BATOMI – Worldbuilding: Music


For those who don’t know The Trial of the Kouzinns is a high fantasy novella I’m currently planning out set in the world of Batomi. The rough draft of which will have monthly chapters posted on my Patreon. More details here!

This post is about how music and worldbuilding come together for me. I know a lot of writers who can’t write with music that contain vocals. I’m the opposite. I love to have music playing while I write scenes. Sometimes the music I’m listening/chair-dancing to is just whatever I’m loving at the moment. However I also often make playlists for novels I’m working on and these are more specific. The songs are selected for many different reasons: themes, worldbuilding, scene soundtracks, inspiration, character motivations and more.

Here are four examples in three categories.

Personal Character Themes: Some songs are about specific characters, how they feel at the the moment, what keeps them going, something that speaks to the core of who they are.
Bibi Bourelly – Ego

This is Constance’s personal theme song. She feels misunderstood by the family that she loves. She feels out of place and pulled between two worlds, longing to do well in one world while still wishing it was different. She knows the world is unfair but she still believes herself to be excellent enough to achieve over all of it. This is all fine and dandy but in some ways it blinds her to things she should have been noticing all along. It takes something big to change Constance’s worldview but it’s important that she is willing to change it. What she won’t change is thinking that she’s great and worth it because of who she is not because of whatever superstitious things her mother is spouting.
Sometimes I’ll listen to this song when I’m trying to understand how Constance would react to a situation and to underscore her confidence when writing tough scenes she has to push through. Having a personal theme song for a character can give you some unique insight into that character and remind you of the way they would react to certain situations rather than how you (the writer) would react.

Specific Scene Soundtracks: These songs often act like movie soundtracks and outline certain scenes. They’re useful for capturing the emotion and pace of a scene.
Janelle Monae – Violet Stars, Happy Hunting

This song is a theme for one of the early scenes – a chase scene. However in a lot of ways it is also acts as a theme for the novella The Trial of the Kouzinns as a whole. The first novella is very much a time sensitive plot that takes place over the course of five days. It starts out a little slower but becomes frenetic and fast-paced very quickly and stays that way until the end. If I get stuck on the scene for whatever reason the song acts as a reminder of the pace the scene is supposed to set and the emotions I want to evoke in the reader. These kinds of songs can also help with visualization in a scene.

World-Building/Framing Music: These songs say something about the world or culture I’m writing itself. Sometimes the music is what I imagine music to sound like in the world and sometimes they represent an aspect of that world.
Los Tigres Del Norte – La Reina Del Sur

I love this song, it tells the story of Teresa Mendoza, a woman who rises from a money changer in Sinaloa to ruling a criminal empire that spans the entire south of Spain hence her title La Reina del Sur – The Queen of the South. It’s based on a novel that then became one of the top telenovelas of all time La Reina del Sur which is pretty great (a sequel La Reina del Sur 2 is coming out in 2018 and I can’t wait!). It’s currently getting an American version on USA called Queen of the South which is good as well (TW: sexual assault for both versions of the show). This is on my playlist for two reasons, I wanted the culture I am creating to be one that creates songs to honor people and tell their stories which this song does. Also the story within the song has some (very small) similarities with the arc I’m planning for the three Batomi novellas to tell. Mostly in terms of a young woman rising to power in a criminal organization.

Lianne La Havas – Good Goodbye

This song is in a scene in my head where Constance is home resting for a few minutes before taking off again and she hears her older sibling singing. So technically this could belong to the second category but the song is a theme for the world. Cultures change and shift naturally, some things fall out of vogue or become more popular, beliefs are born and die. However in Batomi this is being forced by a corrupt King who is trying to shape the culture into something that benefits him, bringing in elements of misogyny, colorism, homomisia, strict binary gender definitions and other things that the people of Batomi evolved past centuries ago. The mourning in this song is for a culture that is not naturally dying but is being murdered and what it is being turned into against its will.

These are just a few ways in which I use music to help me with my writing. I hope I gave you some ideas or at least introduced you to some awesome music you hadn’t encountered before. If your interested in reading the draft chapters of The Trial of the Kouzinns, the first Batomi novella they start going up on my patreon the first week of November.

If you wanna see the whole Batomi playlist on Spotify? It’s here.

BATOMI – Worldbuilding: The Beginning aka “Where do your ideas come from?”

This is the beginning of a series of blogposts about worldbuilding and novel writing using one of my in progress novellas – The Trial of the Kouzinns. Some of the blogposts will be here for free and some will only be available to those on patreon, where I will also be posting the draft chapters of Batomi for my patrons.

Note the first: None of these blogposts are meant to imply that this is the definitive way things are done. AT ALL. I’m not even saying this is the way I work all the time.
Note the second: A specific thing I do as a writer but not everyone does – I don’t plan out the whole world before I start writing. I work out the basics I need and start writing and then build the world and write in tandem.

Where do your ideas come from?

A lot of writers I know dislike this question because it’s completely subjective and hard to articulate in a general sense. So I’m going to be talking specifically about where some of the core ideas for the world of Batomi come from. Like many of my works it was more a number of smaller ideas coming together.

1. A vague memory of a culture which had multiple queens and only one king, where the queens’ only power was deciding if the king should be replaced and who the new king would be. This resulted in the old King being put to death. (I can’t recall if this is history or from a book but it stuck with me for over two decades)
2. Current politics in the U.S. with a white supremacist sympathizer president and those who defend or appreciate the things he does that hurt other citizens feeling unaffected and privileged. I wanted to make it more of a discourse on culture though so it’s about the King obsessed with outside countries who look down on his own and view his country as “uncivilized”.
3. Organized crime and marginalized identity. The ways in which organized crime can become something like organized resistance when the people/organization that is supposed to protect/care about you no longer gives a shit and is actively working against you. I was thinking about gangs and people that have to police themselves and their own community. When does a protection racket become a informal police force?

The combination of these three ideas gave me the basic set-up for the world and the story I was going to tell: A corrupt king who had somehow circumvented the queens to stay in power for decades and was obsessed with turning his people into something they never were. A young girl, Constance, struggling to thrive, survive and care for her family being pulled into a life of crime that is also a life of resistance.

For myself as a writer, once I have the basic plot elements I ask myself a few questions about the world before I get started. For this work the questions were:
What’s the setting look like?
What’s the government look like?
What’s the religion look like?


Now that I had a general idea it was time to fill some of the details of the physical setting. In terms of landscape I knew I wanted a nation of islands. Now most folks would go straight to Venice (and don’t get me wrong I love Venice) but I wanted to skew it more towards my own cultural heritage. My mother and her family are from the southern U.S. and are mostly Creole from Louisiana so I wanted to do something rooted in the geography of the southern U.S. So Batomi was going to be a delta, a huge bayou nation made up of 97 islands where freshwater met saltwater on the outer edges. Some islands are large and vital and some are tiny enough that only one or two families live on them.
I decided that Batomi was a historically powerful nation but because they were islands they lacked metal which of course affected their technology level. Therefore much of their technology is plant-based. For example firearms, elsewhere in the world they are at the level of flintlock pistols but these are rare except among the extremely wealthy or extremely well connected in Batomi. They do have homemade firearms in Batomi but they are larger, almost hand cannon things that are usually manned by two people with a barrel of treated and hardened plant trunk that can’t handle an actual bullet but is filled with shrapnel made of hardened tree sap. Swords and daggers are still widely used by most everyone and universally guns aren’t very accurate since they are almost all smooth bore.

For flora and fauna I was going to use the way I view nature in general and bayous in particular, always waiting to kill you. The surrounding environment would be beautiful and dangerous filled with gorgeous deadly snakes, brightly colored insects that could easily swarm, large herons that call in the night, flowers with delightful smells and deadly protections, crocodiles nesting on many islands and hippos…why hippos? Cause I wanted it and I love hippos! Finally I questioned whether I was going to call them by their real names or call a rabbit a smeerp? I decided to just use the real world names for real world plants and animals and save the smeerps for any flora or fauna I decided to create or…import (like hippos perhaps.)


I wanted to use the traditional terms of King and Queen but also fuck with what those titles mean because as we know words and definitions change through time. I decided to use the King and multiple Queens scenario as a beginning point in the history of Batomi. In the past the King was a man married to the Queens who were five women with very little power on their own. In the current age though the five Queens are elected district positions with specific power over parts of the government that are more outward facing (diplomacy, economics, education, wetwork & the military) and also the ones who decide when the king needs to be replaced. The King is selected by the Queens and is the representative of the people, the public face of the government and in charge of more internal matters. Though the current King identifies as male there are no longer any genders associated with these specific titles.

Except that the current King has collaborated with outsiders, killed one queen, married another and the other three have been missing for well near 30 years. Three queens are needed to oust a King and since the three queens are missing and not dead and Queens are elected for life the districts cannot vote for new ones until they have proof of death. As for the one queen he killed? That seat has remained empty, with no one willing to take it up. The King has been listening to outside nations and adopting outside fashions, slowly exiling followers of the Beasts from the central islands first and now working on doing the same to the followers of the Invisibles. He’s been bringing in outside music and styles and slowly edging out his own culture, while not an outright tyrant he is known for his harsh punishments of those who commit crimes – some of which include traditions he has decided to outlaw. Constance, the main character, is of a generation that grew up with this King in power, while she knows things are wrong she believes the lie that everything is improving.


Anybody who knows me, knows that I’m fascinated by religion and belief so religion is something I always work out when I’m worldbuilding. I decided that Batomi had 63 separate powers, divided into three groups – Beasts, Invisibles & Blessed. Each with a very different position and power in society. Why 63? Because there are 97 islands and 9×7=63 (this is something I like to do in my writing, small number connections and other things like meaningful place and people names that will probably never be talked about in story but are part of my internal story telling)
Blessed gave up their physical forms aeons ago to exist as ideals that influence and guide all of Batomi and its people (or are supposed to). They lost their names when they did this and are now only known by their attributes such as Love or Justice. They are universally viewed as good. Even those that might be viewed as evil or ambiguous by those outside the culture such as Decay and Hunger are positive to those of Batomi. This of course ties into the ecosystem they live in and the clear vision they have of the cycle of life/nature. The Blessed at their embody balance.

Invisibles can take physical form but usually don’t and they do have true names but only those dedicated to them remember them. Each of them claimed a month, a season or equinox as their holy time of influence and are remembered by those names. Those dedicated to the Invisibles are easy to spot, they are covered head to toe, only the Invisible they are dedicated to and their religious siblings are allowed to see their bodies uncovered. They are based on mystery cults and have influence on society depending on when their Invisible is in ascendance.

Beasts are in physical form almost all the time. They are called Beasts specifically because many resemble humans with various animal additions. They embody principles that rest in the body, they are viewed as dangerous and capricious because the things they represent not being clearly good or evil (such as Passion or Hatred or Leadership) but are things likely to go to ones head and take control. They live on various islands of Batomi and have their own worshipers who recognize their necessity and power and accept their shifting moods as beyond their understanding. They are also why Batomi has always been inviolate, they protect their people even if they also rumored to prey on the people of Batomi.

Now your questions may be different. Hell with a different book my questions are different but these were the things I needed to start planning out and writing Constance’s story. If you’re interested in reading Constance’s story draft chapters of the first Batomi novella – “The Trial of Kouzinns” will be going up monthly on my patreon starting November 1st.