1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Orality/Aurality/Musicality in World Building

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Creed, Mar 29, 2016.

  1. Creed

    Creed Sage

    292
    134
    43
    I'm just curious to see how many Scribes consider the aural presence of their written world. One of my classes has had me thinking about this for a while now, and it's something I'm starting to consider as a world building technique that really breathes life into the pages.

    This may not be as clear as I'd like it to be, but here's essentially what I'm asking:]

    How do you as a writer try to conscientiously imbue your world with a sonic personality to flesh out cultures, history, or mood? Do you even bother? Alternatively, how have you seen authors pull this off successfully to create a more memorable reading experience?

    The most obvious examples may be the inclusion of lyrics and song. Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind and Tolkein's work immediately spring to mind, though for Rothfuss I'm not sure how effective it was for me. On the other hand I think it's safe to say most of us have seen authors throw in some lyrics that don't add to the ambiance, or just pull us out of the narrative completely.

    Recently I've considering oral tradition in my worlds and I've been slowly building off of that. I have a weird thing where I love it when authors include proverbs from their worlds, and I think that extends to these traditions as well. Thinking about it now, proverbs are a kind of oral tradition...
     
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    5,542
    2,631
    313
    Proverbs are definitely a kind of oral tradition. It's also interesting how the actual words of the proverb might change, while the meaning stays the same.
    People keep using the proverbs, but in some cases one or more of the words that make them up fall out of use and become unfamiliar to people. As a consequence the original word is replaced by another one that sounds similar but means something else. In this way the actual proverb changes, but as it's still used in the same ways, the meaning doesn't change.

    ...and that's pretty cool.

    - - -

    As far as sounds go, I have not put that much thought into it from a world building perspective. However, I've used it in some of my stories as a way to add a little character depth. Songs are playing on the radio and it triggers a memory or feeling within the character.
    I enjoy doing it, because it's something I can relate to myself, but it's unfortunately rather word heavy. It takes a lot of text to convey comparatively little information. When that information is important though, then I feel it's a great way to go.

    I haven't included music/sound in the actual world building that I can recall. My world is on a cultural and technological level similar to our own and there's room for all kinds of music.
     
    Creed likes this.
  3. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

    433
    136
    43
    The songs in LotR really pulled me out of the story, but I was pretty young and may have missed the meaning behind many of them.

    What impressed me more than Rothfuss's songs was his description of the sounds of various instruments and Kvothe's love for music. Describing the sheer bliss Kvothe was in when he was listening or playing forced me to impose my own beautiful musical memory.
     
    Creed likes this.
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,669
    4,681
    313
    A sonic personality. Hm. What is that? From the posts it sounds (hah!) like including music and/or lyrics. To which I say, *shrug*. Every once in a while, an author might quote a pop song that resonates with me, but that won't work for fantasy. Heinlein managed to use it well in the Green Hills of Earth, writing a song sung by homesick spacemen. The poetry was decent enough and he described the setting so that one could almost see them drinking as they sang.

    Most times, though, the efforts are clumsy, out of tune with the prose, and (worst of all) unnecessary to the story.

    That "sonic personality" phrase is bugging me. Could it simply mean describing the sounds heard in the world? There we face the on-going challenge of writing alternate world stories: coming up with sensory experiences that are other-worldly yet which somehow manage to resonate with readers in this world. This requires a deft touch, but is no more difficult for sound than for taste or sight or touch.
     
    Creed likes this.
  5. Creed

    Creed Sage

    292
    134
    43
    I'm afraid it might be a bit of a catch-all, and in that the term is weak. In my mind (and this is a subjective definition for sure) it certainly does describe the sounds heard in the world, across a broad range of mediums. Yes, this does include song lyrics and poems that the author may choose to include, whether that be within the narrative or at the start of a chapter, or however they choose. That's some musicality for you. As mentioned above, oral tradition is another factor. What forms it takes, how it's treated in cultures you portray, how it carries information from the past, how it defines/is defined by the people who participate.

    I think Laurence points to another important aspect: instruments. I may be getting more excited and provoked by this than other Scribes will, especially considering the nature of the class (Seeing, Hearing, Speaking the Past), but instruments are at the intersection of sound and material culture and these are great tools for world building. Granted, and I know this is something only a minority of Scribes will appreciate, thought towards aurality and musical instruments in a world is likely something a lot of readers will go over without really probing. But I definitely see the care in The Name of the Wind, and it adds to the book as a carefully crafted piece of fantasy.

    I suppose "sonic personality" also includes the ambient noise of a world, though this doesn't translate to the page so much as it might stay in the writer's mind. Characters perceive these things all the time, or they should, and I guess it could suggest a personality. I get what you're saying, Skip, but now I'm getting hung up on the personality thing. In the end we're concerned with applicability here, and how we can make a world and a story more memorable.

    (I hope I'm enabling discussion here and not just being confusing! :tongue: )
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2016
  6. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Troubadour

    195
    94
    43
    I actually think about the oral traditions of my world quite a lot. I'm not a very good lyricist but there are a few songs in my story (which I hope to polish up in a later draft). I don't really use them to convey information as some authors do, because I find that tedious to read and difficult to write most of the time (although I have seen it done well once or twice). Normally I keep my songs to little rhymes and a few sailor shanties from one of my characters who used to live on the coast.

    I also try to give my characters distinct ways of speaking so that you can tell more or less who's talking without dialogue tags. This can be a little tricky, because it can get really annoying if done badly, but I try to imbue each of my characters with a way of talking that reflects their background. I have a character who comes from a fishing village and he uses a lot of proverbs that relate to fishing and fish whereas. Then I have a character who comes from a very misogynistic culture and while he himself isn't a misogynist he'll say things like "he cried like a girl" whereas for my other characters it would be more common to say "he wailed like a babe"

    Then again I conlang as a hobby so I may think about this too much.
     
    Creed likes this.
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,669
    4,681
    313
    The passage did not click for me. For musicality in prose, I'll take a hearty mug of Ray Bradbury--a sonic personality if ever there was one.
     
    Creed likes this.
  8. Creed

    Creed Sage

    292
    134
    43
    That's a very interesting passage! It uses sound to accomplish so much. Just for kicks and giggles I'm going to throw out an excerpt from Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway to contrast:

    There's an incredible tonal difference, and of course it's for more reasons than the inclusion of sound in Wisoker's introduction, but it's worth noting nonetheless.

    Skip, the only Bradbury work I've read was Something Wicked This Way Comes but I definitely get what you're talking about. His prose itself has some great moments of sing-song-like flow to it!
     
  9. AndrewLowe

    AndrewLowe Troubadour

    107
    14
    18
    I know a lot of folks on here hate him, but I think that George R.R . Martin pulls it off very well.
     
  10. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

    549
    242
    43
    I don't think I've ever read through a whole song in a fiction book. I usually read about two or three verses and then skip down to the end. Oral history and tradition is pretty cool though, and definitely something I should probably think more about.
     
    Creed likes this.
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,669
    4,681
    313
    Creed, read The Martian Chronicles. In particular, the chapter entitled "There Will Come Soft Rain"
     
    Creed likes this.
  12. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

    255
    58
    28
    Oral traditions can play a big role in the world building process. But I consider myself a writer first and a poet distant second. I love verbal, non-rhymed lyrics, but I'd be careful with those as a lot of them can sound clunky, and people often skim through songs. Proverbs, ancient stories and myths and legends are a better way to go through it and can actually add flavour, teach a lesson or even make info-dumps sound interesting. You could also dedicate a whole culture to spoken word - having a nation or a certain part of nation/culture be based on word to mouth stories that are known and respected in the universe.
    Example: An idea I am currently toying with: in a culture that is based on religion of a multitude of gods, in the religious orders there are always specially trained oratory priests whose primary task is to listen and learn spoken word of their gods from the past, never writing it down, but always remembered. From master to pupil, they travel as storytellers, bringing faith and legends of their gods to people.
     
    Creed likes this.
  13. Creed

    Creed Sage

    292
    134
    43
    Definitely true, but some readers completely skip prologues too, despite the crucial information that may be contained. I'm the type of reader who won't skip at all (except for one book I can't remember, which goes to show how memorable it was).

    Myths are a great option too! Though they come with the issue of delivery as well. Myth and legend in dialogue could easily bring out thematic elements in the story, or foreshadow, especially in the fantasy genre.

    Love your idea, by the way! There were tons of purely oral cultures that have similar systems in Africa. I'm remembering one example where one tribe/nation/culture would have an entire language devoted to working with iron that only the master and apprentices would know, to prevent that information from being disseminated and used by rival factions. I include a similar system for my alchemists in one culture, who have created a Greek Fire-esque weapon.
    Unfortunately we rarely get to read from the POV of non-literate cultures...
     
    Reilith likes this.
Loading...

Share This Page