Birth of an Idea

As I noted yesterday while explaining why I moved websites, one of the things I’m working on is a worldbuilding project of my own, for a novel I will eventually be writing. This story itself began in a number of places, that slowly brought themselves together: with a chance encounter on an airplane, with a stray thought in art class and later some yardwork, at a museum, and last looking up at the decorations at a newly discovered restaurant. It’s funny where ideas come to you.

Though two of them were earlier, the initial idea came from a flight from Seattle to San Diego. I was in a window seat, reading (The Sun Sword, I think). But it wasn’t the book that got me going (though it might have been why my mind jumped straight to politics), it was the woman next to me; she ordered herself something alcoholic, and at one point, while wearing a sleeping mask, lifted up her little glass of booze, put it to her lips, drank a sip or two, and set it back down, and not a drop spilled. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that I was pretty impressed. That got me thinking about characters, and gave me one who would be sitting around my head for a while; a woman, probably a noble of some sort, who goes around blindfolded. Why? She’s a political hostage of some sort, the fiction is that she’s just there for a visit, but retaining the blindfold she came in with is a sort of act of defiance. The name Natara came up for her, and she sat around my head for a while as I returned to busying myself with things like populating a bureaucracy for my game and creating life for my thesis adviser.

The relevant quote in art class, I believe, was about the Romans treating the emperor statues that came to their towns with the same respect with which they would treat the actual emperor. It having been a few years, I don’t recall my train of logic, but it gave me an idea for a world in which the return of effort for effort as long as a link could be established was at the very least a law of magic, at the most a law of physics, an idea further strengthened when off yanking morning glories and thinking about fixing up people’s houses to fix up their lives. Natara told me that this was her world, though the sort of magic with which she associated herself didn’t quite fit the effort-for-effort model.

Then the museum came back into my mind. It had actually been first—a visit to San Francisco leading to a walk through an exhibit on illuminated manuscripts. I loved the things from the get-go, and had actually been thinking about them before the story came along, with one of my characters an ardent user of venery to the point of making up her own collective terms for her more supernatural and less conventional prey. But somehow it tangled itself up with the story: what better manifestation of effort for effort as a law of physics than people learning better from books that are more painstakingly copied and more intricately illustrated than the standard? Which led to my main character, an apprentice calligrapher.

But what sort of culture? I knew I didn’t want something based on the usual European archetypes. It’s been done, it’s hard to do anything new with, and I’m one of those people who believes we need more variety in our heroes. But I didn’t figure out where until a chain of rotten luck with restaurants led me to a newly opened Middle Eastern restaurant off of a recently reopened grocery store, and I was admiring a huge silver-colored tray and the tesselations on the wall. At that point it struck me. Why not give this a heavy Classical Arabic influence? The artwork would certainly go well with the effort-for-effort mentality (along with being absolutely beautiful), the emphasis on scholarly pursuits—it would require a lot of research, but I’m not one to turn down an opportunity to learn. Sweet.

Next step? Doing my homework.


  1. Michael says:

    Sounds fascinating! I can’t wait to see where this leads. :)

  2. That’s a pretty neat idea. I especially like the blindfolded noble woman. She carries with her a certain strength in that one act you’ve described that begins to define her as a person.

    The laws of magic reminds me of an old dragon magazine where a set of laws, based on study of real life shamans and such, were proposed. That was an interesting read, although it didn’t really change my own campaign that I run, sometimes thinking of the origins of such things can lead to mysterious secrets that can be uncovered.

  3. Ravyn says:

    Michael: Yeah. It was strong enough to stay in mind for several years waiting for a world, that’s got to count for something.

    Recursion King: Yep. I’ve always liked characters like that, so when Natara popped up, I knew she was a keeper. Particularly since unlike most of my other flashed-on concepts, she never tried to sneak into my game somewhere. Having someone who’s picky enough to say “Not this world” says something, I think.

  4. UZ says:

    So the application of effort bears a return where a link can be established? That’s a dangerous rule for a calligrapher – the effort of creating the literal written word has little to do with how meaningful said word is.

    Then again, maybe I can see the allegorical value of a world filled with the undirected energy of frequently repeated trivia. That might be a more realistic rule than I initially thought… :)

  5. Ravyn says:

    “The first priority of the writer is knowledge, that that knowledge be shared, and meaning, that the work may hold some use to those who hold it. The first of the artist is beauty, that the work be appreciated. But for the scribe, or for the copyist, the priority is neither; rather, it is understanding of the work, that the understanding be passed on with the beauty and the knowledge. Only then may we pay attention to arresting the eye.” –Halimah, teacher of apprentice calligraphers.

    ….but wow, you’re right, that trivia is going to be dangerous. *scribbles a note on that, to go with whatever gets resolved about the discussions with dead scholars*

    (Glad you could make it here! Sorry I didn’t leave a more clear path.)

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