This week: Horses Edited by: Robert Waltz
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|It's hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.|
― Adlai E. Stevenson
In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.
― Helen Thompson
There is no better place to heal a broken heart than on the back of a horse.
― Missy Lyons, Cowboys Don't Sing
|I'm probably not the right person to talk about horses.|
But I'm going to do it anyway, because they're so integral to much of high fantasy, and a quick search told me that the topic hasn't been covered much in Fantasy newsletters, at least recently.
So, yes, as a farm kid, I cared for and rode horses... a little. And I still live in horse country. But I'm no expert. Hell, imagine my surprise when I found out that a quarterhorse isn't the one who calls the plays in the hoofball game, and a draft horse isn't just one that's available for military conscription.
Thing is, though, there's a lot of fantasy literature that's written in a pre-technological society, and in our world, in such a society, horses were just as much a cultural thing as a domesticated animal. You know how people nowadays love cars? It was like that with horses before there were cars. And a lot of that mystique continues to this day. A few years ago, I spent a week at a dude ranch in Colorado, and wow, they dig their horses there. So it behooves (pun intended, as always) a writer to keep some realism in their fantasy by getting horse facts straight.
"But Waltz, my world doesn't have horses. People ride shurrys." (or whatever made-up animal) Doesn't matter; any riding animal will, in the mind of the reader, be compared to a horse.
As I said, I don't know much, but here's what I do know:
As animals, they need water and food. The latter consists of vegetation, as they are herbivores.
Riding a horse too long and/or too hard is harmful. They need rest.
Riding isn't a passive activity; it requires athleticism, attention, and skill.
There are very specific names for different parts of a horse, and horse people have their own language.
Different breeds of horses are suited for different tasks. You can't successfully swap out a draft horse for a racing horse, for example.
And here's the thing: if I'm writing a story with horses in it, I'd do my best to find out more; to know, for instance, the difference between a fetlock and a pastern. I'd read about how their iconic metal shoes are made and affixed. And so on.
There's a fairly common piece of writing advice: "Write what you know." I think that's wrong, or at least stifling. No, I say: "Know what you write." Because in some cases, especially things of cultural importance such as horses, people are going to pick up on when you're winging it (and I'm not talking about a pegasus here). So learn. If you're reading this, you have knowledge at your fingertips; all you need to do is look for it and figure out how to tell the facts from the horse hockey.
Now, sure, like I mentioned above, maybe your world's riding animals (or robots or whatever) aren't horses. But as human society developed an entire vocabulary, mythology, and industry surrounding the horse, it's reasonable to think that a fantasy society would do the same for its domesticated beasts. Consider that part of your world-building.
|Let's saddle up and look for some fantasy writing...|
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|Last time, in "Accents" , I discussed regional variances in speech.|
Steven : What's interesting here is that nearly all the US publishers I work with insist on changing many of the Australian slang words or idioms because they believe that United Etatians will not understand something from a different country.
Yes, and that annoys me greatly. When I was a kid, I read a lot of Brit-lit, and so picked up on a whole 'nother way of speaking. We could use it as a teaching moment, but no, we have to be provincial about it.
BIG BAD WOLF : Brian Jacques used accents that he heard in life for his Redwall series. As it is, he had to make some alterations book 2 onward for the moles, as their speech is hard to understand in the first Redwall book - another character had to translate it.
Even the question of how and when to translate can be an issue. I've discussed this before and probably will do so again.
And a comment on a previous newsletter, "Ghost Forests" :
Elfin Dragon-finally published : I love your description of what happened to your forest. Being an elf (and a dragon) I can relate to forests. The one in my own novel is close to sadness. it permeates the woods and anyone entering must be escorted so they're not tempted beyond the path lest they lay down and never rise again.
A forest can be a setting—but it can also be a character.
So that's it for me for September! See you next month. Until then,
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