The Savage Other as a Stereotype in Fiction

(An early draft of this essay was written in 2011. This is a revised version.)

According to my American Heritage dictionary the word savage comes from the Latin for “of the woods, wild.” Savage is variously defined as “Untouched by man and civilization; not domesticated or cultivated; Ferocious; vicious or merciless; brutal.” Basically, savages are but one step up from wild animals. They are, as it were, undomesticated man.

The issue of how savages are the same as or different from barbarians is a related but entangled issue, one I will not get into now because instead I want to discuss the use of “savages” in fictional narrative both written and visual. This is an incomplete and partial examination of a complicated question. I use the generic “we” as a writing device, not to suggest I am speaking for others. Be aware I am specifically speaking from the point of view of an American (USA) writing in English.

A typical appearance of the stereotypical Savage Other in narrative may include some or all of the following characteristics:

1) Savage Others live in a crude and primitive manner, with primitive technology, primitive homes, primitive weapons, and primitive manners. They may be generally partially or mostly naked, and often they are painted or scarred; if clothed, then the clothing is usually unsophisticated while the decoration is often exotic and beautiful. Bare breasts might be prominent. They lack modesty and are sometimes perfectly happy to have sex in public because, like dogs and other animals, they lack self consciousness.

2) Fights, often to the death, and brute strength (i.e. violence) are often used to solve social problems within the group. Savages often are boisterous, unable to grasp or stomach the subtleties of politics or social relations.

3) They often are not articulate or talkative. There may be grunting. This is not always just because everything is being translated. Or, if they talk good, they have a limited palette of conversational topics.

4) Simplistic notions of the universe often combine with a primitive notion of religion. Also, sometimes they can’t count past 3. They may be cunning but are rarely or never inventors or sophisticated problem solvers.  Usually they are gullible and superstitious, although often their naïve view of the world may prove to be profound in some mystical way.

5) Sucks to be a woman. They get all the worst chores and are also at constant risk of rape, especially captive women without a guardian or some man who has claimed her (see #9 below, the primal edge).

5a) Exception: Free savage women may have lusty sexual appetites to go with their bare breasts. Also, savage women can sometimes best civilized men in arm wrestling.

6) Blind loyalty to strong masculine male leader. Blind loyalty turns quickly to feeding frenzy if leader shows the slightest sign of weakness.

7) Dirty or matted, tangled hair a bonus. Decoration a plus, especially bones woven into the hair. Peter Jackson’s King Kong film, I’m looking at you.

8) Savages are usually “those people over there” and never “our people.” I have not done a statistical study on how many in works written by Euro-American authors map savages to non-white non-European groups. But that wouldn’t mean anything anyway because blond people can be depicted as savage, too! You know, like the Scots! No, wait, the Picts! Aren’t they blond?

9) Savages lack discipline. That is, they live close to the “primal edge” and just one little bit of alcohol or tip of excitement will set them over the top and into the kind of impulsive behavior that suggests they have no awareness of themselves in a social milieu. Another way of looking at it might be to say that adult savages lack impulse control in something of the same way some teenagers are said to lack impulse control; in other words, they have never quite grown up; they are perpetual children lacking adult restraint and insight and the virtues of consideration, decorum, and moderation, unless, of course, they are a Wise Savage, in which case they are connected to the mystical spirit of the universe, or a Noble Savage, in which case, bad luck, because they are soon to be wiped out so “we” who have recorded their Last Days can mourn their passing.

10) Occasionally they need an Outsider to help them out, become ruler, save them, or civilize them.

Here are four problems I have with depictions of the Savage Other, although this is by no means a complete discussion of how deeply problematic this stereotype is.

One:

The idea that the default state of human beings is “savagery” lies beneath many of these depictions: an unexamined assumption that this is “what we-as-humans are really like.” The problem with the “what we are really like” theory is that just as human beings have violent tendencies, they also have altruistic and cooperative tendencies; just as they can be cruel, they can also be kind and affectionate. Altruism, cooperation, kindness, tenderness, and affection are not the purview of civilization, just as cruelty and violence are not the purview of savagery. All exist within human behavior regardless.

Two:

A “simple” level of social organization, or a low level of technology, does not mean there are equally simple levels of innovation, social interaction, cosmological understanding, or customary (unwritten) law within the group.

What we think of as “primitive tech” was once leading edge tech. Throughout history people have figured out how to use the technology they have in sophisticated ways to deal with their environment and improve their lives. We got where we are today because of uncounted numbers of innovations and inventions that came before in a steady chain of discovery, many forgotten or unrecognized.

In college I took a class on “South American Indians” in which we studied, among other things, cosmologies of various groups. The cosmologies of many of these groups were exceedingly complex and layered and sophisticated. Additionally, the layers of social interaction are usually extremely complex in all societies, and social relationships may be necessarily multilayered in so-called “simpler” societies. If you have ever studied kinship terms you can see how simplified, or one might say atrophied, American English kinship terms are compared to kinship terms in many other languages.

Three:

Human groups have all been developing for the same amount of time. They are continually adapting to their environmental and geopolitical circumstances, which are constantly changing in ways we can’t always see from the present moment. My spouse has worked in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, and he will tell you that some of the most supple and sophisticated thinkers he has met have been highland villagers in PNG who may seem, by external technological Western measurements, to be more “primitive” (or “less advanced”) than “us” but who are far less locked into rigid ways of thinking.

When we say “less advanced,” what do we really mean? How are we defining “advanced?” Usually we are defining it in terms of cities and urban civilization. Politically and bureaucratically state level societies are usually described as “more advanced” than chieftain level societies because they are more populous and have more moving parts and more specialization. (Lest you wonder, I like my technological conveniences and my Constitution just fine, thank you.)

Yet, for instance, the culture of the nomadic Mongols made famous by the 13th century conquests of Genghis Khan was not “less advanced” in cultural terms compared to other cultures of that time. It was suited to its environment, and was as sophisticated and complex in terms of interpersonal dynamics, cosmological understanding, and the nature of lineage and tribal obligations that bound sub-groups together. It had been developing throughout prehistory through stages in a parallel process (with a different outcome) to the development of the complex urban civilizations of the time, those in China, Persia, and the Middle East. Although not based in an urban context, the fluid and dynamic nature of the steppe lineages and groups proved superior militarily to the urban societies they conquered. The Mongols knew how and where to get the outside knowledge they needed to do what they wanted, including bringing in Chinese siege warfare experts just as one example. The descendants of that conquest held on for a reasonably long time in historical terms as the initial empire grew and then slowly collapsed in the way typical of large empires.

Four:

“Savages” do not behave that way. Functional societies are orderly in an internally consistent way.  Functional societies rely on social mores, legal (written or unwritten) expectations or codes, and societal ways (which may be repressive, customary, tolerant, familial, or law-bound) of enforcing social cohesion.

Let me repeat:  All functional societies contain social mechanisms to regulate behavior within the group.

Groups that lack social and customary (legal) cohesion do not survive, or they are already disrupted by other forces which are causing them to change or dissolve. Things like environmental stresses, economic collapse, imperial or colonial pressure or exploitation, and war (internal civil or invasion by an outside group) disrupt social cohesion.

In other words, “savage” defines behavior, not culture. Savage behavior is a dynamic that most often comes into play because of disorder or high stress. For instance, when Wellington’s army sacked the city of Badajoz in 1812, they engaged in savage behavior.

No society or culture can function internally, with internal cohesion, with “savage behavior” as its sole social web. We only think it can be true because the contrast flatters us and reinforces our expectations and assumptions about who is a savage.

Do people behave horribly sometimes? Absolutely.

So here’s my problem: An incident of “savage” or “wild” behavior among a people who are classified as “savages” defines “them,” and the entire culture, as savage, whereas an incident of “savage” or “wild” behavior among “us” (ours, people like us) is defined as an aberration, the exception that proves the rule of our disciplined, advanced, cohesive, orderly, and thus superior society.

But human society is by definition social; we have evolved within social bonds, and with human emotions that influence the ways we interact, enforce social bonds and behavior, and create our way of understanding the world around us.

Humans are as a group emotionally sophisticated, although individuals vary. One of the worst problems with the depictions of the Savage Other is that entire “peoples” or “groups” are treated as if, like variant individuals, they fall outside the curve. But people live in social groupings for a reason: not only are we band animals, we are so because we survive in bands (and larger groups) whereas alone we would die.

As soon as any grouping of people settles into a band or larger society, they now have a social order and will interact to improve the social order (even if only in their favor).

In other words, the Savage Other does not exist. It is a construct, held up so we can feel better about ourselves.

When one people or civilization referred in the past (or refers today) to another as “savage” it is important to examine where and why that word was (or is) being used. Usually it is specifically used to create a value judgement that allows “our” culture to be elevated as more civilized and superior and “theirs” as savage and thus inferior. People in the past, just as in the present, had prejudices and agendas and we should therefore not repeat their judgements as if they were objective.

I’m reminded of the argument that the civilization of the Aztecs (also known as the Mexica) was “savage” because they did not use forks: So said anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan, writing in the 19th century. Meanwhile, conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo, writing as an old man in the 1560s, reflects that the Spaniards with Hernán Cortés on that first fateful expedition had never seen a city in Europe as large, spacious, orderly, and beautiful as the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. Some people typically argue that the Aztecs were savages because they practiced heart sacrifice. A nasty business, I agree. But Mexica heart sacrifice was a tool for political (and religious) power just as the various inquisitions and pogroms have been in Europe, with torture, burning at the stake, and wholesale slaughter part of the historical record. And let’s review a few horrific details of the conquest of the Americas as detailed in Bartolomé de las Casas’s A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (published in 1561):

“The Spaniards forced their way into Native settlements, slaughtering everyone they found there, including small children, old men, pregnant women, and even women who had just given birth. They hacked them to pieces, slicing open their bellies with their swords as though they were so many sheep herded into a pen. They even laid wagers on whether they could manage to slice a man in two at a stroke, or cut an individual’s head from his body, or disembowel him with a single blow of their axes. They grabbed suckling infants by the feet and, ripping them from their mother’s breasts, dashed them headlong against the rocks.”

Are these acts and the religious-political justification for killing any less savage?

Depictions of the Savage Other in fiction and film don’t function as realistic societies because they don’t contain the complex underpinnings and social interaction that functional working societies have. Savage Others in such cases are poorly thought-through as a piece of world-building. They’re bad craft, and they are also extremely harmful stereotypes. Any belief that they represent a real “type” of human social order has more to do with our willingness and desire to accept a simplistic weave of cliches than with the reality of their existence.

Kate Elliott Guest Post: Ptolemaic Egypt & COURT OF FIVES

A big thank-you to Gail Carriger, New York Times bestselling author of the Parasol Protectorate and the Finishing School series, for hosting Kate Elliott’s most recent guest post in her Intellectual Salon blog series. Elliott gives an in-depth look at the many historical aspects of the Egyptian dynasty, culture, and Greco-Roman influence in her Young Adult debut novel, COURT OF FIVES:

[W]hen my spouse and his co-director received the concession (permit) from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities to work at the site of Tell Timai, I was both excited and a tiny bit disappointed.

Tell Timai has no pyramids or massive, monumental statues.

In fact, Timai became important long after the Old and New Kingdom Egypt famous for its monumental architecture and elaborate tombs. […] However, the more I learned about Ptolemaic Egypt, the more I began to see the cultural interaction of that time as fertile ground for a fantasy setting.


Read more at Gail Carriger’s website.

You can also enter a giveaway for COURT OF FIVES, along with Waistcoats & Weaponry, and the Beka Cooper series by Tamora Pierce through September 13 at this link to Carriger’s website.

Eater of Books Guest Post

Continuing on her COURT OF FIVES blog tour, Kate Elliott discusses “Creating a World with Regressed Women’s Rights” at The Eater of Books:

I’ve seen a few readers refer to the novel as a dystopia. That surprised me because I did not write it as a dystopia, and I never intended to write a book that fit into the dystopian genre of YA…

In fact over and over again I rarely needed to make up ways in which the women of the Court of Fives world labor under regressed rights. All I had to do was borrow from actual historical legal traditions.

Read the full post at The Eater of Books.

 

As always, COURT OF FIVES is now available at your local independent bookstore, Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other online and bricks and mortar stores TODAY (USA & Canada only).

The Book Wars Guest Post – The Writing Process: How One Writer Works

Be sure to check out Kate Elliott’s recent guest post for The Book Wars, in which she discusses her drafting and writing process, world-building, and her experiences writing her debut Young Adult novel, COURT OF FIVES (out 18 August 2015!).

“Frankly, working through my first YA novel has taught me a great deal about delineating a world with fewer words, and I think I was able to put some of the lessons learned about pacing and incisive worldbuilding details into good use in my forthcoming adult epic fantasy Black Wolves (coming this November from Orbit Books). Overall I would say writing YA has helped me in writing adult fiction because it has enhanced my ability to judge how well images and emotions in my head are coming across on the page. Clarity is hard, but clarity is vital: Where the reader’s vision connects with mine is where the magic happens.”

Read more

Stay tuned for more guest posts and interviews by and with Kate Elliott as we ramp up to the release of COURT OF FIVES!

 

 

Jaran: When “what if” deals with gender and culture

Recent discussions in the SFF community reminded me of this post. It is adapted from the introduction I wrote to the 2002 10th anniversary edition of JARAN, published by DAW Books. It was previously posted on Live Journal in July 2011, before this WordPress blog existed. I’ve made a few minor changes.

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Science fiction is often defined as a “literature of ideas,” and many famous SF stories can be identified by the idea, or nifty concept, or “what if” speculation that lies at their heart. Is my sf novel JARAN just a rousing adventure story with a romantic element, or is there some kind of science fictional speculation involved?

Glad you asked. Because I’ve discovered that people usually don’t ask. Too often they seem to just assume there isn’t because nothing in the book (if they’ve even read the book) fits the received and accepted definition of a sfnal “idea.”

What if, in a low-tech, chieftain-level pastoral society in which labor remains divided along a (fairly traditional by Western standards) gender line, women had real authority?

Not lip service authority. Not a lot of talk about women being the repository of honor in the home, or the teachers of the next generation, or the keeper of the house in a way that specifically limits them to the house, or the biologically equipped nurturing machines whose scriptural mandate is to be mother and helpmeet, but real authority: “The right and power to command, enforce laws, exact obedience, determine, or judge.” (The American Heritage Dictionary, 1976)

As authority, that is, held over all members of society and not just over children and social inferiors. And not just some women, those who by birth or accident or exceptionalism have managed to wrest authority for themselves out of a patriarchal society by being “as good as a man,” but all women.

What would such a society look like? How might it function to grant equal dignity to women and men and yet at the same time fit realistically into a broader world and with an understanding of human nature and the needs of survival in a low-tech world with a high mortality rate?

Over the course of envisioning and revising the book, I had to ask myself a lot of questions. Am I reinforcing notions of biological determinism by splitting labor along traditional gender lines as the average USA reader knows and expects them to be observed even today but particularly in our view of the past? Yet if I can only write women as “free and powerful” by freeing them from their “traditional” roles, am I not then implicitly agreeing with unchallenged cultural assumptions that devalue women’s labor and women’s experience? How can I mediate between these two extremes?

I don’t have an answer to these questions, although I can say that over time I’ve learned how fluid division of labor by gender is from society to society (as well as how fluid conceptualization of gender itself may be and how easy it is to fall into a binary definition of gender).

In terms of division of labor, for instance, in the jaran I made men the ones who embroider, but of course embroidery is not a universal female occupation; most USAians just tend to think it is.

In any case, in JARAN and the other volumes in the sequence I explore what respect and authority mean and how they might interact through and between genders and, by doing so, shape how the culture of the jaran tribes developed in the past and continues to develop when a disruptive new force begins to alter the social fabric of the tribes.

Yet I didn’t want to create a “matriarchy” in which women rule and men submit–an inverted patriarchy. I wanted to explore the idea of a culture in which all adult roles are truly respected. So I started with an assumption: For women to maintain authority, institutions within the culture have to support that authority.

I made the tribes matrilineal, and in addition borrowed from certain Native American traditions in which the right to hold certain offices and to inherit property follow down the female line.

I also made the jaran matrilocal: Under most circumstances, a new husband goes to live with his wife’s tribe. The locus of power within any given tribe centers on extended families of sisters. A woman’s relationship to her brother is considered to be the most stable female-male relationship, based on a shared mother and upbringing, and within extended families, cousins related through sisters or a sister and brother are considered like siblings (however, this is not true for cousins related through brothers).

In addition, women have possession of the tents and wagons, and they manage and distribute food and labor available to the tribe. As with the Haudenosaunee, jaran etsanas (headwomen) have the power to install or depose male tribal war leaders.

These familial, economic, and political relationships give women a network of support as well as a respect and autonomy that reinforces their authority.

Another aspect I played with was the cultural norms of sexual behavior. The hoary old cliché of male sexual aggression contrasted with female sexual passivity is still with us in American society in a multitude of forms. I chose to make jaran women the sexual initiators: They choose lovers at will when unmarried, and are free to continue to (discreetly) take lovers once they are married. However I gave men the choice in marriage. Although in practice almost all men (at the instigation of or with the assistance of their mothers and sisters) would negotiate with the other family first, it would be possible for a man to marry a woman whom he wanted but who did not want him. This contrasting pattern assured that neither sex had complete power over the other. Even in a strongly patriarchal society that is highly restrictive toward women, women will seek avenues of balance and redress when they can, including underhanded ones. History is full of such examples. I wanted to place mine right out on the table.

I catapult my protagonist into this culture without preparing her for it. Since she comes from a future Earth where the dregs of our patriarchal past still hold some sway over her way of thinking, she often has the opportunity to misinterpret what freedom and authority mean among the jaran.

When I look back at the book now, over two decades later, I can see ways in which my own thinking has changed, things I might have written differently but which reflect the era and attitudes with which I grew up and the ways in which my thinking has changed since then.

Ultimately, looking back, I wish that discussing my speculative ideas behind the jaran society weren’t still timely. To quote sff writer N. K. Jemisin in her excellent post on “The Limitations of Womanhood in Fantasy,” “Here’s the problem with this wholesale rejection of both societally-imposed and self-chosen “typical” women’s behaviors — in the end, it amounts to a rejection of nearly all things feminine. And that’s definitely not good for women.”

That’s the idea I was trying to explore, back then. We’re still struggling with it now.

The Status Quo Does Not Need World Building

The imagination is not context-less.

The words and conceptual markers a writer puts on the page arise from thoughts and perceptions and interpretations rooted in our experiences and knowledge and assumptions. Writers write what they know, what they think is important, what they think is entertaining, what they are aware or take notice of. They structure stories in patterns that make sense to them. A writer’s way of thinking, and the forms and content of what and how they imagine story, will be rooted in their existing cultural and social world.

Now consider the genre of science fiction and fantasy. Creators place a story within a setting. In the literature of the fantastic, this landscape must be explained to some degree so readers can situate themselves.

Some writers describe this landscape in extensive detail while others use a minimalist approach. To quote fantasy writer Saladin Ahmed: “Some readers/writers want scrupulous mimesis of an otherworld. Some want impressionistic wonder. No inherent right/wrong/better/worse there.”

Complaints now and again arise about obsessive world-building and how such dorkery has ruined modern fantasy. Recently on Twitter Damien Walter (writer and critic who, among other things, writes about the sff genre for the Guardian), stated, “Obsessive world building is [a] common cause of crap books. . . . Like some other acts pleasurable to the individual, it shouldn’t be done in public. Or in a book.”

Too much detail, too clumsily employed, is an issue of bad writing and should be addressed as such.

But complaints about depicting a detailed world in fantasy have potential sexist, colonialist, and racist implications. These implications are more damaging and pernicious than the alleged disadvantages imposed on literature by detailed world-building.

Why?

Let me explain.

The status quo does not need world building.

It is implied in every detail that is left out as “understood by everyone,” in every action or reaction considered unimportant for whatever reason, in every activity or description ignored because it is seen as not worthy of the doughty thews of real literature.

There are many ways to discuss elaborated world building. This post will focus on material culture and social space.

Material culture can be defined narrowly as any assemblage of artifacts in the archaeological record but here I am thinking of it more as the relationship between people and the physical objects used in life by those people and their culture(s).

Social space refers to the ways in which people interact in social spaces  and how these interactions enforce and reinforce custom, authority, and social patterns and kinship.

What follows is an obvious statement that I am going to make anyway: Different cultures have different material cultures and different understandings of social space, just as they have different languages and language variants, different religious beliefs, different kinship patterns and household formations, different aesthetic preferences, and so on.

As well, every culture tells stories about itself and its past. These stories work their way into that culture’s understanding of the cosmos and its place in it.

Just to complicate matters further, cultures are not themselves purely discrete things. There can be cultures that live between and woven into or half outside of other larger and more dominant cultures so that they partake of elements of both (or more). I know this in part because I am the child of an immigrant and grew up in a household that was both part of and in some ways separate from the dominant culture.

The more minimal the world building, the more, pace Jenny Thurman, the status quo is highlighted without anything needed to be said. This doesn’t mean that minimal world building can’t work in narrative: Of course it can.

But minimal world-building championed as a stance against “obsessive world-building” veers dangerously into the territory of perpetuating sexist, racist, and colonialist attitudes. It does so by ignoring the very details and concerns that would make a narrative less status quo in terms of how it deals with social space and material culture as well as other aspects of the human experience.

When people write without considering the implications of material culture & social space in the story they are writing, they often unwittingly default to an expression of how they believe the past worked. This is especially true if they are not thinking about how the material and the social differ from culture to culture, across both space and time, or how it might change in the future.

Which details a writer considers too unimportant to include may often default to the status quo of the writer’s own setting and situation, the writer’s lived experience of social space, because the status quo does not need to be described by those who live at the center of a dominant culture.

For example, consider how many a near or far future sf story uses social space that is modern, Western, and in some cases very suburban American–and how this element of the world building is rarely interrogated by writer or critic or readers when meanwhile other elements of a story may be praised for being bold, edgy, ground-breaking, or brilliant. Compare how deliberately Aliette de Bodard uses social space in On A Red Station, Drifting, an example of far future sf not focused on a Western paradigm and which needs–and relishes–the elaborated detail as part of the story’s unfolding.

The implied status quo becomes a mirror reflecting itself back on itself while it ignores the narrative patterns and interests of most non-Western literatures, which often tell their story in a way different from much Western narrative (as Aliette de Bodard, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Joyce Chng, and Sabrina Vourvoulias among others have pointed out).

The implied status quo in denigrating descriptions of daily living & material culture denigrates the lived experience of so many people. It judges these details as unworthy of narrative in the same way colonialism, racism, and sexism dismiss other cultures and life-ways and life-experiences as inferior or exotic window-dressing. It does so by implying that a self-defined and often abstracted “universal” (of subject matter or of mostly-invisible setting) trumps all else and can thereby be accomplished with none of this obsessive world building, none of these extraneous details. This imagination is not contextless.

In the US/UK genre market, for example, it is exactly the marginalized landscapes that need description in order to be understood and revealed as  just as expressive of the scope of human experience as that of the dominant culture whose lineaments are most often taken for granted.

Of course there is plenty of detailed world-building that emphasizes the status quo and expands on it, not always in a deliberate or thoughtful way.

Regardless, a well-described setting is good writing. There is nothing wrong with using (say) medieval Europe for your inspiration if you have a story to tell there. Judith Tarr‘s deeply-imagined medieval landscapes attest to that. The point of this essay is not to suggest what any person is required to write or how much or little world building they should deploy. A story needs to be the story that it is.

Meanwhile, as I don’t have to tell most of you, there is an entire world literature of the fantastic, works of imagination set in the past, the present, and the future, most of which are embedded in the status quo of their particular culture and era. The examples are legion, such as the magnificent Sundjiata cycle, the Shah-Nama, the Journey to the West, the numerous syncretic versions of the Ramayana that spread from India throughout Southeast Asia and the Indonesian archipelago, the Popol Vuh, and so many others including all those I have never heard of and the many works being written today. However, speaking as I must from an American perspective, few of these works have penetrated into the Western consciousness to the degree that, say, Harry Potter has become a worldwide phenomenon.

So who chooses what amount of world building is acceptable in fantasy literature? More importantly, from what place can such a demand be made?

The world can and will speak for itself, in a multiplicity of voices, not just in one.

 

 

 

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Thanks to Daniel J Older, Liz Bourke, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, and Joyce Chng for reading and commenting on early and late versions of this post. Special shout-out to this recent Strange Horizons roundtable arranged by Dnaiel J Older: Set Truth on Stun: Reimagining an Anti-Oppressive SF/F. And a final link to N.K. Jemisin’s excellent and important Guest of Honor speech at Continuum earlier this year: “SFF has always been the literature of the human imagination, not just the imagination of a single demographic.”

worldbuilding top to bottom (Q&A)

Many months ago on Twitter I asked people what world building questions they had that they would like me to answer. Several of the questions seemed to me to fall into a set that was more about the mechanics of how to organize and approach world building and less about specific world building choices.

How early in the story do you need to know the world? Before you start, or as you get to pieces you need? (Colleen W)
I am curious about the level of detail to start out with vs. what is filled in later? (Stephen M)
Your fave method top>down vs. bottom>up. How detailed is enough? (Sunny K)
Is world building an inductive or deductive process? (Paul W)
Any ideas about developing a society and culture & keeping track of it as it evolves. (Christine F)

In many ways I am not an orderly world builder. I do not sit down and fill out notebooks of material before I start writing. I do not build my world first and then put a story in it. At the same time, I do not wing it from the start, writing into the unknown and making things up as I go along and as they seem necessary or appropriate.

I have no objection to either of these ways of doing things for the same reason that I believe every writer has to figure out her own process. Other writers have other ways of working.

I do not believe in or promulgate “one true path.” I talk about my process because it is what I know. You have to figure out what works for you.

How do I world build? Where do I start?
For me, the world and the story develop together.

Generally (and with some exceptions), my process works like this.

I get an almost filmic image of a character, in a scene, and the character is doing something, interacting with someone or something; but regardless the scene itself has a focus around that character.

In Crown of Stars, that initial image became the scene where Alain walks across the ridge as a storm comes in off the sea bearing with it a woman in armor, whom he meets. In Spiritwalker, the initial image was a young woman seated beside her cousin and looking out through a paned glass window as a carriage arrives outside.

The initial image/scene gives me some information about the world. Crown of Stars had landscape with the feel of medieval Europe. By the evidence of the type of window and the carriage, Spiritwalker wanted to be set in an equivalent of the 18th or 19th century.

At this point I will usually write an initial version of the scene. This first and rawest draft will never be published anywhere or seen by anyone except me. I may push a little past that scene into writing bits and pieces of other scenes or I might write notes or sketches of what could happen next.

As I do this I am continually making decisions about small details. These details start creating the bare-bones framework that the world will ultimately be built on because details tell you a great deal about the social and physical landscape.

For instance, if I introduce a character as a girl who is selling fruit in the marketplace, that means she lives in a culture where girls and women can sell goods in the market and in fact it may be both common and accepted for them to do so; that tells you something about Mai’s home town in the Crossroads Trilogy.

A boy (Alain) dreams of going to war as a soldier, an enterprise he believes to be glorious and noble and good, but he is also sure that because of his humble birth and isolated village he is fated for a more mundane life (Crown of Stars). The details of his daily life and his dreams set the stage for what follows both in his choices and in the sort of world he lives in and what its cultural markers are.

Small details that slowly accrete as I write and thereby become woven into a larger whole are only one aspect of how I build up a world.

There comes a point where I have to stop writing snippets and scenes, where I have to stop focusing on details and step back to consider the big picture, the overarching geographical and cultural elements. Some of these big picture issues I may have considered in advance and simply not referenced yet.

For example with Crossroads I had a map very early on while with the Spiritwalker books I knew that the ocean would be lower (and thus the continents and islands larger) but I did not, for example, draw the map for the Americas until I started working on book two (Cold Fire) when I needed it.

Sometimes an entire element of culture, landscape, technology, or what have you simply may not be important enough at that point that I need to delve into it (it is also confusing to reference landscapes, cultures, and details that don’t pertain to the immediate plot). When it becomes important, then I stop to think it through because now it matters within the plot and informs the forward momentum of the story.

Additionally, if I have to do a huge amount of research I find I have to pace myself; I can’t do it all at once nor can I intellectually absorb several different strands of research at the same time. So for example in Spiritwalker I concentrated in book one on the Mali/Mande, Celtic, Phoenician, and Roman elements (a truly vast amount of material to become even marginally familiar with) and left the situation the Americas fairly vague (using Cat’s relative ignorance of the Americas as my cover), and then delved more deeply into the setting of the Americas once the narrative moved to the Antilles.

In general I prefer to know as much as possible about background and landscape as I write, but there are times (as above) when I literally cannot take in that much information all at once so I focus on one element or region of landscape and culture knowing that I’m going to get to another one later.

Other times it is preferable for me to wait because unexpected ideas or synchronicities can emerge as I work. In fact, some of the best twists evolve organically out of an evolving landscape that would and could not have shown up if I had sat down beforehand and worked it all out before I had started writing the story and living in the world through the characters.

I have learned to be patient, that it is sometimes important to sit back and not over-prepare, to let things come to me out of the aether. It is always amazing to stumble across exactly the thing I need, in the strangest place, the last place I would think to be looking. This process of suddenly finding a piece of information that illuminates a plot complication or a character or cultural question in just exactly the right way to complement the story happens again and again. I don’t know how to explain it.

Yet I do also do a great deal of targeted research and landscape creation to order to build up as grounded a reality as I can manage.

SO: I build a basic scaffolding (the big picture) and enough details to give me a fundamental sense of place. From that point forward big and small develop in tandom. The map reveals the territory. Details limn the culture.

For the Crossroads trilogy I put together several 3-ring binders with lists and lists of details, things like a list of the names of plants and foods, information on the gods and the cosmology, and even a cost of living table (so useful!). [A wiki would serve the same purpose.] By having them available for easy reference, it is easy to make things consistent and to build on what has come before.

As well, these details really do illuminate the larger culture in a way a long chronology of the land’s history would not (although I usually have a version of that, too). I find that material culture and the religious, cosmological, and artistic sensibilities of a place are crucial to the way I write. I want to know how they grow food and how exchange works in the culture, not just a list of kings or wars.

Characters have an identity that has to do with who they are, where they live, and who their ancestors are/background is. People do not live in a vacuum; they are influenced by their surrounding culture(s) and by their interactions, by their upbringings and their assumptions and elements such as their basic material well being and their understanding of how society and the people around them view them and what their space may be or should be in society.

My goal is always to create an architecture of a world that has both the frame and the ornament, if you will. I have to have a sense of what I want to build before I can truly start but I also have to leave myself open to the unexpected discovery. For me, the heart of world-building lies in that balance.

How do cold mages cook? (Q&A)

 

 

garputhefork asked: I can’t remember if this was addressed in book 1 (and I’ve been hoarding book 2 until the last book was released), but how the hell do cold mages cook anything? (Not that one would actually lower him/herself to take a turn in a kitchen…)

Thank you for the excellent question!

The kitchens of mage Houses are separate from the main part of the house where the cold mages live. House members who aren’t mages may work/live in areas heated directly by fireplaces and stoves, and they would certainly be assisted by servants (who would like do the scullery work, etc). These separate buildings are where the cooking is done (then transferred to the main house eating hall for meals). The hypocaust systems warm the main house (with the furnace sourced far enough away from the cold mages that their magic won’t put it out). Also, cold mages feel the cold less than non-mage people do, so they don’t need it quite as warm as you or I might.

This is addressed tangentially in book one and directly in book three.

Also, regarding cooking: I postulate that, based on my reading of cultural aspects, cooking is almost exclusively done by women and is a highly respected skill. A woman born into the House who has no mage ability but who is a good cook and a good “house administrator” (remember the mage Houses might have anywhere from 50 – 300+  members) would be respected and valued within the mage House and could attain additional status through her cooking and administration efforts. Again this is touched on tangentially in book three, and in book two as well (although in book two it’s not within the context of a mage House).

 

NOTE: When I held the Cold Steel Giveaway, I received many many questions, here on this WordPress site, on Livejournal, on Tumblr, and a few on goodreads. Over the next two months I’ll be answering the questions one or several (related ones) at a time, under the tag #Q&A

This question came from Tumblr and was originally answered there.

On the efficacy of cold magic (Spiritwalker Monday 11)

On the efficacy of cold magic, with an aside to cold mages and their antipathy to technology.

By Habibah ibnah Alhamrai, natural philosopher and lecturer at the University of Expedition

 It is well known that the great mage Houses are anathema to the technologies developed and developing in the Amerikes, especially those so abundantly useful in Expedition and other areas where the technologies have been employed. One might assume that the cause of this antipathy might be that much of these technologies are the handiwork of the Trolls, and that the mage have, in general, an inborn hatred or even natural dislike for their species. One would be totally mistaken.

The mages do not care about the Trolls except that they create and perpetrate many new technologies that the mages find repulsive, or rather that they find unuseable and from which they are repulsed. Part of this is undoubtedly physical, but some may be psychological in the sheer inescapability of their being cold mages. A common example of this physical repulsion can be seen in nearly any locale where gas light has been installed and is currently enhancing the environs of most normal citizens. We know that gas light is produced in lamps designed specifically to allow small amounts of gas to expand inside the globe and ignite and burn, thereby providing light and a bit of heat. The heat in this case is useless as the globes are high above the street, but the light, because of that height, shines down upon the ground and illuminates the surrounding area.

But watch a carriage carrying a cold mage through the streets and it is easy to see the problem. As the carriage approaches the light, the light dims. When the carriage is beneath the lamp, the light is nearly invisible. And when the carriage passes, only then does the light begin to brighten and eventually burn to its natural state.

It is widely known that cold mage houses are heated by an indirect method originally invented and employed by the Romans. It might be thought that they use this old style through some propensity toward ancient knowledge. That thought would be wrong. While it is unclear if the cold mages themselves would actually suffer much from the coldness, their spouses and children are not possessed of their abilities and certainly will. Therefore, cold mage manors must be heated in some way. This indirect method, though in some ways less efficient than direct heating by stove or fireplace, is nonetheless the only method available in an abode where cold mages reside. These Roman heat pipes are just that, pipes beneath the floors of the rooms that carry hot water or air. The heat source must be located somewhere away from the main house so that the cold magic cannot reach it, as not only will a cold mage put out a fire in near proximity, but it will also be impossible to relight the fire until the cold mage has departed. Generally, the mage houses place the fire building up hill from the house at a spring location so that water can be heated and then flow naturally down to the manor house itself. As far as can be understood, cold mages have had difficulty with fire for their entire existence, but, since little is known about the early days of the cold mages, little can be said as to how they adapted to their difficulties and adopted the Roman methods.

On the essence of cold magic, its spontaneous generation and use.

Cold magic is not an old ability. It did not exist during the height of the Roman hegemony. During that time, while various magics undoubtedly existed, cold magic did not. It is only due to the Salt Plague that cold magic could come into existence. One need not repeat here the history of the salt plague or the ghouls that emerged and destroyed entire civilizations. Nor the subsequent migrations and resettlements. The history may be read in any one of many treatises, but a simple explanation may be found in the workman-like discourse found in “Concerning the Mande Peoples of Western Africa Who Were Forced by Necessity to Abandon Their Homeland and Settle in Europe Just South of the Ice Shelf,” by Catharine Hassi Barahal of the famous Hassi Barahal Kena’ani lineage.

Let it be said that one fortuitous result of the plague, or rather the migration caused by the plague, is that the Mande from Africa met the Celtic druids of the north. Obviously, not all Mande were equal in either wealth or magic. The wealthy of the Mande married into the princely Celtic houses of the north, while those possessing magic found the Celtic druids to be of a kind, joined together with their societies and their houses. The combination led to the emergence of strong mages who had the ability to wield the power of the ice. This merging of two disparate elements formed the mage Houses.

However, not all or every merging of Mande with Celt produced or to this day produce cold mages and not all cold mages are equal. Because cold magic does not show up at birth, and because all joining does not produce a cold mage, the current mages have taken to occasionally plowing somewhat far from home and only reaping the outcome if it seems favorable. At this point, the lineages of the Celtic druids and the Mande run throughout many of the villages and towns within their realms so where a cold mage will appear is unknown. The biology of this phenomenon is undoubtedly fascinating but is not yet understood.

It is widely known that scholars believe that magic could be explicated on scientific principle if only those who handle magic were not so secretive.  It is my thesis that much of cold magic can be explicated using only the principles of natural history and the sciences without the aid of the mages. In fact, help from the mages would probably serve only to further confuse.

For example, it is widely held by the mages and others that the source of cold magic is in the spirit world. That the source of the vast energies available to the mages is somewhere hidden in that world. The path to that energy may be in the spirit world, but the source of the power is the ice that covers the entire northern portion of our planet and on whose edge we settle. It is doubtful that if the Celtic druids had been the ones forced from their homes to settle in the Mande area of Africa that cold mages would today exist. Perhaps in that environ, the essence and control of fire magic might have become dominant. However, the vagaries of the gods forced the Mande to the north to sit on the edge of the source of their great power.

“The history of the world begins in ice, and it will end in ice.”

The Celtic bards and Mande djeliw of the north say this, but they do not know how correct they are. The Romans may have believed the world began in fire, but now, ice rules, as do the cold mages. The power of cold is extraordinary. Anyone in the proximity of a cold mage releasing his power will attest to this. Area wide storms of wind, ice and snow rain down upon those in the path of a cold mage’s ire. Liquid freezes and solid objects become so cold they brittlize and shatter. Through the spirit world and into the ice the mages reach, releasing the power. The ice is the ultimate source.

This is why one of the few things that a powerful cold mage fears is the Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt will identify mages who overstep their bonds, who use their power too much, too often or too impulsively, and sweep down and remove that mage from the mix. We can not know the machination of those in the Wild Hunt nor the rest of their ilk, but they monitor and punish not just simple mortals, but the cold mages, for those of the Wild Hunt own the ice.

While I can not explain to you how the mages channel their power from the ice, nor whether that power is limited or limitless, I can explain their use of that power and why they themselves have a repulsion to fire and technology. We all know how fire can change metals in the forge or pottery in the kiln, but cold can do the same if wielded by a skilled mage. Take glass for example. For most of us, a broken pane of glass can only be repaired by remelting and pouring a new pane, but a cold mage can take those shards and knit them into a whole. How can this be done with cold rather than heat? We know that glass is amorphous, if the two edges are held together, the mage can make the components at the edges move and intertwine thereby fusing them together with intense cold. In this case, there are no crystals to reunite or layers to re-adhere. Just as the masses of ice on the glaciers move, melt and reform under the great mass of the ice, so a mage’s touch can cold press the glass into reforming.

One does not often see a mage re-forming glass, but one does see the effects of a mage’s presence on fire and technology. The principles of fire are well understood, but a short explanation is appropriate here. In general, heat, from a fire, friction of rubbing, concentrated sunlight or striking of flint on steel warms the material to be burned, and when the temperature rises sufficiently for the substance to become gaseous, the material ignites. The material remains lit and burns because the fire of burning itself provides more gaseous fuel for the fire. An easy example to see is a candle.  An ember transferred from the fireplace ignites the wick which burns rapidly until it approaches the wax. The wax melts, moves up the wick, evaporates and ignites and the process continues until there is no wax left.

When mages enter areas where there is fire of any kind, the intense cold presence around them sucks all the warmth from the area. The flame can no longer consume the material, be it wood, candle wax or gas, because the heat is drawn into the mage and the fire dies. Fires cannot be lit in the presence of a mage because the cold aura prevents any of the materials from igniting. Even if a spark from flint can be created, the materials will not burn.
The effect of this sucking of energy on a fireplace fire or candle are transient and while the mages dislike them, they are merely annoying. The presence of large furnaces, like the ones created in Expedition to run the boilers that power the factories, contain much more energy, and while the mages have a similar effect on a factory as they do on a candle, the great heat absorbed by the mages is no longer simply annoying, but can begin to eat into their very essence. This, I believe, is why the mage Houses are so opposed to the new technologies. They fear first, that the presence of so much technology producing so much heat will interfere with their magic, but they fear foremost that the technology will become all pervasive and interfere with their well being, melting them and eroding them from inside.

 

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@ A’ndrea Messer 2010

Science writer A’ndrea Messer wrote this piece “in the style of” an early 19th century paper or lecture. The character Habibah ibnah Alhamrai appears in Cold Fire.

A’ndrea and her colleagues at the Research Communications unit of The Pennsylvania State University have a blog: Research Matters.

The Creole of Expedition: Part Two: Creating the Creole (Spiritwalker Monday 13)

As I worked on Cold Fire, I asked myself this question: Do I use a creole to represent the local language of Expedition or do I write people’s speech to be indistinguishable from Cat’s own?

There’s a lot more about how and why I asked and answered the question in Part One, which you can find here.

Ultimately I decided to use a creole to represent the speech of Expedition. At this point I had to ask myself a second question: Given that I am not a native speaker of nor intimately familiar with any of the actual Caribbean creoles spoken today or in historical times, how do I write a creole that will seem authentic within the text without being a clumsy imitation or offensive parody of actual creoles?

Let me first give a couple of quick definitions.

Oxford Dictionaries defines a pidgin as “a grammatically simplified form of a language, used for communication between people not sharing a common language. Pidgins have a limited vocabulary, some elements of which are taken from local languages, and are not native languages, but arise out of language contact between speakers of other languages.”

A creole, on the other hand, is “a mother tongue formed from the contact of two languages through an earlier pidgin stage.” (I would add “two or more” because that was certainly the case in Hawaii. Lest you wonder, Hawaiian Pidgin is a creole.)

A dominant culture: Taino.

My friend and fellow writer Katharine Kerr has done a great deal of research in linguistics (her Deverry epic fantasy series is a superb example of what you can do with language in a fantasy sequence that spans hundreds of years), so I asked for her advice. We both knew I could not possibly replicate any of the existing or historical Caribbean creoles and, in any case, given that the Spiritwalker Trilogy posits an extremely alternate history, the actual historical creoles would not fit regardless.

She suggested that I devise a creole unique to Expedition

Kerr wrote, “The dominant language in any creole is that of the dominant culture. What is your dominant culture?”

The city of Expedition was founded by a Malian fleet supplemented by Phoenician navigators and sailors. The fleet’s chief language would be a variant of modern day Bambara with some Punic loan words. But any trans-Atlantic trade and intercourse with Europa would be heavily influenced by the presence of Latin as the lingua franca (trade language) of continental Europa. However, because Expedition is a small territory on the island of Kiskeya (Hispaniola), the regional dominant culture in which it exists would that of the Taino because the Antilles (Caribbean) in this alternate universe is ruled by the Taino.

Therefore the first thing I decided was that a number of Taino words and phrases would be present as part of the every day language. These would be reinforced (insofar as I could) with elements of Taino culture that would have become part of the society of Expedition in that way cultures adapt, adopt, and blend to become something unique to a specific place. I could only pick a couple of things to give Taino names lest the plethora of new words become overwhelming for the reader, so besides words we already use in English that are of Taino derivation such as hurricane, hammock, and papaya, I highlighted Taino elements which would matter to the plot.

Taino words that are part of Expedition’s creole include:
maku (foreigner)
opia (spirit of an ancestor)
areito (dance, song, or festival)
batey (ceremonial plaza often associated with a local version of the ball game that was known throughout the Caribbean and Central American region). As an historical note I should mention that in the Dominican Republic the word batey came to mean the company towns associated with sugar cane fields and processing.
cemi (a sacred object)
behique/behica (shaman)(also used as meaning a fire mage)
cacique/cacica (chief; ruler; king/ female king of the same)
cobo (queen conch)
Some fish: pargo, cachicata, cajaya, anolis, carite, guinchos, barracudas
Bahama is a Taino place name. So possibly (likely) is Cuba (a shortened form of an older name), Habana, Boriken (Puerto Rico), and Kiskeya itself (the island we know as Hispaniola divided now into Haiti (from the Taino Ayiti) and the Dominican Republic).

The creole continuum.

However, the creole could not just be a peppering of words foreign to the English I was writing in. The creole as Cat heard it would have not just differences in vocabulary but differences in grammar, in word choice, and in the rhythms of its speech.

Fortunately through the miracle of the internet I had previously made the acquaintance of Dr. Fragano Ledgister, a professor at Clark Atlanta University and himself Anglo-Jamaican. In a similar way to Dr. Kustis Nishimura allowing me to pick his brains about the physics of cold magic and fire magic, Dr. Ledgister was exceedingly generous in answering my questions, offering insight both into language and into the Caribbean as he knows it, and it is really through his offices that I was able to develop the creole as it appears on the page.

As well, many details of the Caribbean are present because of things he shared with me, and while that is a subject for another post I will briefly mention that he introduced me to the many varieties of fruit commonly enjoyed on the islands that are not as well known elsewhere and which play such an important role in Andevai’s courtship of Cat.

Dr. Ledgister discussed the work of Mervyn Alleyne.

Alleyne’s classification of Jamaican English is that it operates at three levels: the hierolect, Standard Jamaican English, that differs from the international (British or American) standard primarily in terms of minor differences of vocabulary and usage. The mesolect, or generally understood creole, spoken by most people and heavily influenced by the standard language. The basilect, “di real raw-chaw Patwa” as my friend Hugh Martin put it, spoken by rural people and the less educated. Each level of language is going to be used in different social contexts.

Therefore there are three versions of the creole, an acrolect (the term that has replaced Alleyne’s hierolect), a mesolect, and a basilect.

Abby, on Salt Island, is a country gal. She speaks the basilect. She (and her brother, met on the airship) are the only people Cat encounters who speak the basilect. It is characterized by having a simpler grammar and more archaic elements. Besides including all the features of the mesolect, it drops linking verbs (except ‘shall’) and drops the “th” sound to “dat” and “di” and so on. Also, basilect speakers do not use past tense, only present tense (more on verb use below).

Almost all the people of Expedition speak the mesolect, the most common form that Cat hears. I’ll elaborate on its development below.

The acrolect is spoken by the most high status families in the old city of Expedition; technically, the Taino nobles speak the acrolect since they speak what might be termed “formal Latin”–that is, Taino who are not Expeditioners never speak in the creole. For instance, at the dinner party at townhouse in Expedition where General Camjiata is staying, the son of a Keita merchant house speaks mostly with “correct english” but ‘yee’ and ‘shall’ are still present in his speech.

People of Taino ancestry who are Expeditioners speak the creole the same as any other Expeditioners.

“Maku” (foreigners) are usually distinguished by not speaking the creole, although I  allowed a few usages to creep into the speech of foreign-born residents of Expedition, most commonly the use of “gal” for “girl” or “woman,” the use of “yee” for “you,” and the generic use of “shall” as an all purpose verb (more on those below).

The building blocks.

I wanted to write a simplified creole that would not be too difficult for readers to parse or too distracting.

Dr. Ledgister pointed out that

A creole has a streamlined grammar because it starts out as a pidgin or lingua franca before becoming a birth tongue. (Pidgins combining a language of rule and vocabulary and grammar elements from several subordinate languages encourages simplicity.) It’s also liable to contain archaisms because it will retain terms from when it was first formed (Jamaican speech still has words last used in standard English in the 17th century, like peradventure).

With his help I focused on four elements (besides the presence of Taino words) to highlight which would thus distinguish the Expedition creole (in its mesolect form) from the language Cat speaks:
1. verbs and verb tenses
2. pronouns
3. word choice (substitute words and archaisms)
4. speech rhythms

Verbs

Simplifying grammar meant simplifying verb tenses. I need to emphasize that a simplified grammar used in a creole does not mean that the speakers of creole are ignorant, stupid, ill-educated, or demeaned; it is an element of the creole.

Dr. Ledgister: “One example of this is that verbs don’t decline. You have Abby say [in an early draft] “I does not like it that this man Drake, this maku, decides so quickly to make yee his sweet” where a Jamaican would say “Me doh like it dat dis man Drake decide so fas/ to make you his gyal” and a Trinidadian would say “Ah don’ like it dat dis man Drake decide so quick dat you his sweet girl.” My point here is that the verbs don’t decline.

In the final published draft, Abby says, “I don’ like dat dis man Drake decide so quick to make yee he sweet gal.”

I came up with a simplified set of rules for myself to follow as I wrote:

1. Present tense should use the infinitive in all cases (without the “to” unless the “to” is called for). So: “we have” “he have” “you have”
2. While technically it should be “we be” and “you be,” I use “is” (because it is easier for speakers of standard English to read).
“I am” becomes “I’s.” “You are” becomes “you’s.”
We and they “is” depends but is often “We’s” or “they’s.”
“It is” and “It was” are contracted into “’tis” and “’twas”
3. Simple past works pretty much as in English.

I could have done more with the verbs but I figured that was enough.

Pronouns

Originally I had this challenging and exciting idea that the basilect (as spoken by Abby) would use Bambara pronouns to reflect the Malian ancestry of the majority of the early settlers in Expedition. But when I tried to write it, it just became impenetrable.

Instead I adapted the Bambara ‘you’–rendered as “i” (ee) in English transcription–by turning “you” into “yee.” Yee is used throughout all forms of the creole, my one hat tip to Bambara pronouns. I left all other subject pronouns the same as they are in American English.

Object pronouns I left generally the same, although on a case by case basis and depending on the rhythm of the sentence, the object pronoun could be replaced with the subject pronoun.

The possessive is generally replaced by the subject pronoun — “his book” becomes “he book” except in the case of “I” in which the object pronoun “me book” is used.

Word Choice (replacement words & archaisms):

Replacements words (words commonly used differently than we might use them):

GAL: “girl” (as in old enough to have sex) or “young woman” is always replaced by “gal” which becomes the local equivalent of an all-purpose term for girls/women in the general ages of 15 – late 20s.

Older people will usually refer to young adult males (ages circa 15 – 25, depending on the age of the older person) as “lad.”  Young men refer to other young men as “men” and to young women their own age as “gals.”  Young women, the same.

SHALL: this is an all purpose verb used where appropriate and often in place of verbs like “would” “ought” and so on.
DON’ : replaces “don’t” or “do not”
In general I tried to avoid “do” (and Abby, using the basilect, never uses “do”) but sometimes I left it in because it got too convoluted or hard to understand or choppy to take it out.
Instead of THINK people generally use RECKON

Archaisms:

People use some older locutions and/or regional words like “peradventure” and “arseness.”

In case you are wondering where “arseness” comes from, here a quote from our correspondence: “I just grabbed my copy of (Richard) Allsopp and was struck as I opened it by the Trinidadian term “arseness” for “stupidity” (or as most West Indians would say “stupidness”),  that’s worth using!” And indeed it was!

Rhythm

When I had all these things in place, the rhythm took care of itself.

The grammatical patterns, the pronouns, and the adapted words themselves began to structure how people spoke. Once that happened, the rhythm of their speech took on a distinctive flavor and inflection. By the time I had finished writing Cold Fire, the people of Expedition had a way of speaking that sounded “natural” to my ear and that, more importantly, did not have the same rhythm as the speech used by Cat and other Europans.

Conclusions

There is a lot more detail I could go into but this post is already quite long. One of the best parts about corresponding with Fragano Ledgister was getting to read his anecdotes. [If you ever get a chance, ask him about meeting C. L. R. James.]

Not everyone will agree that the creole in Cold Fire works, nor need they do so. But for my part, considering it as an experiment and as a challenge for me as a writer, I felt good about the final result. Whatever else and no matter how it holds up, I am glad to have pushed myself past what I was comfortable attempting to write. In certain ways, making the effort was its own reward.