Tag Archives: magic

#amwriting: it’s #magic

Once magic enters your story, you must do some foot work, or your premise won’t be believable. It’s critical that you have finite rules for limiting how magic works. If your magic rules are too elastic, or you imbue too many amazing abilities into your main character, you will make them too good to be true. Readers won’t be able to relate to their story.

When I sit down to write a fantasy story, there will be magic, and I will have planned carefully for it. I have three worlds with three radically different systems of magic.

  1. In my serial, Bleakbourne on Heath, sorcerers use incantations sung to certain melodies.
  2. In Huw the Bard people can purchase magic (majik) amulets and potions.
  3. In the Tower of Bones series, magic and religion are intertwined. Aeos, the goddess, has decreed that all children who begin to show healing-empathy, or the ability to use the magic of the elements must be brought to the Temple and trained, for the protection of society in general. There are rules, certain things which can and can’t be done. As in real life, there are certain exceptions, but they too have limitations. No one is all-powerful.

Each time you make parameters and frameworks for your magic you make opportunities for conflict within your fantasy world. Remember, conflict drives the plot.

First, you must consider who has magic? What kind of magic–healing or offensive or both? What are the rules for using that magic and why do those rules exist? Magic is an intriguing tool in fantasy, but it should only be used if certain conditions have been met:

  • if the number of people who can use it is limited
  • if the ways in which it can be used are limited
  • if not every mage can use every kind of magic
  • if there are strict, inviolable rules regarding what each kind magic can do and the conditions under which it will work.
  • if there are some conditions under which the magic will not work
  • if the learning curve is steep and sometimes lethal

What challenges does your character have to overcome when learning to wield magic?

  • Is he unable to fully use his own abilities?
  • If that is so, why is he hampered in that way?
  • How does that inability affect his companions and how do they feel about it?
  • Are they hampered in anyway themselves?
  • What has to happen before your hero can fully realize his abilities?

Even if this aspect does not come into the story, for your own information, you should decide who is in charge of teaching the magic, how that wisdom is dispensed, and who will be allowed to gain that knowledge.

  • is the prospective mage born with the ability to use magic or
  • is it spell-based and any reasonably intelligent person can learn it if they can find a teacher?

Magic and the ability to wield it usually denotes power. That means the enemy must be their equal or perhaps their better. So, if they are not from the same school, you now have two systems to design. You must create the ‘rules of magic.’  Take the time to write them out.

In creating both social and magic systems, you are creating a hidden framework that will support and advance your plot. Within your magic system, there can be an occasional exception to a rule, but there must be a good reason for it, and it must be clear to the reader why that exception is acceptable.

Another important point to take note of is this: the only time the reader needs to know these systems exist is when they affect the characters and their actions. Dole this information out in conversations or in other subtle ways and it will become a natural part of the environment rather than an info dump.

It is a fact that sometimes books that were outlined to a certain storyline sometimes go off in their own directions, and the story is better for it. I haven’t experienced the sudden influx of magic into the story as that plot twist is always planned for, but I have had other random events throw a curveball at me.


Attributions:

Portions of this post have previously appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy and also in my column on writing craft for the Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA).

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#FridayFiction: The Bolthole, part 2

The next morning, Eddie, Gertie, and Billy packed what few possessions they had and made ready to leave The Powder Keg, meeting Walter and his son Willie on the way downstairs. Severely hungover, the Bastard sputtered and cursed, but finally agreed that he could make a bit more gold if more merchants were able to travel. By mid-morning, they had made their goodbyes and were on the road north to Eddie’s lodge.

A storm was blowing fiercely atop Windy Ridge, which made the narrow, muddy road treacherous, slowing them. It was late afternoon when they arrived home, although the thick forest of tall firs made it seem later.

>>><<<

Just after noon on the fifth day of Eddie’s new venture, five mercenaries he’d ridden with during his tenure with the Wolves rode in, bringing all their possessions, hoping to sign on with Eddie’s new crew. They asked him what he was naming his mercenary band, and he confessed he hadn’t picked a name yet.

To his son’s rather visible joy, one of the new recruits was Dame Bess, a noblewoman who claimed no last name. Another was Alan Le Clerk, a younger merc of Billy’s age. Lady Barbara (Babs) Gentry, Lily Rhys, and George Finch rounded out the crew.

Dame Bess was the coldest woman Eddie had ever met, hard as steel. He wasn’t sure what his son saw in her, but the lad was completely smitten, despite the fact she ignored him the way she did every man, or woman for that matter. Still, she was one of the best sword-swingers in the business, level headed when anything bad went down, and a quick thinker in an ambush. He counted himself lucky to have her on his crew.

After they picked their bunks and settled their things upstairs, they sat down to supper, pleasantly surprised at the meal Eddie’s son, Billy, set before them. Alan said, “I never knew you could cook.”

“This is good. Better than Marien’s.” Bess took a few more bites of fish-stew, then said,”There’ll be one or two more Wolves coming along in the next day or so. They’re taking their time, wanting to see how the Bastard changes things up, so they’re working without a contract until they make up their minds. They have until the day after tomorrow before they have to make a commitment.”

George Finch, the younger son of a baron, spoke up, his clipped, northern nobleman’s accent sharp with indignation. “You got your son out there just in time, Walter. Guess who turned up, right after you left? Good old Bloody Bryan. He showed up as soon as he knew Marien was safely in the ground.”

Lily nodded. Her thick Eynierish accent was hard to follow, and an angry look marred her darkly attractive features. “Sure enough, the Bastard took him back, claiming he was shorthanded because you had taken half the crew and started your own ‘band of thieves and rowdies.’”

George’s scorn could have peeled the bark from a woodwraith. “After what that degenerate did, ruining our good name—”

Eddie snorted. “The Bastard always did have the worst taste in friends, but taking Bloody Bryan back…I don’t understand it.” He shrugged. “Anyway, I hope you’re aware that I have no jobs yet. We might be doing a lot of fishing here if we can’t find work.”

Lily’s grin lit up the room. “I love to fish—I’d rather do that than anything else. Besides, I wouldn’t spend another night in the Powder Keg, now Bryan is there no matter how hard things get here.”

Bess smiled, and when she forgot to be hard, she was pretty. “Just so you know, the Bastard is already referring to us as a bunch of highwaymen and rowdies whenever anyone asks and telling folks our shack is naught but a bolthole in the woods.”

The whole group laughed, Eddie most of all. “A bolthole–I like that. Coming from him it’s a compliment. You have to admit, it’s a pretty solid shack.”

“This place is a lot sturdier than the Powder Keg,” Walter said. “I hated living upstairs there during a high-wind storm. The top floors shake so bad, it’s like the whole place will blow down.”

“You have that right, Walter.” George leaned back against the wall, taking in his surroundings. “This is a damned log palace, compared the Powder Keg. Plus, the Keg get’s flooded every year when the river rises. This place is dry, with no moldy smell. I don’t care if I do have to share quarters—I can live without the mold.”

The next morning, just after midday, a knock sounded at the door. Eddie answered it. A merchant he recognized, John Caskman, stood there. “Hello, Eddie. I was just in Somber Flats and heard the news about Marien. The Bastard tells me you’re leading a new band of mercs called the Rowdies? If so, I have a job, for you, leaving Monday next. It’s a small wagon train for you to escort to Galwye, from Dervy. Three wagons, so I’ll need six guards for six days.”

Eddie shook his hand, and a smile split his face. “Yes, I think we can fit you into our schedule.” That evening he hung a shingle over the front steps:

the bolthole sign

With that, the names were established, and the Rowdies settled into a routine.

>>><<<

Five weeks had passed since Mad Marien’s funeral. The court papers had arrived at the end of the second week, and Eddie MacNess was officially granted a patent to form a mercenary outfit, the Rowdies. Things had gone far better than Eddie had dreamed they would, and even the Bastard had been forced to admit business was better than ever with the Rowdies funneling paying customers his way. Eddie now had sixteen Rowdies, including a trained provisioner,  a runaway sailor from Lanqueshire named Romy. Business was good and the Rowdies were working all the time.

It was a clear day, with blue skies and birds singing. Eddie, George, Allan, and Billy had just arrived back at the Bolthole. Eddie dismounted, handing his horse’s reins to young Willie. He’d just realized the birds had stopped singing, when the sounds of horses galloping caught his attention, and he looked up, seeing five knights in royal colors riding as hard as they could, heading for the safety of the barn.

The knight leading the group shouted, “Dragon! Get your livestock under shelter.”

Eddie caught the bridle as the man leaped from his horse. “Where was it last?”

The knight in charge was Lord Mat St. Coeur. “Just north of Psalter Pass. We were fighting it, but the damned thing flew away. Do you have any livestock?”

“Just a few chickens, which we keep in the barn. We keep the horses in the paddock by the stable because I haven’t had a chance to repair the main stockade yet. Where was it headed? I have a crew of Rowdies who should be coming home this afternoon, and they may already be on the Galwye road.” Gertie, Lily, Bess, and Babs had guarded a small merchant caravan from Dervy to Galwye and back. Eddie looked at the sun, thinking they should have just left the quarry town. They would be about two or three hours away, depending on the weather up in the hills. A ball of lead formed in his stomach as he realized he had no way to warn them, but he stuffed down his panic. “Was it wounded?”

“Yes, but he was still able to fly. He was headed this way, then disappeared. I think he may have landed, but he could still be flying around out there.”

Both men jumped deeper into the shadows of the stable as an immense shadow crossed the stableyard, flying low. Eddie’s bowels turned to water. The roar of flames lit the clearing, and the shadow passed.

The flickering light of a fire, however, did not. Willie grabbed Eddie’s arm. “Look to the house, Captain Eddie! The thatch is alight!”

St. Coeur leaped to action. To Eddie, he said, “Fetch a ladder and rakes.” He turned to Willie. “Boy—get everyone out of the house. Tell them to bring out every bucket and container they can find.” He turned back to Eddie. “I’ll go up on the roof and rake the burning thatch down to the ground. Once I have it on the ground you lads put out the flames.”

Young Willie’s eyes were terrified, but he had himself under control and ran to the house as instructed.

Racing to the tool shed for the ladder and rakes, Eddie called over his shoulder, “St. Coeur, you’re a fool! You’ll be right up there where the dragon can get you.”

Following Eddie, St. Coeur shuddered. “If so, I’ll be his dinner. We need to save your house. It’s the only dry shelter for miles!”

Willie emptied the house of people. Billy joined St. Coeur on the roof, working as fast as they could, raking and dragging every last bit of burning thatch off the roof. Down on the ground Eddie and the others had formed a bucket brigade, passing water up to the men on the roof while Willie and Romy drizzled water  and stamped on what St. Coeur and Billy threw to the ground.

Finally, the fire was out. One whole side of the house had no thatch, bare to the split-rails laid over the rafters, but the smoke had cleared, and the house was saved.

The two men carefully examined the rest of roof, to make sure no embers were hiding, pouring buckets of water over it, just in case.

Eddie stood in the clearing, staring up at the thatchless side of his house. His heart sank at the thought of the work ahead of him in repairing the damage over the next few days, but at least he still had his home.

However, that disaster paled in comparison to his real worry. What if the dragon had passed over Gertie’s crew? There was nothing he could do about her and the other ladies, so he forced himself to keep on working.  “I guess we’d best see if we can find enough canvas to keep the rain out of the attic while we get this fixed.” His jaw was clenched to keep his teeth from chattering. Visions of his lady being snatched up or trying to fight an enraged dragon kept stopping him in his tracks.

At last, he found several good-sized tarpaulins, canvases for covering freight-laden wagons. He sent Billy up on the roof with St. Coeur to help the knight secure the sheets of canvas. The two men bound them tightly to the rafters with stout hemp cords so the wind wouldn’t blow them off during the night. Finally, they were back down on the ground.

Billy grabbed his father’s arm. “Dad—we’ve done what we can here. I want to go look for the ladies.” He was demanding, it, and wouldn’t hear “no” if Eddie said it.

Eddie wanted nothing more, but he was captain. It was his duty to make sure everything was in order before he went looking for his lover.

Billy tried again. “Please? It’s Gertie, Dad…and Bess.”

Caving in to his own fear, Eddie nodded and turned to the knights. “St. Coeur, Romy will feed you and your lads, and get you settled for the night. I have a crew on the Galwye Road I need to go meet.” He turned to the Rowdies. “Alan, Lonnie, and Walter—you’re with Billy and me. Willy, let’s get these horses saddled.”

However, the thunder of hooves announced Gertie’s crew returning. The ladies rode hard into the stableyard but pulled up when they saw all was well. Once in the barn, Gertie jumped down, and Eddie grabbed and swung her, relief making him giddy.

Laughing as he set her down, Gertie said, “We saw a dragon flying off to the north. Then we saw a column of smoke rising from here and feared the worst.”

St. Coeur said, “Which way was he headed?”

Gertie shivered. “North along the foothills, below the Western Range. He wasn’t flying too well, and he was far away, but we stayed hidden under the forest.”

“Too right, we hid,” said Babs, winking at St. Coeur. “We had no intention of dancing swords with a dragon. Hello, Mat. Remember me from court? Lady Barbara Gentry.”

“I do remember you, Babs—and how well you got along with the queen regent.” Mat covered his laugh with a cough. “The snake in her dressing table was a lovely parting gift when you left to marry the elderly Earl of Grandon. I never knew you’d taken up the sword, though.”

Babs laughed. “To my noble father’s eternal embarrassment, I’m not really cut out to be a countess, so the night before the wedding I eloped with my sword.”

St. Coeur eyed Babs appreciatively, but said to Eddie. “The dragon’s lair is likely up in those mountains, then. They’re pretty smart. Maybe he won’t come this close to civilization again—we did manage to wound him.”

“What are you lads going to do about him?” Eddie couldn’t get the size of the shadow out of his mind. “We can’t fight something like that. You have those bespelled shields and majik amulets.”

St. Coeur nodded. “And even with those to assist us, we lost two men. We were about six men short to have a proper chance at killing him. But I suppose we’ll be sent on a dragon hunt up in the wilds. We don’t just let those sorts of creatures roam freely.”

Babs linked her arm with St. Coeur’s, smiling up at him through dark lashes. “Mat darling, have you ever considered becoming a mercenary? We have so much more fun than you noble younger sons who must do all the dirty work with so little appreciation from her royal bitchiness.”

Mat replied, “Well, I did receive an offer from the Ravens last week, and I may take them up on it. Outside of the occasional dragon hunt, court life bores the hell out of me.”

“You’ll be an asset to them, and if things don’t work out there, I’m sure Eddie could keep you busy here. We’re never bored.” She drew the knight toward the lodge, their voices dwindling as they left the stable.

>>><<<

Later that night, alone in the privacy of his room Eddie held Gertie, overcome by the thought that he’d nearly lost his home. But more importantly, during the ruckus, once everyone was safely out of the burning house all Eddie had been able to think about think about was that Gertie was on the Galwye Road, and the dragon was heading her way.

“I love you, Gertie Smith,” he said, kissing her forehead.

“I love you too. But I’m not giving up the sword.”

“I know, and I don’t care.” And he didn’t. He had as much of his lover as he ever would. He had his mercenary crew, he still had the Bolthole, partially roofless though it was, and he still had his son. No one had died. He didn’t need anything more than that to make him happy.

Gertie slept in his arms, and he laid there listening to the unfamiliar sound of rain hissing on the canvas that now protected his attic. Eddie had no idea what the next day would bring but at that moment he was filled with contentment. Still smiling, Eddie fell asleep.


To read part one of The Bolthole, click here

“The Bolthole, in two parts” © 2016 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

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Elements of the story: Crafting magic systems

Green_Angel_Tower_P1I am thrilled that Tad Williams is writing another series of books set in Osten Ard. Tad is an author who  absolutely understands the craft of writing fantasy. He knows what makes epic fantasy EPIC. There is just the slightest hint of the rebellious indie in his work, which makes it a little wild. But more than that, Tad understand how important it is to make the limitations and roadblocks forced on the protagonists power the narrative.

If you love epic fantasy and have not read his powerful trilogy, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn–you should.

In Tad’s work, magic systems feel natural, organic and are not all powerful. I love epic fantasy books where the magic systems have been as well thought out as the political systems, and the characters are limited in what they can do with them.

I despise books where the hero/heroine can do anything, and be as awesome as she/he needs to be, all because he/she has a special power. No need to worry about planning that mission, because our hero can read minds and predict the future–he knows exactly how to thwart Evil Badguy. Several boring scenes later, an opportunity for something interesting turns up, but no! The author has blessed his favorite supercharacter with (cue the fanfare) amazing magic powers that have no explanation, and apparently no limits.

If you are writing fantasy, consider this–Infinite abilities instills infinite boredom in me as a reader.

Let’s talk about magic. Who has magic? What kind of magic–healing or offensive or both? What are the rules for using that magic and why do those rules exist? Magic is an intriguing tool in fantasy, but it should only be used if certain conditions have been met:

  1. if the number of people who can use it is limited
  2. if the ways in which it can be used are limited
  3. if not every mage can use every kind of magic
  4. if there are strict, inviolable rules regarding what each magic can do and the conditions under which it will work.
  5. if there are some conditions under which the magic will not work
  6. if the learning curve is steep and sometimes lethal

Even if it does not come into the story, you should decide who is in charge of teaching the magic, how that wisdom is dispensed, and who will be allowed to gain that knowledge.

  1. is the prospective mage born with the ability to use magic or
  2. is it spell-based, and any reasonably intelligent person can learn it if they can find a teacher?

Mists_of_Avalon-1st_edMagic and the ability to wield it usually denotes power. That means the enemy must be their equal or perhaps their better. So if they are not from the same school, you now have two systems to design. You must create the ‘rules of magic.’  Take the time to write them out, and don’t break the laws, without having a damned good explanation for why that particular breaking of the rules is possible.

Limits make for better, more creative characters. In the Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley made the magic a natural outcome of religion, something only a few characters had access to, and they paid a great price each time they used it.

Lets pretend we have a mage, Gerald—we’ll make him a lowly journeyman mage, just allowed out of magic school on his own. Events beyond his control occur, and only he can rid the world of Stinky Sam. Sam is a very powerful, very naughty wizard, who will crush young, untried Gerald with no effort whatsoever.

Let’s say Gerald has a few skills at the beginning: he can draw water out of the air for drinking, and maybe he can use the elements of fire and lightning as weapons. Can he also use magic to heal people?  Can he heal himself?  What are the rules governing these abilities and how do these rules affect the progress of the story?  When it comes to magic, limitations open up many possibilities for plot development.

For this to be a good story, our bad guy, Stinky Sam, must be a master in whatever area Gerald has chosen–and he should have a few skills and abilities Gerald might never learn.

the night circus by erin morgensternThis means Gerald must work hard to overcome the obstacles set in his path by Stinky Sam.  With the successful completion of difficult tasks, and overcoming great hardships, Gerald will learn what he needs to know about his magic/gifts, and acquire the ability to counter Stinky Sam’s best efforts in the final showdown, although it will be difficult.

In great fantasy, evil is very strong, and has great magic–but there are rules.  The evil one might be a bully and he may have some awesome skills, but he’s not omnipotent, or there would be no story. All magic systems have limits, which means he has a weakness. With the discovery of the antagonist’s limitations, your character has the opportunity to grow and develop to his fullest potential in process of finding and exploiting it.

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My love affair with Willam Butler Yeats

Yeats Mural and quoteWilliam Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms.

His poetry is one of my favorite sources of inspiration.  In his early years he  was not afraid to write of faeries, and mystical things that fired my childish imagination. Later, as he grew as both a writer and as a person, he also wrote wonderful works that were more firmly rooted in reality.

William Butler Yeats, painted by his father, John Butler Yeats, 1900

William Butler Yeats, painted by his father, John Butler Yeats, 1900

Born in Ireland on June 13 1865, Yeats was born into the Protestant, Anglo-Irish minority that had controlled the economic, political, social, and cultural life of Ireland. His free-thinking, bohemian parents counteracted that cultural bias, and raised him to be proud to be an Irish poet and writer. He was raised in a home where art and literature were celebrated, His father was a famous artist, John Butler Yeats, who was renowned for his portraits, though his work never earned enough to keep the family financially secure–thus they moved around a lot.

The entire Butler Yeats family were highly artistic; his brother Jack became an esteemed painter, while his sisters Elizabeth and Susan Mary—known to family and friends as Lollie and Lily—became involved in the Arts and Crafts Movement. That movement of decorative arts was exemplified by traditional craftsmanship using simple forms and it often used medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration. It advocated economic and social reform and has been said to be essentially anti-industrial.

WB Yeats early essaysIn December 1923, Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, just after Ireland had gained independence. Fortunately, the prize led to a significant increase in the sales of his books, when his publishers Macmillan  capitalized on the publicity. He was able to repay not only his own debts, but those of his father–this was a huge source of relief for the whole family.

To a certain extent,  Yeats was a product of the arts and crafts movement. His poetry was whimsical and serious, and completely reflective of his passionate, turbulent life.  He has been quoted as saying a poet should labor “at rhythm and cadence, at form and style, ” and was a founding member of the Rhymers’ Club, a group of London poets who met to read and discuss their poems. The Rhymers placed a very high value on subjectivity,  how someone’s judgment is shaped by personal opinions and feelings instead of outside influences, and on craftsmanship.

william-butler-yeatss-quotes-4This emphasizes to me the value of a writing group–even Yeats had a group of people to bounce ideas off, and that group improved his craftsmanship.

Reading the work of W.B.Yeats greatly shaped my own view of poetry and literature in general. His life was unconventional, and chaotic, and his love affairs were famous, especially his life-long, frequently unrequited love for the Irish revolutionary/actress, Maud Gonne. He struggled with love and morality as did all free-thinking artists and writers in his day–but his struggles and the struggles of his contemporaries freed their imaginations, and they produced great works.

Of all his works, this is my favorite:

The Stolen Child by  W.B. (William Butler) Yeats

WHERE dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

 >>><<<

Loreena McKennitt, the Stolen Child  (via You Tube)

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Worldbuilding part 3—Magic

Mårten_Eskil_Winge_-_Tor's_Fight_with_the_Giants_-_Google_Art_ProjectEvery now and then I read a book where it’s clear the author has no concept of his own magic system.  You, as the reader,  are sailing; the story is flowing; and then suddenly you realize that Bart the Mage seems to have unlimited magic ability.  Well, that’s no good, because now there is no tension; no great ordeal for Bart to overcome. Bart can do anything–game over–end of story. The book goes into the recycling bin, unfinished and you never buy that author’s work again.

Every author has their own way of doing this, but I approach it from an engineering and scientific viewpoint–I spend time designing the system:

Let’s talk about Bart. He’s a lowly journeyman mage. For a multitude of reasons he has decided that he must rid the world of Evil Badguy; a very powerful, very naughty wizard.  Evil Badguy is very strong, and has great magic, and he seems unstoppable! But fortunately for our story, there are rules, so he is not omnipotent. He has a weakness and your protagonists now have the opportunity to grow and develop to their fullest potential in process of finding and exploiting that weakness.

Now let’s say that Bart is a mage with offensive magic – maybe he can cast lightning at an enemy, or perhaps he can set fires with his magic.  Can he also use magic to heal people?  Can he heal himself?  What are the rules governing these abilities and how do these rules affect the progress of the story?  When it comes to magic, limitations open up many possibilities for plot development.

Let’s say that Bart can only reliably use one sort of magic. This is good, because now you have need for other several characters with other abilities. They each have a story which will come out and which will contribute to the advancement of the plot. Each character will have limits to their abilities and because of that they will need to interact and work with each other and with Bart whether they like each other or not if they want to win the final battle against Evil Badguy.  This gives you ample opportunity to introduce tension into the story. Each time you make parameters and frameworks for your magic you make opportunities for conflict within your fantasy world, and conflict is what drives the plot.

VAYNE final-fantasy-xii_305674What challenge does Bart have to overcome in order to win the day?

  • Is he unable to fully use his own abilities?
  • If that is so, why is he hampered in that way?
  • How does that inability affect his companions and how do they feel about it?
  • Are they hampered in any way themselves?
  • What has to happen before Bart can fully realize his abilities?

Without rules, there would be no conflict, no reason for Bart to struggle and no story to tell.

So now, you realize that you must create the ‘rules of magic.’  Take the time to write it out, and don’t break the laws, without having a damned good explanation for why that particular breaking of the rules is possible.

Each world should be unique, and so we need to tailor the magic to fit each unique situation.

  • Who can use magic?
  • What kind of magic can they use?
  • How are they trained?
  • What happens to those who abuse their gifts?
  • How common is magic?
  • How does the ability to wield magic fit into the political system?

I have two worlds that I am currently writing in, and their magic systems are radically different.

The following was my first list from 2009 for creating the world when we were originally designing a game that eventually became The World of Neveyah series.

Elemental Battle Magic of Neveyah

 Water:   non battle-use can fill water jugs and basins

  • Water spout (novice)
  • Gully Washer (intermediate)
  • High Seas (Advanced)
  • Raging River (Advanced)

Earth:   non-battle use, putting out campfires, digging holes, gardening

  • Square Dance (novice)
  • Landslide (intermediate)
  • Mudslide (advanced)
  • Mountain Drop (Advanced)

Fire:  non battle use – can light candles, and ignite fire in fireplace

  • Hot Shot (novice)
  • Fire Ball (Intermediate)
  • Inferno (advanced)
  • Hell Fire (Advanced)

Lightning:  non-battle use for lightning: creating finish on armor, glazing pottery

  • Cat-Zapper (novice)   Zippety-Doo-Dah (novice-spell)
  • Thunder Fist (intermediate)
  • Curtain Call (Advanced)
  • Thunder Walking (Advanced)

This basic grocery list has since evolved into a complete curriculum for domestic uses, and the names for most of those spells has changed, but it remains relevant because it shows how I divided it. A game player would have had to gain in strength in order to use those spells, and that is how my characters do in the Neveyah books.

Saint_georges_dragon_grasset_beguleIt’s very different in the Billy’s Revenge series which set in Waldeyn, an alternate-medieval earth which is the setting for Huw the Bard. There, the actual environment is magic and Huw’s journey involves his overcoming its inherent dangers. The plants and animals of Waldeyn are shaped by the overwhelming abundance of magic in that world, like radioactivity affects and mutates life here.  Many of the most dangerous creatures are born of twisted magic, or as they call it, majik.

Mind-majik, healing, and the ability to imbue their healing majik into a potion or salve is the feminine side of majik, governed by the Sisters of Anan.

The ability to bind the elements into weapons and wield them is the male side, and they are governed by the Brotherhood of St. Aelfrid.

Part of their political/religious power comes from the fact that it has been determined the majik is a God-given gift, and all who’ve been granted that ability must be bound to the church.

There are strict rules, and if a gifted person doesn’t choose to serve the people through being bound to the church, the ability to sense majik is taken from them by the Mother Church.

I don’t have any main characters in Waldeyn who are majik wielders, although one side character in the forthcoming novel, Billy Ninefingers, is a member of the Brotherhood of St. Aelfrid: the Fat Friar, Robert DeBolt. However, many times these characters are in need of healing. (Heh heh.)

Because of my characters’ frequent tendency to bleed, gaining and acquiring good healing potions and salves is important.

In the World of Neveyah, which is where the Tower of Bones series is set, the situation was different—The Tower of Bones grew out of what was originally the walk-through for a computer-based RPG that was never built. Thus the constraints of magic are quite strict, but as you saw in the list above, they are game-based.

final-fantasy-guys-xii-basch_255851In the forthcoming prequel to Tower of Bones, Mountains of the Moon, a mage is either a healer or a battle-mage. Healing is building and preserving, battle-magic is death and destruction. It is thought that one can’t be both, because on the rare occasions that a dually-gifted mage is born, they go mad. There is a strict system in place for controlling magic and those who are able to use it, and this creates the conflict.

Once again, there is a governing body for mages–in Neveyah it is the Temple of Aeos. Children with the gifts are taken to the Temple and trained in the use of their gifts until they are adults. They are sworn to serve and protect the Goddess Aeos and her people, or die doing so.

But forty years after Wynn Farmer’s tale, during the time in which the Tower of Bones takes place, the clergy has been decimated by a great war that took place twenty years before. The goddess Aeos is in danger of losing the battle with Tauron the Bull God. She slightly changes the way her magic works. Wynn’s grandson, Edwin Farmer, is the first to be born with the ability to wield both sides of the magic who also has the force of character to survive the learning process. His biggest problem is there is no one who can teach him how to use his dual gifts—his teachers only know how one side or the other works.

That learning process forms a huge part of his story. Yes, Edwin has access to power, but so does the antagonist, Stefyn D’Mal, and he is completely mad. Even so, he has rigid constraints. These constraints create the conflict.

Remember, unlimited power in a mage equals unlimited boredom to the reader. Magic without rules is tiresome and unbelievable, and no one wants to read that story.

Thor-Everything-Loki

 

 

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Comfort books, second course: Dragonriders of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey

Michael-Whelan-Dragons-dragons-4284189-1204-827Today I am serving up the second course of our three course meal of books that are comfort food for my soul. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series directly motivated me to become a writerNo other series of books has had a more profound effect on me as both a reader, and as an author.

The artwork gracing many of her later covers was done by the same brilliant artist, Michael Whelan, whose work graces many of Tad Williams’ books.

I have read the entire series every year since I snuck my father’s Science Fiction Book Club copy of Dragonflight in the summer of 1969. Since that time I have worn out 6 hardbound copies of The Dragonriders of Pern, a collection comprised of the first three books based on the fantastic Weyrs of Pern, and the people and their dragons who live within them.   I can’t tell you how many fellow Pern fanatics tell me the same thing, “When I think of dragons, I think of Pern.”

AnneMcCaffrey_DragonflightAnne McCaffrey’s 1968 novel, Dragonflight was the first book in the original trilogy, and is the book that launched an empire that now encompasses at least 23 novels and several anthologies of short stories that are just as compelling as the novels.  In 2003 McCaffrey began writing with her son, Todd McCaffrey and in 2005 Todd took over the series, and has acquitted himself well. I am still buying and enjoying the new entries in the series!

Dragonflight began life as a short story for Analog, Weyr Search which appeared in the October 1967 issue, followed by the two-part Dragonrider, with the first part appearing in the December 1967 issue. In 1969 the two award winning short stories were combined into the book Dragon Flight, and was published by Ballantine books.

Anne McCaffrey was the grand mistress of worldbuilding. Aspiring scifi and fantasy authors should read her work for the small clues and hints that are sprinkled within her work , the little brushstrokes that create the larger picture. She gave us a real planet, in Pern–and our minds built around her framework, believing the world of Pern to be as real as our own earth.

moretaPern is a planet inhabited by humans. In the forward of the book, we find that he original colonists were reduced to a low level of technology by periodic onslaughts of deadly Thread raining down from the sky. By taming and bonding to the indigenous flying, fire-breathing dragonettes called Fire-Lizards and then making genetic alterations to make them larger and telepathic, the colonists gained the upper hand. The dragons and their riders destroyed the Thread in the skies over Pern before it was able to burrow into the land and breed. The Threads would fall for fifty or so years, and then there would be an interval of 200 to 250 years.  However, an unusually long interval between attacks, 4 centuries in duration, has caused the general population to gradually dismiss the threat and withdraw support from the Weyrs where dragons are bred and trained. At the time of this novel, only one weyr, Benden Weyr, remains (the other five having mysteriously disappeared at the same time in the last quiet interval).  The weyr is now living a precarious hand-to-mouth existence, due to a series of ever weaker leaders over the previous fifty or so turns (years).

dragon flight 2The story begins with Lessa, the true daughter of the dead Lord Holder and rightful heir of Ruatha Hold.  She was ten years old the day her family’s hold was overrun by Fax, Lord of the Seven Holds.  Out of everyone in her family, she is the only full-blooded Ruathan left alive, and that was because she hid in the watch-wher’s kennel during the massacre.  Now she is a drudge, working in the kitchens or her family’s rightful home.  However, Lessa is gifted with the ability to use her mind to make others do her will; grass grows where it should not, and nothing grows where it should.  Every day of her life since the day Fax massacred her family she has used that power in secret to undermine him.  Now the mighty Fax only visits Ruatha when he is forced to, and has left the running of the hold to a series of ever more incompetent warders. Things have become quite grim there under Lessa’s vengeful care.

whitedragonThe action is vivid, the people and the dragons are clear and distinct as characters.  The social and political climate on Pern is clearly defined.  Each of the characters is fully formed, and the reader is completely immersed into their world. The way the dragons teleport, and their telepathic conversations with their riders makes for an ingenious twist in this seductive tale. And speaking of seductive, what I love the most about the entire series is the frank sensuality that never disappoints me.  Anne McCaffrey never drops into long graphic descriptions of the sex that is frequently part of her stories, and yet she manages to convey the deeply empathic and intensely sensual connection that the riders and their dragons share.

To the right here is the colorful book cover as was published in 1970 by Corgi.  I never liked this cover nearly so much as the Michael Whelan covers, though I did have several copies of this particular book.

This book changed my life as a reader of fantasy and science fiction.  I found myself incessantly combing the book stores for new stories by Anne McCaffrey, and eagerly read anything that even remotely promised to be as good as this book.  I read many great books in the process; some were just as groundbreaking, and some were not so good, but even after all these years, this series of books stands as the benchmark beside which I measure a truly great fantasy.

white dragon 2The Dragonriders of Pern series has captivated generations of fans. It was the first adult series of books my youngest daughter ever read once she left the Beverly Cleary books behind, having simply snuck them off my shelf (I wonder where she got that notion). Even though I have read the entire series every year since 1983, I find myself fully involved in the story.  Every year new books are to add to the series, and now if I were to sit down and begin reading the series it would take me two full weeks of nothing but reading to get through it, even as fast as I read.

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NaNoWriMo: The Final Push

edgar allen poe quoteI’ve been talking a lot about NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month. My friends are curious and ask if it’s a contest.

The answer is yes, in a way, but no.

It is a contest in the sense that if you write 50,000 words and have them validated through the national website you ‘win.’ But it is not a contest in the sense that it is a month that is solely dedicated to the act of writing a novel.

Now lets face it–a novel that is only 50,000 words long is not a very long novel. That falls more into the line of a long novella and is only half a novel, in my opinion. But a dedicated author can get the basic structure and story-line of a novel down in those thirty days simply by sitting down for an hour or two each day and writing a minimum of 1667 words per day.

That is not a lot. Most authors, when they are in the zone, double or triple that.

And again, we must face an ugly fact: Just because you can sit in front of a computer and spew words does not mean you can write anything that others want to read. Over the next few months there will be many books emerging that will testify to this fundamental truth.

But also, over the next few months many people will realize they enjoy writing; that for them this month of madness was not about getting a certain number of words written by a certain date. This was about writing and completing a novel they had wanted to write for years, something that had been in the back of their minds for the longest time. These people will join writing groups and begin the long journey of learning the craft of writing.

neil gaiman quote 2They are the real winners.

These authors will take the time and make the effort to learn writing conventions, they will attend seminars, they will develop the skills needed to take a story and make it a novel with a proper beginning, a great middle and an incredible end.

They will properly polish and edit their work and run it past critique groups before they publish it.

These are books I will want to read.

It’s not easy. Sometimes what we hear back from our readers and editors is not what we wanted to hear. The smart authors haul themselves to a corner, lick their wounds, and rewrite the damned thing so it’s more readable. They will be successful, for a variety of reasons, all of them revolving around dedication and perseverance.

But when we write something that a reader loves–that is a feeling that can’t be described.

Success as an author these days can’t be measured in cash. It can only be measured in what satisfaction you as an author get out of your work. Traditionally published authors see less of their royalties than indies, but they sell more books. It is a conundrum, and one many new authors will be considering in the new year.

But if you don’t write that book, you aren’t an author, and you won’t have to worry about it. NaNoWriMo will jump-start many discussions about this very issue. At this writing there are 3 days counting today left for many writers to get their 50,000 words and earn that certificate. Some of us have completed our first draft, and some of us still have a ways to go.

Winner-2014-Twitter-ProfileMy book has a beginning, a middle and an end, but will not become a novel for two or more years..  It is, instead, a rough draft sitting in the pile of other rough drafts, waiting to be rewritten when that flash of inspiration takes me over and I am driven to make it real. Huw the Bard began life in NaNoWriMo 2011, under the working title, The Bard’s Tale. He was published in 2014, and his story makes a darned good novel, if I do say so myself. (Shameless, I know.)

But although he was written in 30 days, he was then rewritten over the course of the following year, and edited over the course of the year after that. The life of a book from concept to publishing is a process. Some are quicker at negotiating this process than others, but having once rushed to publish with unhappy results,  I now take a more leisurely path.

 

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Hunted Heart, by Alison Deluca

Most avid readers of the fantasy genre are fans of the old fairytales as told by the Brothers Grimm and I am no exception. In fact it was my love of fairytales that inspired me to write in the first place. I am always interested in reading other authors’ takes on these fairy tales. It is amazing how differently two authors will tell what began as the same story.

Today my good friend, Alison DeLuca, author of  the steampunk Crown Phoenix Series, has consented to answer a few questions for us, and allow me to share the wonderful cover of her new book, Hunted Heart. It is a standalone book, and is a true fairytale, the premise of which had really intrigued me.

CJJ: Alison, tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

AD: I always loved reading. My early favorites were Alice in Wonderland, the Odyssey, Arabian Nights, and fairytales of all kinds.

CJJ: Tell us about your most recent book.

AD: Hunted Heart is an adult version of Snow White. Prince Kas is the one threatened by the wicked queen, and the huntress, Tali, is given the job of taking him to the forest to cut out his heart. They end up falling for each other, but not without a great deal of adventure along the way. Yes, there is a wicked queen and my version of a poisoned apple. And we mustn’t forget True Love’s Kiss…

CJJ: How did you come to write this novel?

AD: Someone I met online prompted me and begged me to write the story – she is the J.R. in my dedication. I loved her idea of making the hunter a strong female and ran with it.

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

AD: This book was an exercise in winging! The Snow White structure supported my story, and I was able to take off from there. Writing a fairytale redux is completely addictive – I might have to do a few others.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

AD: It is genderbent, and I’ve set the story in a mythical Norse country. I couldn’t resist including Freja, Iduna, and a few others from Norse tales. It’s also quite adult, with violence and some sexy scenes, and a charity project: Tali, my main character, suffers from some terrible abuse as a child, and so 100% of the royalties go to HelptheChildren.org.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?

AD: Honestly, because I can’t help it. When I get an idea it needles me until I pin it down on paper. It’s like giving birth, to be honest.

CJJ: I so know that feeling! I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

AD: I love the freedom indie publishing gives me. I’m able to write what I like and donate the proceedings when I do a charity project like this.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

AD: Both have their merits and challenges. Being an indie does give you freedom but also relies on individual marketing. Traditional publishing gives more support but gives the author little choice on things like covers and presentation. Both are good in their way – each author must decide for herself how she would like to proceed!

 CJJ: Alison–I love the answers you gave my stock questions!  Thank you for giving me this opportunity to get the word out about your charity, HelptheChildren.org.

AD: Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Connie. This was a lot of fun!

And without further discussion, here is that amazing, most intriguing book cover:

HuntedHeart cover final

 

I confess I am blown away by this one, and I have become quite a fan of Alison’s graphic designer.

Alison DeLuca HeadshotAlison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.

Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

You can find Alison here:

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/alison.deluca.author

OR http://on.fb.me/TNWEfb

Twitter – http://twitter.com/ – !/AlisonDeLuca

Google + http://bit.ly/ADGoogle

Author Central: http://amzn.to/ADeLucaAuthorCentral

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/alisondeluca/

I have long been a fan of all of Alison’s work and have been fortunate enough to have some of my own work  included included along side of hers in a charitable anthology, Christmas O’Clock,  a book of wonderful short stories for children that is available in both paperback and for the kindle. (All proceeds for Christmas O’Clock go to Water Is Life to help children and families in an international effort.)

 

 

 

 

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Loki, Zorg, and why I love the bad-boys

Thor-Everything-LokiI love swashbuckling sword-fights and movies fraught with testosterone and machismo. I don’t need it in real life, thank you–that’s what I have books and movies for. So what are my favorite movies?

Thor–anything Thor will be a winner  from my point of view.

Let’s just say that anything featuring a bad-boy god with a twisted sense of humor is high on my list of must-watch movies. Plot? Sure, if you say so–but this is a movie so bring on the eye-candy now.

I love the character of Loki as played by Tom Hiddleston. He is everything the God of Mischief should be, and then some. He’s like that beloved ex-boyfriend–you’re always glad to see him, and even happier to see him leave.

Fifth_element_poster_(1997)What other sorts of movies intrigue me? Well, I am a huge fan of the 5th Element. I adore the character of Korben Dallas as played by Bruce Willis, but for me the man who stole the film was Zorg, as played by Gary Oldman.  Who doesn’t love a megalomaniac industrialist enslaved to The Great Evil? What a guy! And lets face it, Korben Dallas is just as much fun as Han Solo, and both are quintessential bad-boys.

The thing that intrigued me most about the 5th Element was the way the film portrays consumerism in that society as a living, breathing thing that has veered out of control. Extreme lust for technology and power is set against that of a simple man wanting a simple life–our own flaws are laid bare in the characters of Zorg and Korben Dallas.

But where is the eye-candy in that movie? Well you have to admit it is one of the most visually stunning films of the twentieth century.

You might wonder where I am going with this-so do I. Oh wait!  Bad-boys! Why I love to write about the bad-boys and read about them and even see the movies featuring them!

han-solo-smugglerThe bad-boys are intriguing, dangerous, and definitely not the boy your mama set you up with.

They are fun.  So I have two new manuscripts in the works and one features a bad-boy, a man who falls from grace and years later returns. Some of his experiences have changed him, but some things will never change. While his basic arrogance has been tempered, he is still the man he always was, but with a better grasp of what is truly important.

A bad-boy is a multidimensional character, made of many layers both good and bad, and as the story progress those layers are peeled away, revealing a new facet, but also hinting that more still lies hidden. The trick is to make those layers lure the reader (or watcher) in.  Loki, Han Solo, and Korben Dallas are all characters who intrigued me. They are written perfectly, because at the end of the movie, the observer still doesn’t know them well, but wants to.

From watching these movies, I’ve learned that one should dole out the character in small bits, showing a layer at a time, but always holding out the lure that far more lies hidden beneath the surface.

That is the trick, and it’s one thing to know it and another to do it.  But we try!

 

 

 

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How I came to fall off the Earth (and why I don’t care)

The Arc of the StoryWow–what a wild week this has been–28k words written on my NaNoWriMo manuscript, and a dip into a culture that is nothing short of amazing.  What a challenge–to write a great story well enough that people will want to read it, and to do justice to a whole culture.

We should have challenges in our work–if it comes too easy it’s fluff. A lot of people are happy with fluff, but not me, and I suspect, not you!

As you all know, I have written some very difficult scenes in the past, not for the gratuitous effect, but because those situations made my character who they were. They were life altering moments where the path suddenly changed, and everything that followed was driven by that incident.

A friend recently asked me how I handle writing such scenes.

When it’s a tough scene, I write as much as I can when I first know what has to be written. Then I set it aside and come back to it later to expand on it and shape to my intent. For me, a scene has to be done in stages so that it flows naturally. At the end of my my last journey though a manuscript, I will have a seamless narrative that flows from one scene to the next, always building toward the final denouement and the conclusion.

a medieval keggerBut right now I have five bodies to get rid of, so I need to get back to writing. Hero set down his mug of mead and picked up the shovel. He looked first at pile of corpses and then at the sky. They didn’t usually fall from the sky and he wondered what Author was up to now, that he should suddenly have to dispose of so many. However, Author was inscrutable and Her mind mysterious. One could only go with the flow, and dispose of the corpses as they fell.

OH the endless agony–but for a little hilarity amidst the eternal darkness of November take a look at Stephen Swartz’s blog post this week:

How NaNoWriMo is like being in Interstellar

 

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