One thing that usually comes up in invented fantasy worlds, even if just in passing, is the need to exchange money for good and services.
Rare is the story where you can focus on a strange way to do it – most of the time is it little more than colour. Worlds based on Dungeons and Dragons usually have “gold pieces” as the core value (often abbreviated to “gp”) plus lesser values in silver and copper. Which is kind of ironic because the original idea of “gold piece” was so that game writers could create some local colour by changing the name. Many don’t, of course.
It also ignores some of the economic history of our own world. In medieval Europe, which is the basis for a lot of fantasy fiction world-building, the average man-in-the-field never ever saw gold in his entire life. Gold was rare and thus highly valuable. Too valuable, in fact: silver was much less rare and so many coins were struck in silver. But even a single English silver penny was worth a lot: Wikipedia tells us that estimates of its equivalent value in today’s terms is something like $20. That tells us that a lot of local trade wasn’t transacted with money. No wonder few people ever saw gold.
A writer always wants their readers to be saying “and what happens next?!?” TV writers have known about this for decades. It is called the cliff-hanger. A drama series with a cold-opening (i.e. a scene before the opening credits) will have a cliff-hanger of some sort. It will ask questions without giving answers. It invites the viewer to keep watching if only to scratch that itch of not knowing why.
This trick of not telling the audience something can also be used in a different way. The popular website TV Tropes has a term called The Noodle Incident. This originated in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes and referred to an incident where Calvin got into so much trouble at school he refuses to talk about it. And they had to call the emergency services. Bill Waterson wisely left it unexplained, because in the readers’ minds “it would undoubtedly be more outrageous”, as he put it. The trope is similar: it refers to an incident that is off-stage or off-camera that the characters know about and refer to, but do not explain to the audience. We get to see how characters are defined by their reaction to this piece of unreported backstory.
David Eddings is on record as saying that when he designed the world of The Belgariad, he chose a pagan pantheon because it was more interesting than a christian one (“pagan” just means non-christian, by the way). By that, I imagine he meant he preferred a multitude of gods in his world rather than one single one. For the sort of fantasy world he built, one god was just not going to work.
But that’s not necessarily true.
Why would you ever start a story without knowing where it’s going to end? Isn’t that like getting in your car for a drive and just choosing turns that look interesting? It’s possible to get quite a long way and see many interesting things, but sooner or later you’re going to get stuck. Or lost. And you may well find yourself miles from home come nightfall. Perhaps you can just turn around and see if you can find your way back home. You’ve just gone basically nowhere.
And a story that goes nowhere is not a story. Continue reading
There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that the movie Star Wars was originally the first act of a longer screenplay. That means that Lucas had written a second and a third act intended to round out the story. Yet this movie stands nicely alone with it’s own three acts. And it also forms the first part of a trilogy that also hangs together as a story.
What is going on? Continue reading