Sunday, January 29, 2012

Where do the children play?

"Oh, I know we've come a long way, we're changing day to day, but tell me, where do the children play?" - Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens)

How's that quote for one out of left field?  Speaking of, "out of left field" is a phrase I've always been curious as to its origin.  I looked it up, and it really does have to do with baseball; people just aren't entirely certain how.  Some point out that a batter has the most power hitting to the opposite field, and most batters are right-handed (which matches the general population), so most of the time the left fielder has to stand farthest away from the action.  Anything "out of left field," then, is a skosh "out there."  Others point out that people running in to home have the left fielder at their back, so any throws from there to get them out are going to be surprises--"out of left field" as it were.  That's full of interestingness, no? 

But back to topic--I bet you're still wondering why I use a Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam lyric in place of my traditional author quote.

Well, first, I like his songs a lot.  Grew up on them, in part (yeah, at the same time, I can say I grew up on Bread, or Chicago, or Blood, Sweat, & Tears, or Blue Oyster Cult--pick one).  The work of Cat Stevens, who changed his identity to Yusuf Islam later on, has always touched me deeply.  Even back when my views were solidly on the right-wing side of the aisle, hearing "Where Do The Children Play?" would bring me to a stop to consider the environmentalist's commentary on humanity's plight.

Politics and flowers aside, though, the quote has a very real application to my writing efforts, specifically in the area of world-building.  You might have noticed that I designed the estate of Mars to not include much in the way of children's play areas.  That was on purpose.  The War God has several areas of his estate set aside, of course, for the study of combat and other martial pursuits.  No strangeness there; who needs children around when you're studying war? 

In the second book, though, readers will be introduced to a few other areas belonging to other gods.  Some are the same, while some are different.  Again, I designed each one purposely, as I'd imagine the god who owned it would have.  Hephaestus, for example, has his forge in the middle of a volcano (see?  I do pay attention to some mythology).  But he's also got his share of human followers, and humans aren't so keen on living inside an active source of molten rock.  Thus, I built him what I hope will be an interesting area, complete with space for the children to play (different god, different personality, and so on).  Another example: Mars has colors--reds, blues, golds--throughout, while another god you'll meet soon does not. 

Back to reality, which is where I think most fiction authors get our story ideas from: when we toured the Biltmore, I noticed that the home wasn't designed with children in mind.  I doubt many homes back then were, so it didn't surprise me.  But soon after it was constructed and George W. Vanderbilt found himself a lovely bride, along came a child as they often do.   It wasn't long after the appearance of Cornelia that the owner declared the Biltmore as his primary residence. Keep in mind that as sparkly as the Biltmore was for its day, the youngest Vanderbilt still didn't have access to a single Playstation or Nintendo.  She couldn't even play Wii with her friends.  Poor little girl, right?

Thus the question: where does a child play in a friggin' castle?  The tour discusses some of that; turns out she had a play area with a swing set up top of the hill at the other end of the esplanade. There were also reflecting pools to play in, and along the side of the house there was an open stretch used for all the lawn games they played back then with a "tea room" sort of gazebo thing. 

Where this is applicable right now is the elf village.  It's funny how world-building works itself out, really.  I *thought* I had the world of Return of the Gods completely built before starting it, but I had to go back several times and more thoroughly develop some areas as well as completely changing others (for example, at first the estate was really only big enough to handle a hundred humans or so, which I later on realized was way too small).  Thus, I'm not surprised now that I've begun the elf world when I have to go back and refine/revise the building I did for this one.

Bottom line lesson for this post, then, I guess, is to not get too caught up in world-building activities before you begin writing, because some--a little, a lot, or most--of it will end up being wrong anyway.  That, and take the time to go tour places, because there is some awesome inspiration out there. 

Heh--from Cat Stevens to a couple of writing rules.

Have a great weekend, what's left of it!


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