Villains or Antiheroes

The Hydra bucked as a hail of cannonballs rained down upon her. The crew were thrown off their feet, landing in untidy heaps about the deck. Cries of both surprise and pain filled the air in the scant moments before the next volley of projectiles fired from the adversary.

“Quick! They’re coming back around with more ammunition!” The shout came from the vicinity of the bow. While he couldn’t be sure which of his men shouted, Captain Drayton knew that there was truth in the words. He saw the large airship double back. It fired upon the helpless pirate ship again. The envelope of the reserve balloon punctured. The Hydra would not fall from the sky; but now escape was of the utmost importance. 

Drayton turned to his first mate, a thick-jowled Scotsman named James. “Looks like a bad situation, doesn’t it, man?”

James sniffed the air, acrid with the smell of burnt gunpowder. “Aye. Looks like that ship is Royal Navy. If I was a betting man – which I am – I would bet that ship is captained by Commandant Vernon.”

Drayton’s eyes narrowed. “Aye, James. That would be a winning bet, methinks.” He drew his twin pistols and growled. “That man has given me more trouble in the last year than the entire Royal Navy has in the last ten years.” He fired a shot into the air, an animalistic scream clawing its way out of his lungs. 

James drew his sword and let loose a less fearsome, more wounded roar of his own. He looked about, hoping no one had heard him. Only the Captain was close enough to hear, and he was paying him the courtesy of pretending not to hear the pathetic sound.

Captain Drayton reloaded his pistol. “We are going to blow his ship apart. And then-” He paused, panting.

James looked on, expectantly. “And then, Capatin?”

“I’m going to tear Vernon apart, limb by limb.”

Drayton stormed to his cabin and threw the door open. he fumbled and cursed as he rummaged in his cupboard, pulling out his most sharpest sword and extra ammunition.

“Oooo! Are we getting ready to storm the castle?”

Drayton jumped, the whisper startling him out of his enraged preparations. His head jerked about the room, searching for the owner of the raspy voice. If one of his crew had managed to sneak into his cabin without his knowledge, it would be the last thing that fool would ever do-

Except, there was no one. His eyes darted about, searching each corner, each shadow. Still no one. As it occurred to him that there was only one place from which the whisper could possibly have come, a foot shot out of his cupboard, connecting with his chest. 

Drayton flew back, hitting his head as he landed on the floor. As he cursed his attacker to the blackest pits of hell, his attacker came into view. The pirate captain Groaned. “Oh, it’s you.”

The man in black chuckled his raspy chuckle and knelt beside the pirate. “Would you like some help up Theo?” The man held out his hand, which Drayton reluctantly grabbed.

As The Man in Black pulled him to his feet, Drayton sighed. “Thank you. But please, don’t call me Theo. I loathe the name.” The man in black snorted, but bowed his head. “Why are you on board my ship? In the middle of an attack, no less?”

The Man in Black shrugged, disinterested in explaining himself. “I needed to see you, and Commandant Vernon was in pursuit. I figured it was the most expedient way to find you.” 

Drayton frowned at the mysterious figure before him. “Why? Why are you looking for me?” 

The Man in Black chuckled. “You still have a debt to repay, as I recall.” He produced a tattered playing card. It was the Queen of Diamonds. He still had that damnable thing, after all this time? Drayton trembled, in spite of himself.

“I owe you nothing,” he hissed. “I payed my debt to you over a year ago, in full. You said that yourself!” He raised a fist, thought better of it, and lowered it to his side.

“I said no such thing.” The Man in Black raised a gloved hand to his face and tapped his chin. “I believe my exact words were, ‘I have no further need for your services, AT THIS TIME. There is a difference, you see?”

Drayton’s lips drew into a taut line. “That last repayment cost me. It cost me DEARLY.” He brought his hand to his face, lightly touching the eye patch over his left eye socket.

“Oh, come now,” whispered The Man in Black. “I made sure you received the best care, and you came away with a technical marvel in the old eye-hole to boot!” He burst into cruel laughter.

The wound, two months healed, was still quite raw. He sniffed. “What would you have me do, oh master?” He attempted an exaggerated bow, but the ship was tossed again, and he fell to the ground for the third time that day.

“Simple,” said The Man in Black. “There are certain items that a certain man of means requires to perform a set of ‘rites’, if you will.” Drayton scowled. These types of requests were not unheard of , but usually those rites were dangerous, and the items required were often not legal or safe to have in one’s possession. “I will give you the locations of these items. You will then…retrieve them, and store them until such time as you are summoned by me.”

Drayton nodded. “It appears that I have no choice in the matter. Shall I store them at my Villa? Perhaps the farmhouse would be better?”

The Man in Black shook his head. “Neither. They must be stored in a secure location; somewhere protected.”

Drayton stepped around The Man in Black and walked to the fireplace. Strictly for show, it held his most important secrets. He crawled inside and reached around. Producing a rather elegant handbag. He returned to The Man in Black and held the bag out to him. “Will the island do?”


When I have trouble with any of my works in progress, I sometimes find it helpful to take a scene from the story, or even just create a scenario and tell it from the perspective of a character that doesn’t have their own POV within the story. I find that this often helps me overcome whatever block I may have preventing me from writing. 

I find it also helps me to get inside of the heads of some of the other, less well developed characters. Sometimes, it even inspires a whole new story in itself.

One thing I’ve been trying lately is to look at a story or scenario from the point of view of the antagonist. Can I make an antagonist the hero of their own story? Can I make a villain an antihero?

I have come to discover that it is fun to play with the antihero archetype. To have a character that ultimately does the right thing, saves the day, but does it against his or her best interest allows for a lot of interesting possibilities in a story. This character can go through the typical hero’s journey, yet at the end of the story goes back to their previous lives and mannerisms, seemingly not having undergone any permanent change over the course of their adventure. 

I have done this several times in the last year. The results have been interesting (to me, at least). A couple of them could serve as short stories themselves, should I decide to take the time to polish them up and get them published. But, as I am already juggling several projects, I am limiting myself to first completing at least one of my WIP before I elaborate on any of the writing exercises I’ve been putting out for the last several months.

For the writers out there: Do you like your main characters to be heroes? Or do you ever experiment with dark heroes, or antiheroes?

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My Writing Prompt – Meeting the Man in Black

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It has been some time since I was able to sit down and get some quality (or not so quality) writing time in. I thought of different ideas for writing prompts, then stumbled upon the above picture, which gave me a couple of ideas. So, my writing project for the day is below. Here goes:

Sean heard the footsteps, slapping against the pavement behind him. He dared not glance back. He could hear two men – no, three men – pushing their way through the crowd on Mayfair. If he hadn’t been paying attention, if he had been absorbed in the open-air market, or the festivities of the harvest festival, he would not have noticed his pursuers until they had pulled him away. That would have been the end of it, of him; if the Reapers had taken him, no one would ever see him again. Not Natalie, the children, or Granny James. He would be only a distant memory.

He passed the livestock stall, the odors of pig, cow, and chicken mingling into a putrid stench that made him heave. No, it mustn’t happen. He was still far enough ahead of the men. If he could make it to the end of the street, There were hansoms passing through all day, eagerly picking up new fares.

Sean moved faster, his jog breaking into a full run. His earlier attempt at blending in abandoned. A gruff voice shouted from behind.  “Oi, He’s running!” Another voice, high-pitched and angry responded. “Quick, boys! Nab him now. Spread out!”

Sean sprinted, weaving his way in and out of the narrow gaps between happy revellers. The occasional gentleman or young woman would shout in surprise, but he paid them no mind. The end of the street was only mere yards away. Freedom was only a few short steps in front of him. Except-

A huge mountain of a man stepped between him and freedom. He recognized the barrel chested creature as Nelson. He worked at the pub. His glowering face, and truncheon in hand-made it clear that he was not standing there to help Sean to safety. The small man whimpered, glanced around the vicinity, and hoped.

Off to the right was an alley. It was narrow, dark, and unpleasant. Much too narrow for Nelson. In an instant, Sean veered to the right, and sprinted with all of his energy into the alley. “With any luck, they will lose me in the crowd.” he thought, his spirits rising.

He passed through the alley, reaching a darkened side street. More of an alley, it ran between the rear of the buildings on either side. But, to his delight, he saw a network of alleys that ran between each building along the stretch. He would be quite safe. As a precaution, he ran past several tenements, removed one of his leather gloves, and dropped it at the entrance.

He continued to run, seeing light at the far end of the street. It should take him back in the direction he came. His pursuers would not expect that. He was safe.

An arm shot out from the alley he as he passed, grabbing him by his collar. The force of the grab yanked Sean back, and he fell to the ground, breathless. He looked around, eyes wild. Finally they landed on…him.

The man stood to his left, dressed in a long, black coat, black gloves and boots, and a black mask. The black mask. The Phantom of the Lower Quarter. Sean wheezed as the man stepped forward.

“Greetings, Mister Mahoney.” The voice was a cheerless rasp. “I was afraid that we would miss each other in the – mob on the street.” The man held a hand out to Sean. Sean trembled, tears forming in his eyes. He had only peeked  at the cards. Not even a real cheat. Why would those goons send this man after him.

The man held his hand out for several seconds before sighing. “Honestly, if you don’t want my help, you can stand on your own. But be quick about it. I haven’t got all day.” The terrified young man sat up, pulling himself onto hands and knees, before reaching a standing position. He stared at the man in black. He had heard stories. The Phantom of the Lower Quarter. He had a habit of finding those down on their luck and  – disposing of them.

This man however, seemed less a monster, and more a frustrated businessman. He seemed annoyed with Sean, rather than filled with murderous rage. Seeing that his prey was standing, The Phantom spoke.

“You know why I am here this afternoon.” It was not a question.

“You have been accused of malfeasance by the establishment known as The Cracked Jug.” Sean nodded, whimpering.

“As you are well aware, the proprietor, a Mister…Levinson, I believe, is a just, moral man.” Sean’s eyebrows raised. “Well, moral for a pub owner with a gambling license.” The man conceded.

“Nonetheless, it falls to me to bestow justice, and punishment for the crime that has been committed.” As he spoke, the man in black unbuttoned his coat, and reached inside. Sean began to cry. a trail of hot, dirty tears streamed down his face as the man in black removed a curved, shining blade.

Sean Mahoney sobbed, realizing the end was near. The man in black took him by the shoulder and guided him to the brick wall of the tenement to the left. He consoled his bounty, as best he could.

“This gives me no pleasure, Mister Mahoney,” he rasped, a sudden sympathetic tone descending. “I promise you, it will be over before you know it.” He turned the young man, so that he faced the wall. “Now, Mister Mahoney…may I call you Sean?”

Through his sobs, Sean managed a tiny “Yes,” and a nod.

“Good,” said the man in black. “Now, Sean, please place both of your hands on the wall in front of you.” The young man did as he was told, his shoulders heaving as he tried to catch his breath.

“I know that this is difficult. But it must be done. All debts must be paid.”

Sean nodded, not hearing a word that was said.

The man raised his blade above his head. He paused, and asked, “We cannot make any exceptions, you know. It wouldn’t do to look weak in front of my employers. Unless…”

Sean turned his head. “Unless?”

The man tilted his head, deep in thought. “Unless, you could be rehabilitated. If you were willing to sign on as my apprentice, I might be able to spare you. I cannot guarantee that you would be allowed to live, but I could try to convince my superiors of your…value.”

Sean wailed. “Yes, anything you want! I’ll be your apprentice. I promise I will never commit a malfeasance again!”

The man chuckled, amused at his bounty’s eagerness. “Very well my young apprentice. Your training will begin in one month.”

Sean couldn’t believe his luck. “A month? of course, but…why so long?”

The man bowed his head. “You will need time to heal.”

“To heal? What do you-”

The man brought the curved blade down with all of his might, severing Sean’s left hand, which caused the young man to collapse to the ground, screaming in agony.

The man calmly produced a cloth from a pocket, and wiped the blood from his blade. He returned the blade to the interior of his coat, and tossed the cloth to Sean. “Bind yourself with that. I will ensure your safe transport to a hospital. There is always a price for malfeasance. Be glad that I was in the need for an apprentice.”

He turned, and walked back into the alley from whence he had appeared.

“Oh,” he said, turning back one final time. “As I am now your employer, I suppose I should introduce myself.  I am Mister Grim.” He disappeared into the alley, leaving his new apprentice. For now.

 

Writing Prompts

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Create a world from a picture.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or so I have heard. Occasionally I find myself at a loss for how to proceed in a given story, and I have found that sometimes a little writing prompt can help to get the creativity flowing again. Sometimes it involves looking at websites that offer writing prompts for those truly in need of inspiration (this includes me far more often than I’d like); sometimes I set up “what if?” scenarios in my head, and try to write my way into or out of the situation I create (Once I successfully got myself off of an imaginary deserted island); But the type of writing prompt I enjoy the most is the simplest: find a picture and write about it.

I find a picture to be the easiest way to get into the heads of my characters. I can more easily develop them if I can relate to them. I am more easily able to relate to them if I can visualize them. Or, at the very least, their world. This photo gave me a bit of inspiration earlier today, because it shows a world that is easy to create, to imagine; a world of two levels.

The first level is the easiest to see. It is a world of rooftops. Bridges and walkways connect the tops of the buildings, allowing a society to exist that may never need to visit the world below. Airships fly so close above the people, that they can almost reach out and touch the hulls of the ships as they pass overhead. It is not such a stretch of the imagination to envision lush rooftop gardens, forming lovely parks for those that live up above to spend their days, enjoying the fresh air. It is an existence available to those that can afford it. Tycoons and politicians overlooking the city, quite literally. It is an enviable life. However, this type of lifestyle belongs only to a privileged few. For the rest of the city, a darker existence awaits.

On the ground is the undercity. The laborers, the impoverished – they live here. It is a perpetual dusk, due in part to the shadows of the buildings that tower above them. Thick black smoke from factories contribute to the darkness of the world below. Men go from home, to work, to the local pub, and finally back home each day, their only respite from their bleak existence in the bottom of a mug. Women that can afford to, stay home, venturing out into the noxious dark to purchase the goods needed on a daily basis. Those that cannot afford to stay home go to the work houses each day, toiling away at machines from dawn to dusk.

The sooty fog that persists in the undercity obscures the poorly maintained buildings, the illicit activities of those not fortunate enough to find a legitimate means of earning a living. Law abiding citizens keep their heads down, try not to draw attention to themselves. What law enforcement there is spends most of their time following the more suspicious characters that stick to the alleys and quiet streets.

Those that live above are blissfully unaware of the suffering of those that live below. They don’t see the thick smog that flows through the streets below, nearly a liquid, it is so thick. No, the people above see themselves as living so high in the sky that they are looking down at the clouds below them. It is an existence that is to be envied, and they cannot imagine any other type of life.

The visual of the picture gave me some great ideas for stories, I may actually use a couple of them as I continue writing. Does anyone have any other writing prompt ideas they use when they need to help get the creative juices flowing?  I’d love to hear them.

Autumn and Catching Up

I left the apartment this morning, and the chill in the air told me that without a doubt, fall has finally arrived. After a sweltering summer, it is nice to finally have that crisp fall air hit me as I go out each morning. Between work and apartment hunting, my late summer and early fall look to be keeping me on my toes. As I put my laptop in the back and hustled into the front seat, I sat back and planned my day. I knew that more than anything today, I wanted to get in some solid writing time. First on my agenda is a blog post; then I will get back to Victorian times and deal with a certain captain and her loyal, if not completely law-abiding crew.

I intended to get some blogging done last week, as I spent three days in Rochester and Buffalo New York for the yearly manager’s meeting that my manager sets up. Although we were in meetings all day, my evenings were free, without my other job. My original goal was to post a bit each evening after the day’s work was done. Well, that did not pan out. I was so exhausted when I got back to my hotel room that I promptly passed out. So three days, and no new blog posts.

That said, I was able to sit down and do a little work on my various projects when there was some downtime. I didn’t make a ton of progress during that time, but I had a few ideas, and was able to get them down on paper, and into my computer before they flew completely out of my head. Thankfully.

The ongoing theme in my life is trying to complete that which I have started. To that end, I have branched out a little bit. I gave myself a little birthday present in the form of the iOS version of Scrivener, which is now downloaded onto my iPad. Between that and my sorely underused Dropbox account, I am now completely mobile with my writing!  I played around with it a little bit over the course of those three days, and after a little bit of a learning curve, I think I have the syncing down pat.

This last weekend I was able to close out three chapters that have been bugging me on a couple of my projects. I am now just past the half-way point in Mademoiselle Durand and the Dead Man’s Map. While I enjoy the project, it has been causing me grief since I first typed the sentence “The falcon circled the mast of the Morning Star, keeping a watchful eye on the deck below.” I also spent some time working on my untitled science fiction project. That one is fun to write, but I am having a few issues getting my characters to where they need to be for the climax of the story.

So now I leave you, readers, so that I may continue with my creative writing pursuits. Until next time!

 

A Short Update

I can’t fall asleep. In the morning I am traveling from central Massachusetts to upstate New York. Rochester, to be precise. It is a 295 mile, 5.5 hour trip, according to my GPS. The reason is the yearly meeting held at main job’s headquarters. It is a three day affair.

I get to learn how the other side of operations…operate. It sounds like it will be interesting, and for the most part I’m looking forward to it. The only thing I’m not crazy about, aside from the driving, is that it is business dress. So I have to dress up.  So I get to dress like a grownup and have grownup meetings over the next several days. On the bright side, I will be off from Jon number two until Friday. So that will give me some solid writing time in the evenings.

As I attempt to rest my weary head this evening, I am also considering some topics for the next several days.  Steampunk tropes, both good and bad; steampunk aesthetic vs. steampunk as a genre; and possibly an exploration of one of my many favorite writers. Until tomorrow, I wish everyone a wonderful evening.

BOOM! I’m on a Roll

This post will be short(ish) and sweet. I’ve been in a little bit of a writing slump as of late. Not necessarily because I don’t have any ideas, but rather, I do not have much free time to write. However, over the last couple of days I’ve been able to sneak in a couple of hours of writing time. It’s not much, but it is a start.

Mademoiselle Durand and the Dead Man’s Map has just re-hit 30,000 words (part of the whole ‘it’s been done before’ episode I referenced a little while ago). It was a satisfying feeling, and I have promised myself No more massive changes – until I reach the editing phase, at least.

This story is shaping up to be a bit more complicated than its predecessor. It has an A plot and a B plot! I’ve got two teams from the ship on two different islands, having two separate adventures; I even have figured out how the two plots will converge in the finale. Mostly. But I still have time to work out the particulars while I’m working on the writing.

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My mysterious island inspiration…or my fantasy vacation getaway location.

I have been inspired, of late, by some classic Victorian adventure fiction. In particular, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. No, there will be no Dinosaurs or fantastic creatures involved. however, I’m aiming for a sense of “otherness” for the island locales. I like the idea of unexplored islands, and the secrets they might contain, within the confines of an adventure story. I have a couple of ideas I’m fleshing out in the story right now, and I’m excited to share them once the story is finally finished.

Despite the setbacks that life has thrown my way lately, I remain determined to get at least one story out before the end of the year, two if I set my mind firm in the task of completing my projects. I am now off to continue writing a bit before bed…after I gaze at tropical islands for a few more minutes.

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Dog Days of Summer

This was a busy week. My writer’s existence was quite at odds with my day job existence. For one of my jobs, we had a major update that was going to go through on our system At noon today. So I had to get about six days worth of work done in about four and a half days. I managed to finish up with about an hour to spare, so I had a free afternoon. I thought I might find a nice shady spot and spend some time writing on my laptop. I went outside, and immediately said to myself, “No, not happening.” We were well into 90+ degree weather today, and my muse was apparently burned to a crisp on the pavement.

Instead, I opted to find a quiet, air-conditioned environment to spend some quality writing time. Writing time, quality or not, has lately been scarce in my life. Summer always seems to throw a bunch at me at once. But I won’t complain. I know that I am lucky to have steady work. It’s work that I enjoy, to boot. And if there are a couple of weeks here and there where writing time is scarce, then I will make do with what time I do have. and today I was able to get in about an hour and a half before I had to punch in for job number two.

Although I haven’t had much time to write, I am still trying to maintain some level of creativity and entertainment in my life. I spent the majority of the last rainy weekend reading, writing, and binge-watching Stranger Things on Netflix. I think I may have a new favorite show. I may even do a review in a couple of weeks. I definitely need to sit down and watch it again before I attempt that, though.

My reading list has been woefully neglected since my vacation. I finished reading A Game of Thrones, which I enjoyed quite a bit.I then learned, while looking at my recommendations, that Cherie Priest’s Chapelwood the sequel to Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches  has come out. I loved that story, so I will be purchasing and reading the new book as soon as I can. But I think I may need to reread the first book, just so that I can be fully prepared.

And, of course, I’m back into my writing. After hitting a few walls, realizing that a few of my plotlines just do not work, I am finally in a place where things are back on track. Dette and the crew of the Morning Star are back on their adventurous, peril-filled track, A long-dead Sci-Fi story is back, reshaped, and less exposition-angsty, and I’m working on an outline for another story. I must be inspired, because I abhor outlines. I generally find it too difficult to stick to the outline once I begin writing. My characters do not like to listen once I’ve begun the writing process. It is a battle to not let them completely take over the story.  Of course, there is always the chance that the exact same thing will happen with this story. I am the worst at reining my characters in. But that is ok. they usually do a better job at advancing the plot than I do, anyway.

 

 

Writing Setbacks: It’s Been Done Before

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I sit at my laptop, typing merrily away. The story is humming along, characters are positioned and playing their roles. Everything is just where I want it to be.  Then the little voice appears. It whispers, taunting. “That bit you just wrote – yeah, the part where she is fighting valiantly when the sword is knocked from her hands – yeah, that part right there? It’s been done before. A lot. Oh how I hate that little voice. The voice of self-doubt.

I reread the chapter I just wrote. The voice is right. It has been done before. Much more eloquently by better authors. It isn’t identical, but it is familiar. Contrived.  Granted, the little voice is really all in my head, I know that. But it is so damned smug. So satisfied with itself for taking me down a peg or three. I scroll through what I’ve written and consider my options. If I was the same Jason of about five years ago, one of two things would have happened.

Option 1:  I would have read the passage again, shrugged my shoulders and continued on. There was a time when I didn’t care if something was cliché. Then, when I was finished with the writing project, I would have begun to edit, seen all of the same old, same old elements in the story, throw my hands in the air, and tossed the manuscript in a drawer, never to see the light of day again. I have packing box filled with these types of manuscripts, a source of great shame to me.

Option 2:  About two years ago, I would have panicked. It is too common. Every story about pirates has that moment in the story where the hero or heroine is overpowered or outsmarted, and momentarily all appears to be lost. Again, I would probably try, in futility, to salvage the moment, try to make it different, new, and exciting. I would inevitably fail, and frustrated, the manuscript would end up in my box of shame.  Either way, the result would be the same.

But here’s the thing. I am older, and (marginally) wiser. Humans have been telling stories for as long as we have had the ability to speak. There are nearly no truly original moments left to tell. Everything is a variation on, or a twisting of other ideas, other stories. We have our ideas, we put them down on paper or disk, and give the old stories our own spin. Whether it is the hero’s journey, the haunted house, the thrilling tale of adventure, journeying across a distant land, The bones of the story have been laid bare hundreds of thousands of times. It is up to the teller of the story to make it new and exciting for the person listening to or reading the story. I have begun to realize this, and now I can look at my projects and decide if the element should stay in my story.

I kept that element once (Or, more accurately, a similar moment). It gave me the desired effect. Alright, it was a little clichéd, but I weighed the pros and cons and decided for the story I wanted to tell, the moment of pseudo-danger the heroine was in kept my interest, and I was pleased with the ultimate resolution.  In my new project, The “knocked-away sword” moment was a little too much. It didn’t advance the plot quite the way I needed it to, and my main character was not supposed to be in quite the same type of danger. Ultimately, I feel my story is better for the excision. I lost about two days worth of work, but the passage works now, where before I was not at all confident.

Writing setbacks happen. I have found that during my writing journey over the last several years, I have begun to deal with them in a more productive fashion. It is easy to lock the project away and tell yourself it was no good, or that it has been done a million times before. It is so much better to think about your project. If you really want to tell the story, there is a way to make it work. Your story will be so much better for it. Plus, the feeling of accomplishment when you write the closing words of your story is truly amazing. Then you take a breath and smile. Then you realize that only about half the work is done. Now comes the proof reading, editing, and rewrites. But I find that I am still smiling. One step closer to publication.

One step closer.

 

 

 

World Building – Rules part 1: Magic

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Magic can have a place in many genres. Does it have place in yours?

The pitcher of lemonade hovered in mid-air, rotating Ina a lazy circle a foot above the table. Mademoiselle Bernadette Durand stared,  her eyes wide,  as the woman before her stared placid at the pitcher. If it were not for the light sheen of sweat on her forehead and the tiny circular movement of her index finger,  it would have appeared as though she was staring intently at the proceedings.  But she was not just a bystander.  She was a witch.  And the hovering pitcher was her doing.

She was younger than Dette had expected.  The image of a witch that filled her head was that of an old crone,  bent and twisted with age and corruption,  sitting at a cauldron brewing a vile potion.  But the woman was far from old.

She was no more than 10 years Dette’s senior.  Her long hair was still a lovely honey color, piled high upon her head.  Only a few strands showed signs of gray, only the faintest of lines crinkled the corners of her lips when she gave one of her ready smiles. More than once Dette’s had been tempted to return one of Lady Nathalie’s smiles –  only to remember her mother’s warning; never smile at a witch.  To do so is to invite them to take your immortal soul.

“You must forgive me Mademoiselle Durand,” the witch said, placing a hand to her forehead.  A display of my talents  often leaves me a bit thirsty.” She lifted the pitcher,  this time with her hands,  and poured a large glass of lemonade, taking three large,  and undignified sips. “For any exertion  of magical force,  there is a cost.”

Dette kept her icy blue eyes on the older  woman. ” And what,  Lady Nathalie, is the price you pay? “

Lady Nathalie Bingham smiled, a sad curvature of her lips. ” Only my life, Mademoiselle,” She responded,  “nothing important at all.”

From the outset,  I knew that I wanted to include some more magical elements in my books.  Monsters are a staple of many steampunk stories,  so I figured  could magic.  But like monsters,  magic needs to have an in-universe logic.

Even in stories where anything is possible with magic (such as the Harry Potter series),  there is a logic that was put into place to not only explain and display its possibilities,  but also to make clear its limits.

Some stories make magic a type of exertion on the part of the user.  Energy is used each time a spell is cast.  Some magic drains so much that the practitioner must rest after they complete their task. Others are drained of their life force as they use their magic,  rapidly aging as they grow more powerful,  ultimately facing the difficult choice of quitting magic,  or finding some way to prolong their life.

I chose a hybrid option.  The magic in the world of Mademoiselle Durand is draining on the user in both energy and a bit of their life energy. It will not make you older,  but it will make you more vulnerable to physical attack and illness.  Both remedied by more magic,  but equally risky to the well-being of the magic user.

I toyed with the idea of the use of some sort of charmed item,  like a wand or staff,  but with Lady Nathalie in particular,  I felt a physical item would be too distracting for me as the writer. 

I like the idea of setting these rules into place early on.  Lady Nathalie makes it clear that there is a limit to what she can do. She knows that every time she uses her magic,  she loses another piece of herself.  So parlor tricks are not something she enjoys. But to convince poor Dexter,  she chose to make an exception.

For the writers out there,  do you use magic in your writing? If so,  do you have hard and fast rules,  or do you let your characters wield greater control and power.  I’d love to hear what people think.

Revisiting My Alternate Histories

Apologies must be made. It has been far too long since my last post. But as with this time of year, too much was happening all at once. Life and work got in the way, and my writing took a back seat, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you ask).

But now it appears that work has calmed down, we are fully staffed for now, and I received a little promotion for the effort. Now that the holliday season is behind us, i can get back to doing what I love – writing.

I have taken the last couple of days to go through my myriad of works in progress to look at them with a fresh eye. It feels like I’m reading another person’s work. From a distance of a month’s time, I can safely say, past me is a hack.

Perhaps the sentiment is a bit strong. I am my own harshest critic (as far as I know. no one has personally informed me that my writing sucks, so I have that going for me). But one thing I did notice, was that despite my first draft mistakes – telling rather than showing, a little too much purple prose – there are elements in each of my WIPs that I do enjoy.

I have been trying to create a world that feels real in each of my stories. I suppose that is one of the reasons that I have only one finished project out there for people to read. It was a short story, and a challenge to myself to finish something. The result is okay, but I know that I can do better. So, for each of my projects, I am trying to improve upon the mistakes I made with my first project to make it onto Amazon.

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I’m starting, once again with the worlds in each story. Revisiting the worlds in each of my projects was eye opening. I was able to see things a little differently now, than when I was first putting the words to the page. For example, in my sequel to Mademoiselle Durand and the Pirates, I have begun to ask myself how the history I created for my world resulted in the settings for my stories. Did the Industrial Revolution lead in a different direction because the United States did not have a civil war, never becoming a major world power; Europe and the United States embrace steam power, while the Confederacy tries finding its way with the power of oil (yet cannot seem to harness the power in a meaningful way).

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In my sci-fi story, years in the making, the galaxy that serves as the setting is in a state of turmoil. An aging, failing hegemony slowly collapses in on itself as its sheer size makes it impossible to sustain, economically. Several smaller powers see it as an opportunity to overthrow the outmoded government. But is it even possible to overthrow a regime that massive, regardless of bloat, if they have soldiers everywhere? And what about the little people? Wage earners, day laborers; the average citizen with no real money or power to speak of. Can a nobody (or nobodies) living like that rise to become a hero in a space opera? Well, yes, I suppose they could. It is a space opera, so there are certain expectations to be met.

In each situation, the world building has begun weighing on my mind. I started each of these stories as a novice, never really believing that I would ever let anyone read my work. So, now, I am going back and trying to fill in the blanks a little  bit, in the hopes that I can make the realities I’m creating make sense to those reading.

As far as my newest project, I have covered that before I ever even put word to paper…or, fingers to keyboard. This was my NaNoWriMo project for my first participation. A nice little dieselpunk world where the American Revolution resulted in a U.S. monarchy. King George I, leading through to the setting of my first story, which takes place in the mid 1920s. I spent some time on the history and back story for this project, and I feel a lot more at ease with this one, than with my other projects.

I am moving closer to a place of peace with each of my WIPs.  By early 2016, I think most of my worries will be addressed. Then of course, will come the editing. And the rewrites. And the obsessive rereads of those rewrites. And then some day, before I die, I will publish another story. I hope.