Question 11: MouseWhenItSpins
This final question concerns world-building, religion, Taoism, mythology and the writer's decision making process. A lot to get in - I hope I did it justice!
Hi GR, thanks for doing this. I just finished reading The Stone Road last night and enjoyed it, thanks again for sending me a copy! If I'm not completely drained of energy when I get back from work tonight I might try and write up some of my thoughts on it. But for now, a couple questions for you.
I appreciated the congruency between the magic in your world and Taoist mythology, namely the Wu and Fang-shi. However, I noticed that - barring some small asides about the jade emperor and heaven - you essentially omit any other references to Taoism or even any religion at all. When building up your world, how did you decide which aspects of society and culture to include or to leave out?
A narrower question: you included a dryad in your story. It's been a long time since I studied this, but I don't remember there being an equivalent for a dryad in Eastern culture. Is there one, or is this something you borrowed from the West?
Thank you for reading and enjoying the book - I am so happy you did!
That is a great question and I will try to answer it as well as I can.
I think it goes the core of Stephen Kings' thoughts on readers imagination and Mark Lawrence's ideas on readers doing the 'heavy lifting' in a story and I cheated - a lot of authors cheat. I sidestepped the very problem you mention - how do you convey a culture, a religion, a society unfamiliar to many readers, still have enough for those that do, and keep the story going. I hate info-dumps... I may have mentioned that somewhere.
So I had to make some decisions. I hope I gave enough clues to readers about governmental structure, society and some traditions to create an impression of the far east - to let the readers own knowledge fill in the blanks, to create their own unique vision of that world, albeit a guided one. I wanted the reader to find out about the world as they travelled it with the two characters, as they experienced the world and the conflict. It needed to be recognisable in some facets and seem alien in others - a fine line to walk and one I trod carefully, hopefully not making too many grievous errors as I went. So of it happened through inspiration, some through research and some through concious decision - trying to convey my vision of the world to the readers.
I did leave out a lot of religion - the conflict between Yaart and Wubei is trade/political in origin not religious - and in The Stone Road I wanted to focus on the characters and that conflict. You'll note as well that the magic is not dwelt on overly in the story - it is there, it works, the how and why is only lightly touched on. A kindly opinion would say the magic is foreshadowed :)
Book 2 and certainly 3, bring the various magic's to the forefront - and they diverge a little more from the Taoist views, though there are reflections of some other religions in the magic. Again, it was the decision to learn about the world as the characters travel it, both Zhou and Haung are students / learners - they learn best, like most of us do, by the doing and seeing rather than the telling.
Your narrow question is well noted. Without spoiling too much, I used the word Dryad as something a western audience would understand. If you read, I might make it free for while, Tales from the Stone Road - a little volume of three stories based in the same world - you meet the 'Dryad' again under her real name (if you connect the dots that is). The term 'Dryad' is another case of the letting the reader do some of the 'heavy lifting' (will I ever be able to thank Mark enough for that term) - it conveys what I needed it to at that moment in time, and leaves enough room to wriggle more in later on, when a reader is more settled in the world.
Thanks for the great question!