Friday, August 31, 2007

One Grain of Sand

"In the beginning, it is always dark."

That's how it is for me, anyway, and it seems that the Childlike Empress would agree. But while she holds the final, precious grain of sand from Fantasia, all I start with in my own beginnings is a nebulous image shimmering faintly in the dark fog of my imagination. And unlike Bastian, who has only to wish to rebuild a world of his wildest dreams, plucking that one inspiring spark from the darkness and expanding it until it's big enough not only for my hero and heroine, but for vast stretches of territory that encompass mountain ranges and oceans, endless forests and barren wastes, takes a little more doing.

Oh, all right, a LOT more doing.

Still, the Empress's tiny grain of sand is, in many ways, a lot like what I start with when I begin to build my worlds. It's a magic thing, bursting with possibility limited only by one's own imagination. It is also a slippery little sucker that can vanish into the carpet if you aren't really, really careful. Those grains are rare and precious, falling into your hands when you least expect it. For me, whole worlds are born with a sudden mental image captured so perfectly in my head that I can almost smell the spices in the air, can nearly hear the calls of the strange and wild creatures that inhabit that place. It's that mental snapshot that drives the creation of all the rest, staying with me long after I've typed those blessed words "The End" on something. It's where the characters live, and sometimes how I discover them in the first place. It's one small moment, the inspiration for an entire world, and if I don't grab on tight and learn its secrets, I'm lost. The Nothing wins, I go on a Ben & Jerry's binge, and a possible world vanishes back into the dust from whence it came.

One grain of sand. But it's everything.

I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that a lot of we worldbuilding-inclined writers draw the inspiration for our fantastic destinations from a single, glittering kernel of an idea. It could be as simple as a story you heard as a child or as complex as a daydream escape you stated working on in college Geology (not that I would know anything about that). A scene in a movie, a favorite song, a photograph or even a bright burst of an image that just came to you from somewhere out in the ether...any of those things can be the grain of sand that starts the adventure and begins to grow your own, singular world. For me, the inspiration seems to be nature, maybe because I chose to create characters that are intrinsically tied to the places they inhabit. My heroes prowl the misty Highlands, a place that I didn't create myself but that have inspired countless writers with their mystery and beauty. The realm of their otherworldly archenemies, however, came from an image that I couldn't seem to get out of my head, a purely imaginary vision of violet lightning flashing over a dusty plain, jagged and pitch-black mountains rising in the distance against an eternally half-lit sky.

Yes, I built it in my sandbox. No, I'm not sure you should poke at it...the things that live there tend to bite.

But I don't always work from things caught out of thin air, either. The sight of a shadowy forest, lush and green with Summer and heavy with the sultry July heat, was all I needed to create my current heroine's natural habitat in the same world as those forbidding mountains. Expanding their borders to touch took some stretching and flexing of the ol' mental muscles, but once I did it, those puzzle pieces clicked right into place. And no, despite my mention of him in my last post, Fabio will not be riding a Luck Dragon through the skies there anytime soon. Oh, come on, now. Dry your tears. The magic of Fabio will always be there for those who seek it. Though, um, if you don't mind, I'll be taking the Luck Dragon for myself, thanks.

Maybe it seems like a haphazard way of creating. Someone once described my process as "organic." I liked that, since I had always thought of it as being a word slightly less-printable:-) But worldbuilding, like every other aspect of writing, is a highly individualized undertaking. Being a semi-pantser, or She-Who-Waddles-Around-With-Pants-Half-Down (and wearing the toesocks as a bright distraction) seems to work for me. I love to have that flash, that first quick glimpse of an entirely new place, and then start expanding my view. Yes, I do have to make lists of perinent info, and I do have to outline and set rules for these brave new worlds. That part can be fun too. Well, sort of sometimes, anyway. But in the beginning, it's just me and that one glowing grain of sand in the dark.

And I like it that way.

So I'm going to get all interactive here, like Talia did when she let us watch her Blackberry-wielding warriors try to manage her dragons' financial situations (an image that, as you can see, is still not quite out of my head). Pick a world, any world you've created, and share the inspiration that started it for you, no matter how seemingly mundane or totally bizarre. Descriptions, of course, are welcome...I love to hear about places that may one day be stamped in my Fantasy Passport! It's looking a little ragged and stained these days, sadly, but that's what happens when you travel with an overflowing mug of coffee at all times.


  1. Excellent posting. Fantasia's so cool and I love your point about beginnings being nebulous and small but capable amazing growth!

  2. I take after my 5 yr old. WHY? WHAT? HOW in the heck could the king and queen in Grimms Fairy Tale Land have 12 unmarried daughters to sneak off and GO dancing? This is assuming all daughters are (1) not adopted; & (2) of marriageable age. This is also assuming the king and queen are not oddballs who don't want their children to marry. The world sprang up around that question (answe: the Middle Kingdom nobles are cursed to bear no male children) and A SPELL FOR SUSANNAH was the result.

    Next? :)

    Jody W.

  3. Okay, I just like taking things that don't necessarily go together and throwing them in a creative pot to see what cooks up.

    But I have always wondered what the tooth fairy does with all the teeth she collects...and more importantly WHY does she want them????

    And yes I found the answer and made it a significant thread in my WIP.

    And just you wait, next year they'll be tons of romances featuring Blackberry-bearing accountants and dragons! LOLOL



  4. From a simple beginning the greatest things come-thanks for the reminder!-debralee

  5. Kendra,
    I really liked your post - especially the lyrical writing style. The Neverending Story (the first one) was a favorite movie of mine and I loved the scene you write about - a single grain of sand can build mountains.