I continue from last week, where I was running through my own creative process in developing the characters, and along the way the worlds, which make up my series, The Arbiter Chronicles. As explain last week, I work by asking myself a lot of questions, and answering them allows me to develop my story.
Question: What kind of society makes it strange to have a relationship with your parents?
With this question, framed about the character Kaya, I move off earth and create the character that’s going to be both a romantic interest and a different kind of foil for my hero. This is a very smart, capable woman for whom Terry Metcalfe will fall hard. And, because I wanted that element of old, pulpy space-opera, she’s going to be the Captain’s daughter. But she has to be a misfit to be part of my team. She’s smart, she’s rich, she’s beautiful. What’s wrong with her? Her people think she’s weird because she has a man she recognizes as her father.
Wait, every human has a father and a mother. What kind of world is she from that it’s weird that she knows hers?
Last time I talked about world-building, and how I think it’s properly accomplished by starting with your lead characters and building the world that they need to live in, the world that would have produced somebody like them. (Of course, it’s important to point out that the world we grow up in is only one factor in the person we actually become. “Nature or Nurture” is an old question, and I agree with L. Neill Smith’s answer–ultimately it is each one of us, not external factors, who determine who we are. But there’s no denying that place changes us.)
So this week, I want to start showing you how I used my own method to create worlds for my most successful series, a space opera called The Arbiter Chronicles.
The Arbiter Chronicles is a teen-angst story about outcasts. When I started, I knew I wanted a cast of five young characters, mostly from different worlds. I made them each different and therefore rejected by most of the people around them. Why did I do that? Because, above all, you’ve got to write what you know. You may be writing about worlds that don’t exist, where people have powers no human could ever have, but, at some level, you’ve got to write what you know. I started creating the Arbiters when I was a freshman in college. At that point, what I knew best was what it was like to be a high school geek. So I made my characters young misfits in space.
Every now and then, my creative friends and I step out from behind the mics and indulge in a bit of stage or video parody. Here’s a short comedic tribute to the George Reeves Adventures of Superman from the 1950s, directed and edited by Lew Aide, and starring my dear departed friend Jim Childs.
This is a distillation of a workshop I taught at the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group conference, “The Write Stuff,” a couple of weeks ago. It’ll probably be a three-part series. Hope it’s of interest!
Frequently, when I talk to new writers, especially in the fantasy field, I hear things like, “Well, I’ve been working on a novel for ten years.”
“Oh,” I say, “what’s it about?”
“Well,” they say, “I’m still building the world.”
“Who are the characters?” I ask.
“Well, there are these guys who wear blue hats, and they’ve been fighting a war for 500 years with the guys who wear red hats.”
“So is your story about a red hat, a blue hat, or a couple of each?” “Well, I’m still building the world…”
Yeah. Like that.
Talking to yourself is supposed to be a bad sign.
Hearing voices. Also bad. Talking to yourself suggests a mild neurosis or perhaps improper socialization. Hearing voices in your head talk back to you? Now we’re talking psychosis.
Me? I talk to people that aren’t there.
They talk back. Of course they talk back. What do you think I am, the sort of fool who’d waste time talking to people who don’t answer?
So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
While just the art of being kind,
Is all the sad world needs.
(“The World’s Need” – Ella Wheeler Wilcox)
That there, my friends, is what we call (with a sneer) a platitude. No, that’s not an animal related to Perry the Platypus. It’s a trite, sort of obvious, not particularly helpful bit of advice that people are wont to give when things get complicated. Platitudes are spouted so often that they become meaningless. But this platitude means something to me.
You see, it was proudly displayed (and, as far I know, still is) on the family room wall of the house next door to mine when I was growing up. The house belonged to a retired postmistress named Ruth Bryant and her daughter, Eva. Eva still lives there. Mrs. Bryant was just about exactly the age of two of my grandparents, born as the now-vanished 20th Century was only a year old. She remembered a time before there was ever such a thing as a World War, before electricity, before radio, before the Titanic sunk and forced the lords and ladies of Downton Abbey to go get jobs like normal people.
The saying was emblazoned in a needlepoint sampler that hung above Mrs. Bryant’s easy chair. When I spent mornings with her before getting on the bus for afternoon Kindergarten, I would read it over and over, sometimes out loud if I was feeling brave. Mrs. Bryant would assure me that that saying was true. And she lived that saying, as far as I could see. In all my five or so years I’d never met anyone kinder. 45 years later, I still haven’t.
Mrs. Bryant died just as a thing called “Political Correctness” was taking hold in her beloved America. I don’t think she would have thought very much of it. Nor do I. And I think my disapproval goes back to those words above.
I’m very angry right now. I’ve written four drafts of this entry, all very different. I’ve been angry since Saturday. I won’t say why, and I won’t say at whom I’m angry. I’ve been told that sharing this kind of thing publicly is referred to as “Vague-Booking,” and it’s apparently a faux pas. Oh well. I do have a lot to say about my anger. If you really want to know the in-depth, ugly details, feel free to contact me privately. I may tell you more. I may not.
Here’s the thing: the person I’m angry at is a friend. The reason I’m angry at him is that he has, quite intentionally, hurt many other friends of mine, as well as members of my family. We’ve been losing sleep, pacing the floors. We’ve been defamed an humiliated in public. If I talk about WHO he is or WHAT he did, I’m giving him publicity he doesn’t deserve and I’m giving his defaming remarks a chance to spread further. I won’t do that. He’s spread them far enough.
Last week, I wrote about a famous man who had died: Leonard Nimoy. It was a gently chiding piece about name-dropping, and about how you don’t need to personally know a celebrity for him to have a huge effect on your life.
And this week, because I’m nothing if not contradictory–or is that everything if not contradictory?–I’m writing about a famous man who died, and how the fact that I knew him personally intensified his effect on my life.
This week, sadly, I’m writing about Harve Bennett, who died Feb 25th at the age of 84. He was about the same age as Leonard Nimoy. They both had long careers in the film business. They worked together on a number of projects. They died within days of each other. Continue reading
I didn’t. Never met the man. I once walked onto a stage where he’d just finished speaking, and picked up the mic he’d just put down; but we didn’t exchange any words, except perhaps, “hello.” Maybe we nodded to each other in passing. But I didn’t know Leonard, and he didn’t know me.
Why is that important? Two reasons. One, a lot of people are rushing right now to talk about knowing this man who just ended a long and productive life. I guess it helps them mourn his loss, makes them feel closer to him, despite his death, and provides them with validation. They knew someone famous, and that’s cool. Every fan wants to be able to claim that he’s best buds with his favorite celebrity, right? And what am I, if not a fan? Look at that picture up top. Who but a fan owns that many Mr. Spock figures?
This book is better known as one third of a classic volume–Bulfinch’s Mythology, which includes The Age of Fable (published 1855), The Age of Chivalry, or Legends of King Arthur (published 1858) and Legends of Charlemagne. The whole collection was one of my constant companions through childhood. I wore out the copies at my elementary and middle school libraries, I’m sure. It’s a great reference book, and, indeed, a lot of libraries keep a copy in their non-circulating reference collection. Or used to. I don’t really know what libraries keep in their reference collections in these post-Internet days.
But I kept Bulfinch’s Mythology on hand, I confess, primarily for the sake of reading and re-reading The Age of Fable. Until this year, with the exception of occasionally reading a brief entry on some character from Arthurian lore for research, I’d never read the second two books in the compendium. So, over the course of the past few weeks, having nothing else to do (hah!), I tackled these tales of the Round Table, and their token coverage of Robin Hood, King Richard and a few other note-worthies of British folklore.