For this post, I’m starting with a word that charms me. Everyday, Wordsmith.org emails me a vocabulary word, usually one I don’t know. Here’s one I want to remember, and posting it here will help me. This is how it appears on the Wordsmith site:


noun: A figurative, usually compound, expression used to describe something. For example, whale road for an ocean and oar steed for a ship.

From Old Norse kenna (to know). Ultimately from the Indo-European root gno- (to know). Earliest documented use: 1320. Kennings were used especially in Old Norse and Old English poetry.

“The hero, Beewolf (a kenning for bear, named the ‘bee wolf’ for its plundering of hives), heads to the Golden Hall.”
John Garth; Monster Munch; New Statesman (London, UK); May 30, 2014.

“In the dawn of the English language the earliest poets or scops (minstrels) invented words like ‘battleflash’ to describe a sword, or they would identify a boat by its function with a kenning like ‘wave-skimmer’.”
Samuel Hazo. What’s in a Name?; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Feb 17, 2008.

I love this and plan to make up a kenning the next chance I get.

On May 27, 2015, Elisa wrote, I’ve totally revised my TTDP story. It was very hard for me. It’s still hard for me, because now the time setting is more similar to ancient Roman instead of medieval. Well, more or less. It’s kind of a cross between Rome at it’s various time periods and Tira in RIVER SECRETS. But most of my stories are set in medieval or renaissance or Viking-ish time periods, and I’m having trouble getting this together. Does anyone have any thoughts on world building to share?

Many of you did.

Bug: I’m writing a book in a setting different than my normal-ish type, too, so I bought a book by Jill Williamson called STORY WORLD FIRST. It’s fairly cheap on kindle and was very helpful, and fun to read, too. It had a lot of useful things to think about.

Martina Preston: Medieval time periods are just so much easier to manipulate! The only thing I would say is to research on the Romans and maybe (I know there are some out there) read some books written about a character from the Roman time period. Also, if all else fails, you always have Wikipedia =).

Song4myKing: I think you’ll have to start with some basic knowledge of place and time, then let your mind explore aspects of life that probably won’t be included in the story. Imagine your character in the clothes she’d wear and follow her through a day or a particular event as if you’re watching a movie of her. Another thing that helps me establish place is sketching a little map of where things are in relation to each other. Once I drew up plans for an entire house because I had someone trying to escape unnoticed from there.

Melissa Mead: This might have some helpful stuff in it, although I haven’t looked through it all: http://www.alden.nu/re-wb.shtml.
And maybe this? http://www.timemaps.com/civilization/Ancient-Rome, which came from “CL Favorites” on the Carpe Libris webpage. (You can get there by clicking on my name.) The group’s not very active nowadays, but there are some handy resources on there.

Thank you, Melissa!

Many of my books are medieval’ish, too, but I ventured into Mesopotamia’ish for Ever. However–and this is a big distinction–my Mesopotamia is entirely fantastical. No mention is made of the real Mesopotamia or any actual city-state that existed at the time. There is no Europe, no Asia, which freed me to diverge from history, although I did do a fair amount of research and used as much as I could. But if we are setting our story in a real place called Rome, I think we’re obliged to get our facts right or close to right, even if we bring in enchanted princes and an underground landscape, which, come to think of it, exists in Roman mythology.

If we’re setting our story in a real place and we do change real history, it’s nice to note the change in an afterword. For example, if we decide to have Caesar survive his assassination, which becomes merely an attempt, we can note that. We don’t want a generation of children growing up believing in the miraculous hundred-year rule of Julius Caesar!

But my recommendation, if you don’t want to do a lot of research, would be not to set your story in a real place and a real time, and you can still use the actual middle ages as your backdrop. The architecture of your castle can be drawn from a real castle of the period in Scotland, with only the design of the drawbridge changed–or not. Just be sure to change the name so as not to confuse your reader. Copyright didn’t exist in the middle ages, and if it had, it would have elapsed long ago. (Of course you mustn’t reproduce a photograph of the castle for your book cover, unless you have the photographer’s permission!)

After Ella Enchanted came out, I received more than one letter from a child who thanked me for educating her about the middle ages. I felt so guilty! Ella isn’t even medieval’ish. It’s entirely in fairy tale land. Castle architecture is entirely invented, and everything else. Same with Fairest and The Two Princesses of Bamarre. But, starting with A Tale of Two Castles, I’ve made an effort to be more accurate in setting and daily life, even though the latest books also have nothing to do with historical kingdoms.

My choice of time period is usually determined by my story idea, and I assume that Elisa’s shift came about for the same reason, because plot and time period influence each other. Rome makes me think of mythology, a pantheon of gods, heroes, conquest, spread of civilization, philosophy that came down from the Greeks. And a warmer climate than northern Europe. These may figure into her plot.

My research is guided by my plot and the settings it takes place in. If I were setting my TTDP (“The Twelve Dancing Princesses”) story in Roman times, I’d want to know about the life of women, especially unmarried ones, during the period. I’d be interested in attitudes toward a practice of locking daughters up at night (though I might not be able to find such a thing). And, in a warmer climate with a more open architecture, how easy would confining them be? Did women and men dance with each other? I have a vague idea that they didn’t.

There seem to be books on daily life in every period. I have two for the middle ages and one for ancient Mesopotamia. I bet some exist for ancient Rome, which you can request from your library, and the answer to most questions probably can be hunted down online, especially for us fantasists, who aren’t chained to historical accuracy. I usually look at more than one site.

I’d also suggest reading Roman and Greek myths. The Roman ones are often drawn from earlier Greek originals. I grew up on Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, which I still love for its charm and fairy tale quality. It’s probably very outdated, though it’s still in print. The myths supply a glimpse into daily life and ideas of the time.

Here are five prompts:

∙ Some women in Roman days, according to myth, were huntresses, kind of wild women. Set your version of “Snow White” then, and make your MC the huntress that the evil queen commands to kill Snow White. Dealing with this privileged princess (however she decides to) is just part of a day’s work for your MC–except Snow White’s mess draws her in. Write the story.

∙ In your Roman “Snow White” tale, invent your own kenning (vocabulary word above) to describe the forest and the dwarfs’ cottage.

∙ Choose a Greek or Roman myth and expand it, as you would a fairy tale, keeping it in its period.

∙ Take the myth, or choose a different one and set it in a fantasy middle ages. What changes? I mean, plot changes, not just setting.

∙ Now move the myth into a contemporary setting. What changes?

Have fun, and save what you write!


I’m announcing, proudly, that I’ve had a poem published in each of these two anthologies: On the Dark Path, An Anthology of Fairy Tale Poetry, and the cancer poetry project 2. The first is probably appropriate for high school and above. My poem, called “Becoming Cinderella,” presents an entirely different version of the story from Ella Enchanted. I love that the fairy tale can accommodate both interpretations. The cancer anthology is also for high school and above, but I think it will be most meaningful if you at least know someone who’s struggled with cancer. My poem, “Because,” is in the “friend” category – I don’t have cancer.

Now for the post. On February 13, 2013, Athira Abraham wrote, I had a question that involved voice. My story might be from the middle ages or 1800s or something like that, but I also wanted to include things that were modern, like a camera, a café (yes, a café, not a bakery) and also events like Valentine’s Day, but I’m not sure how I would express it in the story to myself and the readers. I’m also finding it hard to include religion, like a church, if my story is a fantasy and includes a witch, or a sorceress, because some religions can be against this. How could I express these things in a story without making it sound too complicated?

Several subjects are wrapped up in here. First, time period. The middle ages and the 1800s are vastly different, politically, technologically, culturally, even religiously, and probably more. If we really want to give an impression of a particular period, it’s worth doing a little reading. There are books about the daily life of just about every period. I have two on the middle ages and one on ancient Mesopotamia. I usually read the chapters that have bearing on my story. For example, I’m always interested in food and the home. If we’re writing fantasy, we don’t have to stick slavishly to the information, but it’s helpful to have a general idea. In addition to daily life, it may be useful to google geopolitics for the period just to get a sense of what was going on.
And our research pays off delightfully in the details that we come across that inform and enrich our story, details we never would have thought of on our own.

It is possible to write a story that pulls in bits and pieces from all over the time line. Terry Pratchett is a master of this in his Discworld series. If we’re going to do something like that, we need to establish it very early in our story, certainly in the first chapter, so our readers don’t get confused.

If we’re not going to hop all over the historical map, let’s back up to consider why we pick a particular period. The answer doesn’t have to be deep, but, in my opinion, we should have one. Maybe we want a medieval story because we want the action to take place in a castle, and we don’t want to write twenty-first century people who are renovating a twelfth century castle. That’s good enough for me.

Generally, we need a reason for everything! Let’s take the three Athira Abraham mentions: a camera, a café, and Valentine’s day. It’s not good enough, in my opinion again, merely to like these elements. They need to fit into our plot. We can like one of them, say Valentine’s Day and what happens on that day, and decide to build a book around it. That’s fine. But then we need a reason for the café and the camera. Maybe our lovebirds meet at a café and ask a stranger to take a photo of them, and the photo falls into the wrong hands, because one of our MCs has been hiding from her great enemy, the powerful and vicious Earl of Eagleton. Cool!

These three elements may suggest our time period. As I wrote in my comment to Athira Abraham when she posted on the blog, the camera (not the digital camera, not a phone camera) has a pretty long history, and its forerunners go back even further. But in the old days you couldn’t just point and shoot. Taking a photo took time. Look it up.

Valentine’s Day goes way, way back, I discovered in my quick peek into Wikipedia, but the traditions evolved. Look it up, too.

Often etymology (word origin) will give you a sense of when something came into existence. According to Dictionary.com, the word café came into English at the end of the eighteenth century, so there probably weren’t cafes before then. If you’re alarmed about how long research will take, this filled about twenty seconds.

Suppose we decide to set our story in the middle ages. Valentine’s Day, in whatever form it took then, works. Cameras and cafes don’t. What to do?

We need some sort of substitute. Maybe for the camera it will be an artist who excels in recording impressions in charcoal on parchment. Or maybe, since this is fantasy, it’s a certain kind of owl that fixes images in its eyes. If you feed it a mouse and say the magic words, the moment you wanted to preserve will appear in the owl’s eyes. For a café, we’ll need to dream up something else, a gathering place of some sort.

Onto religion. We can have witches and sorceresses without mentioning religion – my opinion again. But if we need religion, this is fantasy, and it can be a fantasy religion. We can invent gods, demons, witches, sorcerers, sorceresses, cherubs, half-gods, creatures that are lower than humans in the creation hierarchy, whatever we like, whatever serves our story. The more different our fantasy religion is from actual religions, the less likely we’re to offend anyone. If our main god is in the shape of a dishwasher or, since this may be a medieval fantasy, a pot of porridge or even a unicorn, it’s unlikely to be connected by readers to their beliefs.

But, and I’ve written about this on the blog before, we may offend someone or more than one, and the anger may be for something we entirely did not predict. It may have nothing to do with religion (or it may – the religious aspects of Ever have bothered some readers). Maybe it has to do with the knights’ code of chivalry, which we expected would please everybody. The point is, if we worry about offending people, we may as well stop writing – and speaking, and leaving our bedrooms!

Here are four prompts:

• Put Valentine’s Day, the café, and the camera into a story set 200 years in the future. Each one has changed. Invent what they’ve become and decide how they fit into your tale.

• Research an aspect of life in the middle ages, could be market life, or costume, or cooking. Put your MC in the middle of it and give her an objective and obstacles to fulfilling it. Write the scene.

• Make her a modern girl in this medieval situation. Write the scene again, including her mistakes and her bungling good luck. A book I adore along these lines is Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – funny and exciting.

• In the middle of an escape from the villain, both your MC Mallory and your villain Hamilton wander into a religious ceremony unlike any either of them have known before. Mallory’s goal is survival; Hamilton’s is destruction. But nothing in this religion is as it seems. There are hallucinations, mazes, smoke, weather events, disembodied voices, and whatever other mayhem you want to toss in. Write the scene. If you like, continue and write the story or the novel.

Have fun, and save what you write!