Hi all. As I mentioned in a recent post, I’m writing a novel this year. Its a first attempt for me and I had no idea what to expect when I started planning it. One of those unexpected surprises was the amount of research I have to do. In a post, I covered the following topics I was researching:
My actual research list is quite extensive, but here’s a small sample of some of the topics I’m currently researching:
– Architectural design of different types of buildings. [edit: looking specifically at palaces, schools, manors, and ornamental structures]
– True accounts of grave robberies and famous heists.
– Engineering systems of the 18th and 19th century.
-Djinns (mostly folkloric and historical records)
– Tombs/Strongrooms/and Bank Vaults
The novel is a steampunk heist story set in a world influenced by Eastern cultural flavours and traditions. There are a lot of books written on heists, but I haven’t had too much success (besides the Internet) finding books on the other topics. If anyone has a good book recommendation or three, please drop your suggestion in the comments. Alternatively, if you have a book recommendation that doesn’t entirely fit the research topics, but feel that it might be an inspiring diversion–please feel free to let me know in the comments.
I’m not a linguist, nor do I play one on TV. I haven’t even taken a linguistics class thus far in my University career, but I find articles like this one to resonate with my inner geek. The writer in me is constantly collecting, as they say, grist for the mill and this particular article got me thinking about how the concept of linguistic relativity can be used in building more colourful sf stories.
Language can inform culture, scientific progress, and religious systems without ever intruding directly into the story. I suppose this would be one of the challenges in writing a really good historical novel set in another country and time. The Writer would be working with translated material where a lot of the original meaning is lost in translation. How did these ancient cultures think? What concepts did they use to express scientific ideas for which there was no corresponding vocabulary? I think, in this context, historical novels and historical texts are perhaps the closest analog to science fiction and fantasy, where the sf writer can learn a lot about worldbuilding, but that’s another topic altogether.
On the flip side you could be writing a wide-screen space opera a la Star Wars, involving dozens of alien cultures and bypass the whole linguistics quagmire by just using Universal Translation Devices. (Doctor Who does this as well with the TARDIS, but I’d argue that its almost essential to the plot and nature of the show.) With space operas, linguistic differences would lend credibility to the multitude of different alien species, rather than treating them as your cliche ‘bug-eyed-humans’.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind does this in spades, where the most important aspect of the First Contact trope is the unique way in which humans and aliens first communicate: music. Or more particularly: music as language.
In any case the language barriers between cultures definitely adds an interesting dimension to the story, and I’m looking at developing it as a part of my worldbuilding details for future stories I write.
I was listening to the excellent podcast, Writing Excuses, when one of the hosts dropped this excellent gem about worldbuilding:
Pick one unimportant thing in your story and explain the heck out of it, and pick one important thing in the story and don’t explain it at all.
Quote was attributed to author David Farland.
At first glance this seems counterintuitive, and I’m not sure that it can be applied to all stories, but it does posit an unfamiliar way to develop unique details for setting in a story. For example, check out this random game trailer:
This story could explain why water (the unimportant thing) is important, but leave the main event (the world-shattering apocalyptic event) unexplained. The story might develop around water being scarce and its impact on the characters rather than retreading overused post-apocalyptic scenery. Readers and aspiring writers, what do you think?
Added bonus: Here’s an excellent resource for second draft revision from C.J. Cherryh.