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Improbability is in the Details
Abra Staffin-Wiebe's Journal
"Idiom, Character, and Worldbuilding," "Building the Spear," "Short Fiction," "Heroine's Journey" 
17th-Aug-2013 04:52 pm
Miscellaneous notes about things that I found interesting/useful from the "Idiom, Character, and Worldbuilding," "Building the Spear," "Short Fiction," and "Heroine's Journey" panels at the 4th St Fantasy convention, and perhaps a few thoughts inspired by them (and I can't remember which are thoughts and which are notes!).


Shift idiom, addressing nouns to indicate (even if the reader does not notice consciously) a language change.

Idiom is an excellent way to worldbuild and also provide class information.

Consciously using or not using a character's native idioms can show their reaction to being in another culture.

Don't make swearwords interchangeable with their English versions! Make them based on something cultural in-world.

And remember real-world meanings so you don't screw it up.

We carry the idioms of previous centuries with us, long after the originating circumstances have passed.


For worldbuilding depth and character relationships, try using implied instead of explicit history.

Jo Walton has described works which lean on prior events for their emotional impact as being full of "very sharp spear points on some very long spears".

Readers want moments to be bigger than they actually are. They're on your side when it comes to building emotional investment. The trick is figuring out where they're investing.

Exercise: watch High Noon, followed by Rio Bravo, which John Wayne made as an answer to High Noon--because he hated High Noon.

If the spear is emotional, or otherwise not part of the main plot, you can have the plot resolve, launch the spear--and not show it landing. It's a way to keep the reader satisfied yet still going, "Agh!"

In a series, previous books may be building toward one spearpoint, but you darn well bettwer figure out what your readers have been building toward in the current book.

Before ending, stop and think about what your subconscious has been building in when you weren't paying attention.

Jo Walton's discussion of the subject: http://papersky.livejournal.com/143157.html


For more originality, maybe try making it a non-gendered success (by how you build the culture) instead of breaking gender roles against the oppression of the patriarchy.

Always question automatically assigned gender for characters major and minor, i.e. not just traditional or warrior woman.

Stages: maiden, mother/weaver, matriarch/priestess, crone

Female/queer/non-white/disabled is not necessarily a choose-one-only.

Our genre is very much in favor of the underdog, which can make starting with a character in power (not one who just has it to lose it) very difficult.

Beware the female heroine who doesn't have other female friends because she's "not like other girls."

Campbell's mono-myth, "hero's journey," does not apply to *all the things*.

More female mentors are appearing in fiction now.

All posts from 4th Street 2013: http://cloudscudding.livejournal.com/tag/4th%20street%20fantasy%202013
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