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Friday, May 2, 2008

Defining the Undefinable

Ghost hunting - did I mention that? My intrepid investigator Portier questions a soldier about the dire events of the past. As the unfortunate fellow spills his guts, he mentions that he sees a dead man's face every hour of every day. "In your dreams?" asks Portier - a rhetorical question. But the answer is unsettling.

Dreaming, I see him. Waking, I see him. I see him in alleys, in courtyards, on the walls, in the trees, inside my eyelids. That bloodless, battered wreck of a face...

Even in a society where people believe their ancestors struggle through seven gates to reach heaven, Portier doesn't believe in ghosts. "Dead is dead," he says several times. But somehow as he is leaving the beleaguered fellow in the dark alley, he gets the creeps and runs back to lights and civilization.

So I write these things, and Portier tells the story to Dante, the mage, and Dante insists that they go back and investigate "what makes Calvino de Santo wail." And now I have to write the scene where they see what Calvino sees...which means I have to figure it out myself.

What is truth in the world I have created? It doesn't matter what I believe about ghosts in my own life, what matters is the truth in Portier's world. There are certain metaphysical boundaries that every fantasy writer must define for a fictional world...

These are the boundaries between
  • magic

  • myth

  • superstition

  • religious practice

  • science

  • divine truth

That is, we have to decide what is the divine truth for our world and what our characters believe. If these are different, as Seyonne discovers in Revelation or Aidan learns in Song of the Beast, it creates tension and story possibilities. Valen does not learn which of his world's great religions holds the truth of the god's/gods' identity, but he learns the truth behind a myth that makes up a part of each god story. In fact, both religions may hold some aspect of divine truth.

When we are designing magic as an integral part of a world, we have to know whether magic can intrude upon or impact divine truth. Is Calvino de Santo's ghost a refugee from beyond the Sabrian Veil, or is the Veil a myth and he but a spirit hanging around where he has no right to be, or is he but some odd refraction of light combined with a guilty conscience? Portier will have his opinion. Dante will have his opinion. But I'd better know the truth or the story falls apart. Work, work, work...


ssas said...

I'm working with two religions in my WIP and figuring out the right way for each character to believe is tough. Keeping my own beliefs out of it is tough. One thing I'm discovering is that neither one of them are quite right or quite wrong...nor can they meet "in the middle." It's somewhere else they must meet, and I'm still not sure what that place looks like.

Good luck with finding the truth for your characters.


carolwriter said...

Sounds very "real", Betsy, which is the way it ought to feel. As with so much, it just takes hard thinking. May the thinking take you to cool places!


David E. Hughes said...

Carol-- Just thought I'd let you know I quoted your comment about what's hot in genre fiction over at the Electric Spec blog. (www.electricspec.blogspot.com)

Anonymous said...

What a great question - what is the truth in the world you've created. I've been trying to articulate why I like one story and not another, or why I like one tv series, but not another and I think the difference is that the writers of stories that grab me are the one's who know the truth of the worlds they are creating.

carolwriter said...

Yep, I tend to like a story better if someone has given thought to the "world beyond what's happening on the screen."

Anonymous said...

I think that's part of the reason genre fiction gets a bad rap - many writers follow the form of the genre instead of creating a world bigger than the story. For me as a reader - I love the sense that there's so much more story than I will ever know.