K is for Kangaroo

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

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Think about the last story or novel you wrote with a scene outside. The character might walk through a field or a forest, for instance. There could be a long journey! An alien world! There are quite a few wonderful stories that take place all inside, but the vast majority will involve the outside world, full of sun and wind, kangaroos and ferns, and all manner of other wonderful things.

At CONvergence 2014, however, fellow indie Tania Richter pointed out something: most fictional worlds (i.e., worlds shown in media) don’t contain all manner of wonderful things. There’s grass and there are trees, often there’s birdsong, sometimes there are flowers. Fantasy worlds often have deer and horses. But when it comes down to it, we don’t build the richness of the worlds our characters would be experiencing.

The point has stuck with me. The richness of the flora and fauna, I realized, was part of what informed the worlds of Cherryh’s Cyteen and Downbelow Station. The lush elegance of the Chinese landscape in Guy Gavriel Kay’s River of Stars perfectly complemented the elegance of the culture he described, by turns civilized and cruel, and spoke to the wildness of the myths he explored. Even in YA, a genre often elegant for its simplicity, Dealing With Dragons and Beauty stood out for their descriptions of the landscape.

This isn’t a minor thing. Nature is beautiful, dangerous, often chaotic through a sentient being’s eyes, and above all dangerous. How your characters interact with their surroundings is a more elegant method of description than exposition, and it provides opportunities to show a character’s complexity. In Cyteen, the characters’ struggle against the harshness of their new planet provides unique challenges that Cherryh is very willing to explore, using the starkness of a world in which everything earth-like must be imported to make a commentary on just how human we can be when not on Earth. In Beauty, our protagonist’s interaction with the fields and stables of her home in the country is not only contrasted with her previous and later lives of luxury, but gives us a chance to see how she tackles adversity (which is pretty well, actually). And in Dune, one of the seminal books of genre fiction, the harsh realities of Arrakis provide both conflict and resolve, in many directions – contrast, for instance, the resolve of the Sardaukar to withstand adverse conditions, with Liet-Kynes’s resolve to create a lush paradise.

So the next time you slog through a freezing cold puddle, or flail desperately around the kitchen trying to kill a centipede, or get hay fever, remember how much the natural world subtly influences your life every day. When you smile at the green fuzz on budding trees, or the profusion of wildflowers in a field, or the tenacious grasp of lichen on a mountainside, you can reflect on how muh you were born to be awed by this earth. So go out and watch some nature documentaries (Planet Earth is a pretty good starting point), maybe read Into Thin Air or peruse this list HERE over at Goodreads.*

When we fail to develop the flora, fauna, and weather of our worlds, what we have lost is not only an additional level of complexity in our descriptions, but an entire dimension of who our characters are in relation to the vagaries of life. Nature is adversity, adversity provides conflict, and our character’s actions in the face of conflict are what give our story its momentum.

Questions? Comments? Let me know what you think!

*Just don’t have your characters do pretty much anything the woman in Wild did if you want them to survive.

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