Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Planning a Castle, and Magic in Scotland

Or, Why Research in Novels is Cool!

Most of Friday was spent on the Interwebz and in Scotland (via said Interwebz). 

My good friend, Renée, was kind enough to let me abuse her paper and ink supply as I looked up various historic castles, their stories, their blueprints, and the areas in Scotland where they were. With large stack of castle research in hand, I set about plotting the castle that Heather and the MacArthur family live in - the 2nd part of my homework from my "Fabu" (thanks for the word, Suzanne!) writing group, Traveling Java.

Plotting a useable castle is freaking hard!!

(Planning a starship is harder, but that's a different novel.)

In any case, like with all of my details, I want it to be believable, which means that the castle must be structurally sound and things like secret passages need to make sense with the blueprint.  That also means that the walls and rooms need to be well-planned so as they aren't suspiciously wide between rooms.

Oh, and on top of that, if it's been modernized with additions (as the MacArthur castle has), you need to actually get to the additions and move around… so at some point, doors need to be made in places that make sense for doors to be (i.e. not at major supports and not through extra-reinforced walls… and certainly not through already-built-in towers with stairs planned for the original levels and dimensions.) 

Everyone needs a place to sleep and live, too… don't forget the live-in staff!  They kinda need to be near heat sources and close enough to the remodeled and renovated parts so that they don't feel like their living in the Middle Ages.  Not if you're writing a contemporary fantasy, anyway.

In figuring all this out, I worked one pencil's eraser down to the nub and made my way 3/4 of the way through another poor pencil's eraser.  I have three completed floors and one partial of the sub-floor, which includes how the secret passages all connect… and I probably still need to do a roof view.

Of course, the changes affect the story, too.  Just like the Character Bible revealed a lot about my characters that I hadn't realized, the map did the same.  There are definitely some scenes I must fix to reflect the layout (particularly one with running down stairs where the room from which the character is running is now on the first floor), but as I continue on the draft, more scenes are a whole lot easier to write.

Besides just plotting out the MacArthur castle, I mapped out where it would be located in the novel's Scotland.  This was a particularly magical task.  After a few novels in the UK under my belt that make liberal use of Google Maps (HOW did writers survive before Google?  Really?!), I have a rough geographical idea in my head about Wales, England, and Scotland (And Ireland).  In the mists of my mind, I figured the castle would be about an hour's drive east of Edinburgh, and I wanted it on the shore… with cliff trails (Thanks, Backpacker magazine!) and maybe about 35-40 minutes from a small village - but not a major city or town.  It also abuts a nature preserve between the castle and the village.

Well, there just happens to be such a perfect location in Scotland!  EXACTLY how I want it!  Down to the village and driving times (per Google Maps' driving directions) and the cliff walk (a tourist attraction of the village I found that matches my novel village).  So, I just plopped my castle and saltwater loch in the middle of Real-World existing farmland (or so it appears on the satellite images). 

In any case, I'm unbelievably happy with the results of this exercise, and absolutely appreciate how well my new writers group pushes me! 

Yay, research & writing groups!


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