Lindsay Smith's love of Russian culture has taken her to Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and a reindeer festival in the middle of Siberia. She lives in Washington, DC, where she writes on foreign affairs. SEKRET is her first novel.
Today, I am excited to present to you Lindsay Smith's guest post on the process of world building, plus how she thinks of unique names for the characters and places in her books! Without further ado, here it is!
I adore writing fantasy. It offers all the challenges that I love in historical fiction--deep, unusual settings, experiences far outside our modern ones, interesting linguistic quirks and contemporary events and different foods and popular figures and other ephemera. But instead of trying to assemble all of these elements like a jigsaw puzzle around my story, I get to make them up to fit the story I’m trying to tell.
When I first came up with the central idea for Dreamstrider--girl who manipulates people via their dreams, nightmares start leaking into the waking world--I knew I’d need a culture that made such an ability a natural thing to uncover. So I created the society of the Barstadt Empire to heavily reflect their obsession with dreams. Their religion, phrases, conversations, decisionmaking, and so much more all show how much they value the dreams they experience every night.
But I wanted to add other dimensions to Barstadt, as well. Because I wanted Livia to struggle with finding her place, I made the empire a deeply stratified society, and put Livia out of her element by being one of the few members of the lowest caste (the tunnelers) to earn her citizenship and live in high society. I wanted, also, to demonstrate the extent to which the different classes of Barstadt went to differentiate themselves. By literally turning their faces into pieces of jewelry--high-class Barstadters insert faceted gems into slits cut into their skin, then let it heal over to hold the gem in place--they signify their wealth and status to everyone who looks at them.
Each of these elements grew naturally out of my plot and thematic needs. But it’s fun to add in some variety and “just because” elements, as well. The Barstadters’ love of ale and opera, for instance,serve no real plot purpose, but they do add texture to the Barstadt culture, giving its citizens things to do and talk and think about beyond the dreamworld.
When it comes to naming conventions, I prefer to draw from the real world as much as possible to get the right “sound” for a culture. I’m a big linguistics nerd, so I love seeing how certain types of consonant and vowel clusters crop up in different cultures and regions. Look at the soft multi-vowel-paired names you might see in France or Belgium or the Netherlands, for instance, then contrast that with syllabic-based names (usually consonant + vowel) in Japan or Korea.
It’s important, too, to think about what significance your culture might place on names or naming conventions. Are boys’ names expected to pay homage to their father’s name in some way with a ‘son of ___’ signifier? Do men and women have different endings or beginnings to their name? Is there a frequent use of titles or other designators? Are people named something because of an archaic meaning of it, or a more modern significance--for instance, might someone be named Rain or Cloud?
In Dreamstrider, I used chunky consonant-laden Teutonic-sounding names for the Barstadt Empire--Brandt Strassbourg, Petran Durst, Vera Orban--but showed the Land of the Iron Winds’ emphasis on symbolism in language by giving characters Adjective Noun names--Sly Fox, Cold Sun. Leigh Bardugo evokes a Slavic feel to her character names in Shadow and Bone, and I love the South Asian pattern to names Robert Jackson Bennett uses in City of Stairs. It provides a nice shorthand to give a broad overview of a culture and their values, and sets up reader expectations that the author can play into or subvert as necessary. ;)
A high-concept, fantastical espionage novel set in a world where dreams are the ultimate form of political intelligence.
Livia is a dreamstrider. She can inhabit a subject's body while they are sleeping and, for a short time, move around in their skin. She uses her talent to work as a spy for the Barstadt Empire. But her partner, Brandt, has lately become distant, and when Marez comes to join their team from a neighborhing kingdom, he offers Livia the option of a life she had never dared to imagine. Livia knows of no other dreamstriders who have survived the pull of Nightmare. So only she understands the stakes when a plot against the Empire emerges that threatens to consume both the dreaming world and the waking one with misery and rage.
A richly conceived world full of political intrigue and fantastical dream sequences, at its heart Dreamstrider is about a girl who is struggling to live up to the potential before her.
Labels: Guest Post