East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Trying a different approach


I’m trying something different for my next story, and I thought I’d tell you about it because… ah, because as usual, doing these things in public forces me to go through with them, can’t make any excuse and waste my time watching Youtube videos and stuff.

So, I am about to write a fantasy story set in a world without gods, in which magic is devastatingly dangerous, and in which life conditions are harsh.
Really harsh.
Blunder-and-you’re-dead kind of harsh.

Now, much to the chagrin of some (but not really, truth to be told), I tend to write plot-driven stories – pulp of some stripe, thrillers, swashbucklers and actioneers of some kind.
The old Lester Dent plot formula might still work for me.
But to write these stories, I need characters.
So usually my stories start with a character, whose stories I’d like to discover, and to tell (not necessarily in that order).

And for my next story, I’d love to let the environment shape my character as much as possible.
I want her (I’ve decided she’ll be a she) to be as much an expression of the raw environment as possible.
TThis should be interesting because usually, between the individual and the environment we have a filter – to wit the culture or community to which that character belongs.
So, for the environment to shape the character, I’ll have to make the environment shape the culture.

And there’s a twist – because I like twists.
The easy way out is, of course, go the mighty-thewed-barbarian way.
The environment is harsh, resources scarce and survival a 24/7 job?
The individual most suited to survive is Conan – someone that can defend themselves and take from others what they need in case they need it, with a grim, nihilistic outlook and a brutal sense of decency and moral compass.

I want something different.
I want finesse, and lightness of touch.
I want intelligence and empathy, and the deep understanding that violence can be wasteful – and waste is a capital sin in a world like the one in which my character will be moving.

There’s another easy-ish way out available – the Chosen One, capable of surviving thanks to their special gift and the fact that the gods have their back. Or the One with the Power, whose magic is both a blessing and a stigma.
But there are no gods here, no predestination, no special blessings. Magic kills.

And it would also be nice to throw in realistic armor and practical clothing in the mix.

But I am getting ahead of myself.
The first step will be making a list of essential environmental factors, and then connect each of them to a cultural element.
How does the lack of water and metal shape the community. What sort of community are they?
Scavengers? Nomads? Raiders?

Once this environment-culture table will be done, we’ll see how the character gets shaped by both – the harsh realities of the world, and the rules and systems developed by the people to mediate them.

It’s a very different approach to my usual, one that forces me to work at the same time on different facets of the story, the world-building and the character building.
It’s going to be… interesting.
Isn’t that an ancient Chinese curse?

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Trying a different approach

  1. Funny how our writing directions are parallel again. I had similar requirements for a supporting character in my current project, so I came up with an adolescent nomad girl who gets by on wits, resourcefulness and most of all the survival skills/knowledge imparted by her culture through her own family. Now she’s surprising me!


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.