Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Vinland Verða Vera Sjálfstæður!

As I hope you've all gathered, the point of last week's exercise (What if...?, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5) was to illustrate how to start with a few simple assumptions and end up with a fantastic world that has history, depth, complexity, and most importantly, plenty of room for action and adventure.

Now, here's the tough question: where's the story in this world? Or never mind "the" story; where's any story? It's easy to sketch out history, but as so many writers have proven, history alone does not make a tale.

As a writer, what is the one story that you would want to tell in this world?

UPDATE: Hello? Anyone out there?

[sound of crickets chirping]

Okay, look, the challenge here isn't to capture the broad sprawl of history, it's to zoom in and find the human story that wants to be told here. I mean, imagine you're a young Roman from Neapolis, enlisted in the legions and sent off to cold and barbaric Britain to stand watch on Hadrian's Wall. Or better yet, imagine you're an older soldier near the end of your enlistment, stuck in northern Gaul, charged with keeping the peace between the ungrateful Franks and the untrustworthy Saxons and hating both of them almost as much as you hate the runny cheese and the lousy wine.

Or how about this? Imagine you're the owner and captain of a second-rate roundship. It's not much, but it's all yours and it's all you've got, and together you and your 7-foot-tall Watutsi first mate eke out a living along the less reputable stretches of the North African coast. Sometimes you haul cargo; sometimes you smuggle; and you're not above a little piracy, if the odds are in your favor. Then one day you're just sitting there in a little dockside dive in Tunisia, minding your own business and worrying about some old debts, when suddenly fate drops this ancient Pictish geezer and his smart-mouthed young ward in your lap. The Pict offers you an insane amount of money to make a run up to Britain, and when you ask him what's the cargo, he says it's just him, the boy, two slaves, and no questions. You make some kind of offhanded crack about local trouble, and he says, ominous as all Hades, "Let's just say we'd prefer to avoid any Imperial entanglements."

And right about then, every alarum in your head starts screaming that you would have to be blind, drunk, stupid, and crazy to take this job, and that all the deal needs is some smartass slave girl in a bronze bra to make the chaos complete, but on the other hand the Pict is offering you an unbelievable amount of money to make one quick little garum run, and having that cash in hand sure could solve a lot of your more immediate problems...