One of the biggest challenges of writing my current WIP, Prophecy Of Innocence, is that it is set, largely underground. This was not something I gave due consideration to when embarking on the project, (hence under-developed) simply because it was an idea I had when I was twelve. All I had was an idea about characters who lived under the ground. That was it. Inspired by Jim Henson’s Fraggles. If Fraggles could live in the rocks under a lighthouse, why couldn’t there be other beings living under the ground? The logic of a twelve-year old’s imagination. I didn’t give an awful lot of thought to the practicalities or reality of writing such a setting.
Of course, I could have completely disregarded every single “hmmm, that could never actually be possible” scenario as it’s a fantasy novel, however as I’ve said many times before, I am something of a realist and so where possible I have tried my utmost to ensure there is a certain element of believability in what I have written. I also couldn’t help but think every time I wrote something which seemed a little incredulous :”Well ‘Journey to the Centre of The Earth’ could never happen without Axel burning up in a second.” Okay, okay bad example as Jules Verne wrote that in 1864 as a sci-fi novel and it hasn’t stood the test of time so well due to what we now know about the interior of the earth. Still, I ploughed on.
So what have been the challenges when writing about a race who live under areas of British woodland? Other than the fact I don’t actually live under the ground so have absolutely no clue what it looks like or know for certain what can be found naturally there or what could, in the world of physical law be possible for living creatures to achieve under the ground? All I know has been gleaned from what I have seen on wildlife documentary programmes or digging in my own back yard. So not a lot.
Well the first challenge is the issue of light. Or lack of it. How the heck do the elflings see? Well, first their eyesight has evolved to be able to see better than a human in dim light, (though not in pitch blackness). They have eyes which are highly iridescent, like precious jewels and gemstones. So often when describing their eyes I do use words such as amethyst, diamond, emerald, sapphire, amber or even in one case onyx. Not in order to use a better word for blue or green but because their eyes really are like that. (You’ll notice I use amethyst – yes an elfling can have purple eyes.) But their iridescent, luminous eyes are not enough for them to see in total darkness therefore they need help and the help comes in the form of fireflies (also sometimes referred to as glowworms).
Now, before you say anything about “ah but insects live above the ground,” well, of course, I did my research on this too. Fireflies, at the larval stage, actually hibernate underground over the winter and as all larvae glows it is perfectly feasible (in my head at least) that the elflings take advantage of this fact and use fireflies for lighting. They can be found in temperate climates in wet wooded areas, so Britain is a perfectly plausible location for them. Although this is not all fully explained in the novel otherwise flow would be lost and it would be rather dull to explain, it is important these details for me are at least almost believable and are there in the background.
Problem number two. If you dig through soil there is nowhere for little beings to roam about, building toadstool factories and homes etc…And yes, you’d be right. However, some animals tunnel and burrow their way around underground and in my mind this is what the elflings do. The roof of their world is the soil surface we have under our feet, but they have, over generations, tunneled out openings to live in, a little deeper down. So there you go, open up your imagination. That’s what I did. Would this be possible? Who cares? Is it believable in the realms of fantasy? Hell, yes. If the back of a wardrobe can magically disappear and reveal a snow covered country I don’t see why a made-up race can’t be happily digging out tunnel systems.
My third problem concerned the supply of natural products the elflings would be able to find underground. Mushrooms and toadstools and nuts and flowers are not found under the ground so how is it the elflings get hold of this stuff without ascending above ground? (Which they don’t.) First off, the elfings do in effect what we do when we want things from below ground. They extract them. We extract oil up from the depths, so why can the eflings not do the reverse? Plants are easily extracted down by pulling on their roots. Fungi is not so easy as their are not roots as such but mycelium, the vegetative part of the fungus which consists of masses of branching thread like hyphae. The elflings have had to develop an extraction process to bring the mushroom or toadstool down into Trelflande, or rather I had to develop it on their behalf. It is totally made up, but still had to be on the side of believable and ‘doable’. Other things such as nuts and seeds find their way down naturally from animals overturning the soil. At least this is how I explain those things in the story.
There are many other challenges which setting a story underground has presented, but which I will leave for another time as I really want to get back to my WIP now!
I’d be intrigued to know what challenges you think you’d face if you set a story in a world under the ground? They may be things I’ve not thought of! 🙂