The first up in our ‘River’ guest post series is the wonderful Joshua Palmatier, aka Benjamin Tate. Joshua (or rather Benjamin – it must be fun to be two people at once) has just released a new title in the ‘Well of Sorrows’ series, ‘Leaves of Flame’. Check out the links to his work below!
Without further ado, here is Joshua’s take on Place as Person.
The Dredge: A Character of Its Own
One of the strangest things that happened to me after the release of my first book, The Skewed Throne, was that at a signing, one of the fans who had obviously read the book already commented, “I love the Dredge! How did you make it so real? It felt like I was there!”
Of course this was exceedingly flattering and stroked my new writer’s ego to no end, but it got me thinking. For those who don’t know, the Dredge is what I called the slums in my fictional city of Amenkor, the setting for The Skewed Throne. The entire story takes place in this one city, and as soon as this fan made this comment I realized that because the entire novel was set in this city, I’d treated the city itself as if it were a character in its own right. I’d done this unconsciously, but it happened nevertheless. I spent as much time, if not more, trying to make the city, and in particular the Dredge, as realistic and deep as I possibly could. I wanted it to feel like every reader (and in particular the characters) knew that there was something right around that corner up on the left, even if they weren’t currently planning on traveling around that corner. But it was more than that. I wanted everyone to literally feel the Dredge. I wanted them to live in its darkness, be able to taste the grit on their tongue, to breathe in the scent of the murky water trickling down its alleys, and to feel the slime when they put their hand to the mudbrick walls to catch their balance. I wanted it to be an experience, one that the reader lived alongside the human characters in the book.
In the process of doing that, of trying to so completely create the experience of that place, the Dredge took on its own life. And on reflection, I think that’s essential for any good fantasy novel. The setting, the “place” where the story is occurring, needs to feel real to the reader, as real as the “real” world in which they live. This is part of the magic needed to get the reader to suspend their disbelief and to accept what is happening without thought. If the world doesn’t feel real to the reader—if they can’t feel it, touch it, taste it—then they are going to have a hard time accepting the parts of the world that aren’t real, the parts that make that world fantastical.
After that encounter, I began paying more attention to how I created my world and began thinking of the world itself as its own character. This became especially relevant for my newest series (the most recent book, Leaves of Flame, having just been released this January), because I was attempting to explore a whole new world, a just-discovered continent with its own beauty, danger, and people. I wanted this continent to have a totally different feel from the homeland of these intrepid explorers, much as America has a different character than Europe or Australia. And along the way I discovered that not only do you have to treat “place” as a character in its own right, you must also do the same for “culture.” The new races that these explorers discover needed to have their own personas, unique from anything in our own world. Based on the reviews, I think I managed to do that. And of course, the culture of these races is inherently tied to the place where they live. But that’s a whole other post of its own.
My short story “The River” in the River anthology took me back to the city of Amenkor, and to the outskirts of the Dredge, so readers will get a glimpse of the city and its darker side there. But I tried to focus on the River in the city itself, tried to give it its own persona as I had the slums. I believe it took on a life of its own, as I imagine most of the rivers featured in the anthology do. I had a blast revisiting Amenkor, and intend to do so again in the future. After all, you don’t leave good friends and characters like that behind. *grin*
Joshua Palmatier, aka Benjamin Tate, is a fantasy writer with a PhD in mathematics. While teaching at a local college in upstate NY, he spends his “free” time writing and, more recently, editing fantasy short stories, novels, and anthologies. The “Throne of Amenkor” series includes the novels The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne. His newest release is Leaves of Flame, sequel to Well of Sorrows. He has co-edited two anthologies with fellow writer Patricia Bray—After Hours: Tales from the Ur-bar and The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity (March 2012). His short stories appear in the anthologies Close Encounters of the Urban Kind, Beauty Has Her Way, and River. You can find out further information about him and his books at www.joshuapalmatier.com and www.benjamintate.com, and follow him on Facebook, LiveJournal (jpsorrow), and Twitter (bentateauthor).