This week, on what I’m calling “Lou Hoffmann’s road back to writing,” I did more research than wordsmithing. Research, for me, is both a good thing and rabbit hole. I love the random-ish learning. It fuels my creativity and helps with credibility—important to keep readers reading! Truly, it’s at the heart of my writing process.
Some writers cram a lot of research at the start of their writing or worldbuilding. I do some at the beginning, yes. But as things go along, getting stuck happens. Getting stuck almost always means research to get unstuck. That’s all good, but once I start, it could be hours before I stop following links and pop my head up out of the latest research rabbit hole.
A couple recent research warrens I’ve stumbled into
Does crude oil contain water?
This came up because a character named Vahrenn stumbles into a bit of pollution caused by a not accidental upwelling of crude. “Black gold, Texas tea,” as per the Beverly Hillbillies. The answer is yes, and it’s brackish. And brackish means it’s saltier than freshwater, but not as salty as seawater.
And can that water be removed?
Yes, and I now know more about the process than you probably want to hear.
Why does this matter for The Sun Child Chronicles?
Because Vahrenn has to do something about the oil to save a magical forest. He’s a wizard, so no problem, right? Big problem! His world doesn’t use petroleum, doesn’t drill for it or refine it or even really know about it. He’s been to Earth, so he knows what it is, but he has no idea why it’s popped up in Ethra. Fortunately, his born-in magical affinity is (drumroll) water! Therein lies a solution!
How does sign language develop?
Mostly, deaf people figure it out. Or at least get the ball rolling. Because they need ways to communicate amongst themselves and with hearing folks too. There are exceptions—like the trade language used by Indigenous peoples in what is now North America. That happened because people with different languages needed to talk.
But most sign languages were seeded and grew because of deaf people in the community.
ASL (American Sign Language) is an exception only in its development, not in its origin. It grew from seeds of a somewhat typical community sign language used on Martha’s Vineyard—where historically about 4% of the population was deaf.
Why does that matter for The Sun Child Chronicles?
You guessed it: Vahrenn is, conventionally speaking, deaf. Unlike Han Shieth, whom I introduced in my last blog post, he has no telepathic ability to speak of. (Most wizards in Ethra don’t!) Vahrenn, a deaf wizard in Ethra, faced a rather thorny communication problem. I, of course, had to solve it for him.
So then, how does Vahrenn communicate?
Very well, most of the time! He does sign. How he got there is a long story, most of which won’t make it into the book. Still as the author, I have to know! He also reads lips a bit. And naturally he writes the runic alphabet of his home country proficiently. It works!
Is getting lost in research worth it?
Hmmm. Good question. I think yes. Maybe some authors just wing it when writing fantasy or soft sci-fi. I feel like the things characters do in my fantasy books have to have a real basis in what people do, real world. The book I like to read are those in which characters’ emotions, life skills, dilemmas feel familiar to my head and heart. So that’s what I write.
In my last post I introduced you to Han Shieth. Since I’ve been going on about Vahrenn’s problems, I thought you’d like to meet him this week. Here’s a couple of brief quotes about him from the work in progress, Kaynenh’s Triad, book 5 of The Sun Child Chronicles.
“The wizard Vahrenn made his home inside a hill—almost tall enough to be a mountain—that butted its flanks against the salty water of Eagle’s Inlet on the East March coast. He’d been born in East March, as had his forebears for several generations past, yet his family maintained its ties to the Sunlands from whence they’d come. His name, Vahrenn, bore a Sunlandian history, and his family name, Karragani, was but a Marchian version of Ol’Karrigh.
He’d been essentially deaf since birth, unable to hear the natural range of the human voice and many other sounds, and no magic or medicine had sufficed to cure it. Perhaps that was why he’d learned to listen so well, and he liked being quiet.”
“He didn’t bear the same fame as his elder cousin Thurlock, or even of Bayahr, but his relative obscurity didn’t stem from lack of skill or power. The things he could do, he did very well.
Though they rarely got noticed.
Simply put, people tended not to remember him because he slid coolly over their awareness the way water—his magical affinity—slipped past the feet they dangled in a stream.”
In case you couldn’t tell, I really like Vahrenn, challenges and all.
Once again, thanks for joining me on this writer’s journey. Things are rolling along despite potholes and bumps in the road, and I’m enjoying the trip! I hope you are too.
Your thoughts, comments, or questions are more than welcome!