The Story Behind the Stories
Drift by M.K. Hutchins
I know many authors start a story with an idea for a character, but for me, setting drives
character, and then character drives plot.
Years ago, as an undergraduate studying archaeology, I listened to a professor describe how the
ancient Maya conceptualized the world as a giant turtle floating on a watery hell. I couldn't get
that image out of my mind. And so I began to develop the setting of Drift. Often an interesting
setting is one with inherit conflict, so I pondered ways to make hell worse. Instead of one turtle, I
populated the dangerous oceans with many turtle-islands that could trade or war with each other.
Instead of immortal, perpetually-healthy turtles, I created turtles that needed to regularly feed at
coral reefs -- a precarious place that forced islands together.
From there, I looked at culture on the islands. Those archaeology professors also lectured on
cultural ecology -- the way culture and environment interact. I started crafting a society that
responded to the natural pressures around it. A small island would need to be light and fast to
escape other islands. Marriage and child-rearing became stigmatized things of the poor. Those
talented or lucky enough became adopted apprentices to artisans or joined the Handlers -- elite
warriors who defended, ruled, and taxed the island. Much of the novel draws on Maya
inspiration, but given that I'd decided to match the culture to the setting, I didn't want to give the
idea that this was actually a Maya-analogue world. Since many different cultures have world
turtles in their mythology, I wanted to nod to them as well and decided to use nagas -- watery
snakes that take on a variety of forms across cultures -- to infest the waters.
With my setting in place, I could create characters. Once again, I turned to conflict. Soon I had a
young man living on the shores of hell, one with a family history of treason and a stubborn,
proud, sometimes-reckless sister. He also had a goal: to create a better life for himself and for his
sister by becoming a Handler.
With all the setting in place and characters drafted, I could start plotting and writing. I already
knew how these characters would strive for their goals -- and what kind of problems they'd run
into, dealing both with the environment and each other.
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