June 18, 2012

me talking about persiany stuff

For lack of a better title.

Over the past week, I’ve been busy brainstorming. Ideas have been bouncing all over the place—not all of them good, mind you—and I’ve made a bit of progress with the story. I’ve read up on my Ancient Persian history, just to remind myself of the culture. I don’t want to get too caught up on being accurate since the story locale is based on Ancient Persia, rather than actually being Ancient Persia. Still, I love this sort of thing—reading up on religions and cultural practices and science and such. 

I think I find religion the most fascinating, with all its beliefs about life and death and the day to day rituals of its followers. Since this story is based on Pre-Islamic Ancient Persia, the religion to use as inspiration is Zoroastrianism, which is basically a belief that the world is in danger of being consumed by uncreation and chaos, and we are responsible for maintaining the world’s order and balance (since, as humans, we are beings of creation). There’s more to it obviously, but that idea that humankind plays an integral part in the struggle between order and chaos is great story fodder. So that will probably come to play in my story, even if direct Zoroastrian worship does not. I also plan on using Zoroastrian rituals. They believe that water and fire are agents of ritual purity. (I’m taking this from the Wikipedia page… studious of me, I know…) Water and fire are considered to be life-sustaining, and both water and fire are represented within the precinct of a fire temple. Zoroastrians usually pray in the presence of some form of fire, which is considered a medium through which spiritual insight and wisdom is gained. Water is considered the source of that wisdom. Neat, right?

Now this stuff will probably just be in the background, never really the focus of the story. But I feel like it will enrich the fictional culture with a little bit of reality. Not too much though. Once I start getting specific, the focus turns to those realistic details, and that’s when the story takes a halt in order to serve a not-so-subtle history lesson about Zoroastrianism. That’s not what my book is for. And I think that’s one place where my last attempt at writing this book took a seriously dangerous and deadly turn—I got too obsessed in the details, trying to fit religious themes and accurate ancient history into the story when it didn’t belong there. Lesson learned. Moving on.

Well, almost. Moving on, that is. I want to talk about details for a second. What do I include? What do I summarize? What is important? Etc. For those of you who don’t know, the Persians were a decorative bunch. Nearly everything that they made had some artistic value—cups with rams’ heads providing the handles, plates embossed with lions’ heads, intricately woven rugs, pillars made to look like elephants, walls decorated with ornate porcelain tiles, extraordinarily detailed jewelry, doors engraved with designs, and reliefs on every once-flat surface. It was a culture of artisans—super awesomely skilled artisans. How can I possibly do their artwork justice in a medium made of words? It will definitely be a challenge for me, finding just the right amount of detail to describe without bogging down the story. But I want you, my readers, to see this culture, to experience it in all its decorative splendor. It’s my job to make you see it. I just hope I’m up to the task.

And while these details—the rituals and basic beliefs of Zoroastrianism and the art of Persian design—while they may seem unimportant to the story, something a lot of people would include as an afterthought, these details are what bring a world to life. This is what makes the setting of a story more than a backdrop for the characters to traipse through. The characters are a part of the world, and so the world deserves just as much—if not more—characterization than the characters themselves. Or so I believe. I want the characters to interact with the world, and I want the world to interact back. That’s why these details are important to me.

As for the story itself, I plan on beginning the long, arduous road of plotting today. I’m starting to see scenes in my head, rather than places and characters, so it’s time to start writing them down. I imagine it will take me at least two weeks—perhaps longer—to get a workable outline hammered out. This will consist of me writing about ten outlines and deciding they’re all crap before finally finding the one that works.

Still stuck on some names, but I have a feeling that something will come to me once I actually start plotting and mapping and things. Really, the biggest name that matters is that of the main character (and hey look! she's over there -->). I named her Shadiya, the feminine form of Shadi, which means “singer” in Arabic, and it also means “happiness” in Persian (according to Google Translate, so take that as you will). I picked it because of the way it sounded, not because of what it meant, which is how I pick names. The meaning isn’t so important as the name fitting, if that makes sense. Like, as if the character couldn’t be named anything else. That’s the sort of name I want to give them.

I’m hoping that as I plot and iron out the secondary characters, the names will come to me more easily. It’s difficult to name something you know so very little about, someone who’s lived in this story world for years, who has a history and friends and enemies and a place they call home. But it’s all the more satisfying when you do find the perfect name, even if you slave over baby name websites for hours and hours and want to pull your hair out because you just can’t find it. Maybe other people don’t obsess so much about names. But I think they’re important. Just like setting is important.

Well, I’ve rambled long enough about this. Time to write. 

How do you make a setting come to life? Do you focus on the details or let the world fade into the background? 

And how important are names to you? How do you name your characters? 


  1. A couple of my fantasy books are set in pre-Islamic middle-east. I research for background, but I use only a few real places for reference. Most of the place names are only fantasy.

    I use one of the baby-naming sites on-line. Its database allows selection by nationality, letter or letters to start with (helps keep character names more unique), and a meaning if there's one I want to home in on specifically. Thus, I got Setara (star in Afghan) for one of my MCs. Faizah (successful in Arabic) is the MC in another book. Both meanings are intrinsic to the personalities. I several more middle-eastern names with meanings close to the character personalities.

    1. I'm having a hard time with the place names. I think I'm trying too hard to make them mean something rather than just giving them a name that sounds cool (like I do with my characters) "^_^

      One of my favorite Arabic names is Jinan, which means "garden" or "paradise". I like the meaning and the way it sounds. I just wish I had a character to give it to!

  2. It's great you're getting a chance to make such great progress on research and beginning the plot process. They'll all go hand in hand with making a wonderful novel and settings that come to life.

    Speaking of settings, I try to have the characters interact with the things around them. For example, my WiP MINGLED has something of a dystopian feel to it. I have the characters interacting with the technology so that it isn't necessary to go into too many details.

    1. I think that's the best way to bring out the world--having the characters interact with it. You can describe things without having a block of description, instead peppering it in through action and dialogue.