So I just spent a happy, productive late morning/early afternoon designing, oh, I don’t know – just La Majestad, the capital city of the Empire of Nuevaropa.
Because, if you haven’t yet sampled the senses-shattering free preview of my epic fantasy novel, The Dinosaur Lords, upcoming from Tor, um, Real Soon Now (and why haven’t you? Now’s your chance!) that’s where it all takes place: in an Empire set on a giant peninsula called the Tyrant’s Head. Its action takes place in locations far removed from the Imperial Palace and attendant city. Book II, which I’m writing now, brings it on home.
Now, what we don’t see here – you’re bright and have no doubt observed – is, well, writing.
Except it is. Kinda.
It’s called … set-up.
Back when I trained at what was then T-VI as a machinist in the Nineties (long story) I learned … well, first of all what a machinist actually does. No, seriously. I had no idea. That’s one of the many curses of receiving a liberal arts education.
Anyway – aside from, long short, making freaking everything, the real heart-meat of what a machinist does is set-up. While the object of the whole affair is cutting metal (usually) until it turns into a part, the cutting tends to be a relatively minor part of the operation. Especially now when so much of the actually cutting is done by CNC machines, which are wondrous and awesome. Indeed, the advent of marvelous robots to do the actual machining (which is what they are) has if anything made the craft of the set-up both more challenging and if anything more vital.
It’s simply preparation. You need to plan what cuts need to be made and how. What tools need to do the cutting. And – this is really freaking important – how to hold the work in place. Securely – yet in such a position that the maximum amount of work can be done (metal cut; holes drilled) without moving it. Moving the work piece is something there are good and compelling reasons to do as little as bloody possible.
Anyway … that was a revelation for me. Especially in line with my own – frequently traumatic – discovery that – while I’m bloody talented at improvisation, and write best when I let the inspiration just flow as freely as I possibly can (Let Go, Let Leo!), I badly need structure: a plan.
If I don’t, I freeze. That’s all we need know about that now.
Because the key thing is: I am developing techniques to free up my inspiration so I can write my drafts the way I know, beyond all doubt, allows me to write the most and best: as quickly and literally carelessly as possible. (Careless meaning: if I care about what I’m writing, I’m doin’ it wrong. Yes, that’s true.) So what I try to do is map as much of a scene out as possible before I actually launch into writing it.
And because the Imperial capital plays a key role in this book and the final volume of the trilogy … well, mapping became more literal. Although I have yet to draw any sketches … need to get to that…..
So that’s one Capital Idea: set-up is key. (See what I did there?)
But as for those Capital Cities I dreamt up (details of) today? Yes, more than one -
La Majestad (Majesty): Capital of the Empire of the Fangèd Throne. Which is another name for Nuevaropa – and yes, the throne in question has fangs. Or anyway whacking great teeth; there’s a bit of license here. Anyway, it’s built on a plateau that forms kind of a ledge abutting some pretty steep mountains. On north and south the part of the plateau where actual city stands is cut off by gorges, one deep and steep, one basically kind of a rocky arroyo. The latter’s easier to bridge, so the city (including the largely pro forma, and entirely resentful of the fact, Dieta Imperial or Imperial Diet) has mostly expanded into suburbs in that direction.
The city proper occupies its own little mesa. It’s surrounded by walls, which, while predominantly for show – an Imperial capital is supposed to be imposing, yes? – are definitely good to go should an enemy threaten. Although since the Emperor (or Empress) is primarily a figurehead, and doesn’t rule so much as reign, why would an enemy want to?
(Well … you’re gonna need to read the books to learn the answer to that one, aren’t you? Heh, heh.)
The city is also cut down the middle, más o menos, by a river, which I haven’t yet named. Which hurtles off the sheer cliffs that form the fourth side of the city in a spectacular waterfall to the valley below.
The mountains that back the city are steep and sharp, though not particularly high. The Imperial Palace, La Corazón Imperial (Imperial Heart), is built into a crevice in the side of an even sheerer cliff. Another waterfall, that gives rise to the river running through the city, cascades down the mountain right beside it.
(Just another bit of Inside Baseball: I do devote consider effort to working how how everybody eats and how everybody drinks. Poops, too – really – though that … plays less in my actual narrative. So you can breathe now.)
Anyway, the Palace is very showy. Like La Majestad, it’s meant to impress. It’s also meant to be open to (theoretically) all the subjects of the Empire. It’s easily approached by a wide road up a ramp. Of course it’s also extremely defensible – especially when the élite Imperial Nodosaur (infantry) engineers drop the specially-constructed bridge the road crosses….
The other major capital in question is -
La Fuerza (Strength): The capital of Spaña, which is the Empire’s dominant nation and culture. A near neighbor of La Majestad, La Fuerza’s character is markedly different. And by that I mean paranoid. It’s built in the same mountain range, on a cluster of (relatively) low hills – which form districts of the city, have their own walls, and can serve as discrete outlying fortresses in case of attack. The palace itself is a soaring, spiky Gothic castle (that’s Gothic architecture, not The Crow Gothic) called El Nido del Dragón: the Dragon’s Nest.
Yes, that’s symbolic – and yes, it’s literal: Here Be Dragons, Dinosaur Lords style!
Yep. Giant fliers (pterosaurs) nest on those cliffs – that are as tall as Earthly giraffes when they land to wing-walk in search of prey to stab with their huge awful sword-like beaks. But if you think the ruling Spañol familly, Torre (Tower) Ramírez, is nuts enough to breed and keep their own dragons to eat their foes … well, they totally do.
You’ve met me, right? Of course I’m going that way. Because – another pro tip here – my main guiding light is what I think is freaking cool.
Now, that’s not everything – which I hope is clear. Story is paramount. And what I strive to do is characters you care about in vivid action before well-drawn backdrops.
Also, there’s, not a capital per se, but the actual castle of the Empire’s ruling family – the literal Tower of Torre Delgao. It’s tucked discreetly away higher up in the mountains and called La Reposa, which means The Rest in Spañol. Which, while it’s Hispanic, isn’t Spanish, so don’t bother pointing out the noun’s supposed to be masculine. For I will mock you. Anyway, La Reposa is also large and eminently defensible, and overlooks a surprisingly fertile green, pastoral valley of a small village and farms. Which possesses its own Terrible Secret.
(No. I’m not going to tell you here. Then it would just be Terrible.)
Anyway. There you go. Break’s over. Gotta write.
And as always – thanks for reading!