Ink-Stained Scribe

Interactive Landscape

Speaking of interacting with the landscape, check out this
kick-ass table from Jailmake studio! I want one with catnip.
In Cat Rambo's Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story class, our homework was to write a scene of no more than 500 words during which our characters were to do one of the following things:

  • Wake up
  • Go to sleep
  • Prepare a meal
  • Eat a meal
  • Spend a large sum of money
  • Work at his/her profession
That may not have been the choices exactly, but it's the general idea. I wrote my scene (below), and when we came back to class the following week, Cat explained that the reason behind doing one of these scenes was to have the character engage with the world they live in.

Worldbuilding is a key element to all writing, but most pointedly to genre fiction, where the landscapes are often very different from our own, or similar to our own, but with key alien elements. The difficulty is not in creating that world, but in showcasing it through writing. With this exercise, Cat gave us a method for showcasing the worldbuilding: creating scenes or scenarios in which the characters interact with the world around them.

I realize I've done this before. In THE MARK OF FLIGHT, what started out as a scene during which Arianna, her mother, and a gaggle of noblewomen were weaving favors for a festival the following day, all the while having a discussion about Arianna's future marriage prospects, turned into a scene in which the women were participating in a sport that incorporated not only an allusion to the world's magic system, but showcased the fashion, character, and values of the upper class society. The conversation they had didn't change at all, just the trappings and level of excitement.

Instinctively, I knew it was a better scene, but I didn't know why. Thanks to Cat's class, I have that explanation. By giving the characters something to do what was unique to their world, I could make the scene serve several purposes: getting out important information through the conversation, and showcasing the world and society through the interaction with the physical landscape, and HOW it's done.

Following is the scene I wrote for Cat Rambo's class, involving two dragon-riders named Howell and Giddeon.


Howell was dirty, bruised and buzzing when he dragged himself to his quarters and shut the door on the last twenty hours. Most nights, the liquid beams of the desert moon spilled through the window, but not tonight. He'd dammed them up behind the casement's steel bombardment shield, which he’d cranked shut that morning just in case there was any truth to the raid reports.

Which, of course, there had been.

Now, the squat room was dark but for the tarnished illumination of a dragons-eye globe sunk into the wall. Mottled splotches of oxidization on the orb’s surface forced the amber light into a filigree pattern on the claw-marked floor, shifting like the protean shadows of leaves in an oncoming storm. They didn’t use that light much, but Giddeon must have left it on for him, for what good it would do. Which was, in fact, very little.

Curtains of shadow hung on the contours of their heavy wooden bed-boxes, and Howell squinted at the much-abused floor, picking his way around disassembled blasters, half-repaired combat leathers, and the other hazards his Shanlori had left.

Giddeon's figure made an irregular range of angles against the far wall of his bed-box, one pale, wiry arm slung over the side and boneless with sleep. A twang of loneliness fell flat in the cacophony of Howell’s abused body parts; in Giddeon’s situation, he probably couldn’t have waited up either. But it was still annoying to face the evening by himself.

He shucked tortured gloves and mucky boots, stripped out of sweat-lined canvas and leather. The musk of the stables still clung to his clothes, and the half-flask of scale-oil spattered across his boots did not improve the consistency of caked-on dust and dragon-dung, but he couldn't spare the energy to take care of it now. He rinsed his body in the basin by the door, pulled the tie from his storm of black curls, and pulled on the shirt and shanks least in need of a wash.

His own bed-box was packed with the artifacts of that morning’s chaos. Howell swallowed against the knot in his throat, chest clenching in an unreasonable reaction of despair. He was too tired to clear it off. He was too tired for almost anything.

Howell climbed over the side of Giddeon's box and fought his way under the quilts. The Shanlori grunted a greeting, or maybe a protest--it was hard to tell--and Howell stretched out on the sunken cushion at his back. Lights flashed beneath his eyelids. His muscles vibrated and twitched, as though his body refused to acknowledge the fight was over, refused to drop its guard. Giddeon's ribcage swelled and shrank against his back, reminding Howell that he had only lost a battle, and not everything. He had not lost his dragon. He had not lost his Shanlori. And that was almost good enough.

The dragon-eye light flickered once, and went out, finally giving up its own protracted fight.