some extent by the natives of Corthia, Alland, Damiland, and Tobal. (Okay, so Tobal isn't part of Kanos. Geographically it could be, but Kanos began falling apart internally before the queens got around to successfully grabbing it. And there is less assimilation in Auvern, but the westerners are very much the ethnic majority in Auvern.) So their ideal of feminine beauty is based on the dark hair, dark eyes, and pale skin of high-class Allandish women, instead of their own lighter hair and darker skin. So Ranna powders her hair dark and her face white, because the queen is supposed to look like that.

*beams* It's nice when plot requirements actually make sense in the cultural situation.

I love playing around with little cultural things. Like, for instance, there's a name, Merika, that originally comes from the west and has been turned into Marika in most of central Kanos, and adapted into Meirhicha in Orifan. A lot of the male names that end in -ek or -ik come from the west, as do most -ika female names. Female names ending in -ie or -ae are native to Alland and Corthia. Anything ending in -et is probably female Manakardit, from Damiland and Kididama (which conveniently lets me spell things -ette if I want to adapt those names for central Kanos). Things with -in, -ed, -en, or -ain are probably from Orifan, Caermarin, or Dorin Rhae. There are rules for converting southern names from male to female (Arhed to Arhedden) and vice versa (Bren to Brennan) but I haven't fully worked them out yet. Oddly, names ending in -a are usually female in southern and central Kanos, but male up north in Damiland or over the border in Sheneska and Halo (Jonoma Topio being the immediately obvious example).

Clothes amuse me as well. I don't really like describing them in great detail, but the general patterns are interesting, especially in the way they intersect with class boundaries, or professional requirements. The Manakardit don't wear dresses, but Ranna's honor guards (who happen to be Manakardit -- they don't happen to be female; that's a requirement, since they need to always be near her) wear a sort of slit-seamed tunic that reaches their knees and thus offers the illusion of a skirt over their pants.

Those are the little things that aren't immediately relevant to the plot, not the way the system of warfare is, or the symbiosis between daylight politics and the shadow world of thieves, spies, and assassins. Warfare in the Eastern Lands is very structured and formal, with a number of conflicts actually being settled by professional duelists. Even when open war breaks out, it's constrained to certain times and places, there are rules about prisoners, objectives must be carefully set forth in the declaration of hostilities, etc. And yet, underneath that where everybody carefully 'doesn't notice,' rules are broken like crazy. People are poisoned or strangled or stabbed to death. Blackmail is a thriving industry. And so on.

It works, more or less, but there are very practical reasons Talin doesn't want to draw the attention of the Great Houses to his home, not just a general reluctance to leave home or serve someone his father seems to like.
edenfalling: stylized black-and-white line art of a sunset over water (Default)
Today I drew a map. It's a pretty rough sketch, and has no nation borders, but I now have an actual visual reference for where things are in "The Sum of Things."

There are not words for how useful this is.

The map surprised me with the way certain countries are shaped. Kanos is... flatter than I expected, would be the best way to put it... and Halo seems to have a weird resemblance to Scandinavia. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by that last, but still. And Damiland is actually not as far north as I'd sort of subconsciously expected it to be. It works better this way for various reasons, but it was interesting to finally be able to compare lattitudes and see that it's level with Halo. The more southern countries are vaguer because I've never cared about their internal organization, but I can now see the way a band of smaller nations separates Kanos and Dorin Rhae from Tvikar down at the base of the continent, which gives me a better sense of what Kanos might have looked like before it got 'unified' into one country.

Planning war campaigns is much easier when you can see where you're going.


Have also written Surprise (#4, 650 words), which turned out to be something of a fairy-tale on acid. Next I think I shall write a theme in which Harry, Ginny, and Draco are kidnapped to become alien slaves, or a high fantasy AU, or maybe one of those execrable high school AUs. Maybe a love potion?

Come on, give me cliches! I wrote 6 themes more or less seriously -- now I want to write 6 that have no connection whatsoever to reality.

Oooh, maybe I can write one in which they're all cats -- that's a standard crack AU, right? Here, kitty kitty kitty...


ETA: Wrote a kitten story for Pillows (#16, 443 words) which is not only total crack, but also includes a Petunia/Narcissa/Molly threesome. Don't ask. Just... don't ask.
edenfalling: headshot of a raccoon, looking left (raccoon)
And we bring "The Sum of Things" up to the end of my currently completed scenes. Still a rough draft, I'm afraid. :-)

The Sum of Things, Chapter Two, Part III )

Am going to my parents' on Thursday, and returning to Ithaca next Monday. Am planning, once again, to make shameless use of their washer and dryer, since it saves me $8-$10. (I save up my laundry and usually do three or four loads in one go, which eats most of my afternoon and a ridiculous number of quarters. My next apartment will have laundry facilities in house. Or else.)

Still no job nibbles. My current evil plan is to apply as an after-school counselor at the local YMCA, which is seriously not what I want to be doing long-term but could easily pull me through the next few months. *crosses fingers*

The first chapter of "The Way of the Apartment Manager," my new Naruto story, is finished, and the thing as a whole is thoroughly plotted and outlined. I'm somewhat baffled by its sudden appearance and development, but I guess I shouldn't look gift stories in the mouth.

"Harvest," my half-finished Ekanu story is poking along, as are my HP fics. I think with some luck I may have "Paint the Town" finished in another week -- that is, if I can keep "Apartment Manager" from eating my brain the way "Heritage" did this summer.

And speaking of "Heritage"... there is no Gormenghast section at ff.net, but they do have a Miscellaneous Books option. I will try posting it there and we'll see what happens. I don't expect much by way of readers -- it's an obscure series, and I'm writing a pre-book story (the origins of Steerpike, my favorite character) -- but it will be nice to at least have it publicly available.


So I hear Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is coming out next July. Cool, I guess.

Oddly, while I still do the majority of my fanfiction writing for HP, I seem to be less and less emotionally involved in that fandom. I'm also reading less HP fic than ever. And I find it hard to get wildly enthusiastic about this news. I mean, the new book's coming out. Fine. Great. But it's over SIX MONTHS AWAY. People, get a grip, take a deep breath, and relax.

I'll get excited in the summer.


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Elizabeth Culmer

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