Immerse Yourself – Cyndere’s Midnight 2

Yesterday I bought a copy of Cyndere’s Midnight, happy and excited because I rarely get to buy novels — especially ones I’m really excited about. I actually bought two books, because Cyndere’s Midnight is the sequel to Auralia’s Colors, and you can’t read a sequel first. At least I can’t.

Auralia's ColorsConsequently, I’m halfway through Auralia’s Colors and really wishing I had more time to read. Jeffrey Overstreet is a good writer. I had read only two chapters when I realized that Auralia’s Colors was one of those books that leaves you with memories, with a feeling that you’ve been somewhere else for a while.

I’m currently critiquing a fantasy novel, and I’ve written several of my own, so after I’d put the book down I got to thinking about how authors do that. How do you create a world so real that readers end up immersed in it? Worlds are revealed through so many things — through their creatures, their cultures, their vocabularies, their landscapes. Fantasy writers know that if you’re going to transport your readers to another world, you have to know all about that world first. But even then, it’s not that simple. You also need to skillfully SHOW that world without revealing yourself as the man behind the curtain.

There are basically two kinds of fantasy story in the world, which I’ll call “portal fantasies” and “complete fantasies.” Portal fantasies involve people from one world (usually ours) being transported into another world (Narnia, famously), and when you write one of these, it’s not too hard to immerse your readers in the fantasy world. This is because Narnia is just as new to the Pevensies as it is to us, so naturally characters will explain things, and the unfamiliar bits will be commented on, and history can be retold and common knowledge reiterated without anybody crying “Foul!”

Complete fantasies, exemplified by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, are different. They’re harder to write, because the characters must seem perfectly comfortable and at home in their world, but at the same time, your readers who are NOT comfortable and at home there must be able to follow along.

In this first chapter of Auralia’s Colors, two thieves discover a baby dripping with riverwater. The conversation that follows is slightly bewildering, but it’s as drenched in this fantasy world as the baby is drenched in the river, and it stays just anchored enough in things and concepts familiar to us to help us follow along. It also masterfully reveals much about the geography, history, and superstitions of this world. Before the book is through, we’ll have come to understand what this place is and who these  people are, and their voices will echo in our heads always.

“Now don’t you get it in your head to leave me here with this orphan,” Krawg called, “or I’ll rip that patch off your dead eye!”

“Have ya thought  . . .” Warney paused, turned, and clasped his head with both hands, as if trying to stretch his mind to accommodate a significant thought. “Has it occurred to ya that . . . Do ya think . . .”

“Speak, you rangy crook!”

“Oh ballyworms, Krawg! What if she’s a Northchild?”

Krawg stumbled back a step and narrowed his eyes at the infant.

The tailtwitcher, the crowd, and even the river seemed to quiet at Warney’s question.

But Krawg at last shook off worry. “Don’t shovel that vawn pile my way, Warney. You been eatin’ too much of Yawny’s stew, and your dreams are gettin’ to you. Only crazies think Northchildren are actual. There’s no such thing.”

They watched the baby’s hands sculpt shapes in the air.

“And anyway,” Krawg continued, glancing northward at the sky purpling over the jagged mountains of the Forbidding Wall, “everybody knows Northchildren are taller, and they drape blankets over themselves.”

In my own Worlds Unseen, you might say I cheated a bit. The Seventh World is first of all very much like ours, right down to its geography, which is loosely based on Europe. And even though Maggie has grown up in her world, its true history and entire spiritual dimension are foreign to her. When they come crashing into her reality, she has to learn right along with the readers.

How about you, writers? What tricks and tips have you learned to help immerse readers in your worlds? When have you felt most successful at it? What authors do you feel have done this best? For that matter, what fantasy worlds are you carrying around memories of?

Tomorrow, the last day of the February CSFF tour, I will actually blog about Cyndere’s Midnight. Stay tuned :).






9 responses to “Immerse Yourself – Cyndere’s Midnight 2”

  1. Elizabeth Avatar

    This is so interesting! In some ways, the same thoughts aply to writing historical fiction – because to the historical characters, their “world” is normal, but to the modern reader it’s not. England, for example, has changed SO much in 100 or 1,000 years that everything – from the landscape and architecture of the country to the attitudes and beliefs of the people – is “different” and “unexpected” to the modern reader. This is one of the challenges I love in writing historical fiction! It’s so rewarding, “creating” a world with words. I create time and place through the senses, usually – the smell of woodsmoke, the feel of rough grass and deadleaves brushing against the hem of a long skirt and thick, rough home-spun cloth rubbing against the skin, the rop handle of a wooden bucket biting into the hand and the cold water, sloshing out of the bucket, chilling the hands and feet … to me, those “pictures” are very evocotive and start to paint a picture of another time. After that, I tend to present information in conversations – most easily, because someone has made a discovery and needs explanations from others!

  2. Rachel Avatar

    Jessica, thanks for the recommendation! I’ll have to check it out.

    Wade, I’d say that falls into the “something else entirely” category. My discussion of fantasy types is definitely NOT exhaustive ;). What you’re talking about is fantasy the way Marvel Comics does it, and Neil Gaiman and Madeleine L’Engle and Susan Cooper. There’s something fascinating about that particular genre, which kicks down the usual walls of possibility and makes us look at our own world afresh.

  3. Wade Ogletree Avatar

    Does it count as complete fantasy if the world is still our own? After all, we’re not following a character into the new world, usually, in such a case. It’s not a portal fantasy. Or is this something else entirely.

    Anyway, the worlds my fantasy and science fiction stories inhabit are usually Europe, Africa, Asia, and maybe even my own United States of America. (I don’t mean “like” them. I mean set there.)

    Talk about cheating.

    Wade Ogletree

  4. Jessica Erskine Avatar
    Jessica Erskine

    Oooh, I must say Ranger’s Apprentice definately!!!! You must, must, MUST read it, you will be amazed and enthralled. I’ve been batting a hundred with everyone that I’ve showed it to! That’s 6 people!

    Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan

    He’s an Austrailian author and my favorite. Please read at least the first book, it is so good! =D


  5. Robin Avatar

    The cover alone is enough to made me read that book! And then with your quotes…I am sold! (that is why I daren’t open the cover of a book unless I have time to read it…).

    Great post!

  6. Rachel Avatar

    I concur. Prydain has been haunting my imagination since I was a young child, and even now, reading stories with Welsh overtones recalls Alexander’s stories. I read Watership Down for the first time last year, and it was an amazing experience.

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  8. Rebecca LuElla Miller Avatar

    Great post, Rachel. I opted for the easy—a portal fantasy, for the very reason you gave. Since all is new to my character, readers can learn about the new and different right along with him

    Some of the best, in my opinion, who did it differently (beside Tolkien) was Richard Adams in Watership Down and Lloyd Alexander in the Chronicles of Prydain.


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