Friday, August 24, 2007

SCBWI Conferene Notes - Tamora Pierce

I fell in love with Tamora Pierce’s writing the minute I opened Beka Cooper: Terrier, so I was thrilled when I learned she would be speaking at this year’s conference. I attended her breakout workshop entitled: Developing Cultures in the Fantasy Novel. A rather dry title for such a fascinating process.

Or maybe it was especially fascinating to me. You see, it turns out that Tamora Pierce has exactly the same research/world building process as I do! How cool is that! I feel so thoroughly validated now.

Here are some notes from my research twin.

She opened with a Lionel Trilling quote: The immature artist imitates. The mature artist steals.

One thing she talked about was maps, and here is where I confess that I am obsessed with maps. Love them. Since I’ve started writing fantasy, I’ve come to learn that I absolutely cannot create a fantasy world without a map.

Especially if I’m creating an original fantasy world, as opposed to creating a fantasy element in an historical setting.

The truth is, who we are, as a species, a race, a person, is all shaped by the land from which we sprung and the neighborhood we grew up in. Maps are vital to my process, and Ms. Pierce’s as well.

They also make terrific sources for surnames and nobility titles since many of those are based on landholdings.

Ms. Pierce also talks about following her obsession. When she was younger, she’d fall in love with an historical time period and absolutely devour everything she could about the time or culture, only to find herself using that years later when crafting one of her fantasy worlds.

Another tactic she talks about is studying a political system or culture, then recasting it in a different land or time period. (This is where the part about the mature writer stealing comes in.)

Her personal favorite as far as maps go is a map of Jerusalem, as it is a city that can be traversed in a day and as such makes a terrific launching pad for a city of your own construct.

She collects baby name books and cookbooks, both terrific sources of information about their cultures.

Finally, she reminded us that we don’t want to drown our readers in historical or fantasy world details, but to give them only a taste. Use the details to supply texture and detail and enrich the main conflict of the story.

Some other points she had to make about fantasy:

Fantasy is not safe
Kids need to understand that they aren’t the only ones to screw up.
Some of the deepest, darkest issues are dealt with in fantasy.
There is a current trend in fantasy to focus on the faults and weaknesses of governments.
Fantasy deals with honor. Honor is almost no longer talked about, except in fantasy.