When you’re developing sub-stories though the middle of a novel, you don’t want to repeat yourself. That is, you don’t want a sameness of settings or narrative twists or characters. Why have recurring toe-to-toe swordfights when you can so easily ring the changes with hand-to-hand combat, hurled spears, staves and clubs? or an ambush with arrows, a defensive stand, a pursuit on horseback? It’s so obvious, it hardly needs thinking about for most genre fiction.
It may need thinking about for large-scale fantasy, though. Fantasy is such an inclusive genre, with room for adventure, romance, mystery, family saga, humour, tragedy, horror, etc. The fantasy reader expects different settings, different human or not-so-human types, different kinds of narrative interest.
So, in LOTR, Tolkien distinguishes three different forms of society in Middle Earth. The hobbits are settled agriculturalists; the Rohirrim are herders and horsemen; the people of Gondor are warrior-caste nobility. Different environments, different societies, different stories.
In Ferren and the Invasion of Heaven, I tried to create different scenes and stories in the part where the Residuals are in flight after an attack by artificial Humen. Not easy, after all the marvels I’d already put into journeys in Ferren and the Angel and Ferren and the White Doctor. Here are the main ones:
a) a river in flood, where they encounter a giant water snake that has eyes and mouth at both ends of its body
b) a plateau of rock that numbs their feet with a deep unnatural cold; also, bottomless well-like holes in the rock, from which a hollow voice booms up at them, the same from every hole
c) a forest of ferns that grow eggs like glassy spheres among their fronds; each egg contains a miniature copy of the parent fern
d) a beach of fur-snails, small velvety balls that move perpetually underfoot; overnight, the beach rises and falls like a tide
e) gullies filled with flowering plants whose filament-like stamens float upwards in the air like a white mist; they cause sneezing and headaches
I played around with other possibilities, especially other forms of vegetation, I remember—but they weren’t different enough from the egg-ferns and mist-plants.
The way they are now also involved a bit of re-distribution. My first thought was to have the Residuals suffering headaches from the unnatural cold in the rock, but that had to go when the mist-plants had the same effect. Gullies were also a possible location for the ferns, but I didn’t want to double up.
If variety is the spice of life, it can be even more the spice of fantasy fiction.