Tag Archives: L.E. Modesitt Jr.

#amwriting: L.E. Modesitt Jr.: creating depth without dumping info

Fall of AngelsOne of the most difficult aspects of writing is creating the sense of history without resorting to an info dump. It is a fine line to walk, because too much information will cause the reader to stop reading, and not enough will also make them close the book. What we are looking for is a happy medium, a narrative that incorporates some history, but only the bits that are needed to move the story forward.

That ability to create the past while describing the present is one that author L. E. Modesitt Jr. has, and is shown to its best advantage in his masterpiece Fall of Angels. Written in 1997, this is the sixth installment in one of the most enduring fantasy series of modern times, The Saga of Recluce.

This saga takes place over many generations and explores both sides of the conflict, with not usually more than two books dealing with a particular protagonist.

Modesitt Jr. knows his world. It is clear when you read his work that he understands the environments and societies he is writing about, and he knows the moral values of the three cultures who clash in this series of books. In Fall of Angels he takes the reader back  a thousand years, to the origins of the conflict that is explored in the previous five books, but the world the angels find themselves stranded on feels familiar–because the author knows every aspect of his world.

In this series as a whole, Modesitt Jr. examines two radically different magics–the black of order vs the white of chaos. This is the central theme of each tale in the saga, and the protagonist is either of the black or white persuasion. In a few books there is a grey area of magic where the protagonist embodies both, but always the price of magic and the responsibility of those who wield it is a central theme in this series.

In Fall of Angels, Modesitt explores the side of order, the black magic of healing and building.

The story opens on the bridge of a battle-cruiser, the Winterlance. The crew is human, and are in the military service of the UFA, which is comprised of the planets of Heaven.

The crew of the Winterlance is from the various cold planets of Heaven. Most are from Sybra, the coldest planet, but a few are from Svenn, a more moderate planet. This limits where the Angels can comfortably live, making high altitudes their favored homes.

They are about to enter a battle from which they will likely not return, fighting  against the Rationalists, the humans from warmer planets, and with whom they have been warring for thousands of years. The Rationalists are an extremely patriarchal society, and are also known as Demons.

In the opening pages we meet a crew that, by happenstance, is made up of women, with only three male crew members. Nylan is the ship’s engineer, and, as are all the officers, he is connected into the ships neuronet, the mental command center that completely controls the ship and its environment.

Ryba is the ship’s captain, and while she and Nylan have a sexual relationship, there is no doubt that she is in command. I didn’t say romantic, because though they sleep together and care for each other, there is no romance involved.

The energies expended during the battle are such that the Winterlance is thrown into an alternate universe, above a strange planet. With no way to return, they are forced to land.

Unfortunately the first thing that happens is they have landed on a world previously colonized. It probably happened in the same way, but by the Rationalists of the warmer worlds of Hell. The lord of the land immediately attacks them, and the conflict is on.

All Angels are not equal. Nylan is half-Svenn. The Sybrans cannot take the heat of their new world and are pretty much trapped in the cool mountains, but he can go lower, into the warmer areas, although he too suffers from the heat.

While the maps in this series are not very good, or really even useful, I feel sure the author must have a file with worldbuilding information for this series in it. Some forethought and planning went into creating Recluce, Candar, and the other continents that become locales for action in this series.

One type of tree is deciduous, with triangular gray leaves, and only loses half of them during the winter, the others curling up and remaining on the tree though the bitter cold. He knows the plant-life, and the animals native to this new world, and he knows the terrain and doesn’t contradict himself over the course of his narrative.

Modesitt Jr. shows us all of this, without resorting to telling. Information about the worlds of both Heaven and Hell and how the struggle to survive on the world of Recluce affects the marooned crew is doled out as needed, in conversations. The knowledge is dispensed organically, in such a way that the reader doesn’t see it as backstory.

Modesitt Jr. takes the concepts of traditional gender roles and twists them inside out. If she hadn’t been thrown out of her universe, Ryba would never have had the chance to rise any higher than she already had, as women are considered technically equal, but there is a glass ceiling that women rarely break through.

In their new world, Ryba makes sure the three men know they are now the ones with lesser stature. After viciously trouncing him bare-handed when he challenges her, Ryba coldly tells Gerlich, “I could amputate both your arms and you would still retain your stud value.” This comment is all we need: Ryba is determined to build a culture where women have all the power and men are simply a means to reproduction. She is deadly, calculating, and will ruthlessly use anyone to achieve her goal.

Her actions show us this. 

Nylan is a strong man but he is not a leader, and feels like he has no other options, other than to march along with plans Ryba sets down for them. Using their failing technology he forges the weapons and builds their tower so they can survive the first winter in their mountain home. Ryba develops a talent for prophecy and becomes a slave to ensuring her own visions come true, while Nylan develops the foundations of order magic.

the chaos balance l.e. modesitt jrAs events unfold and his relationship with Ryba disintegrates, he grows confused and unsure of what to do. He is a man with a temperate mind, believing in equality with neither sex having the upper hand. A few of the women feel the same way he does, but all are unwilling to go against Ryba, believing that while she is hard and unforgiving, she is better than the society created by the Rationalists, where women are property.

The characters themselves tell us this in their conversations, so the author doesn’t have to dump information.

Modesitt Jr. gives us a morality tale, as true speculative fiction does. But, rather than spelling everything out, he dishes it up through actions and conversations in such a way that the reader makes the connections themselves. While in many of his books Modesitt Jr. can be too cryptic, giving the reader little to no backstory to explain things, in Fall of Angels he strikes the perfect balance between too much information and not enough.

This balancing act between too much backstory and not enough creates a depth to the story that draws the reader in, suspending their disbelief, and holding their attention for the entire novel.

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#amwriting: Morality and Conscience

Severus_Snape memeSeveral years ago, I posted on a writer’s responsibility in regard to portraying morality in his/her work. I think some of those ideas are worth rehashing.

Much of what I discussed back then still stands: When we write a tale that involves human beings, it is likely morality will enter into it at some point.

What is our responsibility as authors, when it comes to telling our tales?  Do we sugar-coat it and pretend our heroes have no flaws, or do we portray them, warts and all?

For myself, I gravitate to tales written with guts and substance. Works like L. E. Modesitt Jr.’s Scion of Cyador, where the hero is a man who struggles with ambition and the desire to have it all. He is a dutiful son, devoted lover, and loyal soldier, gifted with great ability that he must keep secret. He is also a cold-blooded murderer with an unspoken agenda, a man completely devoted to salvaging what he perceives as all that is good and beautiful in his world regardless of the cost. What (or who) does Lorn have to sacrifice in the end to achieve his ambition? And what toll does it take on him in the end?

I said this in my post three years ago, and I still say it: give me the Flawed Hero over the Bland Prince any day.

HTB Stamp copyIn my book,  Huw, The Bard, I describe a murder, committed in cold blood.  I take you from what is the worst moment in Huw’s life, and follow him as he journeys to a place and an act which, if you had asked him two months prior, he would have sworn he was not capable of committing. This terrible deed is not the lowest point in his tale.  It is, however, the beginning of his journey into manhood.

Does my writing the story of this reprehensible act mean I personally advocate revenge murders?  Absolutely not.  But I have lived for 62 years, and my view of morality is that of a person with some experience of life. Personally I believe  no human being has the right to take another’s life, or do harm to anyone for any reason.

Still, I write stories about people who might have existed, and who have their own views of morality. When writing, my characters stories don’t always follow the outline I had in mind for them. They sometimes go in directions I never planned for them to go, which throws my whole story-arc into disarray until I figure out how this new development fits.

In my first completed novel, I never intended for my main character and a companion to fall in love. They did though, and that took the story in a direction that was a surprise to me–and I think was one of my favorite side-plots.

In each story I write, I try to get into the characters’ heads, to understand why they make the sometimes terrible choices that change their lives so profoundly.

Some flawed heroes’ stories end well, and some don’t–those whose ends are less than happily are the tragic heroes.

hamartia definitionPepperdine University’s website says this about the tragic hero:

“Tragic Flaw (Hamartia): the tragic hero must “fall” due to some flaw in his own personality. The most common tragic flaw is hubris (excessive pride). One who tries to attain too much possesses hubris.” 

I believe authors have a responsibility to tell the best story they are able to tell, even if they are only writing for their own consumption.

This means sometimes I stretch the bounds of accepted morality, and make every effort to do it, not for the shock value, but because the story demands it.

I write stories for entertainment, yes. But more than that, I want the tale to remain with the reader after they have finished it. If I am somehow able to tap into the emotions of the moment, and bring the reader into the story, I have achieved my goal.

GRRM MemeMy life is a constant journey to the land of knowledge. I seek understanding, and sometimes I think I have a grasp on it…but not quite. More lessons await.

I am learning the skills of story-telling.  More than anything I want my work to  stand up and measure well beside the works of my literary heroes such as Tad Williams, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and George Saunders, great authors who describe terrible moments and conflicts of morality with such grace and understanding.

This may happen, or it may not, but I won’t stop trying because with every tale I write, I grow as a writer.

I read the words penned by those who have attained mastery of this skill, I am awed, and fired with the knowledge it can be done.

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#amwriting: Theme: chaos or stability

Fall of Angels L E Modesitt JrA common theme in fantasy is the juxtaposition of chaos and stability, or order. Good versus evil is a trope of the genre, and  evil is usually portrayed by taking one or the other of these concepts to an extreme.

Author L.E. Modesitt Jr. has taken the theme of chaos and order and built his Magic of Recluce series around the comparison and contrasts of the two, with each side being given the protagonists’ POV in different books as the series progresses. He has been able to really explore the way each side’s magic is expressed, and the moral and ethical values that each side holds dear.

Both sides consider themselves morally superior, and both sides are wary of those who walk that gray path in the middle, which allows Modesitt real opportunities to put his protagonists through the wringer.

Trumps_of_doomThe late Roger Zelazney’s brilliant Chronicles of Amber series also details the distinctions between Chaos and Order, and moral and ethical challenges of those who travel from reality to reality through the shadows, with each shadow growing more radical depending on the distance from Castle Amber (which represents Order).

In several of his works, elements of each are combined freely and interchangeably. Jack of Shadows and Changeling, for example, revolve around the tensions between the two worlds of magic and technology, or order and chaos.

But what is chaos, and what is order ?

Google defines Chaos as

Chaos definition

Google also defines Order as:

order definition

Either side of the coin, when taken to an extreme, can be truly evil.

Consider chaos, or AnarchyWhen a culture descends into anarchy, you have an absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual. While this frequently begins as an attempt to allow for individual freedoms without state interference, history shows that what follows is the emergence of a violent culture that is beyond the reach of law.  There is no law and no one capable of enforcing it. The strongest, most violent thugs rise to the top and frequently war with each other, while the common person is caught in the middle. Followers of each warlord are rewarded with the spoils of conquest, which are often goods taken from the common citizen who must somehow survive under that tyranny.

war and peaceNow let’s look at order: totalitarianism, or total order can also be a form of tyranny: everything is static and nothing changes. There is centralized control by an autocratic authority, combined with the political concept that the citizen should be totally subject to an absolute state authority. No divergence from the norm can be tolerated, and good, obedient citizens are rewarded, while deviants who are seen to be free-thinkers, intellectuals, and artists are persecuted and imprisoned, or killed.

Anarchy=instability and a breakdown of society. Totalitarianism=lack of growth and stagnation of society. For most people’s comfort, a good society allows for both law and creativity.

In extreme types of societies, power is everything, and drawing negative attention to yourself is dangerous. Thus chaos-based societies are usually represented in literature as having an underlying order that holds them together, and order-based societies are often represented as requiring the ability to grow and change, but within certain parameters.

The theme of order and chaos can really power a story-line, and the way you perceive them will not be the way another author sees them. L.E. Modesitt, Jr. and Roger Zelazney couldn’t be more different in the way they portrayed these concepts.

If you haven’t read Zelazney’s works, I highly recommend them.

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Baiting the hook

450px-Flyfishing wikipedia dot com

Flyfishing on river Sava Bohinjka, Slovenia photo by Ziga (PD)

You wrote the book. Your friends read it–you hope. At least they said they did, and they still like you. They tell you it’s a good book. They think it’s publishable, so you decide to go indie and self pub it. You spend the next year getting it edited and having a flashy cover designed. You even have a launch date picked out and feel reasonably sure you can get the book through the pipeline at CreateSpace by that date.

Now you are at the point where you must come up with some sort of a blurb.

This is where it gets fun.

Not.

There are many wonderful blurb-writing gurus out there on the internet, offering advice to those intrepid indies who would write that catchy morsel of blurbiness:

www.blurb.com

Marilyn Byerly 

Digital Book World

The Creative Penn

Yes, there are many websites offering us insight, and they all have great advice for us.  But putting that plethora of knowledge to practice is a bit daunting. 

They each approach it differently but when you distill it into a simple, linear form, it all boils down to variations on these concepts (in no particular order) for you to have in your head before you begin:

  • Use words that clearly evoke the genre
  • Keep it short– 100 to 300 words
  • Get the protagonist’s name out there early
  • Introduce the core conflict
  • Make it intriguing, mysterious–can this conflict be resolved?
  • Use a little hyperbole–stunning, denouement, and so on

The Internet Gurus also offer us this advice:

  • Don’t say what a great book it is
  • Don’t give spoilers
  • Don’t summarize the book (or even the first chapter)
  • Don’t be long-winded or wordy
  • Don’t say what a great writer you are
Back Cover of Mage-Guard of Hamor

Example of what NOT to put on back of book in lieu of proper blurb.

I would also offer this advice: keep it to less than 150 words and don’t skip writing the blurb. It has become popular for the Big 5 publishers to skip writing a blurb and just go with praises for the author’s other works, expecting that their name and fame will sell the book. This tells me that blurb writing is hard and even the the big guys don’t like it. Most big publishers, like Penguin, will have a marketing department.  Penguin puts blurbs on their books, so why the others can’t come up with a proper blurb is a mystery to me.

That might work for Stephen King or L.E. Modesitt Jr., but it won’t work for an unknown indie who is trying to build a reputation and a fan base.

Readers want to know what they are buying, and if they have no idea who you are, they don’t care what your friends think about your work. They aren’t going to touch it.

The blurb is a teaser.  It’s one part of a three-part lure, the only purpose of which is to entice a customer to buy your book.

Remember, you are fishing for readers and that blurb is part of the triangular bait:

  1. Part one is the flashy cover–even for ebooks that cover gets them to stop and look a bit closer, and
  2. the blurb is part two–the part that hooks them and gets them to crack it open.
  3. Part three of this lure is the words they read once they open the bookthat is when you land your fish, whether by ebook or by paperbook.

But until they have read your blurb, they won’t open the book, so they won’t know what wonder awaits them.

I am currently working on a blurb for a stand-alone book based in the world of Neveyah, the world the Tower of Bones Series is set in.  Where the Tower of Bones series can be rather dark, Mountains of the Moon has many comic elements.

Right now, this is my blurb. My head is numb, so I’m letting it sit for another week or so then I will revisit it and have my homies at Myrddin Publishing go over it one more time:

MOTM MAPHidden away in the Mountains of the Moon, the ruins of an immense castle harbor a dark secret: entire families have vanished from the valleys in the shadow of the mountains, leaving no trace. The elderly Baron Hemsteck hasn’t been seen for two seasons.

Four mages are sent to investigate. Wynn Farmer and his companions embark on a trek to learn the truth. Along their route, they must battle against the strange beasts controlled by a rogue mage and ultimately face an evil they never thought possible.

Danger, dark magic, and mystery await those who seek the truth in the Mountains of the Moon. The Gods are at war, and Neveyah is the battlefield.

We kept it down to 114 words, and managed to get the World of Neveyah series tag-line in on the end of it.

Sigh. I admit I am not good at writing blurbs for my own books, but I do have a large posse of author-friends who are more than willing to help me hone that blurb. When the back cover is finished, I will have a concise blurb that will hopefully entice readers to read my book.

Finally, at the end of June,  I will reveal the cover.  I am pretty excited about this new book. I can hardly wait!

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Elements of the Story: the story arc

Elements of the Story 1st Quarter of the MSWhen I first began writing, I wasn’t concerned with the nuts-and-bolts aspects of a tale–I wrote stories to read to my children, and I wrote stories I wanted to read. The stories lived in my mind, and I got a great deal of pleasure from writing them. It never occurred to me to submit them to a publisher, and I wouldn’t have known how to do that anyway.

It wasn’t until my youngest child was in high-school that I began thinking about writing as a vocation, and began looking for places to submit my work. So my evolution as a writer was: I began by writing songs in high-school and also writing poetry, graduated to writing fairytales for my kids and short stories for myself, and finally began my serious attempt at a novel in 1996.

2nd quarter of the manuscriptI began writing for my own pleasure, and had no idea of how to plot a novel. Since that first attempt at a novel, I have completed six novels, and am working on 3 more at this time. Each book has been an improvement over the previous one. Through working with good editors and educating myself,  I feel like I finally understand how  a good novel is constructed.

In my early books, I didn’t understand the way a good story worked. I knew one when I read one, but I didn’t really understand what made that story immersive and memorable.

I had a grasp of how to create characters, and I had a good idea for the basic plot,  but I was weak in the area of structuring the novel. Once I realized that weakness, I set out to resolve it.

For the last two years, that has been the area I’ve worked hardest on putting into practice, and for those who have beta-read my yet to be published work, that change in my understanding of how to write a novel is clear.

Now, I have an instinctive understanding that the evolution of the story can be graphed out in an arc–the Story Arc. I had heard of this concept, and in writing groups some authors will talk about it as if they understand it, but when you read their work it’s clear they don’t.

It wasn’t until Scott Driscoll, author of Better You Go Home gave a seminar on it last year that the pieces fell into place for me.

The Story Arc copy

Some books are character-driven, others are event-driven. ALL of them follow an arc.  For my personal reading pleasure, I prefer Literary Fantasy, which has a character-driven plot. Events happen, often in a fantasy setting, but the growth of the characters is the central theme, and the events are just the means to enable that growth.

3rd qtr of manuscriptI write literary fantasy, with some emphasis on the fantasy. My own books, as in Huw the Bard, tend to be more character-driven than action oriented, as the Hero’s Journey is what intrigues me, but large events occur that cause personal growth. Whether your books are character- or event-driven, there must be an arc to the story.

We have talked about the way the manuscript can be divided into quarters.  Let’s consider the midpoint. The midpoint of the story arc begins the second half of the book. The first calamities have occurred and up to this point, the characters have been reacting to the antagonist’s moves.

The midpoint of the story arc is the Turning-Point, the place where there is no turning back. Consider J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Hobbit: At the midpoint, Bilbo is committed to seeing the Dwarves regain their home, and Smaug is routed, but at great cost. Now, he can see only disaster ahead of them, if Thorin continues down the moral path he has chosen.  Bilbo has been changing, but now he shows his true courage, by hiding the Arkenstone. Then he takes matters into his own hands in order to head off the impending war.  Bilbo tries to ransom the Arkenstone , but Thorin refuses to see reason. He banishes Bilbo, and battle is inevitable.

This arc is the same in every good, well-plotted novel: in the first half of the book everything had gone to hell, emotions were high, and the situation was sometimes chaotic, but the protagonist thought he had a grip on it. The Midpoint is the place where the already-high emotions really intensify, and the action does too. From this point on, the forces driving the plot are a train on a downhill run, picking up speed, and there is no stopping it or turning back now. The characters continue to be put to the test, and the subplots kick into gear.

4th qtr of MSThe second half is where the villain shines–the evil one is on a roll and it’s his ballgame. The truth underlying the conflict now emerges, and it culminates in the third calamity, the third plot point. This is also where the villain’s weaknesses begin to emerge, and the hero must somehow exploit them.

The third quarter of the book, from the midpoint to the third plot point is critical. These events tear the hero down, break him emotionally and physically so that in the final fourth of the book he can be rebuilt, stronger, and ready to face the villain on equal terms.

The third quarter of the book frequently sets the hero on the path to enlightenment, but first he must undergo a symbolic death and rebirth.

If you want to read classic fantasy where this type of story arc is really clear and yet the stories are strongly character driven, you should read:

magii of cyador

 

 

Magi’i of Cyador and Scion of Cyador by L. E. Modessit Jr. (2 books)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pawn_of_Prophecy_cover

 

 

 

The Belgariad by David Eddings (5 book series)

 

 

 

 

Green_Angel_Tower_P1

 

 

Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams (4 paperbacks, 3 hard bound or ebooks)

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Worldbuilding part 2: Geography

Map of Eynier Valley for HTB copy copyOne of the problems I have in my fantasy world is knowing where I am, how I got there and where I am going next.  Somehow it’s less of a mystery to the reader if I have some idea of the what world I am writing about looks like.

Many authors use locales that either currently exist or once existed in the real world.  This is a good way to do it, because your world is already well defined for you, and most everyone knows that Portland, Oregon is about 170 miles south of Seattle, Washington.  You are safe using currently existing terrain.

When we write a fantasy story, we start out with a great plot, but we are making the physical world up as we go along, and it evolves as the story does. This can be dicey unless you are really good at remembering what you said 3 months ago.  Epic fantasy often involves sending the hero off on a quest – and this means he/she will journey far from home.

Knowing where the protagonists are going, and when they’ll be there is crucial because readers notice inconsistencies; at least I do when reading other authors’ works.

I begin by drawing a sketchy map when I first begin the story. It is just a scribble at first, but this way I have an idea of where the towns are in relation to each other. I do it in pencil so at this stage nothing is finite; they are only approximations–artistic guesses.

Map of Neveyah, color copyAs I write, my map evolves with the story, becoming more complex as the topography becomes more clear to me. In the World of Neveyah, I began with a pencil sketch, and that evolved into a relief map that gave me the opportunities for injecting tension into the tale that I needed. It also provided me with a detailed explanation of where the resources were, so that funding my country was not an issue.

If you are writing epic fantasy, it is unlikely the hero will have a GPS to guide them.  By scribbling a map while I am setting the original story down, I know I have originally declared Armat is the nearest town to the portal, in Neveyah.  This is important because when I am really pounding out the words, I don’t always remember exactly what I wrote 22 chapters ago. Going back to make corrections is a  tricky business, as it is hard to know for sure if you have caught all your small errors in regard to places and the distances between them.

  1. Map your world:
  • How big are the continents, and what is their shape?
  • Are there inland seas? If so, are they fresh water seas like the Great Lakes?
  • Where are the oceans? Where are your port cities located?
  • How large is your protagonist’s country?
  • If they travel, what type of terrain will they be crossing?
  • Does your protagonist’s country have near neighbors?
  • What about mountain ranges? Mountains, swamps, rivers and oceans are all important when you are adding local color to your background.

The physical environment affects the hero’s journey.  Mountains are difficult to travel in, as are swamps and deserts; and these environments will greatly color the story.

Wheel of time mapA map doesn’t have to be too detailed; it is only a bare-bones reference for you as the writer, and possibly for the reader later. Of all the books I have read, the books whose maps I have referred back to most while reading them are those in the Wheel of Time series, written by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.  The map is not too detailed, but it does give you an idea of where Tear is in relation to Amadicia – both of which figure prominently in the travels of all the main characters, and it remains accurate through the entire series.

The thing is—maps, unless they are drawn by satellite GPS–are inherently wrong in regard to actual distances and such. All they can do is provide a general idea of where the cartographer thought things were.

But what about sci-fi—how do you build an entire planet that may or may not exist?

This is where I brainstorm the possibilities: I spend hours on the internet researching the physics and the possibilities of each and every technological thing that appears in my work. Morgan Freeman, Michio Kaku and Stephen Hawking are my invisible friends, but the best hard facts are found through scouring the internet.

  1. Locate your planet:
An example of a system based on stellar luminosity for predicting the location of the habitable zone around various types of stars. Planet sizes, star sizes, orbit lengths, and habitable zone sizes are not to scale.

An example of a system based on stellar luminosity for predicting the location of the habitable zone around various types of stars. Planet sizes, star sizes, orbit lengths, and habitable zone sizes are not to scale.

Situate your planet around its sun in what we arm-chair physicists refer to as “The Goldilocks Zone.” Life may exist in the most challenging places, but we humans can only exist in a narrow range of temperatures, in a world with a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere, and where water exists in abundance. We need a magnetosphere to protect us from lethal radiation. We also need to be situated around a friendly-to-us kind of star, or a G-type main-sequence star. A K-type main-sequence  star may also support our kind of life, as may others, but we know the G-type will for sure. A good-sized moon is also optimal to stabilize the planetary wobble, but not having one opens the plot-possibilities of severe climate stresses due to an unstable orbit.

Alpharse is the setting for a future novel that grew out of a short scifi story. I’ve done a certain amount of prep for it: it’s a colony world, still in the terraforming process, and human habitation is still either underground or in the Asteroid Ships that originally brought the colonists to the system.

It’s located across the galactic arm from my protagonist’s home world of Lorann, and to travel the quickest route involves crossing an area of the galaxy inhabited by the Ernsaa, a race of methane-breathing beings who don’t want anyone coming near the worlds they claim. Thus, the closest route is now closed to them and it now takes twenty years real-time to get from Alpharse to Lorann even with the technology available to them. This means the colonists are on their own and can expect no help.

  1. Consider the Uninhabitable (by humans) Terrain:
  • What is the surface of the world like at this time?
  • What makes it dangerous?
  • Can humans breathe the air yet or must they wear protective suits?
  • Are there native organisms, or was it a young world when it was first colonized?

In regard to the maps you are drawing for your story: if you choose to incorporate your map into your book, that is an awesome addition—but for the love of J.R.R. Tolkien—don’t put maps in your books that have nothing to do with your story.

Candar Map. Recluce series, L.E. Mdesitt Jr.I have talked about this before: one of my favorite series of books, written by L.E. Modesitt Jr., has a huge failing–the maps suck!  In Fall of Angels, The Chaos Balance, Magii of Cyador, and Scion of Cyador, all of which take place before the world of Recluce is dramatically altered, the main characters are traveling all over the continent to places that don’t exist on the maps provided in the front of the books! The series span several thousand years, and the cities and geography changes radically, but the maps are stubbornly stuck in the timeframe of the first book in the series, Magic of Recluce, which actually details the last years of the story.

There is absolutely nothing on the map in the front of the book that pertains to the time frame of Scion of Cyador. Lorn, the main character, travels all over Cyador! I can only assume the crappy maps and the many typos and inconsistencies in several books of Modesitt’s Recluce series are the fault of his publisher, one the Big Boys of Publishing, TOR, who has done a great author a terrible disservice by not addressing these issues before publication. Despite the typos and stupid maps, I love Modesitt’s work and highly recommend it.

In conclusion, situating and building the physical world your characters will live in takes a day or two of your time, but once you have it all together, your work is so much easier. Taking notes and adding to your map and your style sheet as you go will keep your work consistent and make the setting of your story real to your readers. When you, as the author, have only a mushy idea of what sort of world in which your characters live, you will inadvertently write contradictions and inconsistencies into your work, so do your homework from the outset.

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Never been there

©connie j jasperson 2014

©connie j jasperson 2014

Maps are awesome additions to books.  I love drawing them, and I love books that have them.  When I was reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series I was constantly paging back and forth to the maps, wishing for smaller, more localized maps. They don’t have to be accurate–but they do have to give some idea of where the action is taking us.

When I formatted Huw the Bard, I included three maps. At the front I left the whole map of Waldeyn. Then I split the the map, north and south,  so curious readers could see how the two halves of Waldeyn differ from each other, and how that difference in terrain affected his journey. The  second map is inserted where the second stage of Huw’s journey begins.

the chaos balance l.e. modesitt jrI did it that way because I am a voracious reader, of anything by L.E. Modesitt Jr.  but I am angry with his publisher, TOR Fantasy, for not updating the maps in his Recluce books. The maps in the front of that series of books detail the world AFTER The Chaos Balance, and bear absolutely NO resemblance to the towns in fully half of the books that are set before that time!

Sigh. All that money spent for beautiful artwork for the cover was a good investment, oh, mighty publishing giant, TOR–but the interior could use NEW MAPS! Give me the coordinates and I’ll draw them for you! (oh dear, I’m hyperventilating again….)

375px-Baynes-Map_of_Middle-earthOne of the best maps of of a fantasy realm that I’ve ever seen was the map of Middle Earth as done by Pauline Baynes in 1970. It is beautiful, a complete work of art on its own, as all maps once were in the golden age of discovery.

I won’t lay claim to being an artist on this level, nor will my maps ever achieve this kind of style and creativity, but I am working on new maps for the world of Neveyah, and the Tower of Bones series. The ones I have right now are all in color, and they don’t translate to black and white for print.

So I am back to square one, but I will have the new maps for TOB complete by February 1st. The new cover is done, and the manuscript has been re-edited. Now we are down to the final stage of proof-reading, to ensure I have not made any strange new errors in the ms. I am not in a hurry for this, as rushing to publish is why that book has been pulled and re-edited. This is where being an indie is both dangerous and awesome–I bear the sole responsibility for the final product.

I leave you with another great map, David Eddings’s original map for the epic fantasy series, The Belgariad:

BelgariadMap

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Spanking L. E. Modesitt Jr.

magii of cyadorI’m just going to say at the outset, I love L. E. Modesitt Jr. and his work.  But my very FAVORITE series of books has a huge failing–the MAPS SUCK!  In Fall of Angels,  The Chaos Balance, Magii of Cyador and Scion of Cyador, and all of which take place BEFORE the world of Recluce is dramatically altered, the main characters are traveling all over the continent to places that DON’T EXIST on the maps provided in the front of the books! (I’d add another exclamation point or two, but it would look like I’m hyperventilating.) (Gasp.)

798px-Diego-homem-black-sea-ancient-map-1559However, I do understand how such a thing happens.  Being an indie, I am responsible for providing some sort of mappy-thing in the front of my own books and that is where it actually gets a bit dicey.

The thing is–maps, unless they are drawn by satellite GPS, are inherently WRONG in regard to actual distances and such. All they can do is provide a general idea of where the cartographer thought things were.

map of Waldeyn 2014As a tool, I draw my own maps, when I am writing the tale so I will have some idea of where the heck they are going, but I am not a cartographer. All maps drawn by me are only a picture of where one town might lay in relationship to another, a general idea of things.

Being an avid map checker, it frustrates me when there is no way to see what the author is talking about when he takes his characters from one place to another. I’m not asking for accuracy here, just a general scribble on the back of a napkin would be awesome–some indication of the direction and the lay of the land, such as mountains, forests and harbors.

BUT FOR THE LOVE OF TOLSTOY DON’T PUT MAPS IN THE FRONT OF THE BOOK THAT HAVE NO RELATIONSHIP TO THE TALE.

Cyador's HeirsL.E. Modesitt Jr. has a new Cyador book coming out in May, Cyador’s Heirs,  and I have already preordered it. I can hardly wait–it’s almost like waiting for Harry Potter!  Oh, mighty publishing giant who prints these wondrous creations PLEASE — make the bloody maps pertain to the actual book! Don’t make me stop this car!

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