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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Skinwalking: Worldbuilding Beyond The World by Renee Wildes

              Independence Day got me thinking about my approach to worldbuilding. July 4th is uniquely American – I guarantee they aren’t closing federal institutions elsewhere in the world on this day! We celebrate with parades, fairs, picnics, fireworks.
We watch The Founding Fathers and The Patriot and Independence Day.
I write fantasy romance. Worldbuilding is my life’s blood, because I truly build something from nothing. But I’ve discovered worldbuilding is more than geography & technology, religion & politics. It’s the beliefs & customs & traditions & relationships of both society & individual.
SKINWALKING, living inside the character’s skin. The woodcutter in the forest and the blacksmith in town lead very different lives, but they’re interdependent. The blacksmith makes the ax the woodcutter uses to cut the wood that fuels the fires the forge needs to produce the ax.
Worldbuilding is how everyone lives and gets along.
Conflict arises when they don’t, and conflict is story.
SKINWALKING is how the characters see & interact with their world.
I adore the movie Romancing the Stone. Heroine Joan Wilder leaves her NYC world of tailored suits & Italian high heels for the jungles of Columbia, but she brings along her suits & heels. They’re all she has. They’re what she is. Hero Jack Colter tosses her suitcase of tailored suits off a cliff and lops the heels off her shoes with a machete. All she sees is he’s wrecking her things. He’s destroying what she believes she is. He’s just trying to be practical, but she makes it personal.
SKINWALKING. Your world is developed and maintained by the view and experiences of your characters. A character only knows what he knows. What they want and how they view things differ depending on their experience, needs and background. A shepherd traveling cross-country looks for open grasslands for his flocks. A warrior traveling cross-country looks for ambushes & cover. He’ll avoid that shepherd’s paradise like a plague. A healer will test unfamiliar plants for healing properties. An assassin will look for the deadliest poisons. Same methods, different goals.
Take a werewolf from the inland mountains to the coast. (I did in Lycan Tides.) Imagine his awe at entire racks of seawater drying to salt. The locals take for granted one of his greatest luxury items. It takes weeks of hard travel to bring salt back to the mountains – every pound measured in blood, sweat and tears.
Put a character in a different environment than he’s used to, where none of what he knows applies. What does he notice? What does he miss most? What does he use? What does he adapt to suit his own needs? What does he learn to do that he never did before? What old beliefs/truths fly out the window and what new beliefs/truths take their place?
 What if a peace-loving miner discovers a new metal to makes tougher tools—but also stronger weapons? Does he reveal his secret and take the bad with the good, or does he hide it? How does his family, his village, his country view him either way? What makes a villain a villain and a hero a hero? When is a villain a hero and vice versa?
Think Robin Hood.
We are shaped by our family, our friends, our jobs, our experiences. So are our characters. Worlds build our characters, but never forget that our characters build their worlds, too.
In my newest fantasy romance released from Samhain, Riever’s Heart, my hero Aryk defies tradition and his best friend Valkyn in order to unite warring clans into a peaceful nation. A warlord hellbent on peace? Because he’s tired of women starving and children growing up only to die in battle. He has a son, and visions of Joro being slain with his own sword haunt him. Heroine Verdeen is assigned to him by her king to help him in his quest for peace. But they fight an uphill battle against hardheaded traditionalists who fear laying down arms turns them from wolves into sheep for the shearing. Weapons turned into plows? Warriors turned into craftsmen and farmers? It’s really personal beliefs vs. traditions, the one vs. the many, that’s at the heart of my worldbuilding.
Independence Day is here because a few determined that what had always been was no longer good enough. They took on the impossible because they thought it was right. And they changed their world—and ours.
Worldbuilding is so much more than the world...
My SKINWALKING class is being run here at FFP next month, from August 13-19, 2012. Prepare to go in-depth, and learn how to walk in the character’s skin, BECOME the character. I hope you’ll join me!  Here's the link:  http://my.rwa.org/e/in/eid=26

Renee Wildes is a local Wausau writer who grew up reading fantasy authors Terry Brooks and Mercedes Lackey and is a huge Joseph Campbell fan, so the minute she discovered romance novels it became inevitable that she would combine it all and write fantasy romance. Renee is a history buff, from medieval times back to ancient Greece and Sparta. As a Navy brat and a cop’s kid, she gravitated to protector/guardian heroes and heroines. She’s had horses her whole life, so became the only vet tech in a family of nurses. It all comes together in her Guardians of Light series for Samhain – fantasy, action, romance, heroics and lots of critters!


Renee Wildes said...

Morning everyone!
It's a pleasure to be here today and share a bit of the philosophy behind "Skinwalking," which I will go into more details in next month's class. It's a combination of "world-influences-character" meets "characters-inpact-worlds."

Cathryn Cade said...


I'm signed up, and can't wait for the class. Sounds like you have some great indepth POV advice for us.