This post has been generously written by Marian Perera, author of Before the Storm, Book 1 in the fascinating Eden Trilogy. A compelling blend of romance, high fantasy and intrigue, Before the Storm is a thrill ride that also provides a unique setting experience for readers.
BEFORE THE STORM: In Dagran society Alex is a “mare”, a woman used by the nobility, until her owner gifts her to his greatest enemy, Robert Demeresna. Robert wins her trust, but this mare is a Trojan horse, her owner’s weapon in the battle to come. A battle fought with steam engines on the fields of Dagre, and psychic magic in the arena of her mind.
Setting notes from Marian: What is a MINDSCAPE?
Just as a landscape is physical, a mindscape is mental. It’s virtual reality in a fantasy setting. Since it is formed from thought or imagination or psychic magic, a mindscape has few boundaries other than its essential unreality, but that doesn’t make it safe. Just as characters can lose their way in the physical world, they can lose their sanity in this one.
Depending on the story, a mindscape could exist entirely within one person’s mind, or it could be a shared place that anyone can enter (though not necessarily leave). It can be a location characters visit involuntarily in their dreams and nightmares, or it can be a manifestation of magic used to give people an interesting setting in which to meet or battle with each other mentally, like the holodeck in Star Trek.
A mindscape would be shaped by the imagination of whoever uses or controls it, and would reflect their emotions, personality or needs. Personal symbolism is a good way to show this. If the protagonist routinely steps into an imaginary banquet-hall where tables creak beneath full platters, he’ll probably be quite different from someone who prefers a calm, empty seashore.
As a result, a mindscape can be very individual, not to mention designed for the time period and technological level of almost any type of speculative fiction. My novel takes place in a medieval world, but the mindscape can be adapted for a steampunk or futuristic setting as well (where it might feature Rube Goldberg devices, searchlights, computer screens, metallic mouths spitting out ticker-tape, small spheres rolling across floors to eat any debris, etc).
A mindscape can be bizarre and twisted, but it should be fascinating as well, to entice people to enter it in the first place and to stay longer, perhaps their whole lives long. It will be a mindfield – vivid, unique, and confined only by the writer’s creativity.
A well (possibly a wishing well)
Mirages and other optical illusions
Mosaics that may or may not form an image
Fountains with too-realistic statues of animals, water pouring from their open mouths
Trees – some dry and twisted, some heavy with fruit
Crows perched on blank signposts
A moon or moons of a different color or shape
Clouds or mists that drift slowly along the ground
Strangely shaped footprints or paw prints on the ground
Talking animals or parts of animals, e.g. skulls that speak
A library or vault
Closed windows or doors with the words “Do not open” carved/painted on them
Paintings and sculptures, some covered with heavy drapes
Shadows, especially if they don’t quite resemble whatever cast them
Staircases that don’t obey the laws of physics (think M. C. Escher)
Passages and corridors that likewise don’t obey the laws of physics e.g. always turning in the same direction but never arriving at the same place they started
Rooms that look larger from the inside than the outside
Timepieces that skew time, measuring it either faster or slower than in the actual world
Offerings of fruit (symbolic – eating fruit in either Eden or the Underworld doesn’t end well)
Jewels, money and other temptations that lie either off the safe route or within open rooms
Words or symbols scrawled on the ground, written in letters of fire on the walls, laid out in patterns of bones, etc.
Signs or warnings with subtle details wrong e.g. words consistently spelled differently, north labeled as south
Music in the distance – pipes, harps or drums, wind sighing softly or making a seashell-to-the-ear sound although nothing moves in the breeze, white noise : indistinct whispers that just might turn into words if you listen long enough, the rustle of sand falling, the distant rattle of dice or snakes, water dripping in a desert, a bell tolling, faint faraway laughter, echoes, the hum of insects’ wings
Delicious meals, fresh fruit, crushed flowers and perfume, pungent mushrooms trodden underfoot, rotting meat, animals’ musk, smoke, burned hair, scented candles, the sharp phosphorus smell of a struck match, wet spilled ink
Sweat, brackish (slightly salty) water, bread, bitter limes, nectar, roast meat, honey
Rough stones, the edges of broken glass, gritty sand, cool moist clouds, soft petals, sharp thorns, smooth marble benches or velvet-padded couches on which to recline, the dry fragile texture of old paper, the coarseness of an animal’s pelt on the floor
–The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.
Behind Alex, the footsteps started. They kept pace with hers so well that she wasn’t sure if it was an echo—an echo that grew louder—or if she was being followed.
If I step into the mist I might be safe, she thought, but as she began to veer off the road she saw the crossroads in the distance. She hurried closer, only to find that the straight white road met another straight white road and the signpost was blank. In the road ahead of her a tree grew, its roots pushing the stones apart. In the road that crossed her path, a snake coiled forward.
A bead of water trickled over Kelan’s face. He tried to ignore it, but when the next drop came, he lifted his head. That isn’t rain.
Icicles clustered above him, colorless cones that glistened wet. Another drop plopped down and he opened his mouth without thinking. The water tasted pure and cold, and it was almost enough to make him forget his injuries. If I could reach one of those…
He struggled to a sitting position and reached for a bronze rail that ran the length of the corridor. Wait… was that here before? He couldn’t remember seeing it until that moment, but it felt solid enough beneath his hand.
–Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.
Example 1: (Simile)
Mist rolled around him. Here and there it rippled with pale color, like clouds over the horizon just before the sun rose.
Example 2: (Metaphor)
Half of the flagstones before her crumbled away, revealing nothingness beneath. A dark gaping mouth swallowed the floor and now it yawned open for her.