Transforming Inspiration into a Fantastic Novel Setting

Transforming Inspiration into a Fantastic Novel Setting

One of my biggest inspirations for Dreamers Do Lie was Dante’s Inferno, as I mentioned a few weeks ago when I reviewed the anatomy of Dante’s Hell. There were several reasons I ultimately simplified my fantasy version of Hell, though I kind of ran out of room to talk about them last time. So I thought maybe I’d do so now!

In case you missed my last post, here’s a quick review of some of the changes I made. Dante’s Hell has nine rings, some of which also have subsequent rings contained within them. My version of Hell contains only seven rings. And damned souls occupy only five of those rings.

While many of Dante’s circles focus on specific sins (lust, wrath, fraud, ect), I decided my circles should focus instead on a sin’s severity. Someone who stole to stave off starvation might end up in the outermost circle of hell, damned by circumstance. Whereas someone who stole for greed or because they enjoyed the thrill might end up in the second or third rings, depending on how often they stole and how harmful it was.

One of the main reasons I chose to rearrange my Hell is that Dante’s Inferno clearly represents a snapshot of morality at the time he lived. Specifically, it represents Dante Alighieri’s interpretation of church mortality. It’s clear that Dante considered certain sins to be more severe than others. Sins like fraud, for example, or the selling of ecclesiastic favors are considered more severe than sins like wrath and violence. Of course, the ultimate sin in Dante’s Inferno is betrayal. This is the sin for which Lucifer himself is condemned.

I didn’t want to copy Dante

My goal with Dreamers Do Lie was not to create a snapshot of morality in our modern world. In fact, it’s rather challenging to write about the concept of sin when you don’t actually believe in it. My goal was to create a world through which my characters could journey. A world that offered obstacles to their quest while also challenging the way readers observe the world. Because, ultimately, that is the goal of all speculative fiction.

So very early in my translation process, I decided to drop most of the specific sins. You will find those punished for fraud alongside those punished for violence depending on the results of the actions.

One of the other big reasons I decided to do this – aside from making my Hell simpler and easier to explain to my readers – was that I had no intention of introducing a myriad of historical and political figures from a made up world. As Dante travels through Hell, he speaks to many of the historical figures of our past, from philosophers to generals. He even encounters a former pope. But in order to present these kinds of encounters in a made up world, I would also need to provide context for them. That requires a level of exposition I wasn’t prepared to tackle in this particular tale.

So I settled on emphasizing how damned souls are punished rather than why. The why ultimately resolves itself throughout the course of the series’ plot anyway.

My biggest obstacle was deciding what to do with the Forbidding Forest – the fifth level of my made up version of Hell. You may remember from my previous post this circle is specifically the final resting place of suicides.

Many setting elements serve dual purposes

Dante places the punishment of suicide in the second circle of his seventh ring, which is reserved for those who did violence against themselves. Anyone familiar with church history will know that suicide has always been considered a severe sin. In older times, those who committed suicide were often denied proper church burials. Sometimes the head was even cut off the body to deny their entrance into Heaven.

I had mixed feelings about placing suicides in a deep circle for my story. I’m a big believer in making everything in my worlds make sense. There were plot reasons for the Forbidding Forest to occupy the place it does, but that simply wasn’t enough. I grew up around strong opinions condemning people who take their own lives, and used to feel pretty strongly about it myself.

But the older I’ve grown, and the more research I’ve done on depression and the many reasons why a person might try to take their lives, the more my views have changed. Suicide, I feel, represents a failure of society to the people who ultimately feel driven to abandon the world because they can find nothing good to keep them in it. I wanted to find a way to reflect this in my work as well. Because it’s impossible to write a book about Hell without tackling the concept of morality and I did not want my work to be construed as a condemnation in the same way Dante’s can be.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but Kaylie does eventually explain to one of the other characters why she believes suicides reside so deeply in Hell. And like my own opinion, it reflects more upon the devil and the society he tempts than the person who commits the act.

I didn’t get a chance to discuss river placements last time

I’ve been talking a lot about Dante’s Inferno, but I had other inspirations for Dreamers Do Lie. Most specifically, Greek mythology, which has a lot to say about the underworld. Traditionally, there are five rivers associated with Hades. Some of them flowed only in the underworld, but many also penetrated into the mortal realm, or were said to circle the Earth before flowing into the underworld itself.

These five rivers are: the Lethe, the Acheron, the Cocytus, the Phlegethon and (perhaps most famous) the Styx.

The Lethe is known as the river of forgetfulness. It was named for the Greek spirit of forgetfulness and oblivion. Those who drank from the river were said to lose their memories.

In my version of Hell, the Lethe circles the inner most circle of Hell, separating the devil’s abode from the rest of the damned realm. The ability to cross can only be granted by the devil’s grace. Otherwise interlopers fall into the river and lose all memory of their intentions.

The Acheron is known as the river of woe and was said to flow through Hades. The Cocytus and Phlegethon were often said to empty into it. It is also a real river located in the Epirus region of northwest Greece.

In Dante’s Inferno, Dante and his guide enter Hell only after the boatman carries them across the Acheron River. This is how damned souls enter my imaginary realm as well. In fact, the story starts when Arimand steps off the ferryman’s boat.

I tried to make each river special

The Cocytus is the river of lamentation or wailing. As I mentioned in my last post, Dante places the Cocytus in the ninth and final circle of Hell in the form of a frozen lake.

My version of the Cocytus is not frozen and does not feed into the Acheron. Instead, it lies between the third and fourth circles of Hell. I gave it some special properties, but I don’t want to spoil the reveal!

The Phlegethon is known as the flaming river. Plato described it as a stream of fire. Dante describes the Phlegethon as a river of blood that boils the damned souls caught in it. He places it in the seventh circle of his hell, which punishes those who committed violent crimes.

I placed the Phlegethon running throughout all the circles of Hell, originating in the center and running through all of the rivers mentioned so far. It runs perpendicular to the Styx. Together, they create a giant X through my imaginary realm.

The Styx is probably the most well known of Greece’s mythological rivers. In the Aeneid, Aeneas sails down the river Styx to enter the underworld. Some myths also claim that Achilles was dipped into the waters of the Styx in order to make him invincible. Dante placed the Styx in his fifth circle of Hell where the wrathful fight atop the water and the sullen are drowned within its murky depths. Of course, in the modern world, we most readily recognize Styx as the name of a very popular band.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peek into my writing notes. There’s much more to learn about my particular version of Hell. But in order to find out, you’ll have to read the book!

Find Dreamers Do Lie on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

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