Friday, May 29, 2015

The Great Novel Pondering of 2015

With the first draft of Unnatural Causes down, I’m trying to decide on my next novel project.  At one point, I had eight ideas that I was pondering; over the past week or so, I’ve narrowed it down to five.  The remaining ideas go onto the backburner:  I’m still interested in them, just not right now.

I’m still torn between the five, however, and I thought that one way to make my brain work faster (I am a notorious incubator) would be to blog about the pros and cons of each project.  So ye few who read my blog, you are my guinea pigs!  I would also welcome any thoughts, concerns, angles I might not have thought of … unless it makes my final decision harder, of course!


The first novel concept is an extensive rewrite of storylines that originally played out in fandom – that is, a roleplaying environment based on another author’s work.  Obviously, the worldbuilding challenge is to come up with something where the same general outlines work, without creating a world that is too derivative.  Put simply:  it needs to be wholly my own.

Basic Premise:  Story centers a group of warriors defending the world from supernatural threats.  A community leader that was paying them for support withdraws, threatening their livelihood.  Our heroes are delighted when she gains a rival from within, but soon discover that the enemy of their enemy is far from their friend.

Pros:  I am really excited about the idea of redefining familiar characters and plot in the context of a new world and different relationships to each other.  The way small (and sometimes large) changes have consequences and create new dynamics sounds like a lot of fun.  It is a strong storyline, I think, with some unusual facets.  And perhaps most telling, I spend a lot of my spare time fooling around with this one in my head.

Cons:  This is still a rewrite, and I’m leery of treading the same ground, nervous that I should be stretching myself, trying new things, instead of trying to recapture nostalgia.  The number of characters and subplots is also huge and potentially unwieldy.  I’m also a trifle worried that I have too many reactive (as opposed to proactive) chars.


The second novel concept is an abandoned journal story I started a long time ago – so this would entail starting again, and probably going in a different direction.

Basic Premise:  Post-apocalyptic world where the destruction was caused by an overload of magic dispersed via the internet, leaving a chaotic, fantastic world in its wake.  Our narrator is a magic-afflicted individual in one of the larger new nations.  She was part of a rebellion, but betrayed them to save their lives.  The plan is to write a dual storyline, both explaining how she got to the “now” point (not necessarily in chronological order) and unfurling a new plot.

Pros:  This is far and away one of the most original settings I’ve come up with.  It’s wacky in what I hope are all the right ways.  There’s also a strong protagonist, and I’m drawn to the idea of doing a parallel storyline.

Cons:  I will need to do some pre-planning / plotting to make the parallel storylines cohesive, and this plot needs to be more or less started from scratch, because … the one significant problem with the setting is I didn’t come up with any coheisve idea of how surveillance and record-keeping works.  Which, in a story where “I’m labeled and monitored” is a plot point … is a problem.


The third novel concept takes a couple of my old characters from other places (both roleplaying campaigns, in this instance), introduces them to each other, adds a dash of conflict and … well, it would be fun.

Basic Premise:  Chiria is the adoptive daughter / servant of a villainous sorceress, trained as an assassin / enforcer but mostly raised by the sorceress’ animal constructs.  Her intended targets convince her to defect and run away.  Aforesaid target(s) take her to Pirelle, a high society lady, illusionist and spy, for training in how to live in the real world.  And that’s before one of Pirelle’s close friends loses his betrothed …

Pros:  These are chars with whom I am intimately familiar and engaged.  There are great opportunities for interplay and conflict between them / with the rest of the world.  Potentially, I’m also writing a fantasy-mystery, which is a goal of mine.

Cons:  There really is no firm plot yet.  I’m also concerned that Chiria is too similar to Vil, who was my POV char for Unnatural Causes, though Chiria is much less intellectual.


The fourth novel concept also takes old characters, though in this case, they both exist in the same universe and, in fact, they’ve had a published story:  Pazia and Vanchen of Fatecraft.  (I have one more story in submissions about Pazia, another Pazia / Vanchen story on the backburner, and a third story about Pazia’s less-than-wise brother, Mathory – this last connects with the novel plot.)

Basic Premise:  Pazia, dicemaker, and Vanchen, clockwork inventor, have settled comfortably in a city when their lives are interrupted by her brother, Mathory, and an old acquaintance of his – a veiled mage who has been falsely accused of a crime.  It is left to the trio to unravel what really happened, tripped up by old rivals along the way.

Pros:  These are established characters I’m comfortable with, and I like their interactions.  The storyline also has the advantage that, again, it plays to my ambitions of writing fantasy-mysteries.

Cons:  But does this setup run the risk of being too similar to Unnatural Causes?   And, of course, to build this world, I have to comb the prior stories for details I’ve referenced, though that isn’t a huge deal.


Fifth and last!  This story is set in the same world and with one of the same sets of toys as a short story series I’ve written:  my Ishene and Kemel stories, which are about a time mage and her bodyguard.  I’ve decided I could take another time mage and bodyguard and send them careening through time on their own research project …

Basic Premise:  There is an island on this world that quite literally “dropped in” from another.  It was forcibly conquered and colonized, with the natives held as second-class citizens … and expressly forbidden certain types of magic.  This began to change when a young man stole books of time magic and brought them to our heroine, who studied them, figured out their workings, and is now ready to make journeys of her own.

Pros:  I think the idea of time traveling in a magic realm is a great one and has a wealth of opportunities for exploring, as does a dynamic duo.  The background allows for multiple levels of conflict.

Cons:  I have to do a lot of world-work for this one – not just now-time worldbuilding, but past and (possibly) future.  The amount I have to do varies inversely to how specific I get with the pre-plotting, roughly.  Second, I risk falling into the trap of either copying Ishene and Kemel, or trying to make the chars so different that I’m just making them blind opposites.  (I also have to comb stories for details, as above.  This is a bigger detail, because there are 5-6 I&K stories, one of which runs well over 10k.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

I love writing my secondary world fantasy, in diverse worlds beyond our own, but there are some reoccurring problems that need to be addressed.  Most of them - the calendar, appropriate naming - I really enjoy tackling, but there are a few that, for some reason, I never quite feel satisfied with.

Forms of Address.  I'm not talking about noble titles - those tend to sort themselves out.  I'm talking about the equivalent of Mr. and Mrs. (and Miss and Ms.!) in the world.  Master and mistress is ... acceptable, but sometimes doesn't feel right.  In Butterfly's Poison, I used "Ner" for men and "Nel" for women - but then you have to make it clear from context that the word isn't part of their name.  For some reason, whenever I reach this particular decision, I struggle with it.

Police!  So what do you call the cops in a fantasy locale?  I tend to default to "the guard," but I can't use that every single time, and then it creates cases where it's unclear if the word is meant to be a noun or a verb.  Add different branches to this - the king's guard; the city guard - and it gets more gnarly.  And are guards also soldiers?  Bah!

Greetings and Courtesy.  Do people shake hands?  Bow / curtsey?  What if the person they're meeting is of much higher or lower rank?  This is such a little detail, but it's easy to forget what you've decided and a pain in the neck to fix in editing.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I planted one of these details in Unnatural Causes and forgot it ...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

I've never been one to let the grass grow under my feet for long, and with the first draft of Unnatural Causes complete, I've moved on to a novella (novelette?  Well, longer than a short story!) project that I've been talking about for a while:  the zombie tale inspired by the Zombie Walk I attended some years back, specifically a few photographs of the costumed participants.

The beginning is always one of the trickiest parts of a story for me because of how much has to be put into place.  Introduction to character, their goals or problem(s), and physical description, if I intend to include it.  (As a reader, I create a mental picture of a character early on:  if you tell me on page ten she's a redhead, tough luck, she's still blonde to me.  So if I want readers to picture the character a certain way, I try to get a few big picture details down fast.)  Introduction to setting, both the larger world and the specific place in which the scene is occurring.  And all this has to go on while putting the plot into motion.  It's enough to make your eyes cross.

With my current project, which I've tentatively titled Undertaking Chances, I have an additional complication:  because zombie stories have been done to death (no, I'm never going to get tired of that particular bad joke), I have to make sure to hook the reader with some unusual aspects of the setting before I drop that dreaded word.  And I am going to use the word zombie:  to me, it seems that if we're assuming a contemporary or near-future setting - and I am - that the pop culture saturation of the term would inevitably see it applied to a similar phenomenon, whether accurate or not.

Once I get past these opening issues, the story will start picking up steam ...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

As some of you may have noticed from a post a few days ago, I just finished the first draft of Unnatural Causes, my fantasy-mystery novel which I've been working on for some time.

Unnatural Causes began with a simple concept:  I wanted to write a mystery novel in a secondary world fantasy setting.  It seems to me that most mystery-fantasy mashups, at least at the novel length, take a contemporary setting and a "traditional" mystery, and then add fantastic elements (Harry Dresden / Jim Butcher, I'm looking at you).  I wanted to go the other way around:  take a fantasy setting and paradigm, then add a mystery element.  I decided to have the crime be the murder of a mage and made the investigators her apprentice and familiar.  To invert expectations a bit, I decided the familiar was the primary investigator and the apprentice more of the sidekick.

Initially, I had a very traditional Holmes-and-Watson kind of dynamic in mind.  All that changed when I started developing the world and particularly, the origin and role of familiars.  I posed to a writers' board the question of which had more possibilities:  familiars as extraplanar beings, or familiars as constructs with various animal features.  Someone said, "Why not both?" and that started me down a path that created the alien world where the Light - what familiars call themselves - live.

At that point, I had a choice.  I could stay with my original concept and make the apprentice the viewpoint character, or I could delve deep into this new consciousness.  The experiment of trying to write from the point of view of a very alien character appealed to me; that choice won out.

This turned out (I think!) to be the best choice.  The way I had created the Light already put my familiar at a disadvantage:  they were fundamentally constructed to have difficulty with falsehood.  The apprentice would often have to translate human lies and politics (... same thing?) for her.  Also, had the apprentice been my narrator, the pair would have had to be together for the entire novel for the reader to observe the full investigation.  Instead, making the familiar my narrator allowed the characters to explore different paths ... and allowed her to get into trouble that would have disappeared behind the scenes otherwise.

I enjoy doing character profiles in advance, but I've noticed a tendency:  I always write one or two that I end up not using, and a character that I either wrote about only briefly or never planned for ends up playing a large role in the novel.  Both happened to me this time.  Duvalis, familiar to the foreign ambassador, was always meant to be a side character, but he leapt to life as a snarky counterpart to my narrator.  Their prickly banter was one of my favorite parts to write.

There are issues I know I need to cover in editing, some of which I can't mention without giving the plot away, but I'm taking a breather and basking in the satisfaction of a tale finished ... for now.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

Today, I'm going to try to talk about profanity in fantasy writing (and cursing in general!) without using any of aforesaid naughty words.  You all have permission to bap me if one slips out!

I remember very distinctly when I put the first few chapters of Flow up for critique.  One reviewer pointed out that I didn't need to "sanitize" the language for young adults (I don't consider Flow a YA novel despite its main protagonist being a teenager, but that's another discussion).  But Kit saying "holy schnitzel" is a verbal tic, not the writer trying to be delicate, and there are a handful of incidences of - stronger - language in the book where I felt it was necessary.

I am always conscious of the advice that dirty language looks much stronger on the page than it does when spoken.  That's in part because the spoken word blips in and out of your consciousness, but on the page, it remains in your line of sight, however peripheral, until you turn to the next.

And if there's more profanity there ...

I am not a prude about language:  culinary school cured me of that.  I still swear infrequently enough that I can stop a room with a four letter word, and I'd like it to stay that way.  Shock value is contextual.  It's like using an exclamation point:  every time you do, you diminish the impact of the next.

Profanity in secondary world fantasy is another beast.  It takes a genuine look at the culture you're using:  would these words have developed?  To take a drastic example, a society without inheritance laws or that allows polygamous marriages is probably not going to place much shock-value in a certain curse that involves legitimacy.  This may be personal taste, but the most popular curse word in our modern society just screams contemporary to me, even though I know the origin is pre-modern.  (I learned this tidbit from my Plagues and Witches course and an instructor who was very delighted to share it.)

Other words require certain religious aspects to make sense, especially the idea that there is a place of suffering and torment in the afterlife to which one can be condemned.  This is more difficult to reconcile with certain forms of polytheism.  Take the Greek mythos, for instance:  Tartarus and its punishments were reserved for the worst offenders, the chosen few - hi, Sisyphus!  And in general, the Greek gods were less than concerned with morality.  I am not as well versed in Egyptian mythology, but my understanding is that the evil were more likely to be consumed than condemned.

Inventing curse words has its own pitfalls, and I haven't really tried this yet, though I do have curses and world-specific exclamations in the more general sense.  I'd rather see "he cursed" in narrative than a word out of place, whether imaginary profanity or something borrowed from the modern lexicon.

As always, it's all about using the right words.