In this episode I describe my escape attempt from Ganhook’s fortress.
The context section examines how to find balance between the familiar and unfamiliar in your worldbuilding in order to make your unique world relatable.
The Strange but True segment tells the story of, Stye Holox, the only escapee from the inescapable Undersea Prison.
How not to make foolish escape attempts from anywhere.
How to convert the unfamiliar into the familiar, and vice versa, in order to better understand the world you are creating.
Each show will be summarised in letter form. These are the letters I would have written to my family and friends if I’d been able to do so at the time.
Reading time: 8 minutes.
Three days after my first visit to Ganhook’s kitchen, I made an escape attempt.
To understand the thinking behind this attempt, you need to understand my brains.
You see, the longer I spent in Dunari, the more I imagined I had more than one brain in my head. Not brain cells. Individual brains, each with its own life.
I had a hungry brain, a tired brain, a self-pity brain, and many more.
All fought to control me. Amid this conflict, two brains emerged stronger than the rest. My ‘rational’ brain. And my ‘Just do it, you’ll be okay,’ brain.
These brains set the stage for my . . . escape attempt.
I spent every afternoon studying Brogant food in Ganhook’s kitchen.
I also studied the fortress wall. The more I studied it, the easier it looked to climb.
Which was nonsense.
My logical brain tried to confirm this by saying, ‘Even if you climb it, then what? How will you navigate the city, or find the gateway?’
‘By disguising yourself,’ my ‘Just do it!’ brain replied. ‘Pretend you’re going to a fancy dress party.’
The idea was so ludicrous, my logical brain struggled to respond.
Sensing a victory, my ‘Just do it!’ brain suggested I dress up as a chef.
In my madness, I thought this was the best idea I’d ever heard.
I found no chef’s clothes. So, I put on two kitchen aprons, wrapped a dish towel around my head, and filled a basket with Brogant blue onions, and the book about Brogant blue onion recipes I’d been studying.
Of course, Shinytop got suspicious.
I’d already decided he was coming with me. Naturally enough, he didn’t agree. But the thing about being a ghost trapped in a stick was, there wasn’t much he could do about it.
I wish he had been able to do something about it.
What I thought was a freshly dug vegetable plot beneath the kitchen windows was a freshly dug vegetable plot, that was 50% compost. When I dropped from the window, I sank chest deep into a mulch of earth and rotting vegetables.
When I climbed out of it, my clothes were filthy and I stank. This destroyed my fancy dress.
I was about to quit, when my ‘Just do it!’ brain announced that I could still pass through the city, but under the disguise of a smelly tramp.
This encouraged me to continue.
And now I was outside, I saw that the fortress resembled a four storey medieval Irish Tower House. Actually, it was weirder than that. But my logical mind was starting to convert the unfamiliar sights around me into familiar things I could relate to.
And it made everything less scary.
All the smaller buildings constructed against the wall resembled cones and domes. In my mind, they were ancient Celtic beehive homes. Even the ball of green mist at one end of the compound resembled a building the more I studied it. A bizarre greenhouse, in fact, because the outlines of giant plants were visible within it.
By making the unfamiliar into vaguely familiar things, and even though it was against my escape, my logical brain was complicit in encouraging me to run.
But even my logical brain, however, couldn’t find anything relatable to the ‘creature’ skeleton hanging motionless above me. Shinytop said that this had been an assassin creature sent to kill Ganhook. When it got stuck in the compound’s defensive dome, Ganhook left it there as a warning to other potential assassins.
This creature was nicknamed Two Tone Tam.
I could see no dome. But I took Shinytop’s word for it.
Some intruder detection spells came for me then. To avoid becoming liquid fertiliser for Ganhook’s gardens, I fled to a door I’d spotted in the wall..
Surprise! Surprise! The door was fake. And it turns out there were two separate walls defending the compound. And the metre wide space between them was designed to catch and hold any ‘magic’ things that had leaked through the outer wall.
By then, I’d had enough of escaping for one day. I fled back to the fortress.
I changed into fresh clothes, but no matter how I scrubbed myself, I still stank of compost. My logical brain told me to cook up a blue onion soup to mask the smell.
A great idea.
When Ganhook arrived to share the soup, he never mentioned any compost smell.
He knew about my escape attempt, of course.
He shocked me to the core by announcing my parents had been freed. But if I didn’t stay in Dunari, the ‘family curse’ would make things worse for them again.
He then praised my ‘spirit’ for attempting the escape, and immediately announced I would sweep the fortress from top to bottom as punishment.
This terrified me. Whenever I stayed overnight in Aunt May’s, she always had me sweep the house. Her cat always attacked the brush. Considering there were so many dead cat ghosts in this place, I could get shredded.
In the end, I only had to clean the corridors between room zero and the kitchen. The ghost cats stayed away. The intruder detection spells, too.
All in all, my escape attempt was only a partial disaster. I had taken initiative, conquered some fears, and gained respect.
And that felt good.
So, what did I learn that day?
The importance of finding a balance.
Firstly, I needed to get the balance right in my head. Both my ‘logical’ and ‘just do it’ brains served me well. Or at least they tried to. Instead of finding a balance between them, thought, I let them swing out of control.
What I should have done was to pick the best suggestions from both, write them down, and then make a solid escape plan.
A Dunari psychologists once told me that my great escape attempt was a subconscious desire for independence, to be active instead of passive. Instead of learning about Dunari from others, she said, I wanted to learn about Dunari on my terms, to try to convert the unfamiliar things I saw into things I could relate to.
Er . . .
It took ‘all’ my little brains a while to figure that out.
She was right, though.
I could never have understood Dunari if I hadn’t learned how to balance the familiar with the unfamiliar.
And that goes for anyone trying to create a new world.
When you start building your world you will probably base it on secondary worlds you’ve read about, played games in, or seen in the movies.
But at some point, you’re going to want to make your world unique. This requires courage. Why? Because doing something unique involves taking risks, venturing beyond the familiar and introducing the unfamiliar.
our mind may create the most amazing things. Unfamiliar things. Things that may even scare you. You may think people will view your work as loopy, and view you as a complete loop-da-loop.
Maybe they will.
History is full of innovative thinkers who were initially mocked.
People mocked Edison’s light bulb.
Because the unfamiliar can be scary.
When worldbuilding, you can play safe, imitate others, and create familiar but mediocre worlds. On the flip side, you can create the craziest world, and risk scaring your audience away.
Or you can find balance by making your crazy stuff familiar in a way.
And introducing it slowly.
The ‘relic’ beneath Ganhook’s compound is an example. This was a full skeleton of a giant creature that still contained the creatures spirit, and whose bones had been converted into a subterranean, magical complex.
But it also contained familiar elements—rooms, stairs, doors, artworks, and so much else I could relate to.
Use the familiar to create a relatable unfamiliar unique to your world..
Elves, dwarves, and dragons are so familiar these days, most people don’t view them as something new. But if you had a seafaring elvish race that rode giant fish, that’s blending the familiar with the unfamiliar in a realistic way.
The unfamiliar is everywhere.
Suppose you pass an oak tree every day. It’s a familiar and safe thing. But look closer. Analyse all the cracks and lumps and holes and lichens covering its surface. What shades of colour do you see? What kind of insects? Do parasitic mosses cling to its surface?
Study the life of that tree, and you’ll discover an alien world all wrapped up in the familiar.
The unfamiliar hides within the familiar.
Learn how to see it, and practice blending it with familiar.
That’s partly how I learned to understand Dunari.
As usual, the Strange but True segment can be found at the end of the podcast.
In the next episode, I will describe my first real encounter with the magic substance, Lavun, and give my thoughts on how magic in world building can be much more than ‘Kaboom!’
Until then, goodbye. Or as we say in Dunari, Dreavik!