On World Building, part 1: Seeds

Daichiyama is the world where Dragon Festival, Harvest Fire takes place.  In so many ways, it's the backbone of the story, and there was a lot of behind-the-scenes writing that was needed to build it.

The stories of The Painted Shōgun all started with a seed.  That was the very first thing to be put to the page.  I can't share that seed yet because, well...major spoiler alerts.  It is basically a one or two sentence, thirty-thousand foot view of the major story arc.  For instance, "a middle-aged halfling will take his uncles ring to a volcano to be destroyed, saving their world.  Along they way, there will be lots of evil forces trying to stop him and plenty colorful characters."

Going back further, "pre-seed" if you will, there were places already in my head where I wanted to plant that seed.  I knew I wanted Japan, but not exactly Japan.  For me, the prospect of reading a feudal Asian high fantasy was the whole reason that I started writing The Painted Shōgun.  After some very rough story sketching, I realized at first that I needed to flesh out 'the world' further before actually writing anything.

Based on my story seed, I needed four distinct worlds for three distinct stories.  First and foremost was my version of Japan.  I wanted a same aesthetic, a same feudal caste system, some very similar customs, and a place that allowed me to share the things that inspire me, like food and martial arts and a complete and utter devotion to daily perfection.  I also wanted it to be a landlocked nation.  That would provide a very different military history, and very different opportunities to conquer.

One of the earliest concepts for The Painted Shōgun was to take the seeds of an existing civilization and plant them in a different place at a different time.  One of my favorite exchanges from Kung Fu Panda is the peach tree scene.  Sifu says about the peach tree and the dragon warrior that "there are things we CAN control: I can control where the seed will fall, I can control where to plant the seed."  Oogway responds with " Ah, yes. But no matter what you do, that seed will grow to be a peach tree. You may wish for an apple or an orange, but you will get a peach."  There's a lot of guiding wisdom in that exchange.  Yes, we can put the seed where we want it to grow.  As authors, we can even pick which seeds we want to plant.  But part of what we need to consider to make our stories believable is how to let the seed grow into what it will.  

Once the geography is in place, whether it be centered on waterways that are important to the story, a forest you may have dreamed about, or a mountain you're longing to climb, real people need to live there.  They need to react to things that you've built, and it needs to all have happened before you begin.  The "Japan" that I created is the Shōgun's prefectures, or Yoronoji.  The people of Yoronoji will need to work and occupy time recreationally.  They will create food and art and faith and families.  My sense of what those things should look like came from careful research, being a fan of such things (knowing what I was writing), and imagining what daily life was like in such a place.  I've found that the built world that is familiar, or grounded in something we can already see and touch, is more accessible.

For example, there is a belief system in Daichiyama that is different than my own and different from many of my potential readers.  Actually, it's invented, so I'd be surprised... I based it on components from the religions of the cultural groups that inspired those in the books.  For one, it's pagan.  It's based on some aspects of Shinto as well as some of the Native American religions.  While there are chief similarities and considerable differences, one thing was certain: a people from that time and that place would most likely not have existed without it.

People also have a long and storied history of not getting along.  A lesson that our species learned long ago was how to cross the short distance between wanting and taking.  We got good at making war.  Many of the cultures that I wanted to capture celebrate it as high art, though it is always feared and respected.  Those, too, were traditions that I would not have found these people without.  The prefectures are in a period of peace and prosperity, but it was a bloody history that got them there.  And in the opening volley, that's the Shōgun that we see.  We also find out some tidbits about the history between the prefectures and the Dragon Riders of Onidara.  There are reasons why in times of peace, they train for war.

In The Painted Shōgun, the places molded the characters and the characters molded the places.  Knowing that, and allowing it to guide the story in some ways became an important part of the process.  And there were lots of other lessons learned from building this place, so stay tuned...


P.S. - Just finished a draft of a ghost story set in the Yoru village of Oshiro.  It is in the vein of a traditional Japanese Kaidan.  It started as a piece for a horror anthology that a good friend is compiling.  It is the first of many expanded works to be added to the folk lore of Daichiyama.  It will be up for download in the Book Shop soon.