How Natural Settings Double as Character by Janine M. Donoho

Ponderosa pine forest. Kings Canyon National Park, California, USA.The boundless wild has always called to me. Growing up in, then choosing to live in rural high desert brings primitive territories into focus. With critters ranging from scorpions to rattlers to black bears, I’m reminded that we humans are only one among a vast suite of species—all subject to catastrophic events

Daily serenades by coyotes punctuated by rarer wolf howls add to the sense of being a part of this greatness. That awareness leads me into ongoing studies of biology—literally ‘study of life’. Thus when I write, the natural world takes precedence.

While finishing yet another edit, this one epic fantasy, I noticed again how nature intrinsically evolves through story. Then I strengthen those components through sensory detail beyond the visual. What does Natural granitegranite smell, taste, and feel like? When you crush a jaffafruit, what do you smell, taste, and feel? Confronted with a clowder of mekesh, how do they smell, feel, and look? For me the quality of setting begins with detailed natural elements as filtered through my characters’ emotional responses.

For instance, Elishandra ser Dancheʹ serves as a trained observer in an unfamiliar world. When voids spring up from the rift between, she recognizes their wrongness, then extrapolates what causes them and how this incursion affects natural systems. She takes personal responsibility for the degradation and commits to stopping further invasion. Most other inhabitants simply see ruin where thriving systems once lived. Fear, anger, and confusion drive their responses with nuances specific to each.

Sun superstormGauging these changes over cyclic time also informs story. For instance, out-of-sync seasons reveal Morchem’s effects in two ways. First otherworldly beings rush through the widening rift. These exotic beings have no natural predators in this world and many find the existing natural systems ill-equipped to meet their needs. They cause havoc. Then Morchem corrupts life energies, exposed by huge shifts between extreme conditions and growing pockets of devastation. Again perceptions and emotional reactions differ according to which person’s point-of-view carries the scene.

Understand that each character’s history colors their view of their surroundings. The warrior Galena ben Inees is more likely to kill a predatory lifeform first, then ask questions later, while the Zinolian Culturist attempts to accommodate lifeforms unless they place her charges at risk. Having retained clarity throughout her studies of various worlds, Lisha tends to analyze before acting. For others, the choice is simply the difference between yum and yuck.Yuck or yum

Taking this deeper yet, setting in terms of time and place varies dramatically with each viewpoint. Multiple viewpoints actually strengthen setting, since each imbues the environment with that person’s emotional memory. While Ambassador Anmir reacts with deep shock and mourning at his civilization’s ruin, Galena chooses culturally prescribed defensive strategies first, then progresses to offensive mode when that proves inadequate. Lisha attempts to understand the destructive mechanism even as she searches for a remedy.

To my eyes, the natural world displays a layered richness missing in human contrived settings. What may appear to characters as chaotic often equates with too narrow a view—or lack of knowledge. Besides when it comes to raising the stakes of your story, what works better than placing entire worlds at risk?

Sending love deviant artists

Sending love deviant artists

Worlds within Worlds by Janine M. Donoho

Horton Hears a WhoDon’t you simply love Dr. Seuss’s HORTON HEARS A WHO? For me the story served as a watershed event as I grappled with string theory and quantum mechanics. HORTON also informs my approach to storytelling.

We writers yearn to create places that we’ll miss when we’re away. To finish our stories, our worlds need to cause a relentless itch that brings us back each and every day. Once we finish our stories, we intend that our readers find our world-building irresistible, too.

To engage our audience, certain features prove vital. Primarily our readers need to suspend their disbelief. That means seamlessly arranging entire worlds of physical systems, societal taboos and mores throughout a complex landscape. Let’s make this our starting point.

My foundation in MISTBORN CHRONICLES? A bucolic world lacking in magic and advanced science. When the curtain MB Bk 1 Kindle Coverbetween worlds rips open, wild magic invades like a viral attack. Ah, you recognize ‘the call to adventure’? Rather than revisit what others like Joseph Campbell and Vogler explain so well, let me focus on the aspect that proves most interesting to me—the ‘what if’ game.

So my friends, time to put on your critical-thinking-hats. Begin with the magical influx…

What if certain species and individuals prove genetically sensitive to transformation? What if some cannot mentally or biologically handle the change? What if the one person who understands the linkage between science and magic has lost her abilities and is trapped in this world? What if her skills make her suspect? What if she cannot diagnose the harm done to her without cueing a rapacious predator to her location? What if a master merchant, who sees himself as average and anything but heroic, finds himself a repository of the extraordinary?

You see how this process works? This drama continued for over 1500 manuscript pages. Yes, a series was born. The trick? How to apply this ‘what if’ practice to each level of conception, including species’ physiology and cultures along with suites of universes bumping up against each other.

We writers set the rules, then play within those parameters. Otherwise our readers cannot suspend their disbelief. If we fail, they’ll toss our stories across the room in exasperation. As an abused reader, I learned this response firsthand.

Many books take us into their worlds, shape us, then ensnare us as return visitors. For me, Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS, Guy Gavriel Kay’s FIONAVAR TAPESTRY, Orson Scott Card’s ENDER’S GAME, Anne McCaffrey’s DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN, Patricia McKillip’s RIDDLEMASTER OF HED and George R. R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE (1st three novels) exemplify mastery. First came my appreciation for these stories along with a willingness to immerse myself in them. Later I returned to read them more analytically. Even now, I lose myself in their preeminence.

So what’s your key approach to world-building? How do suspend your reader’s disbelief?Horton's Who Flowers

Greetings Well-Hung Sweetheart by Janine M. Donoho

Morning has broken 5Greetings Well-Hung Sweetheart. Yes, that’s the joyful porn spam greeting of the day. Remember when spam meant spiced ham with the ingredients of pork shoulder, ham, salt, sugar, sodium nitrite and water? And yes, Google spam automatically goes away after 30 days. What’s in my box can’t be good feng shui, though.

The Association of Feng Shui experts for this Year of the Snake warns that if you want to avoid misfortune–and who doesn’t–never, ever disturb the path of a snake. In a landscape populated by rattlesnakes, that goes unsaid. They also admonish against renovations or hole digging along your southeast property. Nothing about porn spam, but I still delete daily while laughing at its absurdity.

On another note, we’re into a pre-spring cycle of melt by day, freeze by night. Our northern exposure has developed into a stellar luge course and the western mountains inspire coralline mornings. Plus we’re still finding gorgeous critter tracks in the snow. Definitely feline, here’s either a lynx or cougar print beside my boot for reference.Probably Lynx We’re an exotic predator pack surrounded by native predators–very stimulating for a geeky biologist.

Now back to editing FORGED IN MIST…book 2 of MISTBORN CHRONICLES.

Still Winter by Janine M. Donoho

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStillness and winter. Intermittent and distant traffic along the Crowsnest Highway in Canada offers the only false tone. Today a baby bird’s song–way too early–along with raptors voicing joy in snowmelt that bares rodent tunnels. Evenings and mornings fill with coyote song–shortly followed by our hounds’ response and perhaps the belling tone of a wolf. Icicles drip and plop as temperatures rise to mid-30s. Winter goes on here for about 2 months longer than many expect. So I take a cue from wilyRockhound whippet Connor, our rockhound who climbs to see what’s on the other side.

Now back to editing FORGED IN MIST, book 2 of MISTBORN CHRONICLES.

Soundings, Water Elemental

LaunchFebruary 27th, 2015
The big day is here.

Newsletter signup

Join in and receive a FREE short story as my gift to you. Exclusive promos, book deals and contests available only to subscribers.

%d bloggers like this: