More Worldbuilding

Something that’s always attracted me to writing fantasy and science fiction is the “worldbuilding” element. That is, the part where I get to create a world that’s both like the one we live in, and not so like it, as the setting for a story.

For Neon Blue and Blood Yellow, that “worldbuilding” has mostly involved integrating magic into a modern, urban setting in a way that I hope is natural and believable. But I’ve known all along that there was another big piece of worldbuilding that I’d need to do if I wanted to show Hell. Since I’ve now worked scenes in Hell into both Neon Blue and Blood Yellow, the time to do that worldbuilding has come.

A long drive to Edinburg (which He Who Is Doing the Driving says is pretty much on par with Hell, but I actually like, even though it’s freaking cold here for June) has given me the opportunity to do some serious worldbuilding for Hell. I’ve tried to get away from my biblical (and AD&D) roots a bit, although I know my Hell is going to be informed by Christianity (and Gary Gygax, and Dante). How could it not be? I’ve brought along a wonderful book I found in Harvard Square many years ago, Demonology and Devil-lore, by Moncure Daniel Conway (Henry Holt, 1879). I like his distinction between demons and devils. Demons, he claims, are not gratuitously harmful. Rather, their evil is incidental to their motivations: hunger, lust and other suffering. That’s my demons in a nutshell. They feed off strong human thought and emotion (mostly negative thought and emotion). Like any intelligent predator, they want to make sure their food source is readily available, so they’ve developed into tempters and stealers of souls.

This turns out to be a rich starting point for worldbuilding my version of Hell. It’s led to “types” of demon (fire, ice, earth, air and water) who feed off different kinds of thought and emotion. “Classes” of demon as the different types evolve from low-level consumptive machines (lemures) to apex predators (pit fiends). Thinking about the interactions between these demons has created a history for Hell, revolving around the perpetual struggle for dominance between the demon lords that is the Hellwar. And laying out the various conflicts of the Hellwar has led to a broad topography for Hell.

The broad topography has led to a more detailed topography of the area where Jou and his “clutch” live, Ash Hill (a very obscure reference to the movie, Silent Hill). It was natural to “people” Ash Hill, the Fiendyke, Bez-Kadder and the Soulfields after I’d mapped them out, so a bunch of new characters have evolved: Reece, the sixth member of Jou’s clutch (along with Fulsome, Nevida and the Zes), the murderous Noctil who inhabits Bez-Kadder (still working on a name for her), Cazin, the Hound of Ash Hill, Icky the Imp, Nesne, a not-demon who guards the Gates through the Fiendyke, Uzal, Keeper of the Soulfields. I’m not sure if any of these characters will make it into either Neon Blue or Blood Yellow, but they’ve been fun to think and write about!

A pretty good day, all in all.


Had a little spare time this weekend so I gulped down two books. One was an old favorite, Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds. The other was a recent purchase off Amazon, Jim Butcher’s White Night.

Both are really great books. Not good books. Great books. Books to savor. Books to read and re-read and think about and let them change your life. Here’s a wonderful passage out of White Night that if I think about it enough could do just that:

“Life’s easier when you can write off others as monsters, as demons, as horrible threats that must be hated and feared. The thing is, you can’t do that without becoming them, just a little. Sure, Lasciel’s shadow might be determined to drag my immortal soul down to Perdition, but there was no point hating her for it. It wouldn’t do anything but stain me that much darker.” (310)

Something I’ve known, mused about, tried to write about, but not encapsulated as neatly as this. Hating something violently, passionately, makes us that little bit more like the thing we hate. Draws us that much further down in to the darkness. It’s love, compassion, understanding that sets us free.

Now to write it half as well as Hughart and Butcher do . . .

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