Sunday, September 11, 2016

What I Learned from Darkover

Author's note:  In part, this post will be understandable only by people who have read Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels. 

Last Friday night, I got nostalgic about a Darkover role-playing game that I used to write in on LiveJournal.  The game is long defunct now, but it was set among the Cadet guards of Thendara, the capital city of Darkover.  I played/wrote the character of a second-year cadet who was part of the MacAran family. Last night, I created a new version of that character's father because I have been itching to write about him for some time but had no excuse to.  Per the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust, it is illegal to write even unpublished Darkover fiction without a contract from them, so I will need to create my own setting for him, as the Darkover anthologies are open to submissions by invitation only.  That might explain, at least in part, why the RPGs have died.

During the course of writing his new character sheet, I did some reading and refreshing of my memory of certain aspects of Darkover, in particular its map.  Apparently, while J. R. R. Tolkien incorporated an exhaustive degree of detail in his worldbuilding and map of Middle-Earth, Bradley was a different style of writer.  According to Thorsten Renk, a fan who invested a lot of time, energy, and research into constructing a map of Darkover, Bradley had a general idea of where things were, but distances were not consistent, and she placed things as they were needed for her stories.  Edelweiss might be north of Armida in one book and south of it an another, for example.  Though I distinctly remember seeing a map in which the Domain of Ridenow and the Drytowns are located in the west, Renk places them in the east.  Because I know the extensive amount of research he conducted, I am trusting Renk's map.

I learned two things from this:

1.  Create a map of your world, and know the general distances between places so that you can be consistent with them from book to book.  Know how long it takes to travel between these places using different modes of transportation, in different weather, and in different seasons.
2.  Account for changes not only across distance but also across time--in different seasons as well as over the course of centuries, if your series extends that long.

Yes, this ought to be obvious, but until you develop a story enough to need to know your setting through various centuries, it is not something you necessarily think about--at least, I didn't.  While I have several ideas for novels, I am concentrating on short stories right now.  Thinking about centuries-long changes in my novels' settings is not foremost in my mind at this moment--but it is something I will now be keeping in mind as I work on them.  It's nice to be able to plan the work I will need to do.

The other thing that my recent thinking about Darkover has taught me is something that I actually realized back when I read the short story, "A Man of Impulse," but I did not articulate it to myself until this weekend.  The general idea is, "A corpse flower can tell you it's a rose all it wants to, but that doesn't remove its stench."  If you write a character who abuses people, you can write a story from that character's point of view.  That character can even, as is proverbially said of Hitler, think of him or herself as a good person.  But in the end, it's going to come across as abusersplaining.  It might be a good story, but the reader will still know the character to be the type of person he or she truly is.  In the case of "A Man of Impulse," there is a deeper layer to the story and to the character Dyan Ardais that makes that story horrifying to me and tragic beyond what it would have been in the hands of any other author.  Bradley is a writer I mourn for but am also sickened by.

Gee, how do you continue a blog post after a statement like that?  Erm.  Awkward.

Anyway--Yes, I believe I will write about Garydd MacAran (name to be changed to protect the guilty) in Ravenwood.  I'm not sure when it will appear, but it is now on my radar.

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