Solving a 20 Year-Old Worldbuilding Problem

The title isn’t a typo or a trick to hook you into reading this post. This last week I literally solved a 20-year worldbuilding issue on the heels of two breakthrough moments. A two decade long snag? That’s right.

Anthology1 stories. Diagram: ©2021, CA Hawthorne using Scapple

I have have my own personal laws of writing that are important to me. (1) Savor—and manage—the exhausting thrill that is drafting. (2) Revising is the true magic. (3) Creativity breeds creativity. (4) Be patient and writing will reward you in multiple ways. I’m sure there are more.

As mentioned last week, I’m working on a Pannulus historical anthology (not as easy as it sounded, but oh so rewarding). Short the needed content, I started with drafting the opening story, The Suffragette Discovers. It’s been awhile since I drafted a short story, but managed it in two days. My fun story was going well and then, pow!, a twist emerged that slackened my jaw. Creativity breeding creativity, and oh the reward.

The next step was transforming Shadow in Winter from a confusing short story to a novella. Tied to Pannulus, it begins in Draskrith, the repressive nation across the strait. As it happens, The Suffragette Discovers occurs in the aftermath of women (mostly) gaining equal rights in Pannulus, while Shadow in Winter displays life where they have none.

This time, not quite halfway through the novella, there was one of those moments. Drayka meets a young stranger and, as the chapter was closing I stopped and shook my head. My thoughts went something like this. “No, this is wrong. His voice is all wrong. It sounds more like he’s from … oh my gosh!” I froze, my jaw slack (there’s been a lot of that this week). Oh, the sensational repercussions! Backtracking,I realized the novella had been setting up the twist and I was the last to know. All of a sudden, the ending will make ten times more sense.

More creativity breeding creativity. More rewards. This poor story, which has languished for six years, is transcending my vision. Patience, indeed.

Like wrestling a worldbuilding issue for twenty years. To think, that it took writing a story half-a-continent away to solve it. Half-a-continent away?

Yes. Let’s leave Draskrith and Shadow in Winter for a moment. Let’s go back to the beginning, back to the first Ontyre worldbuilding when Carrdia was the focus. Much of my approach to writing I owe to Ray Bradbury. My worldbuilding? The nod goes to J.R.R. Tolkien. In the back of my mind at one point, though, was Issac Asimov. Thus, I created the Laws of Magic.

©2020 CA Hawthorne

The Laws of Magic cannot be broken. In fact, I’ve talked before how it took me a long time to work out engines in Pannulus so they didn’t violate the Laws (that story, as it happens, will be in the Anthology). There are currently 22 Laws, though there were only a little more than half that at the beginning. As I’ve run into unique situations that weren’t covered and then had to make a decision, I’ve drafted a Law in the aftermath.

The Laws flow naturally from the worldbuilding, but always with storytelling in mind. For instance, Law of Magic #1: No one can heal themselves with their own magic. I did not, under any circumstances, want invincible protagonists. It was a reaction to fantasy novels where the protagonist’s abilities were limitless. Not in my books.

Other Laws are so critical they’ve gained official names, like #6, The Prolongation Factor, which later inspired a short story with a similar name (also in the Anthology). It was Law #8 that gave me fits with engines. On and on it goes.

And then there was Law #10. The gift, magic, cannot be transferred from one host to another. This is different than placing a spell upon someone. That was all well and good, but I had a Carrdia problem: werewolves. How was it they could bite some hapless person and endow them with the ability to transform every Moon Season? (Each third month.) For clarification, I added, Werewolves have no actual control over their transformation.

In other words, my gut was telling me there was a reason why it was okay under the rules, but I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the explanation. Okay, but how were characters to explain my gut feeling? Awkwardly. It’s a minor issue in Trust in the Forgotten, but it was a big issue in Torment Surfacing where I twisted myself into a pretzel to explain how a virus or infection or something too much like an Earth explanation controlled them, but then didn’t.

Pannulus. ©2020 CA Hawthorne

I wrote it off as something the moon, Ryzer, triggered. Well, yes, kind of true (there’s a Moon Season for a reason, after all), but lacking a concise explanation still made me squirm. For all I knew, 99% of readers would accept the explanation. Maybe 100%? Maybe, maybe not. It’s difficult to accept what’s making the author uncomfortable.

And yet, I was still certain it made sense.

Okay, back to Draskrith we go. As I mentioned, I’d not written other stories in Draskrith. In my Pannulus stories, Draskrith was the menacing presence across the Greenwall Strait with limited worldbuilding. The Laws of Magic, though, apply everywhere.

Part of Draskrith worldbuilding is that Shadow Lords can turn hapless (non-gifted) victims into Shade Lordlings (kinda, sorta Shadow Lords). I was so removed from Carrdia and werewolves that initially I treated it as a unique problem—and solved it in an hour.

I then went to record my solution and the following thought bubbles occurred: Oh, this is just like with werewolves. At that moment I literally shoved myself back from my desk and gasped. Sweet mother, this IS just like werewolves!

I stared. My mind raced. After 20-years I’d solved the Law #10 problem? Impossible. Wasn’t it? I paced. I came back to the computer. I wrote some more. There was manic laughing. I went for a walk and spent the entire time trying to debunk what I’d worked out—and couldn’t.

Sweet Mother of All! I’d created an explanation that didn’t violate any other Law. Explanations would plummet from extensive to a sentence, or even just the name for it (Parasitic Magic). It’d also only cause minor fixes in past novels. The best part is the peace of mind. I take a lot of pride in my worldbuilding and the thought of placing a flawed product on display wasn’t sitting well.

Patience. Writing rewards. Creativity breeding creativity. Oh how I’m going to look forward to revising the novels in question, especially Torment Surfacing. It’s amazing what a different perspective can lead to.

About Christina Anne Hawthorne

Alive and well in the Rocky Mountains. I'm a fantasy writer who also dabbles in poetry, short stories, and map making. My Ontyre tales are an alternative fantasy experience, the stories rich in mystery, adventure, and romance. Alternative fantasy? Not quite steampunk. Not quite gothic. In truth, the real magic is in those who discover what's within.
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