I'm excited to host author Mike Reeves-McMillan today! Mike approached me a few weeks ago for a book review for his fantasy steampunk novel. I absolutely love fantasy steampunk, but when I decided to start writing book reviews, I promised myself I would not accept review requests. This is because I am over-committed in all other areas of my life, and I want my reading experiences to be stress-free. But I was really intrigued by Mike's story and his world. I wanted to help get the word out about his writing, so I asked him to write a guest post on writing techniquese. He chose on my favorites: worldbuilding. To learn more about Mike's novel and his worldbuilding techniques, keep reading!
About Realmgolds: The Human Purity movement is growing in power and influence in Denning, attacking dwarf businesses and caravans and inciting popular rebellion against the central government, with the passive or active support of many of the ruling Golds.
Opposing them almost alone is the Realmgold, a young man named Determined. His problem is that, even though the Realmgold is meant to be in charge, nobody is paying much attention to him.
Victory, who rules neighbouring Koskant, would love to support Determined, but an ancient magical treaty between their realms means she can’t send in her troops, her skyboats or her pressure guns. What she can do, though, is share a new magical communications technology – and her elite corps of Gryphon Clerks…
I've just published Realmgolds, the first novel in the Gryphon Clerks series. It's set in a steampunkish fantasy world, and most of the people who've read Realmgolds so far have said something about the worldbuilding. I'm going to give away a few of my worldbuilding secrets here.
Guest Post on Worldbuilding by Mike Reeves-McMillan
Like Camille, I'm the descendant of immigrants several generations back on both sides, living in an English-speaking former British colony. In my case, the ancestors are also British, mostly from the Celtic parts of Britain, although my family didn't preserve any cultural or linguistic connection to their Celtic roots. While the experience of being a descendant of immigrants is different if you're part of the ethnic majority, I'm still aware of my cultural identity as being a mashup, and I think that's where I got part of my worldbuilding approach.
Simply put, when I'm creating a major feature of my world, I don't just draw from a single source.
For example, the backstory of my world is that the old Imperial Elves brought humans there from another world (ours) as slaves, and when their empire fell and they faded away into the forests they left much of their culture behind in human hands. The upper and middle classes practice the Elven religion, high culture and scholarship is conducted in Elvish, and so forth. The way I think of the Elven Empire is this: it was a bit like the Roman Empire, a bit like the British Empire, and a bit like the Third Reich.
The Roman Empire fell and left the Catholic Church, Romanesque architecture, and Latin as the language of scholarship, law and religion.
The British Empire didn't fall so much as it sat down (I forget where I read that, but it's apt). It left behind, in its former colonies, forms of government and law and architecture and clothing, English as the language of education, and Christianity being practiced by many of the inhabitants. The overall effect was parallel, but the details are different.
To talk about how the Elven Empire was like the Third Reich, I have to talk about how my concept of elves isn't just from one place either. Most fantasy elves are straight-up Tolkien elves, tall and thin and noble and pointy-eared and emo, ancient and tragic and fading, or D&D elves, who are much the same only less. Tolkien himself, though, was familiar with the original Norse and Celtic literature, in which the elves were cruel, arbitrary and, in fact, very like real medieval nobles (as opposed to fictional medieval nobles, who were, well, noble).
One of the other things I do with worldbuilding is pick up on something traditional and push it to its logical extreme. Tolkien's elves live close to nature. My elves, since this is steampunk after all, were bioengineers, and not ethical ones (which is where we get the Third Reich connection). They experimented extensively on humans and produced "blends" like the centaurs and the beast-headed people.
On the credit side of the ledger - and here's where I add an element to the mix that doesn't come from any of my historical sources - the elves also had a completely equal-opportunity society for males and females, and they taught the humans to do the same. I chose to do that so that I could have women as the social and occupational equals of men, and explore how that would work out.
So why call them "elves" at all, I've been asked? It's a reasonable question. But if I want to introduce an animal, it's a burrowing animal, bad-tempered, poor eyesight, about the size of a badger, and... Oh, what the heck, let's just call it a badger. By doing so, I don't need to explain as much. I can just allude to the differences (maybe this badger-like animal has brown hair instead of black and white) and let the reader fill in the rest without slowing down the story too much.
The tricky part about secondary-world fantasy is that it's all too easy just to do two things. The first thing is lazy cultural appropriation, where because people live on the Eastern Continent they're a Westerner's vague idea of Pan-Asian. The second is lazy troping, where the elves are straight out of Tolkien (or D&D), all the furniture of the world and its culture and its power relations are left completely unexamined, and you tell a straight adventure story. That's fine, but I don't find it as interesting as playing with the cultural variables a little, informed by multiple historical sources, and coming up with my own world that lets me do real speculative fiction.
Mike Reeves-McMillan lives in Auckland, New Zealand, surrounded by trees. His novel Realmgolds is available from Amazon.