Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
The Story Behind the Stories
  IGMS Authors Share How Their Stories Came to Be
July 2014

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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