Tag Archives: research

Nine Worlds: The Chinese Don’t Do Sci-Fi?

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China and Chinese aesthetics have been borrowed by the West as a sci-fi setting and McGuffin for years. Native Chinese science fiction, however, has remained relatively unregarded until very recently. Yet it has existed for over a century. This talk is a history of Chinese sci-fi and specualtive fiction from the turn of the twentieth century through to the present. Discover the influences of China’s unique history and culture on key themes and voices, from its first dawning to contemporary works.

Xueting Christine Ni

Disclaimer: I know basically nothing about Chinese history, literary, politics or culture. I know a tiny bit about the mythology, and I do mean tiny. If I make any mistakes in this blog, I sincerely apologise. Everything Xueting said was fascinating and my note-taking couldn’t always keep up.

Another World

Chinese fantasy is mostly set in the romanticised past of Chinese history, rather than creating new fantasy worlds.

The Chinese culture has been borrowed from extensively by the West to create futuristic otherworldly cultures. It’s “an alien culture without stepping onto a rocket”. This goes both ways – medieval Britain in classical Chinese 20th century literature is used in a similar manner.

The Politics of Sci-Fi

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Kehuan Shijie, “SF World” – a Chinese SF magazine

At the beginning of the 20th century there was a massive flair in SF writing, as the government pushed a ‘save the country with science’ agenda. This was repeated in the 1980s, when the country was forward-thinking and had stable development. One of the masters of the genre was a chemistry graduate – “science was important“.

In between these two periods, the country was too unstable to have much luxury for SF, due to war, invasion, and the change to a republic. As a result, a lot of SF writing has strong social and political commentary, both local and global. In China, the level of censorship was often a strong indicator of how much good work was (is?) being produced.

The Cultural Revolution had a huge impact on SF plots. The genre was used as a way to reclaim history and allow the readership to come to terms with the past. War and revolution brutally severed the link between the ancient and modern periods of Chinese history, and SF tries to form a bridge between the two distinct cultures.

The early tradition of SF set stories in the wider world, either to avoid insulting the homeland directly or as a reflection of China as a bit-player in global politics. Modern SF is far more likely to be set in China itself, suggesting either less concern about the consequences of critique, a new confidence in China as a dominant player on the world stage, or a more immediate preoccupation with matters at home.

The 80s single-child generation is now nearing their thirties, and this is having a massive impact on both modern Chinese culture and SF themes. That generation is currently having to care for their parents and grandparents without any siblings to share the burden. At the same time, the strong sense of community that flourished in a state-owned culture has been nearly obliterated in the current privatised, corporate culture.

Similarly, many graduates are currently unemployed. There is increasing social stratification, leading to a huge gulf in living standards (particularly in cities, where slums are growing rapidly). The overpopulation crisis has led to jobs, schools and living space all under pressure. This is reflected in the current trend of ‘Angry Young Man’ stories (see below).

Themes and Characters

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Super Robot Girl, a 2015 film

Near future tech is very popular, especially virtual reality and robotics. AS more factories and restaurants employ robots in reality, the Chinese accept them as a fact of life. SF stories often explore the positive aspects of this, rather than Asmiov’s more doomsday approach. Bio-engineering is also popular. Altering bodies to fit ideals or achieve immortality has been a constant throughout Chinese history. There is a cult of conformity, adjusting looks and lifestyles in order to fit pereived ideals, and near-future science can enable this desire.

Not much is said about characters that break the rules and are removed. The reader is left to draw assumptions, based on history and cultural expectations. This speaks volumes.

The ‘Angry Young Man’ is a popular modern archetype, railing against the system with a certain sense of naivety. This character type is generally written by post-80s writers, who play heavily on themes of consumerist greed, tech advancement and commercialism leading to near-future dystopia. These anti-heroes tend to act as a lens of ‘realism’ for readers, rather than doing anything to change the situation. They are commentators, not actors.

The past is idolised, and almost portrayed as otherworldly. This tension between old desires and history, and new innovation is very obvious in modern SF. There’s still a desire for mysticism in the age of robots.

Lost in Translation

So why hasn’t Chinese SF been translated into English? One reason is that there’s frequently a direct and strong critique of Western politics, which Western readers might well find unpalatable. The USA in particular is a big target for Chinese dystopian futures, which isn’t especially popular with the Americans.

Western readers also generally lack a strong understanding of the history and culture which informs Chinese SF plots and characters. That makes it harder to engage with the stories at the right level.

If you’re interested in trying some, however, the following three authors were recommended as good starting points: Lagrange Graveyard by Wang Jinkang, The Fish of Lijiang by Chen Qiufan, and A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight by Xia Jia.

Next week: using foreign languages in genre fiction.

 

What in the World? Researching Settings

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Apologies for my recent absence. I don’t really have an excuse. Life just gets short on spoons occasionally. (For those who aren’t aware of Spoon Theory, I can’t recommend reading it highly enough. It isn’t only applicable to those with illnesses.)

Anyway, I’m making an effort to get back in the saddle. This is largely prompted by the upcoming Nine Worlds Convention – a three-day celebration of all things geek. My experience of conventions is comparatively limited but I had an absolute ball at the World Fantasy Convention back in 2013 so I’m hugely looking forward to this. Not least because I’ve got myself involved in speaking on a panel discussion about the use of research in world-building.

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Obviously there’s a HUGE amount to say on this subject and I’ve said much of it already on this blog. Important points include:

  • Building on existing cultures to give your audience an easy and textured hook into your setting
  • Picking something small (such as currency) and extrapolating from there
  • Stealing random ideas from history, because it’s frequently weirder than fiction
  • Avoiding jarring your audience out of immersion by Not Getting Things Wrong

The context of this particular discussion, however, revolves specifically around building worlds that the audience will interact with, be it in computer games, LARP, or collaborative storytelling. I’ve been asked to get involved due to London Under, and the research that was done there to bring local history into the game.

One of my aims with the London Under setting was to blur the line between reality and fantasy as much as possible, in order to bring my audience deeper into the world. To that end, I tied in the history of the immediate area as well as news stories. Many of the fantastical plots stemmed from a real-life event. The building of the Thames Tideway Tunnel, for example, became a major point of gang territorial warfare; the Dutch Elm Disease of the late 1960s was revealed to be a piece of biological terrorism committed by one sect of dryads against another. I wanted people to walk down a street, or read a newspaper, weeks later and know something about it – partly true, partly fantastical, and occasionally difficult to tell where the line was.

There’s an obvious problem with this, which is the issue of timeliness. Using current news stories means that the setting and plot has a very high risk of dating quickly. Anything based on, for example, Thatcherism feels old fashioned now and that sense of the old-fashioned will carry over in the audience’s mind into your world setting. On the other hand, if done well, it gives your world an extra dimension of historical reality – one you don’t need to explain in detail because the audience will fill in the gaps for you. And that unconscious gap-filling means they are more emotionally invested in your setting. They understand something about it, have brought it closer to their own world, and it’s more real to them as a result.

To be honest, I’ve no idea what the panel discussion will end up covering on the day. Do come along and find out! My dear friend Dr. Nick will, in a weird quirk of coincidence, also be taking part (doctorate in naval architecture =  really good at designing spaceships and dirigibles), as will Jeanette Ng and Russell Smith. Let me know if you think there are any other points or questions that ought to be raised. And please come say hi – it would be lovely to see you there. 🙂

Socrates & Apple Inc.: Censorship in publishing

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Warning: politics ahead!

Censorship by a governing body has always been a tense subject. On hearing the word ‘censorship’ people generally assume that this is a historical thing, or something that happens in dictatorships abroad. Censorship doesn’t really happen in modern democracies, right?

Yeah.

In the early 4th Century BCE Socrates was put to death by the Athenian government for heretical teachings that he refused to withdraw (detailed in Plato’s Phaedo). This is one of the earliest acts of censorship on record, and sets the tone for much of what followed.

Until the invention of the Gutenberg press in the 1440s, relatively few texts were published in Britain and the Church had almost complete control of them. Movable type was a considerable threat to the Church’s authority – suddenly it was possible to produce large numbers of books on immoral or heretical subjects that far more people could afford. The Church fought back, with notable cases such as Francois Rabelais and Galileo, both of whom were placed under house-arrest and their books banned. In 1543 it was decreed that no book could be published without the Church’s approval. Any books that went against the Catholic creed were banned – added to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books) in 1559 – and a number of Protestant printers went to the stake.

It was not only religious monopoly that drove censorship. In 1557 the Stationers’ Company was granted a royal charter to control printing in England. Only members of the Company were legally permitted to print, and censorship became a matter of corporate monopoly and anti-competitiveness. The Company was given powers by the Crown to seize and destroy dangerous and seditious material. This lasted (on and off) until 1694, when the Company charter was not renewed. But censorship on the basis of corporate interest hasn’t gone away. In an example so ridiculous it’s almost funny, Laytonville, CA banned The Lorax in 1989 because it ‘criminalized the foresting and logging industry’.

In the modern age, censorship is less explicit but very much present, for the most part on the basis of security or immoral/obscene content (although who defines that is an interesting point).

‘98.6% of UK internet traffic consume a service called the child abuse image content list which uses data provided by the Internet Watch Foundation to identify pages judged to contain indecent photographs of children. When such a page is found, the system creates a ‘URL not found page’ error rather than deliver the actual page or a warning page.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_in_the_United_Kingdom)

Since 2013, any internet sites containing pornographic, violent, suicidal or addictive content are automatically blocked from every UK household (unless specifically requested). Also in 2013, the book Pandaleaks: The Dark Side of the WWF – a book accusing the WWF of eco-tourism and eco-vandalism – was banned from Britain for a year when the WWF threatened lawsuits.

Which, finally, brings me onto the US All Writs Act of 1789. The FBI are proposing to use this Act to enforce IT companies to put a backdoor into their operating systems, so the FBI can access any device to look for dangerous content. You might have seen Apple’s open letter about this recently. That’s not censorship on a book basis – that’s censorship on an individual basis. And if you think it only affects Americans, think again. Anyone with an iPhone will be affected, regardless of where you live, because Apple is an American company. More than that, though, any device company operating in America is being subjected to the same pressure, and their devices worldwide would also be affected.

So, all of them, then.

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Censorship is no longer an explicit legal matter in Britain. There are no trade bodies or authorised personnel (such as the position of Master of the Revels, or Examiner of the Stage, a government appointed official that lasted from 1600 – 1968). Freedom of the press, and the explosion of self-publishing, make it almost impossible to restrict content. Nonetheless, it still happens. We just don’t see it.

Verysillymitude: Making Stuff Up Accurately

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This term’s university module is all about the importance of research in fictional writing, and how to do it. I have a bit of an advantage here in that market research is 75% of my day job, plus my undergrad degree was in Ancient History and therefore pretty much all research-based. A lot of this stuff is so ingrained that I don’t necessarily realise what isn’t obvious, so if anyone has any specific questions about the art of research please leave them in the comments and I’ll focus on them in future posts.

There’s just a couple of points that I want to touch on for now, though.

I’m writing SF&F – do I need to do any research?

This conversation came up with my course colleagues, all of whom are writing historical or modern-era fiction. One person said:

Made up stories which rest on nothing more than the writer’s imagination, have no concrete root from where research can be drawn.

NLSl3

Cities are usually laid out in a certain way. Does your fantasy capital make sense?

I respectfully disagree. With a story set in this world, your readers can build a mental picture with relatively few clues, drawing on their own knowledge. With a fantasy world, they have no prior knowledge or images so you have to make that picture even more compelling. That requires a well-researched sense of the physics and biology, good and believable depiction of architecture, culture and politics. These are all things which the writer should research and base on existing cultures, etc, in order to make them believable, relatable and compelling.

Terry Pratchett wrote a wonderful essay about how a reader once sent him a letter saying that the geography of the Discworld was all wrong because meteorology dictated that the reputedly wettest place on the Disc was actually in a rain shadow.

Plus there’s always psychology. Why are your characters behaving the way they do? What in their past history would impact their behaviour? I have a wonderful book called Writer’s Guide to Character Traits, which lists mild and extreme symptoms of everything from PTSD to Middle Child Syndrome. If you want to make complicated characters who don’t react logically to everything because they’re people, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

What is truth?

The one thing a writer must never do, under any circumstances, however, is to distort the truth for the sake of a good story. ~ Ann Hoffman, Research for Writers

Yeah… no. We are, first and foremost, storytellers. If the research inspires a new twist in the story, awesome sauce. If it completely stymies it, then sail straight on by with a rude gesture. You can always come back to that point later. Besides ‘truth’ is wildly subjective. As Gerald Seymour said, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

Facts, now, facts are different. Changing a fact is changing something that can be proven otherwise. If you start messing with, say, the laws of physics you’d better have a really good world-building reason or it’ll throw your readers right out of their immersion.

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In the realm of SF&F, ‘facts’ can take on a slightly weird definition. For example, the architecture of the USS Enterprise – a completely fictional ship – is so very well documented that mucking about with that will result in outrage. Be aware of your genre and your audience.

There’s also the issue of cultural sensitivity. I don’t just mean cultural appropriation – of course we borrow from other cultures in order to create new worlds. (Just do your research and use them, y’know, respectfully.) But there are certain points in various cultures that have too much associated with them – the Holocaust being a prime example – and you really do not want to mess with those.

For my current project, the figure of Jack the Ripper is a vaguely important one. That means research into all the stories and legends around him, including the ‘facts of the case’. But over the years and theories, many of those facts have become so sensationalised that I feel no qualms in altering them to suit my own ends. This is my version, my story, and the story comes first.

You never know when stuff will come in handy

A couple of years ago, when work was particularly stressful, I indulged myself in a massage. Whilst I was lying face-down on the table, trying to make polite conversation with the lovely lady punching my shoulders, it occurred to me that she must know all about muscles. So I asked her what the physical effects would be on someone who’d been strapped to a chair in the same position for 300 years (the fate of my current pro/antagonist). She explained all about the impact of sciatica, and thus a plot challenge was born.

Referencing

In closing, here’s a handy infographic on how Harvard Referencing should be done. Bibliographies are pretty rare in SF&F, although very common in historical fiction, but knowing how to compile them is still handy.

Like I said, if anyone has specific questions about methods of research, or what to research, or what questions to ask, etc etc etc, please say so in the comments and I’ll give it some air time. Otherwise, I’ll move on next week to something else. 🙂

Wrong, Right & Left: Creating an Alien Moral Code

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More world-building stuff. Yay! This was prompted by a discussion over at Lair of the Jiggy Beast, where he was talking about the tendency of roleplay characters to Evil Neutral morality. A lot of our heroes end up doing morally questionable things in the name of the greater good (or just ‘coz), at least by our standards. Swords and sorcery settings are, by their very nature, violent. The protagonists are frequently forced into acts of GBH at the very least. And because it’s the fantasy norm, we accept it. Which raises the question of variable moral standards both within the characters and within the readers.

These are my principles, and if you don’t like them, well, I have others.   ~ Groucho Marx

The thing is, despite this evident flexibility in the minds of readers, it’s rarely taken advantage of. We build fantastical worlds and cultures, and fill them with morals very similar to either our own or the fantasy norm (which is to say, our own with added violence provided it turns out okay). Yet moral differences exist between real life cultures and are one of the key ways to distinguish those cultures. They identify what is valued and reviled, the type of people that do well, even aspects of history. They’re a great way to both make a culture feel exotic to a reader, and to bring them into it.

I’m not talking about amorality, here. Amorality is the ignoring of the common moral standpoint, not operating within a different one, and it’s also quite a common character approach. Nor am I talking about the morals and ethics of actual aliens, necessarily. A human culture with different experiences and history to ours will have different standards of behaviour. This is true of the real world so why not of the fictional one? Now, this guy over at SciFi Ideas makes some excellent points for why our morals are the way they are. But where he holds that there is a basic morality that transcends education or culture, I disagree. It all depends on perspective. And, according to Robert Wright, tech level.

1. Technology as a moral driver

The global community

The global community

Technology has drawn groups of people into more and more far-flung “non-zero-sum” relations — relations of interdependence; increasingly it has been in the interest of one group to acknowledge the humanity of another group, if only so the groups can play win-win games.   ~ Robert Wright

Basically, the more we talk to people, the more we have to acknowledge that – despite their differences – they are the same as us. That leads to greater acceptance and co-operation within societies. The approach of a culture to difference is a key driver of morality. Gender, skin colour, caste – all these play into the world-view and ethical approach. They’re also really easy ways to flag to your reader that this culture has a foreign attitude.

2. Religious directive

What is the god/pantheon of your culture like? Are they wrathful or merciful? Are their priests expansionist, fanatical or genuine shepherds of their flock (if that’s even an appropriate simile)? Is there hope for redemption or life after death? Concepts of heaven and hell equivalents? These will all impact the taught ethics of the culture. Fear of what happens to your immortal soul is a very powerful motivator. Likewise the absence of that fear.

The film Agora with Rachel Weisz is a fantastic example of how different religions can impact cultural approaches to things like gender, education, right and wrong. Seriously, go watch it.

3. Cultural oddities

Probably my favourite one. This is where you get to sneak some really flavourful bits in, that show your reader volumes about the culture without having to actually tell them. As an example, a culture who places great emphasis on contracts – and seals them with handshakes – might therefore not like to use handshakes for anything else. One that holds literal truth as the greatest virtue might take a rather restrictive view on interpretive art and fiction.

This is also where you can work backwards to build culture from a character trait. Is there’s something slightly odd about your protagonist or supporting cast that you can make more of? Something you can use to shed light on the place they came from, which in turn sheds light on other behavioural traits they might possess. It’s difficult to know which way round things came in the finished article but, as a guess, FitzChivalry’s Wit in Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy is an example of this. Fitz can talk to animals – an unusual character trait that leads to a cultural stance on tainted bloodlines, bestial magic and the persecution of those who have it. That shows the reader plenty about the morality of the Six Duchies, from the perspective of one who is deemed unclean.

4. The shadows of history

The concentration camps of WW2, the bloody colonial settling of America, Oliver Cromwell – these have all left marks, however slight, on the moral scenery of Great Britain. If an historical event is significant enough to cause shockwaves in the culture, it will likely do the same to that culture’s ethical approach. What are the landmark events of your fictional culture’s past? What are the knock-on effects likely to be? Maybe a war challenged the usual stance on religious extremism, or made it unacceptable to speak at a certain time on a certain date. Maybe a system of government or a martyred bandit impacted the general perception of what counted as greedy and what was normal consumption.

This is a double-whammy of win for the writer. In one go they can hint at both depth of history and depth of cultural mores, giving the reader a greater illusion of reality and immersion. Just remember not to overdo things – show, don’t tell, and Resist the Urge to Explain.

5. Individual characteristics

Moving away from a cultural norm, why does your protagonist behave in a certain way? What is their private code of behaviour and how did they arrive at it? Why might it be different to that of others from their country? My heroine, for example, was raised by an immigrant and therefore has a slightly odd perspective on what counts as balanced justice. Exploring this difference gives me a chance to bring out elements of her backstory, her relationship to said immigrant and her struggle to equate what she was taught as a child to what’s expected by her own society.

If there’s conflicting approaches, which one is right? What if neither approach fits with the reader’s idea of what is right? Now, there’s a fun thing to challenge in your readers. Can you make them absorb enough of this strange culture that, by the end of the book, they are completely on board with notions that – at the beginning – they might find weird or abhorrent? Minds are made flexible by imagination. Give them the gift of a different point of view.

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Not In Kansas Anymore: Building Fantasy Out of History

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Last week I wrote a guest piece for Mr. Knighton about building a fantasy culture based on historical research. You can read it over here, and I hope it’s at least interesting if not useful.

In return he wrote me a very practical piece about exercises to off-set the hunched-over-the-keyboard posture that writers suffer from. Check back here tomorrow for that.

🙂

I Got That Loving Feeling… But Which One?

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All you need is love, or, failing that, alcohol.   ~ Wendy Cope

As I mentioned briefly in the blog hop last week, I like to play with the different kinds of love in my writing. Love is one of the most powerful character drivers but it’s easy to get caught in the very common trap of portraying only one form of it. So I was delighted to see there was a Festival of Love, looking at the various types, going on in the Southbank Centre in London. I pottered along with a friend yesterday to see what they made of it. To be honest, it was rather disappointing on the whole but it did make me realise that generally people aren’t really aware of the variations. So, as a kind of research aid, I thought I’d briefly go into some of them here.

The Greeks…

Not how I'd originally envisioned Percy Blakeney

Percy Blakeney

AGAPE (a-gah-pay)

Selfless love. Most commonly described as ‘Christian love for all men’, but the term was around long before Christianity. In the original sense, it was less a love of people in general and more about spiritual or unconditional love that had nothing to do with anything physical. More modern usages liken it to great empathy for others. One of the best examples is the 1986 film The Mission with Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro. This is probably the hardest type of love to use in storytelling, as it tends to be less immediately passionate, but it can work fantastically. After all, who doesn’t love Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel?

EROS (eh-ross)

Passionate, physical love. This is the big one, the type of love that gets all the press. The type that 95% of stories are about, from Paris and Helen onwards. Contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t have to be about sex, although that’s very frequently a feature. It includes romance, ‘love at first sight’, and – in the original meaning – the appreciation of beauty, both within and without. Platonic eros is totally possible, although I can’t think of a literary example right now. A rare gap in the eros market!

LUDUS (loo-dus)

Flirting, playful affection. This is generally the pre-cursor to eros, before it becomes something deeper and more passionate. This is the fun, light-hearted stage. This does get played with in plenty of stories but it generally turns into eros pretty quickly. Off the top of my head, the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally is probably the best extended example of ludus.

PHILAUTIA (fill-out-ee-a)

Self respect, self love. Not vanity but the ability to be happy with oneself. Getting this one licked in real life is a hell of a challenge for most people so it makes a great internal character arc. There was a quote in the Southbank Centre, which I can’t remember now, about how love offered from someone who doesn’t love themselves can’t be trusted. My favourite literary example of a character who has achieved philautia is Lord Arthur Goring from Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, but he starts the play with it:

To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.

PHILIA (fill-ee-a)

Love between friends. Affection, regard and loyalty with an element of give and take. This is quite similar to agape, except that it refers to a specific and defined community. Next to eros, this is probably the type of love that gets the most coverage (although that isn’t saying much). The bond between a group of friends is a strong theme to play with. The Fellowship from Lord of the Rings, Harry and Hermione from Harry Potter, the 1985 film The Breakfast Club – these are all good examples and there are plenty more. band of brothers PRAGMA (prag-mah)

Enduring, settled love. Another tough one to have as a character drive, as it is less passionate and more about commitment. It can be a development from eros or from philia. The relationship between Holmes and Watson towards the end of Conan Doyle’s books is a great example, as is Michael and Charity Carpenter in Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden Files. A challenging build for a writer, but very powerful if done right. Consider that a gauntlet thrown down.

STORGE (stor-gay)

Familial love. The bond between parent and child, or between siblings. Also, and far less commonly, used in the original meaning to represent acceptance – ‘loving the tyrant’. There’s a reasonable number of stories that deal with familial love, such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or Shelby and M’Lynn in Steel Magnolias. Plenty of room for more, though. It’s an emotion almost every reader can empathise with on a pretty fundamental level, which is great for immersion.

… And The Rest

DILIGERE (dill-id-jair-ay)

Love of one’s ruler/commander. This is a Roman word which literally translates as ‘to esteem’. Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda, and its sequel Rupert of Hentzau, are fantastic examples. Almost all the characters are motivated by a devoted love of the king (or, because things get complicated, the man they consider to be king). Bernard Cornwall’s Richard Sharpe series also frequently alludes to it, particularly Harper’s devotion to Sharpe himself (especially in Sharpe’s Sword).

FAITHspaghetti monster

Love of one’s deity/ancestor/spaghetti monster of choice. Think about all the things that people have done for faith – building huge structures, undertaking incredible pilgrimages, moving mountains (metaphorical or otherwise). It’s impacted so much of our history, and it can completely define a person. Fantastic character trait material. Guy Gavriel Kaye’s Lions of Al-Rassan is a great example, as I might have mentioned before.

PATRIOTISM

Love for one’s country. Patriotism seems to go in and out of fashion within cultures, I think, and at the moment it’s out. You can see it clearly in a lot of war poetry, though, as well as books like John Buchan’s Richard Hannay series. This is a very abstract love, focusing on an idea or ideal rather than a particular person or object, but it’s no less powerful for that. In fact, I’d say that patriotism has been the driver for many of the most heroic real-life stories. Given that it’s best showcased in conflict, this makes it a great character trait for a story.

The Dark Side

Of course there’s a dark side to love. There’s a dark side to any strong emotion, particularly when taken to extremes. I’m not even talking about the true but clichéd ‘love turns to hate’ thing. Just as love is far more nuanced than that, so are its corruptions. Eros turns to obsession, stalking or rape; philautia turns to narcissism; pragma turns to dependency; faith and patriotism turn to fanaticism. Greed is a kind of love – excessive love of a thing – and of course you’ve got the whole green world of jealousy to play with. ‘Hell hath no fury’ and all that. In the real world these are all bad, m’kay? In stories, they make for fantastic character arcs. Remember that the dark side is not the sole remit of your antagonist. Why shouldn’t your ‘good’ guys experience these? They are just as powerful motivators as any of the more positive variations listed above.

So, there’s 10 types of love (not including negative aspects) that you can use to motivate your characters, and I doubt this is an exhaustive list. What have I missed? And how many have you used, or even read about?

(And, just because I love the scene, an example of frustrated eros:)