bluebeard

More-on-’Wind.

Originally published at PeterCHayward.com/blog. You can comment here or there.

The trouble with having a routine or schedule is that when it gets thrown off, it’s incredibly difficult to get everything back on track. Last night, I picked SJ up from a Missy Higgins concert (which she tells me was excellent) and as a result didn’t get to sleep until 1 or 1:30am. I don’t function without a good 8 hours of sleep, so I moved today’s 9-5 workday to 11-7.

It’s just hit 11:30 and I’m only really getting started for the day now. Damn you, routine.

Admittedly, a huge part of the problem is the return of my addiction to Morrowind. I really do consider it the best game I’ve ever encountered, and when I’m not playing it (or reading the various wikis that detail the world’s extensive lore) I’m watching a Let’s Play of Morrowind that I’m in love with – I’ve watched four hours of it in the last few days, and I can’t wait to watch the next 100+ videos.

But writing is how I make the dollars and cents and so I need to get my head out of fantasy and back into smut. I’m planning on revising three or four stories today, with the aim of having them all published by the end of the week. (Christmas, or “Kindlemas” as it’s referred to by the other smut writers I know, is the biggest-selling time of the year, so I want as much content out by then as is possible. Next week is show week, and then I’m on holidays, so this week is my last chance to get writing!)

To warm up, I was going to write a 6-minute story, but instead I think I’ll talk about ideas that Morrowind has been inspiring in me.

There are 10 “races” in All-That-Is, the fantasy world I’ve been working on for my entire adult life. ATI could be considered a cross between Morrowind and the Discworld novels; I didn’t start reading Pratchett until I’d been working on my own world for several years, but the comparisons are obvious. It’s very light fantasy, and I use it as a way to stretch my creative muscles when I’m between projects, and explore issues that I have with other fantasy works.

There are 10 races in All-That-Is: Angels, Demons (think “imp” rather than “Satan”), Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Fairies (I was a big Enid Blyton fan as a child), Ogres, Orcs, and an invented race called Peedlings.

All-That-Is started as a Dungeons and Dragons mod, but quickly expanded as I came up with interesting ideas. Fairies and Ogres were added to appeal to my love of Enid Blyton-esque writing, my desire to have an “all-good” race (as a response to the All Chaotic Evil trope you see so often in fantasy) brought Angels in, and Demons were added to further explore the idea. (Demons are an “all chaotic” race, but very few of them are evil.)

I could talk forever about each race, but if you’re desperately seeking more information, I did a few posts a few years ago that cover each race.

Today, I want to talk about Elves.

I don’t actually read a lot of fantasy, and so each race just started as a stereotype (or at least what I thought was the stereotype) – Orcs are big and stupid, Ogres are bigger and stupider, Humans are bland and fight a lot, and Dwarves are miners…and pirates.

(I have since learned that no, Dwarves are not typically pirates. I don’t understand why; it makes perfect sense to me. They’re rough, hardy, big drinkers, and they have massive beards. Of course they’re pirates. My mistake inadvertently added a unique element to All-That-Is, which worked out nicely.)

If I find a race boring, I play with them until I have an “angle”, and then they write themselves – the dull “hit things smash woo” Orcs quickly became the tribal race, with each different tribe learning to live in a different part of their varied homeland – there are Water Orcs, Stone Orcs, Fire Orcs etc etc.

Until this recent Morrowind-obsession, I haven’t been able to find any way of making Elves interesting. All I had for them was “they live in trees”. I tried making them the “ninja” race, to move away from the archery stereotype, and a few years ago my cousin Gavin suggested a two-class system; playing off the Asian influence, making half the Elves samurai and the other half ninja, but I could never get it to work.

Back when I started working on All-That-Is, when it first moved from a combat system to a world of its own (and was for a while just referred to as “The Peterverse”) one fantasy element that I deliberately left out was the “old” world – I wanted to start a fresh world, where you didn’t just read about ancient events that shaped the landscape, you got to live them. I’ve since found the reason no one does this: if it’s a new world, you don’t get that rich, lived-in sense of history (not to mention old and abandoned ruins to explore.)

As the world stands now, recorded history starts about 200 years after the beginning of time. That gave me room to play with two or three small things, but no world events: Angels have a life-span of about 150 years, so when they started writing stuff down, the beginning of time occurred a single generation ago.

I’m thinking of working around this by having writing be invented about 200 years after the beginning of time, but no one realizing that you could use this handy “writing” idea to record history for a few hundred years after that. Writing could be primarily used for fiction, shopping lists, and instructional guides until ~500 years after the start of the world, and when they try to sift through the writing that appears before then, it’s hard to determine what’s real and what’s lunch.

That gives me room for at least a few major world conflicts; the earlier they occurred, the less people would know about them.

Playing through Morrowind made me realize how inherently racist most “cursed races” are. From the Book of Mormon to interpretations of the Bible to Morrowind, when elves trangress, they’re cursed by the gods to have dark skin.

A lot of ideas in All-That-Is come from me wondering what happens if I flip a trope. What if it’s a new world, instead of countless thousands of years old? (answer: it’s much harder to give it depth.) What if humans are a tiny minority, instead of the default majority? (answer: a unique world that can probably never be affordably filmed.) What if you have an all-good race instead of an all-evil race? (answer: the world suddenly makes a lot more internal sense.)

And so I decided to make Elves a cursed race – they used to be a beautiful charcoal colour, but they angered (insert-god-here) so much that they’re all now white, or light green/grey/tan. And they hate their new colour. This immediately appeals to me, just because of how the audience will question their preconceived notions: seeing a white “high elf” kneel in subservience each time they encounter a black human, immediately seems to contradict the image that we’re used to in fantasy. I like it a lot.

Another idea: interesting ideas invariably come from simple contradictions - Dexter is a serial killer and a hero. Walter White is a mild-mannered chemistry teacher by day and drug-dealer by night. Michael Scott is the boss, but has no authority or leadership skills.

What if Elves were highly-trained warriors, with a Spartan-esque society that focuses on combat…while being a pacifist race? (anyone who’s read the Animorph series might see a similarity to the Hork Bajir – they were huge, fierce-looking creatures, whose impressive blades and strength were so that they could pick the bark off of trees.)

The reason for the pacifism: their warlike nature was why insert-god-here cursed them so long ago. They learned their lesson, and want to be peaceful forever more. It also provides the opportunity for a few interesting cultural things: they could have moved from their old, stone, warrior cities (providing interesting ruins that can be explored) – and while mainstream Elven society could be peaceful, there could be young rebels etc that don’t believe in it.

So why do they still train in the ways of war? The answer seems obvious, and ties nicely into everything above: they attacked another land, and were punished by that land’s god (or maybe several gods banded together: I do enjoy my god drama) – while they’re sworn to pacifism, if the other land/s decide to retaliate, they want to make sure they can protect themselves. And over time, it just became the way that their culture ran. (something you see all the time in real life; why the fuck do government offices only accept faxes and letters? Who the hell uses faxes or letters any more?)

This gives us an interesting take on an otherwise-dull race (their pacifism could even go as far as to include animals and plants, making their architecture immediately interesting; they never damage the trees that they live in, and so they specially grow branches and vines to house themselves) as well as booby-trapped ruins to explore that are abandoned and overgrown without needing thousands of years to get that way.

I always know when I’ve hit something that works, because my mind suddenly starts overflowing with ideas. Self-hating pacifist warriors who live in trees? As far as I’m concerned, pure gold.

And since I write All-That-Is almost purely to entertain myself, I’m the only one who matters!

It’s about to turn 1pm and I still haven’t done any real writing for the day, so it looks like it’s time to get to it. If I get 3 full stories ready for publication today, I’m going to allow myself another world-building blog-post, so if that sort of thing interests you, stay tuned!