Worldbuilding Through Characterization
 

Worldbuilding Through Characterization

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One Way by S. J. Morden
 

One Way

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Everyone’s A Critic

An Inn Across The Mountains by JonHodgsonI stopped off at a quiet little hamlet tucked into a false summit on Mount Publication. To earn my supper I decided to entertain the revelers at the small inn with some of my carefully crafted tales.

Now I’m not so sure it was such a good idea.

“Well, that world isn’t very likely,” said one portly fellow, “I mean the meal you described wasn’t exactly hearty was it? How would they march on practically empty stomachs?”

“But they roasted and ate a whole boar between twelve,” said I, thinking that would be enough for lunches for a few days on the road too. Then I saw his plate. It was piled high with meats and vegetables that could feed an entire family. Not much of a traveler used to stretching out his rations then.

“Oh, that was fine,” said the holy man, “but they didn’t say grace before eating. T’would be enough to give a good man indigestion!” He laughed heartily while the rest of my audience rolled their eyes. Clearly his flock was as lost as I was.

“And where’s the women?” The barmaid cried. “Not much of a world without women, is it? Who’d keep ‘em warm at night? And keep ‘em on the straight and narrow!” She dumped the jug of beer she’d brought me on the table.

“Ah,” I said, thinking I’d nip this one in the bud, “you didn’t hear that part of the story, all the women have been rounded up and the men are on their way to rescue them.”

“Rescue them? Pah!” she cried. “The women will have made good their escape and set up a new village by the time that lot get there!”

Tavern by hunqwertI sighed and cut into the golden crust of my pie. Seeking solace in my food seemed the only option left to me now, my belief in my tales all but destroyed.

I shoveled a steaming mouthful of meat into my mouth and slowly chewed.

“What you need,” a young man said seating himself next to me, “is to ignore that lot and just write your story.”

“But they’ve all got a point.” I spluttered through my half chewed mouthful.

“But they’ve only got a point. What you’ve got is a story, full of characters, in a world that you created. The trick is to figure out what fits within that story, for those characters in that world.”

“You mean they aren’t all right then?”

“Oh, I’m not saying they’re wrong, but for all the holy man knows your world has no religion. If there’s no religion why would they say grace? Of course, maybe one of the group is a bit religious and makes the others say grace. That’s a character trait. It could add a bit of flavour without standardising the world.”

“I see what you mean,” I said, scooping up some more meat, “so I could take on board what our friend said about the food and have someone stealing rations as they are hungrier than the others!”

“Exactly! That way you’ve captured the essence of the comments but it hasn’t completely changed your style. Of course, you need to be sure that your tale is strong enough to stand up on its own. If everyone had said the same thing then maybe you would need to focus on that.”

“Ah but they didn’t, did they?”

“Not this time.” He said pulling a spoonful out of my pie.

“Hey, that’s my dinner!” I said.

“A free dinner, which I provided.” He said, his cheeks stuffed with my food. “Plus free advice, bargain! I tell you what, if you tell us another story I’ll organise a jam pudding with custard for you.”

Having lost half my pie, how could I refuse?

D&F by freemachineI read them a chapter of my current novel, a dark satirical urban fantasy with a grandmother searching for her teenage granddaughter, whisked away by a yeti.

I finished reading and awaited the comments.

“Well that’s just ridiculous,” said one, “everyone knows yetis are brown.”

“In summer they are, but they go white in winter because it snows on the mountains, so they couldn’t be stealing a girl away from a city, it’s too far from where they should be.”

“And besides, wouldn’t someone spot him getting on the subway? He’d be shot or tranquilised before he got to suburbia.”

I sat down to eat my jam pudding. I guess I’ll need to rethink the yeti story but at least now I can see the Innkeeper’s point. Everyone’s a critic, sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong, it’s up to me as the writer to figure out which is which.

I sank my spoon into the suet and hit metal. I looked and the Innkeeper grinned, drew out a slug of my pudding and licked the spoon clean. Well, after all this, letting him have it was the least I could do!

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5 Comments

  1. Avatar Phil Norris says:

    Great article, and certainly highlights a problem (is it a problem…?) every writer will face. As the saying goes “opinions are like noses, everyone has one” (I cleaned that up a bit).

    Now onto the real issue, I really want to hear more about this kidnapping colour-changing Yeti.

  2. Avatar Eric C. says:

    This is something I deal with in my writing group a lot. I tend to fall back on advice from Neil Gaiman: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

  3. Avatar Tim says:

    Many thanks to Sandra for this piece!

    I have also been struggling with the critics from my writers group. I really do appreciate getting input, but it can be very difficult differentiating between personal opinion and good advice.

  4. Avatar Libertine says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone (sorry for the slow response, I’ve been away at Uni all week!)

    I’m really pleased that you’ve enjoyed this article, the yeti is also pleased, although he’s currently in his human form serving my dinner at the inn…

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