Top Ten Signs a Story Was Written by Me

This is going around as a meme for the contributors on , and I had fun writing it up. So I thought I’d cross-post it here, for the entertainment of those who know me and my writing. (Especially those of you who have seen the unpublished stuff, as you have a broader sample in which to see patterns.)

Top ten signs a story was written by me . . . .

1. Names are somehow important. Seriously, I don’t know if it’s because my own legal name is so unmanageable or what, but it comes up again and again. Sometimes it’s as small as a married woman who’s left her husband choosing to abandon his surname; sometimes it’s Blatantly Meaningful Nomenclature or somebody getting their name from a god. But names keep on being important, again and again.

2. So are siblings. Or quasi-sibling entities. I have a perfectly normal relationship with my own brother, so I have no idea where this comes from. Siblings, evil twins, or just really good friends who might as well be related.

3. Also religion. Which is so not a reflection of me. But fantasy deals with the supernatural, and I can’t seem to think about the supernatural without the divine coming into it, too. And really, when you get down to it, most human societies in most time periods have believed in some manner of godlike being(s). So it’s true of the worlds I build, too. (I’m probably the only person who thinks of Jacqueline Carey’s work as “those books with all the neat religion stuff” instead of “those books with all the kinky sex.”)

4. Characters surrender themselves to things. Sometimes the thing they’re surrendering to is the divine. Other times it’s fate, or their powers, or just The Inevitable, in whatever form it’s taken. But I seem to have a thing for that moment of letting go, and having that be some kind of turning point.

5. If I’m making up the setting, the names look like they come from some real-world language. This is because it’s an old trick of mine for creating the illusion of depth in my worldbuilding. If you look at Europe historically, you could generally tell Germans from Spaniards from Turks just based on their names; why shouldn’t that be true in a fantasy setting, as well? So now it’s become standard practice for me. (Though the practice was instituted after I’d written Doppelganger, so the only place you can clearly see it there is in the witches’ names.)

6. Yay art! Singing. Dancing. I reeeeeally want to publish my novel about a playwright in a fantasy world. I just published a story about a minstrel in Intergalactic Medicine Show, and I have a half-finished story about a sculptor sitting on my computer. I gravitate more toward what I know (which is probably why the sculptor’s story is floundering), but in general, I likes me some artistic expression. I like it even better when it has some magical component to it.

7. I’ll never give anyone a Fate. I’m far more interested in people who choose to step up and do something, rather than being destined to do it. If there’s a prophecy, it’ll be more of a conditional statement: “if this happens, then this will happen,” or “someday somebody will do this, but it isn’t pre-determined who.” There is one exception to this rule in the compost heap at the back of my head, but it’s a story that is going to examine the entire concept of fate very directly.

8. Romance might happen, but it isn’t guaranteed. Many of my characters are too busy to really think about that. Or so hung up on various issues that, while by the end of the story they may be ready to consider it, the actual lovey-dovey developments are more left to the reader’s imagination than played out onstage. At most, it’s a B plot trying to make space for itself in the A plot that’s busy trying to kill everybody. I would make a terrible romance author . . . .

9. I know my folklore. Several of my published or soon-to-be-published short stories are built off fairy tales, ballads, or other traditional narratives. Bits and pieces also show up in things that aren’t as directly related. It’s an endless source of material for me.

10. You can always tell I’m an anthropologist. In fact, I even have a “Cultural Fantasy Manifesto” posted on my site. I like worldbuilding, and I like building worlds that do new and interesting things. And then my stories are always tied closely into their setting, with the culture shaping how the characters think and what choices they make, so that you couldn’t possibly transplant them into a different world without the story just falling apart.

0 Responses to “Top Ten Signs a Story Was Written by Me”

  1. shartyrant

    (I’m probably the only person who thinks of Jacqueline Carey’s work as “those books with all the neat religion stuff” instead of “those books with all the kinky sex.”)

    Nah! I am always surprised when people refer to it as the books with all the “kinky sex” in it. It has more religious and political intrigue for me to ever focus on the sex aspect of it. Nothing wrong with sex, but the religious elements and world building is what kept me as a reader in her series as she came up with some real original elements for that fantasy series.

    • Marie Brennan

      I also like how the different nations are built up out of imagining Europe without the common cultural template of Christianity.

  2. elizaeffect

    No, I think of the Kushiel’s books as “all that neat religion stuff”. Well, really it’s “all that neat worldbuilding stuff, of which the religion is just component and of which the kinky sex is sort of fun but really can we get back to the worldbuilding bit?”

    • Marie Brennan

      I think it might have been while I was reading those books that I started to notice how few fantasy authors incorporate religious belief in a non-decorative way.

  3. prosewitch

    …which is why I enjoy reading your fiction so much! (especially 5, 6, 9, & 10)

  4. sora_blue

    Most of those are reasons why I enjoy reading your work.

  5. elfs

    (I’m probably the only person who thinks of Jacqueline Carey’s work as “those books with all the neat religion stuff” instead of “those books with all the kinky sex.”)

    Not so! I’m fascinated with her take on theology, and the premises under which her variant of Yahweh and Elua interact, and are limited, and so on. It’s neat stuff.

    I mean, the sex is nice, too…

  6. jesterjoker

    I’m a lurker from the SFNovelists… I find your journal on there every once in a while. I’m starting to think I’m going to have to look at your books before long. Woot, worldbuilding.

    Do you have any suggestions for ways to get your names to sound like they’re from the same country, or is it anthropology research and intuition? 🙂

    • Marie Brennan

      Foreign language dictionaries.

      There are other ways to do it, and some of them are better, but that’s the one I use the most often: open up a dictionary and start swapping things around (change the first letter of this word, take the first half of one word and the second half of another, etc) until I get names I like.

      You can also, if you feel like doing it the right way, sit down and spend some time working out the phonological rules of the culture you’re inventing. What sounds do they have and not have? What combinations of them are permissible? Which ones can begin syllables, which ones can end them? Is it generally consonant + vowel (the Japanese pattern), or VC, or CVC? Etc. But that one requires more time and effort, and also more awareness of how phonology works in the first place. I’ve got a very basic understanding, but mostly I take the easy way out.

      • jesterjoker

        I should almost get to looking up some of the phonological rules. I do something like that, anyway, but it’s bloody hard to do that with impromptu names.

        I have thought of baby name books, but I hadn’t thought of grabbing a dictionary. That would work! I can really find some names with meanings that way. 🙂

        • Marie Brennan

          I like “From Aaron to Zoe” for baby-name books, because it has a section grouping names by nationality. But foreign-language dictionaries are great if you want to come up with names that aren’t actually real-world names.

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