Tag Archives: language

Of flowers and world-building

I am no J.R.R. Tolkien. The thought of even trying to create something as deep and profound as his Arda makes me want to give up.

Still, world-building is important even when one is not writing about a fictional world. If I write about my home city, I still have to build it into the story for the benefit of people who do not know it.

But the truth is, I am not writing about my home, or even my world. A while back I made the decision, rightly or wrongly, to not fear using elements from Earth. This may cause confusion (and a major re-write) later on, but my thought-process went something like this:

I am writing in English, with the characters speaking English, which means I am already acting as a translator (because it would make no sense for these people to speak English).

Moreover, these people are human, which begs all kinds of questions on a world which is not Earth.

I borrow from cultures around me (one must begin somewhere, and “write-what-you-know” applies to fantasy and sci-fi, too).

It makes sense to borrow ecology, weather-patterns, geology and other world aspects, as well, for two reasons: 1. I am not clever enough to come up with a working world whole-cloth  and 2. if I manage to make it all up, I lose all of the rich symbolism and cultural significance that already exists in our world (and therefore needs a lot less explaining).

Ok, then, I will go ahead and write the story around what I know and go from there.

My reasoning might be quite flawed. I would love for you to chip in and discuss it with me, if world-building interests you.

So, what has this to do with flowers?

Floriography is a word for a tradition found in several cultures in which plants or flowers are used to convey meaning or even a message. It’s fascinating, though not very reliable. Even in the same culture, some flowers have very different meanings, and when a flower’s meaning relies on its color or variety, things get even more complicated.

In the cultural history of my home state, both indigenous and colonial, this symbolism sometimes reaches the level of belief or superstition. Instead of symbolizing something, a flower or plant is thought to be a vessel of the thing itself. That kind of superstition has bled into my writing and is becoming a significant thread in the narrative.

The thing is, I don’t agree with many of the “meanings” given to flowers in the past. That isn’t an indictment of tradition, but a mere matter of taste. For my story, different significances and superstitions may be needed, and to that end, I am creating a new floriography as I go along. If this ever happens to be published, such a list will probably be in Appendices for those who are interested.

So, you see, my world-building is rather haphazard. Some things echo Earth (oh, hey! There’s an oak-tree and some raspberries, and is that person singing Wildwood Flower?) and some things diverge (there are several fictional plants already, plus, you know, mythological beasties and stars and more than one moon…).

Why am I telling this to the internets? Well, I am looking for thoughts and opinions on this matter. I can’t make a good, informed decision on anything without input. So, what are your opinions and preferences when it comes to world-building? Are you a stickler for consistency? Do you try to science out if the place you are reading about is Earth (past, present, future, parallel)? Do you like fictional worlds to be completely new and interesting? Do you like familiarity? Do you even notice when there’s an oak-tree in T’naké’lorilin’arpa’liél?

For me, I think what is most important is whether or not the world, in and of itself, makes sense/works. I am not above or beyond changing my opinion, though.

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Language and Perception

One moment last night can be described in similes; otherwise it won’t go into language at all. Imagine a man in total darkness. He thinks he is in a cellar, or dungeon. Then there comes a sound. He thinks it might be a sound from far off-waves or wind-blown trees or cattle half a mile away. And if so, it proves he’s not in a cellar, but free, in the open air. Or it may be a much smaller sound, close at hand-a chuckle of laughter. And if so, there is a friend just beside him in the dark. Either way, a good, good sound. I’m not mad enough to take such an experience as evidence of anything. It is simply the leaping into imaginative activity of an idea which I would always have theoretically admitted- the idea that I, or any mortal at any time, may be utterly mistaken as to the situation he is really in.
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Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them- never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?
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-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
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This could pass without comment, and for the most part, I will allow it to do so. I read this passage, this morning, for the first time. I am sure subsequent readings will reveal other facets, but for now, two things strike me.
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One moment last night can be described in similes; otherwise it won’t go into language at all.
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Someone whose writing I greatly value and respect feels the same restrictiveness of language that I do.
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Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them- never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?
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Yes. Just… yes. If I could remind myself of this constantly, I would, and if I could teach others one fundamental rule for interacting with each other and the world, it would be this.

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