Tuesday, January 5, 2010

On creating a fantasy world

Kristin Cashore has a great piece on the Horn Book site explaining, among other things, why Po could never say, "Hot dog, Katsa!" and how she wishes she'd invented something like a killybong.

The author of GRACELING and FIRE tells what she did and what she wishes she'd done to build the world of those books. Here's a tease:

I want to talk about skeletons, muscles, and sinews — and about what it was like to write my first novel, Graceling. I had these incredibly exciting ideas. I had these characters who had particular magical abilities, and they were inside my head fighting with each other, and I was just bursting to tell their story. I sat down in front of a blank piece of paper and wrote the first scene — and there was a jail break and there was kung fu–type stuff and there was a sparkly boy — and I got to the end of the chapter and I said to myself, Woo-hoo!!

But the next thing I thought was, Oh, crap. Because what I saw in my head was a skeleton that was only partly formed. I had some of the bones. I knew the basics about my five or six main characters, I knew their arcs, I knew their relationships to one another. I knew the really big stuff — I knew my plot. But I didn’t have the sinews that held all the bones together. I didn’t know what the landscapes were like. I didn’t know the backstories of my secondary characters. I didn’t know the quirks of their personalities, or even the quirks of my main characters’ personalities — like how Katsa dressed, or how well Po could bear pain, or whether Bitterblue was chatty.

Those little things are essential to every action, every interaction, every line — and you can’t proceed without them. When you start a book, you’re trying to make something out of nothing, and you need it to grow fast. And so, at the beginning of a book, practically every word can cause the writer growing pains. It’s like those poor chickens in the factory farms that are pumped full of drugs so that they mature too soon and produce seventeen eggs a day. At times you feel like you’re forcing something into being that would rather not be, and you’re making too many choices; there’s too much power for you to misuse.

Check out the rest.

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