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

Hero Worship by Janine M. Donoho

Last night I entered my guy’s mancave to immerse myself in THE AVENGERS. Since we live in what’s described by news outlets as a ‘primitive area of Washington State’, we depend upon Blu-Ray DVDs. Warning: mini rant in progress. While supposedly antiquated world regions such as Morocco, Egypt and Malaysia allow for easy streaming of movies, not here. Our USA has become an infrastructural backwater. However that’s another story.

Visualize instead comfy seating with hounds piled around us. Add in sub-woofers vibrating, pithy dialogue and special effects galore. What intrigued me most in THE AVENGERS, though? That would be, ‘What makes a hero heroic?’

Early on Joseph Campbell’s HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES addressed this, transporting me from monomyth through mythic connection to society. Heady stuff for a nerdy writer and scientist. Then Chris Vogler condensed this mythic structure to its basic parts in THE WRITER’S JOURNEY. While experts in anthropologic, folkloric and psychoanalytic fields have challenged their analyses, from these beginnings more reduction has occurred. Entire writing processes, software programs and curricula developed. Some writers consider the hero’s journey the only necessary plot. Perhaps. Certainly the mythic structure appeals to me. What do you think?

Now back to THE AVENGERS, which abides by Campbell and Vogler’s notions in satisfying ways. The story even attempts to answer, ‘What makes a hero?’ Perhaps at the simplest level, a hero performs extraordinary deeds to benefit others. Heroes do so without expecting compensation. In AVENGERS a previously egocentric and hedonistic Ironman chooses potential death while saving the world. Does that make him a hero–or simply capable of an heroic action. Is there a difference?

In today’s world politicians and spin doctors steal vital words like ‘hero’ from our lexicon. They cynically bend, spindle and mutilate the meaning in attempts to influence the herd. I believe we wordsmiths need to resist such gyrations. We’re obligated to recapture our language, then use rescued terms to build great stories. As for the word ‘hero’, isn’t it time to return to basics?

Soundings, Water Elemental

LaunchFebruary 27, 2015
The big day is here.

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