Worldbuilding 101: Societies

Sorry for the delay on this one. I’ve actually been trying to get this written for weeks. I’ve been incredibly busy, and that unfortunately won’t change. More details later.

So, societies. For a little background, I’ve been trying to revive an idea I had some time ago. A story, that I believe I’ve referred to here, where I wrote a book, but can’t use it. I loved the world, but the plot was unusable for the idea I had. I wanted to write a series of mysteries in a world where the human world and the magic world had collided a few years ago. My main detectives are a shadow fairy and a river dragon, who have set up shop in Philadelphia.

Currently, I’m trying to use that world to write another story, and I’m doing a lot of background notes to try to figure out where everyone is coming from. One of the first thing I decided about the fairies, is that they are a matriarchal society. Because I honestly couldn’t picture them being anything else. So what does that mean?

I didn’t want a simple reversal where women did everything that men traditionally did in most societies in our history. Nor was I trying to portray this as some utopia we should strive for.  Many pre-industrial societies had some firm demarcations on what was men’s work and what was women’s work. Though some of those were less set in stone than others. Take knitting. One of my knitting books tells how in one society (I think it was like Netherlands or Scandinavia), women knit the practical things, like sweaters and socks; men knit decorative pieces of art.

While I’m still developing things, and will probably continue, I’ve decided (for now anyway) that while male fairies are generally bigger and stronger than female fairies, the females are usually stronger at magic. The guard force is about sixty-forty male to female ratio. The main leader is almost always, if not exclusively, the fairy Queen, perhaps with her consort. Inheritance and genetics are primarily reckoned through the female. If a light fairy and a dark fairy have a child together (major taboo there), the child will primarily take after the mother with a few hints of the father’s background.

In addition, I had trouble with the idea of fairies marrying like we do. So, they don’t. Most fairies are actually from contracted meetings. Two fairies make a contract to attempt to have a child, payment and other considerations are decided upon (will the male have visitation, get credit for being the father officially, etc.) and so forth. Sometimes fairies will ‘join’ which is similar to what we consider a marriage except that it isn’t permanent. Usually for a few centuries, but then both parties are free to seek another or re-join. Re-joining again and again with no others in between is unusual, but not taboo. Joining may or may not affect contracting status.

Part of it was that fairies live so very long, and they are so tied to nature and plant life in my mind. I just couldn’t see them being interested doing the same thing forever.

Dragons, on the other hand, were different. In this series, dragons have similar lifespans to fairies, but have very different outlooks. Dragons have a more egalitarian society, and can be led by a Dragon Lord, a Dragon Lady, or both. Swift is male who inherited a river from his mother and became it’s guardian. This was neither traditional nor progressive, and no one really cared.

Dragons also bond for life, and when one dies, or as they put it, ‘returns to the mists and magic’, there’s a thirty percent chance the other will follow within a year. Slightly less chance when there’s young children around.

There’s other races that I’m going to have to come up with backgrounds for. More areas I’ll have to fill in. Just getting the various non-humans to accept human currency led to some interesting thoughts. But why should my non-humans value the same things we do? Maybe even we’re stranger than we think. I read this long but fascinating article that posited that the things we’re taught in psychology may be wrong because we’re using too small a sample, and Americans and Western Europeans are stranger than we think.

Try to stop and think about the implications that your society would include. Most of what I came up with, I hadn’t planned at all with my first tour to this world. I was more interested in how the human world adapted to having non-humans suddenly sharing their space. Something I’m still going to play with more.

So, while I was late posting it, and I’m sorry about that, I do have a Full Moon Festivity for May. On my website I have posted various links to Lunar Lore, with hopefully more to come. For June’s Full Moon Festivity, I have something special planned. Book Three of the Hyde Chronicles will be released June 28th. A few quotes will be up on Pinterest soon. More updates on Facebook. And, starting June 28th, for five days, the first book of the Hyde Chronicles, The Pawn’s Play, will be available free in Kindle format! Please check it out.

What do you consider when you build a society?

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Character Development: Fears, Phobias, and Superstitions

This year’s Ravencon was their thirteenth time meeting. As such, they had a few panels on thirteen and the superstitions involved. I was on one, and did some research into triskaidekaphobia, or, fear of the number thirteen. It’s actually pretty fascinating really. Did you know that no one really knows why Friday the thirteenth is considered unlucky? Or why thirteen is considered an unlucky number at all? In some Spanish speaking countries, it’s Tuesday the thirteenth that’s a problem, while in Italy thirteen is generally considered a lucky number, but Friday the seventeenth is unlucky.

But what really struck me was the list of famous people with triskaidekaphobia, particularly Arnold Schoenberg, a prominent composer, who literally died probably because of his phobia. He became sick and depressed when an astrologer warned him that a particular year was dangerous because the digits of his age (76) added up to thirteen. As Friday the thirteenth came around (as it does at least once a year, and can up to three times in a year), he spent the day sick and depressed, dying fifteen minutes before midnight. He was also born on the thirteenth. Evidently no one told him that Friday the thirteenth was supposed to be lucky for those born that day. I read that when I was doing research on superstitions some years ago.

It got me thinking. Everyone has fears, many of us have at least one or two phobias of varying degrees, and most of us have a superstition or two. What do your characters have? Is it plot relevant?

Liska, from the Moonlit Memories series, has a phobia of dogs. For good reason, since dogs can tell her looks don’t match her scent and usually act aggressively towards her. It isn’t a paralyzing phobia, but she will definitely go out of her way to avoid them. Violet, from the Hyde Chronicles, hasn’t been given a specific phobia, but she is also of a more nervous disposition than Liska. She also might be developing a phobia of the stairs in the library, or as she refers to them, ‘the stairs of doom’. Another story involved an actress who was extremely superstitious, to the point of being easily manipulated by the belief that she had been given something for luck.

Fears don’t have to be rational. I have a phobia of cockroaches. Actually, it may be less of a phobia, and more of a deep abiding disgust. I know that roaches aren’t dangerous, but I get sick and squirmy when they are around, and have at times forced someone else to kill a particularly large one so I didn’t have to get close. Is that a rational fear? Not really. Am I going to get over it? Probably not. I don’t even like looking at a picture. Same with needles. Perhaps a slightly more rational fear. It doesn’t help that I apparently have bad veins. Last time I needed an IV, it took three times to get it right. The time before that, it took five. Ick.

Having a phobia does not actually measure courage or the absence of it. Even the bravest of people can have a phobia, perhaps of something harmless. Maybe your volunteer fireman has a phobia of birds. I get into conversations with people about their pets, and I can’t count how many people told me they don’t like cats. Most said they were too sneaky. Both my sisters are arachnophobic. I’ve been doing research into Social Anxiety Disorder, for a character that has selective mutism. That doesn’t mean that character is a coward, just that she gets easily flustered in social situations, to the point of having trouble talking.

While the character’s fear doesn’t have to be rational, there has to be some form of exposure. I can’t have a phobia of wolves if I have never seen or heard of a wolf or dog. It is possible to have a phobia of something that doesn’t exist, but they have to at least heard of it. Like zombies. They don’t exist, but there are people who take the idea very seriously. I have a problem with creepy dolls because of a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode I saw at a very young age. I know that toys don’t come alive, but generally can’t watch movies where that is part of the plot. At least, not anything scarier than ‘Toy Story’.

What does your character’s phobia mean for your character? Is it something they will have to overcome? Is it something that will last through multiple installments? For example, Indiana Jones will probably never lose his fear of snakes. Who knows about your characters fears and superstitions and is that going to be a problem for your character? Sometimes, even people trying to help can cause problems.

If your world is different from ours, than the possibilities for phobias can be different too. Is fear of dragons a phobia, or does that count as justified caution? Probably depends on how deep that fear goes. How does your character deal with their fear? Do they face it, fight it, run from it? Exposure therapy can help with a phobia, but that doesn’t mean that being thrown in the deep end is necessarily going to help. Sometimes when it’s sink or swim, you sink.

Anyone want to share their fears?

What I Learned from Cons

To clarify, I mean conventions. Not scams (though that would be a fascinating post) or negative outcomes.

I went to Ravencon last week. This was my third time attending a con as a panelist and vendor, and I’m not even sure how many times as an attendant. Odds are good that if you are interested in speculative fiction and writing, you’ve either been to a con or two yourself, or at least considered it. I’m not going to give rules for guests. Most of those are common sense. But if you want to go as a panelist or vendor, here’s a few good things to keep in mind.

Be organized and prepared. I cannot possibly emphasize that one enough. It’s something I’m not great at, and there are times it shows. Ninety percent of what I tell you comes back to that. Be organized and prepared. Get all your stuff ready beforehand. Then you won’t have to do things like buy a new piece of equipment the morning the con starts. Or order books that don’t arrive on time.

Register early. While many of these cons have plenty of room for visitors to attend, but if you want to be a guest (talk on a panel, perform, etc.) there are only a limited number of spots. Many of them are full six or eight months before the con starts. So register early, and if you want a table (if you have books to sell, you want a table), register that too. Because those go even faster.

Don’t be afraid to apply even if no one’s ever heard of you. Unless you are trying for a major con like Comic con, there’s room for a few newbies. I was hesitant the first time I applied for Marscon. I had visited for years, but I figured no one knew who I was. Why should they take me? But they did. And then again the next year. And so did Ravencon. Nor was I the only indie author. Give it a chance.

Have a knowledge base. There are a lot of panels during the average convention. Some will be topics you know a fair bit about, others won’t. Do not, however tempted you may be, sign up for a panel that you don’t know enough about. Because your audience will know. They are fans. Do feel free to sign up for a topic that you know some about and can and will research before the con.

Look for and take advantage of opportunities. I was not promised a table at the last Marscon or Ravencon. I brought my stuff anyway. At Marscon, when I asked about it, they let me borrow a table on Friday that they knew the owner wouldn’t be coming until Saturday, and then they let me use the table the costume contest was using when they were done Saturday afternoon. Ravencon, I was on a waiting list. I asked if I could ask if anyone would be willing to share a table with me, in exchange for me covering part of the cost. I was given the dubious answer of ‘I won’t say you can’t…” The best answer I got from that was the one who said I could have his table Sunday, because he wouldn’t be using it. I didn’t have a table Friday. Saturday morning, they told me one group couldn’t make it, and I could use their table for a slightly reduced rate. Then it turned out they were there. Since they had promised me a table, one was borrowed from the dealer’s room and moved to the far end of Author Alley. Location does matter, by the way. My table was barely visible unless you went past the stairs. So Sunday, when some people had already left, I asked if I could move to one of the more centrally placed tables. After all, I had been offered one already…

Double-check. I used a square reader so that I could take card payments. Well, Sunday morning, it gave me trouble, requiring me to upgrade and reload. All while I was trying to ring up the nice gentleman who was waiting patiently to pay me for the set of books he was buying. It said approved. But went out before he signed. An hour later, I noticed my phone saying it didn’t go through. If you’re reading this, congratulations Master of the Obvious, fate decreed you get a free set of books.

Success is what you make it. I was supposed to do a reading with Gail Z. Martin. No one showed up for the first twenty minutes. She had been double booked and left after fifteen. I stuck around, and got one person to come. So I did some readings for him. I signed up for five panels, and was assigned one.  I sold four books (okay, sold two and accidentally gave two away), and about fifteen little critters (panthers, like the foxes on my pinterest. I’ll get a photo or two up soon). I definitely didn’t make back my table costs. Did I have an unsuccessful con? I don’t know. It wasn’t particularly profitable, at least in the short run. But I gave out all my business cards, and had to make some quick substitutes. Since coming back from con, I’ve sold an ebook, and almost a thousand pages of my stories have been read through Kindle Unlimited and the lending library. Yeah, did you know you can read my books for free if you have Kindle Unlimited? You can. Who knows what the future holds.

Did I have a good con? Yes, I did. I had my picture take with a live raven (gorgeous bird), won four books through an author giveaway, made connections with other like-minded people, learned some things, got some ideas for the future, and generally had fun. I had a blast and would definitely do it again in the future.

In other news, as part of the Full Moon Festivities, Secrets of the Moon Fox now has two chapters available to be read free online here. This is edition two. If you like snark and banter, you definitely need to read chapter two. While they didn’t arrive in time for me to take to Ravencon, I do now have paperback copies of the new editions. They look great. Very crisp.

Today is the last day to get edition one. I’m taking them off distribution tomorrow. After that, the only ones left will be the books already printed. Ebooks have already been switched over. Also, if you buy the paperback of edition two from Amazon, you can get a kindle edition for free. Only if you go through Amazon itself, I think. Check it out.

What have you learned from cons or the like?

 

 

 

Announcement

Told you there’d be news today. What do you know, I’m sometimes right.

Okay, one of the reasons I haven’t been online is I’ve been working on a major project. When I released my books, I released them in a large trim size, hoping to cut costs. It has been suggested that may be one of the reasons that they aren’t selling well. So I’ve edited all of them, changed up the covers, and are re-releasing them in a slightly more standard size. There are no major plot differences, no major changes. But there are a couple minor things, fewer mistakes, smoothing things out, etc. At the moment, both copies are available for sale.

When April ends, I’m ending the distribution of edition one of all books. The newer versions are, unfortunately, more expensive. So if you want to buy a copy of the older book, which is cheaper (but has more mistakes in it. Not tons, I did hire an editor, but still, some), now’s the time to do it. Or maybe you’re a collector, and want to get what’s in limited quantity. Who knows, maybe some day my books will be famous and a first edition will actually be worth a lot, especially since there’s currently less than a hundred in existence. ;).

Or maybe you prefer new and better quality and what to buy a new one. I’d be thrilled. Heck, buy both and compare. (Joking, mainly)

I’ll be at Ravencon this weekend, selling the old versions, and the new ones if my shipment arrives on time (probably won’t). If you’re there, come say hi to me. Anyone who sees me at Ravencon and mentions reading my blog gets a free small gift.

In other news, I’ve been writing a few other things. Wrote a poem last week, a villanelle. I dabble in poetry on occasion, and short stories. I’ve been considering ways to share some of my poems and snippets. My ideas are I could open a Tumblr account for them, or share them on this blog. The problem with Tumblr is that I’ve never used it before and have no idea how, but it is a good set up for that kind of work, from my understanding. The problem with posting it here is I’m not sure if people coming for writing advice are as interested in reading my snippets, and vice versa. So, thoughts? Ideas? Anyone interested in reading those?

New covers are on pinterest with links to the books. Take a look. Some are very similar to the original, and one is very, very different.

Vocabulary and Word Choices Part Two

I’m sorry I’m late with this post.

I tried, so hard to write this, and it just wouldn’t come. Getting sick didn’t help, being busy didn’t help, and inertia definitely didn’t help. Maybe the subject didn’t help either.

Regionalism, slang, jargon, and dialect. What do they all have in common? Answer, they can make your work harder to read, but add a layer of realism to your story if used properly.

Most people don’t speak as if they are being spied on by their English teacher and their conversation will be graded. Well, we do in certain circumstances, but not most. When we are applying for a job interview, when we are meeting some important person that we want to impress, etc.; then you may talk like you will be graded. And perhaps you should. But with family, with friends, during casual encounters, there is a more relaxed air.

Regionalism is word and syntax choices that that differ from one area to another. For this discussion, it’s basically the same as dialect. People do not talk the same from one part of the country to the other. It gets even more interesting when you add in other countries. Is that carbonated beverage soda, pop, or coke, regardless of what kind of drink it is? What do you call a hooded sweatshirt? Did you know that it’s actually a ‘bunny hug‘ in Saskatchewan? What is a jumper; a sweater or a sleeveless dress? Where your from influences your word choice. And it will influence your characters’ word choices. It gets really fun when you need to portray a character from an area that you aren’t from.

I’m actually going through my books and doing minor editing for reasons I’ll explain later. In the ‘Moonlit Memories’ series, the main character, Liska is British-Japanese who is trying to pass herself off as British. I am American. Which meant that I didn’t always know the right terms to use. While I’m not bothering with British spelling except once when it was something Liska wrote, I do often try to use British terms. Some of which I’ve had to change. I had her refer to her solicitor when I meant barrister as I didn’t realize that solicitors were solely for civil matters. I referred to her cell phone, not realizing that British were more likely to refer to it as a mobile. I switched most references from cell to mobile, but left a few, because, hey, she’s currently in America, she’d probably pick up a little of the vocabulary. Honestly, there are probably others I’m missing, but hopefully nothing major.

Research is absolutely essential, and if at all possible, finding someone who is actually from that area to check your work. But, how far do you go?

There isn’t a cut and dried answer, but my preference is enough for flavor, but not to the point where it is difficult to understand. If you need to include a glossary, you’ve probably gone too far. And be very careful about using phonetic spelling to illustrate an accent. It can come off as condescending or even racist depending on how you are using it. Not to mention, it can be very hard to read. Fun little quiz here should show you what I mean. (I would have done better if I could actually spell, and if my computer didn’t keep freezing up.)

That said, some things are easier to get away with than others. Even the most educated can get a little lazy with their speech and slip in a ‘gonna’ or ‘wanna’ or ‘kinda’. Which is more slang than regionalism.

So let’s move on to slang, which is closely related to jargon. Both involve a specialized vocabulary that makes sense to a select group of people and may or may not make sense to outsiders. Slang becomes dated much faster than jargon. The slang of today is not the same as the slang of twenty years ago, or even five years ago. Honestly, unless a slang term has been around for at least five years, there’s a chance that it will no longer be used by the time your story comes out. Odds are even worse if it’s a book. Don’t look to me for slang, I didn’t understand it when I was in high school. But I know it mutates and changes, sometimes even becoming the opposite of what it used to mean. Go figure. When I was in high school, we used the term ‘cool beans’ a lot. I have no idea where it came from or why beans are considered cool, but it’s something I only hear on rare occasions now, and usually only by people who are in their mid-twenties or up. That said, ‘cool’ has been in use for decades, and will likely be continued to be used for some time. But we don’t usually refer to people as being a ‘good egg’ anymore. Watch a movie that’s a few decades old, listen to the way they talk. Language evolves, and it is evolving faster than ever. How many people would have known what an emoji was ten years ago? I know I referred to them as emoticons. But now, ’emoji’ is everywhere, even becoming Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2015.

Jargon is the terms that go with any specialized knowledge. Be it a sport, a hobby, a career, or what have you, people have ways to simply and easily refer to what they need to discuss. I work for Walmart. My job is not difficult, but I still have at least half a dozen to a dozen terms of jargon I use on a daily basis. Do you know what a CSM is? How about a PLU? We are required to do zoning and red lining when we aren’t helping customers. And of course there’s the magic scanny thing. (My term. You may be more familiar with ‘hand scanner’.) When do you use jargon in your work? Ideally, when the character would, and try to make it as self-explanatory as possible. Example:

“What’s the PLU for bananas?” Avery looked up from the counter she was zoning to keep clean and clear of reshop.

“4011,” She answered. “It’s on the sticker.”

“Have you seen a CSM?” another cashier asked.

“No, I haven’t seen a manager in a while.”

Yes, the writing is boring. I wasn’t going for very exciting. And if I were trying to do this for real, I would probably try to have some explanation for reshop, and fill in that CSM stands for customer service manager. But I think the average reader could guess both of those. And while I don’t explain exactly what a PLU is, you know it is a number that refers to bananas and is on the sticker. I’m not sure exactly what PLU stands for, but it is a universal (at least in this country) code for produce. Any time you buy bananas, there is a little 4011 on the sticker somewhere. Take a look.

Remember, the same person can use different levels of vocabulary even in the same sentence. Here’s one I’ve used before. “‘Fishies’ is an inherently fun word to say.” I’ve also referred, on a regular basis to the ‘magic scan-y thing’. And I have a degree in English! (Of course, I also blame all the technical issues on gremlins, but I’m weird.)

So have some fun, consider your word choices. It’ll be fun. More importantly, it can add depth to your writing.

While I fell behind in most of my online presence, I did keep up my Full Moon Festivities. Check it out, I posted a poem, a board of moon garden pictures, and a board of moon art.

There will be news posted tomorrow. (Or in the morning, or afternoon). I need some sleep and this post and been delayed long enough.

 

Sorry

I spent over a week trying to write my blog post. It wasn’t coming, things got in the way. Then my health took a serious nose dive. I’d tell you what’s wrong, but I don’t know. I was in the hospital, they ran tests. I’ve seen a specialist who ordered more tests. But it hasn’t happened yet. Even then, they may not know, and have to do more tests.

I feel like my health is improving. I had days when even going upstairs was difficult, and now I’m doing better. But I’m still in pain, still tired a lot. I haven’t given up, but some things may be a little slower. Sorry about that.

I’ll try to have the blog post done by the end of the week, and there should be some new news. Until then, please be patient with me. Thank you.

Vocabulary and Word Choices

The other week at work, I heard an announcement for a Miss Ginger Lee to meet her party at a specified location. I thought about the announcement for a moment, then turned to a co-worker and told him I thought it might be a prank. After all, Ginger Lee, gingerly?

He had no idea what I was talking about. I decided fair enough, he wasn’t a native English speaker and it wasn’t a common word. So I mentioned it to another co-worker, an older woman who to the best of my knowledge is a native English speaker. She didn’t know what I was talking about either.

Is ‘gingerly’ that uncommon a word? I truly couldn’t say. I don’t think it terribly uncommon, and have actually read a story that had that word in use since. Personally, I think it’s a very useful word. I described it as ‘like how you carry eggs’. Would I hesitate to use ‘gingerly’ in my own writing? No, I wouldn’t.

What vocabulary level should you use when writing? Is it our job as writers to be clear and concise without room for error; or to teach and elevate the mind to new words and ideas? While both can be desired, at some point you have to compromise one for the other.

I read a lot. I live in a family where everyone reads a lot. My father in particular loves to use grandiose words. But large sections of my vocabulary come from reading. You can tell which sections because those are the words I don’t know how to pronounce. Does that mean that as a writer, I should be striving to teach new words?

Answer: I don’t know. I think it’s very much a careful balance. You can’t talk down to your readers, they will know and resent it. But if you try to show off by using verbal flourishes and extravagant words, they’ll resent that too. And nobody is going to sit down, reading your book with a dictionary beside them so they can look up the dozen strange words you sprinkle on every page. They will either guess, ignore them, or more likely, stop reading.

Mark Twain said that the difference between the right word and the almost right word was the difference between lightning and lightning bug. So my suggestion is that you use what you believe to be the right word. If some people learn a new word, great. If your readers already understand, that’s great too.

An article I read years ago, can’t remember where or what the title was, said that the more advanced the text, the smaller the audience. It was specifically talking about poetry. Robert Frost has many fans (I’m one of them), because his poetry is easy to read and has themes that are understandable to many people. T. S. Eliot has many fewer fans (again, I’m one of them) because his poetry is so much harder to read and understand.

So, you want to write something that is at the pinnacle of wordplay and vocabulary? Well, why? If you want to write it because that’s what you enjoy, than go for it. Just be aware that your audience may be small. If you want to write it because it shows how smart you are? I’d avoid that.

Do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to use a word that you are not absolutely sure of the definition. Ever. To paraphrase ‘How Not to Write a Novel’ (awesome writing guide, really) Ask yourself ‘do I know this word?’ If the answer is no, then you do not know the word. And someone else will know the word, and know your mistake.

Be aware of connotation and denotation. For those who haven’t used those words since high school English class; denotation is the dictionary definition of a word. Connotation is what people think about when they hear it. I see infamous and notorious used a lot. Sometimes supposed to be a good thing. But dictionary definition of infamous flat out says, known as evil. Notorious has a similar connotation, but can have a milder denotation.

How do you know if your vocabulary is unusual? After all, you’ve been using it all the time. Check with others, particularly others who are not people you associate with all the time. The people who run in the same circles as you do, probably have similar vocabularies.

How about characters? Can they have fancy vocabularies? Absolutely. But make it fit. An English Professor will speak differently than someone who dropped out of high school. Someone who uses elaborate words to show off will use different words than someone who uses elaborate words because they like the sound of them. Children will develop their vocabularies based on those around them. So even a very young child can have an extensive vocabulary if that is what they are being taught.

Next time, we’ll talk about regionalism, dialects, jargon and slang.

P.S. It turned out not to be a prank. She came through my line, and I saw her ID. Ginger-lee (Last name withheld).