This is the beginning of a series of blogposts about worldbuilding and novel writing using one of my in progress novellas – The Trial of the Kouzinns. Some of the blogposts will be here for free and some will only be available to those on patreon, where I will also be posting the draft chapters of Batomi for my patrons.
Note the first: None of these blogposts are meant to imply that this is the definitive way things are done. AT ALL. I’m not even saying this is the way I work all the time.
Note the second: A specific thing I do as a writer but not everyone does – I don’t plan out the whole world before I start writing. I work out the basics I need and start writing and then build the world and write in tandem.
Where do your ideas come from?
A lot of writers I know dislike this question because it’s completely subjective and hard to articulate in a general sense. So I’m going to be talking specifically about where some of the core ideas for the world of Batomi come from. Like many of my works it was more a number of smaller ideas coming together.
1. A vague memory of a culture which had multiple queens and only one king, where the queens’ only power was deciding if the king should be replaced and who the new king would be. This resulted in the old King being put to death. (I can’t recall if this is history or from a book but it stuck with me for over two decades)
2. Current politics in the U.S. with a white supremacist sympathizer president and those who defend or appreciate the things he does that hurt other citizens feeling unaffected and privileged. I wanted to make it more of a discourse on culture though so it’s about the King obsessed with outside countries who look down on his own and view his country as “uncivilized”.
3. Organized crime and marginalized identity. The ways in which organized crime can become something like organized resistance when the people/organization that is supposed to protect/care about you no longer gives a shit and is actively working against you. I was thinking about gangs and people that have to police themselves and their own community. When does a protection racket become a informal police force?
The combination of these three ideas gave me the basic set-up for the world and the story I was going to tell: A corrupt king who had somehow circumvented the queens to stay in power for decades and was obsessed with turning his people into something they never were. A young girl, Constance, struggling to thrive, survive and care for her family being pulled into a life of crime that is also a life of resistance.
For myself as a writer, once I have the basic plot elements I ask myself a few questions about the world before I get started. For this work the questions were:
What’s the setting look like?
What’s the government look like?
What’s the religion look like?
Now that I had a general idea it was time to fill some of the details of the physical setting. In terms of landscape I knew I wanted a nation of islands. Now most folks would go straight to Venice (and don’t get me wrong I love Venice) but I wanted to skew it more towards my own cultural heritage. My mother and her family are from the southern U.S. and are mostly Creole from Louisiana so I wanted to do something rooted in the geography of the southern U.S. So Batomi was going to be a delta, a huge bayou nation made up of 97 islands where freshwater met saltwater on the outer edges. Some islands are large and vital and some are tiny enough that only one or two families live on them.
I decided that Batomi was a historically powerful nation but because they were islands they lacked metal which of course affected their technology level. Therefore much of their technology is plant-based. For example firearms, elsewhere in the world they are at the level of flintlock pistols but these are rare except among the extremely wealthy or extremely well connected in Batomi. They do have homemade firearms in Batomi but they are larger, almost hand cannon things that are usually manned by two people with a barrel of treated and hardened plant trunk that can’t handle an actual bullet but is filled with shrapnel made of hardened tree sap. Swords and daggers are still widely used by most everyone and universally guns aren’t very accurate since they are almost all smooth bore.
For flora and fauna I was going to use the way I view nature in general and bayous in particular, always waiting to kill you. The surrounding environment would be beautiful and dangerous filled with gorgeous deadly snakes, brightly colored insects that could easily swarm, large herons that call in the night, flowers with delightful smells and deadly protections, crocodiles nesting on many islands and hippos…why hippos? Cause I wanted it and I love hippos! Finally I questioned whether I was going to call them by their real names or call a rabbit a smeerp? I decided to just use the real world names for real world plants and animals and save the smeerps for any flora or fauna I decided to create or…import (like hippos perhaps.)
I wanted to use the traditional terms of King and Queen but also fuck with what those titles mean because as we know words and definitions change through time. I decided to use the King and multiple Queens scenario as a beginning point in the history of Batomi. In the past the King was a man married to the Queens who were five women with very little power on their own. In the current age though the five Queens are elected district positions with specific power over parts of the government that are more outward facing (diplomacy, economics, education, wetwork & the military) and also the ones who decide when the king needs to be replaced. The King is selected by the Queens and is the representative of the people, the public face of the government and in charge of more internal matters. Though the current King identifies as male there are no longer any genders associated with these specific titles.
Except that the current King has collaborated with outsiders, killed one queen, married another and the other three have been missing for well near 30 years. Three queens are needed to oust a King and since the three queens are missing and not dead and Queens are elected for life the districts cannot vote for new ones until they have proof of death. As for the one queen he killed? That seat has remained empty, with no one willing to take it up. The King has been listening to outside nations and adopting outside fashions, slowly exiling followers of the Beasts from the central islands first and now working on doing the same to the followers of the Invisibles. He’s been bringing in outside music and styles and slowly edging out his own culture, while not an outright tyrant he is known for his harsh punishments of those who commit crimes – some of which include traditions he has decided to outlaw. Constance, the main character, is of a generation that grew up with this King in power, while she knows things are wrong she believes the lie that everything is improving.
Anybody who knows me, knows that I’m fascinated by religion and belief so religion is something I always work out when I’m worldbuilding. I decided that Batomi had 63 separate powers, divided into three groups – Beasts, Invisibles & Blessed. Each with a very different position and power in society. Why 63? Because there are 97 islands and 9×7=63 (this is something I like to do in my writing, small number connections and other things like meaningful place and people names that will probably never be talked about in story but are part of my internal story telling)
Blessed gave up their physical forms aeons ago to exist as ideals that influence and guide all of Batomi and its people (or are supposed to). They lost their names when they did this and are now only known by their attributes such as Love or Justice. They are universally viewed as good. Even those that might be viewed as evil or ambiguous by those outside the culture such as Decay and Hunger are positive to those of Batomi. This of course ties into the ecosystem they live in and the clear vision they have of the cycle of life/nature. The Blessed at their embody balance.
Invisibles can take physical form but usually don’t and they do have true names but only those dedicated to them remember them. Each of them claimed a month, a season or equinox as their holy time of influence and are remembered by those names. Those dedicated to the Invisibles are easy to spot, they are covered head to toe, only the Invisible they are dedicated to and their religious siblings are allowed to see their bodies uncovered. They are based on mystery cults and have influence on society depending on when their Invisible is in ascendance.
Beasts are in physical form almost all the time. They are called Beasts specifically because many resemble humans with various animal additions. They embody principles that rest in the body, they are viewed as dangerous and capricious because the things they represent not being clearly good or evil (such as Passion or Hatred or Leadership) but are things likely to go to ones head and take control. They live on various islands of Batomi and have their own worshipers who recognize their necessity and power and accept their shifting moods as beyond their understanding. They are also why Batomi has always been inviolate, they protect their people even if they also rumored to prey on the people of Batomi.
Now your questions may be different. Hell with a different book my questions are different but these were the things I needed to start planning out and writing Constance’s story. If you’re interested in reading Constance’s story draft chapters of the first Batomi novella – “The Trial of Kouzinns” will be going up monthly on my patreon starting November 1st.