Monday, November 05, 2012

Guest - Toni V. Sweeney

Good morning all! We have Toni V. Sweeney visiting us today.Toni has written 33 novels, two of which will be published this month! She has some great advice for  those of us who create worlds...



I’m Toni V. Sweeney, a writer, Creator of Worlds.  (At this point, cue the dramatic and awe-inspiring opening strains of Thus Spake Zarathustra, please.) All writers are, for that matter. Whether your novels are science fiction, fantasy, or contemporary, you, the writer, invent, construct, and produce the environment in which your characters live.  Even if it’s this very familiar ol’ world of ours, it’s still partly your own creation because you control its scope and breadth and what happens within it.  To paraphrase the prologue to that great television series, The Outer Limits If you wish to make it louder, you can bring up the volume. If you wish to make it softer, you can tune it to a whisper. You control the horizontal. You control the vertical. You can roll the image, make it flutter. You can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity…*

Indeed, we writers do exactly that, and I’m the first to admit that creating a world is difficult work.  There’s so much involved.  One doesn’t just say, “OK…here’s my world.  It’s not Earth, by the way,” and let it go at that.  That world which is “not Earth” has to be shown to be different, in all its alien glory, if you will.  If your characters are going to spend a lot of time there—say, the entire book—and are going to be out and about in this environment, interacting with other inhabitants or the planet itself, you’re going to be forced to create more than just a “different” atmosphere.  In the following, I’d like to use my own novels as examples. 

1.      THE PLANET OR DIMENSION OR WHEREVER YOUR CHARACTERS LIVE...  Let’s go on the supposition that this is, as they used to say on Star Trek, a Class M planet, meaning it has enough oxygen to sustain a humanoid species.  If you’re a soft SF/fantasy writer like myself, let’s further make these inhabitants human enough and save a lot of really scientific, biological, and physiological explanations.  You’re going to need flora and fauna for this world and they should be familiar but different.  I went all-out in my series, creating an entire galaxy.  In fact, I’ve created two galaxies, plus several planets whose exact location is never really establish.  One place mentioned a lot is the Milky Way, our home turf, but it’s not a very friendly place.  The government is now a Federation, located in Charleston, SC., which became the capitol after the Second Rebellion of the Southern States. (Guess who won?) Earthlings are called Milkies, after the above galaxy and are alternately feared, scorned, or ridiculed, depending on whose doing the fearing, scorning, or ridiculing.  They’re also considered one of the three most sexually aggressive species in the universe, the other two being Arcanians and Felidans, all of whom figure largely in my novels (of course).

People visit Earth but they don’t stay long, so most of my novels take place elsewhere, such as Felida (The Adventures of Sinbad series) and some planets in the Emeraunt Galaxy (The Chronicles of Riven the Heretic, The kan Ingan Archives).  Their sun is the Sun of Galen, and there are eight planets plus several in a place called The Fringes, so far from the others they’re considered a separate entity, flaunting the laws set up by the central government on the planet Arcanis.  Wars are always being fought in The Fringes, even when the rest of the galaxy is at peace.  Each planet in the Emeraunt has its own government (autocratic, monarchies, or near-democracies) but they’re all under the control of Arcanis and its ruler, the Margrave who heads the Peace Force, the enforcers of the galaxy.

That’s my setting.  Once you’ve got yours, allow it to grow and evolve.  Don’t keep it static, unless you’re writing a single stand-alone.

2.      FLORA AND FAUNA… Animals and flowers as well as the natural resources of a planet play an important part.  In my novel Exile, there a little planetoid called Pyras, rich in something called diamontium, the strongest element in this specific galaxy, and also a creature is endangering the men sent to mine that element.  Described by one as a “cross between a grizzly and a tree sloth” these golden-furred jalbeays are slow-moving, but, having acquired a taste for human flesh, extremely deadly.  My hero and his best friend nearly loose a battle with a jalbeay and it cements their friendship even more.  In Three Moon Station, set on Tritomas-2, there’s a little wild boar called a waity, not dangerous at all, because it thrives on leftovers and the settlers use it as a living garbage disposal.  They also ride animals similar to horses but with eight inch horns and clawed feet like dog’s paws, 

There are trees which drop their fruit if asked politely, and apples which are red when unripe, turning green as they mature.  They have no cores and everything but the stem is eaten.  On Felida, they don’t have potatoes but a vegetable called the caric comes pretty close, and is a staple.  As for flora…how about the liana, a golden vine that wraps itself around all the other trees and plants in reach and slowly strangles them, taking over the environment…much as the cadena de amor does on Earth.  Or—and here’s a good one—the parsilflower, whose fragrance is an aphrodesiac and it’s illegal to wear its perfume.

One’s catalogue of the plant and animal life in a place is limited only by the imagination.

3.      SOCIAL MORES… Sexual, political, and religious customs can also be given each writer’s own special twist, and as mild or as wild as you wish them to be.  Just don’t go overboard and horrify the reader’s sensibilities so badly he’ll drop the book and never pick it up again.  In the Emeraunt,  Arcanians guard their daughters well and use them to gain political power through marriage.  Conversely, they encourage their sons into sexual activity as soon as possible.  They’re very custom-bound, adhering to beliefs millennia old. Their government consists of a margrave, his advisors, called the Tripod, and an Assembly of Peers.  They began as barbarians but at present, in my series, have reached an era resembling the English Regency/Victorian Era, where women are relatively secluded, men run the show, and any overt emotion is well-controlled while vice runs rampant in the background.  Contradictorily, they use horses and carriages as transportation to conserve energy onplanet but also have ships for interplanetary flight and a very well-armed and aggressive space force which is always ready to be launched and looking for a fight.

Patterning your fictional government (or an animal one) after a real one is always good.  I’ve one planet where the entire social structure is copied from that of the hornet.

4.      THE PEOPLE… There won’t be much of a story without people, whether they’re inhabitants or merely visitors.  Their status is important.  Visitors are going to view a place differently from the way inhabitants do and this can be a good way to make social commentary.  It’s better to make the natives close enough in appearance to the visitors for comfort, but having characteristics, both physically and socially that are different enough to make interesting contrasts and/or confrontations.  In The kan Ingan Archives, set on the planet Arcanis, the people are in rigid castes and divided into three types, the Old Bloods (whom some believe to have once been aliens) the peasants (the natives) and the kan Ingans (barbarians who came in, took over and have ruled for three millennia).  Each is physically different but they all have a few things in common.  They have perfect teeth due to certain oral enzymes, so dentists don’t exist on Arcanis.  In fact, the idea of a doctor who treats teeth is considered absurd.  Chocolate is unknown.  Arcanians who’ve come into contact with this candy have been proven to be allergic to it.  Give an Arcanian a chocolate-covered cherry and he’ll become intoxicated.  Have him eat three and he’ll go into a possibly terminal coma.  Arcanians only wear undergarments during winter months.  One Earthling who lived among them was considered odd because she insisted on wearing underwear year-round.

On Felida, the people are descended from feline ancestors.  They’re seven feet tall and resemble two-legged lions with human features.  They don’t eat cooked food and have a social system resembling that of a pride of lions.  Imagine the possibilities when a human is accepted into their midst and takes a female as his mate.  (It happens in The Adventures of Sinbad, and the entire series is the story of their “cub” and his adjustment to living as a hybrid.)

The settlers on Tritomis-2 live much as they did in America’s Old West.  They even have rustlers, and their justice is just as swift as it was back then.  I’ve even one planet where the “people” look like nothing more than furry little poodles, except that they’re telepathic!

You can make your “people” anyway you want, but once again, a word of caution.  If they have any habit which may be repulsive, better have something to off-set it, or make a few of the inhabitants descry and attempt to change it to ease the reader’s shock.

And that, as they say, is that.  Not Everything You Need to Know to Create a World, but a few things to consider when making your own.  Sounds easy, huh?  (Please note the sarcasm.)  I thought it was, but the more I delved into my characters’ lives, the more complicated it became.  With every novel, I discover some new facet of alien life which I had mentioned somewhere along the line or which insinuated itself in when I wasn’t paying attention.  Then, I not only have to explain but to make certain that explanation is reasonable enough to be accepted. And I don’t doubt there will be more to come in the next one.

World-creating is a complicated building, but I’m Toni V. Sweeney, Creator of Worlds…and I’m up to the task.  You can be, too!

*(Special thanks to ABC, Leslie Stevens, and for supplying this information)

When the king of the Nords wishes to end the generations-old war with a marriage between his daughter and the Purdhan ruler’s son, Vicomte François faces a problem:  His son is only seven  years old.  Then His Majesty comes up with a clever solution…

He betroths his illegitimate son and warlord, Ax, to the Nord King’s daughter, and peace is ensured…except for one minor detail...

Neither Ax nor Princess Astrid want to get married, especially to each other.


Frans was silent a moment longer, reading for the fourth time the last paragraph of the Nordish sovereign’s letter. “He calls me a barbarian. How can he do that? Purdha has artists and poets, don’t we? And beautiful paintings and works of literature as well.”
“Well, it’s known we’re not as prone to give in to our sensibilities as some,” Ax answered mildly. “I’ve never yet seen a Purdhanese warrior go into spasms of delight over a sunset or the whorls in a chrysanthemum’s petals, and generally the few times any have picked up a brush was to paint a roof with tar. I think you’re hedging, Sire. Surely being called a barbarian isn’t what’s upset you so.”
Franz took a deep breath, holding it for so long Ax began to worry, then let it out in a violent whoosh. That startled the warlord. The last time he remembered his father doing that was when he’d given twelve-year-old Axel a well-deserved strapping for neglecting his sword and armor after a training session.
“He wishes a marriage between one of his daughters and my son!” he burst out, throwing the letter on his desk.
“That’s absurd.” Now, Ax looked angry. “More than absurd. Ridiculous. Both his daughters are adults, aren’t they?”
“One’s eighteen, the other near seventeen, as I recollect.” Frans nodded.
“Hm. Near to being old maids, so obviously he’s desperate to be rid of them. Well, this is a marriage that can never be,” Ax decided, dogmatically. “Geofri’s only seven. It’ll be years yet before he’s even interested in females and a few more before he can do anything about it.” Abruptly, he mirrored his father’s anger on a less violent scale. “Why, by the time the marriage could be consummated, his wife would be near to middle-age!”
“That Nordish blaggard’s well aware how young Geofri is, and he knows what my reply will be.” Frans was out of his chair now, reaching for the wine decanter. He sloshed wine to the rim of the goblet, then thought better of it and left it sitting on the mantel. “And when I do answer, he’ll bruit it around that he offered peace and I refused, and then I’ll be the villain…the uncouth barbarian villain.” That last was added angrily.
“There must be some way out of this,” Ax said. “You’re as sly-witted as a Nord any day.” He thought about that a moment. “What does his offer say? Exactly?”
Picking up the letter, Frans read aloud the offending paragraph.
“One of his daughters to your son.” Ax repeated the words musingly. “Pity you don’t have another son who’s older. Then there’d be no problem.”
Frans didn’t answer. Ax looked around at his father who was apparently deeply immersed in reading for the fifth or sixth time that same paragraph. Abruptly, the vicomte looked up and smiled. “Sire? What are you thinking?”
“That I do have an older son.”
“No, you don’t,” Ax corrected. “Geofri’s your only…” He stopped as Frans’ smile broadened and he understood. “No. Oh, no…no, no.”
“No mention’s made of a name.” Frans pointed out.
“He doesn’t want to marry his daughter to a bastard.”
“Nor is anything said of legitimacy. You’re royal but for that minor detail. Besides, you’ve a title. He can’t really protest, if it comes to that.”
“I don’t want to get married.” Axel’s handsome face assumed the sullen pout of a petulant child.
“Not even to prevent another war?”
“It’s more liable to start one,” he pointed out. “When Edelrolf learns how he’s been befooled.”
“It’s for Purdha, Axel.” Frans’ tone turned wheedling, the same voice he’d used to coax his son into eating his porridge when Ax was younger. “You love your country, don’t you?”
“Not that much!” Ax replied with a stubbornness similar to that he’d used during those same times. He hated porridge. He was certain he’d hate marriage even more, from what he’d seen of it from observing married couples at Court. He chose to ignore how happy Frans and his countess appeared to be.
“Consider this not a request from your father but an order from your sovereign.”
“I don’t care who it’s from. I won’t do it.” Chin thrust out belligerently, Ax’s face briefly mirrored his father’s so closely no one seeing it would doubt their relationship.
“To refuse to obey a direct order from your liege is treason,” Frans reminded him softly, his own voice taking on a warning note. “Warranting imprisonment at the least.” He didn’t remind Ax of the other punishments available.
“Then arrest me.” Ax waved his arms dramatically. “Wrap me in chains and throw me into the deepest dungeon and find someone else to lead your armies, if you can.” With that defiant statement, he crossed those arms over his chest with a gesture of finality. “I refuse.”
“Not even if I give you something you want in return?”
“You’d bribe me?” He gave his father a wary look. “With what?”
“You’ve often said you feel a warlord, especially a Prime One, should have more than one title after his name.”
“The Earl of Anjelu died recently. He was without heirs, so his lands reverted to the Crown. Marry the girl and I’ll make you the new Earl of Anjelu…and of Limieux, also.”
“That’s not fair,” Axel protested. He’d long had his eye on those two provinces and on more than one occasion had none-too-subtly hinted to his father that he wouldn’t mind being their new master if the old Earl, long in ill health, didn’t soon marry and get himself an heir.
“All’s fair in war,” Frans reminded him.
“But I don’t love her!”
“What’s love got to do with it?” Frans looked surprised at his declaration. “You marry the girl, Peace is declared, and as long as you don’t mistreat or kill her, that’s an end to it.”
“Well…when you put it like that…” Ax hesitated, then decided to push his luck. “I’d need one thing more.”
“Name it.” Surprised he appeared to be winning so easily, Frans could afford to be magnanimous.
“A title for Raoul as well.”
Might’ve known he’d be looking out for his best friend, too.  Frans searched his memory for properties he could easily let go. The Crown was always having land returned to its ownership. What choice title could he bestow upon his son’s boon companion? “Désirée’s available. He can have that.”
Ax considered, rapidly weighing the evils of marriage against the good it would bring to two kingdoms, as well as the promised rewards to himself and Raoul. He let his greed tip the scales. “Done.” Then, he added, “If you think you can get away with it.”

My Lord Ax will be available from Class Act Books on November 15.

Toni V. Sweeney was born in the space between the War Between the States and the Gulf War.  She has lived 30 years in the South, a score in the Middle West, and a decade on the Pacific Coast and now she’s trying for her second 30 on the Great Plains. An accomplished artist as well as writer, she has a degree in Fine Art and a diploma in Graphic Design and produces videos as well as novels.  Toni also writes under the pseudonym Icy Snow Blackstone. This November, she will have her 32nd and 33rd novels, My Lord Ax, published by Class Act Books published, and Retribution, published by Double Dragon Publishers.

More information about Toni can be found at:

Twitter:  @tonivsweeney


-- Lynda Again
   That's it for today, ladies and gents. I hope you found this post as informative and as enjoyable as I did. 

   Have a Blessed Day!


Lynda K. Scott said...

Hi Toni! Thanks for visiting us!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I'm always impressed by writers like you who are so prolific and yet continue to be creative and imaginative.


Jacqueline Seewald
TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS--now available in all ebook formats!

Anonymous said...

Great post. I loved the excerpt.

Toni V.S. said...

Thanks, Jacqueline, I've gone through 4 computers so far. Guess electronics just can't keep up with me. Glad to be here, Lynda.

Karin Shah said...

Loved the exerpt! Good luck with the release!

M.C. Hana said...

Toni, thanks for the detailed, rich essay on world-building! It's always fun to meet another writer obsessed with all the behind-the-scenes stuff.

Congrats on the new release - it's on my reading list.

M.C. Hana

Janice Seagraves said...

Hi Toni,

Great article on world building. I'm working on a SF romance series and it's not easy.

Good luck with your release.


Cia said...

I have to agree that creating a 'world', especially a fantasy world, is all about the details. Especially when writing a series, you need to remember all the past special features you create, and create new ones to keep it original and fun. I liken a good world build to the same level as a character. They should evolve, we should see new aspects with each new story.

My only quibble would be using such relatable to Earth terms as diamontium, and making it the hardest substance, which is so close to diamonds-the hardest stone on earth. Why would they be anything similar? That relates back to my feelings about Avatar, which was an incredibly vivid and rich new world, yet used 'Unobtanium' as the lynch pin of the source of conflict. Corny much?

One of the hardest things when creating a strictly fantasy realm is not allowing elements of our own world into them, imo. It's also why I cheat and write a lot of modern fantasy/paranormal. That allows me to mix the fantastical element into the ordinary-which not only makes it easier for me to explain, it gives the reader that sense of connection.

Anyway, I loved your article, thanks so much for sharing!! Good luck on your new book!

Caroline Clemmons said...

I love creating my own little world. Even though I'm writing about a real setting (Texas), I use a fictional town that I create to suit the needs of the story or series. Great article.

Barbara Monajem said...

Well, now I know why I don't write Sci-Fi. I'm not patient enough to dream up a world like yours, Toni!

Toni V.S. said...

Well, Cia, when I thought up "diamontium" I was thinking about the substance Wolverine's claws and skeleton are made of, adamantine. And who's to say there isn't a substance harder than diamonds somewhere and why couldn't it be called diamontium? I also have a metal called "angelica' which replaced gold as the standard, also. In the Emeraunt galaxy, gold is the cheapest substance around and it's used as a decoration simply because it's pretty not for its value. Thanks for the input. Appreciate it.

Toni V.S. said...

MC and Janice, thanks for stopping by.

Toni V.S. said...

That's what I mean, Caroline...even when writing about something as familiar as Texas, you're still creating your own specific part of it.

Toni V.S. said...

Well, Barbara, Your Regencies are so great, you don't need to create any other worlds. Although Bayou Gavotte is a great little world all its own!

grammy1 said...

You have gained the readership of many of our reviewers at the PARANORMAL ROMANCE GUILD WE FIGHT TO READ AND REVIEW YOUR WORK..YOur stories are so imaginative, compelling,and well written

GLoria Lakritz
Review chair for the PRG