Tag Archives: brainstorming

H is for Horses

Horses have an important role in the ongoing plotline of the Gauntlet Series. When I first came up with the idea of Alyn as a “horse mistress” it seemed somewhat common, so I decided to make her position much rarer than simply a girl who was good with horses. Instead, the fact that she had a horse at all made her immediately special, a fact that was recognized by both protagonists at once. She was also a force to be reckoned with because of it. Once I decided that horses were in very short supply, I had to decide why they were so rare, especially as their usefulness is unquestionable in pre-industrial times. A horse-hoarding country became a necessity.

Horses are in short supply in Brydon’s world, largely because they have been selectively bred and obsessively kept track of in Akarska. The Akarskan founders had little to offer the world by way of trade. Aside from lumber, Akarska has few natural resources and little farmland. They are a self-sustaining people and don’t need much from outsiders, therefore they trade just enough (non-breeding stock) horses to get by. This prevents the rest of the world from forgetting about them entirely, although some places (Tar-Tan) are far more interested than they should be. With that said, the desire for horses is far greater than most Akarskans suspect. Of course they deal with occasional horse-thieves and raiders, but they tend to collectively believe that if they leave the world alone, they will be left alone. In truth, it is geography that keeps Akarska safe from invasion.

Darkling

Darkling is fast.

Akarska is bordered on three sides by inhospitable terrain. The the east is the volcano-strewn lava fields of Canaar, and to the south is the near-impassable Abyss. The west side is protected by the murky, deadly swamps of Terris, leaving only Falara to the north as a potential threat. With that in mind, Akarska has always remained on good terms with the Falaran leaders, going so far as to supply horses to their resident religious orders, and gifts of an occasional steed or two to the reigning king. Given the rarity of the animals, the ruling class of Falara has never felt it necessary to demand more, in addition to being reluctant to start a war on a second border, given their all-encompassing preoccupation with Redol. Falara’s ongoing war with Redol is Akarska’s greatest hope for continued freedom.

Bloodsong

Bloodsong asking Toryn to hurry up with those oats.

Without dire threat of invasion, Akarsaka has been able to maintain a near monopoly on horseflesh for centuries. Of course, these things tend to change without warning. Shortly after meeting Brydon and Toryn, the three travelers find a group of stray horses–extremely unusual in Akarska–and Brydon acquires Darkling, a black stallion that Alyn is determined to take away from him once they reach the border. Later, Toryn is gifted with a very special steed who plays a pivotal part in more than one chapter of the series, making the horse, Bloodsong, almost a main character rather than a simple draft animal.

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E is for Eryka (and Eaglecrest)

Eryka is the intended love interest for Brydon, the main character, or more specifically he is the intended love interest from Eryka’s perspective. Most of the residents of Falara are also firmly behind them as a romantic pairing, since Brydon is an upstanding citizen, a knight-priest of the Brotherhood of the Lance, and came from humble working stock. They also make a fine-looking couple and there is little doubt that they would produce beautiful children. Their relationship is complicated, however, as much of their time together was spent with Brydon doing Eryka’s bidding while she ordered him around like a glorified servant. To be fair, they were both children and she was exceedingly spoiled. Brydon spent quite a lot of time in the castle Eaglecrest while his father was a royal smith, but when his father died he joined the knight-priests in order to obtain a steady income and support his mother, who moved back to the small village where Brydon had spent most of his early childhood.

"Blacksmith tools" by Lacen - National park Krka, Croatia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blacksmith_tools.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Blacksmith_tools.JPG

“Blacksmith tools” by Lacen – National park Krka, Croatia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blacksmith_tools.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Blacksmith_tools.JPG

Eaglecrest itself can refer to either the city or the castle that overlooks it. The royal palace was carved into the immense stone cliffs that tower above the city like watchful guardians. The place is practically impregnable, reached only by a narrow, winding path that crawls up to the massive gates midway up the wall. Eaglecrest Castle has never been under assault, partly due to the fact that the Redolian forces seldom make it as far as the city, even at their most organized, but also because one would have to be mad to attempt it. The defenses of the city itself are minimal, as the citizens rely on the fact that they can flee to the castle for protection in the event of a rare attack.

Brydon is not sure about Eryka’s motivation in regards to his quest. They never had a romantic connection and, in fact, he often wondered if she liked him at all. At best she seemed to tolerate him and at worst she treated him like a scullery. He suspected she had been pressured into making a decision as her birthday approached and, in desperation, had chosen the least offensive option available. Despite his puzzlement, Brydon was gratified at her trust in him, although he was not particularly happy at the idea of leaving his mother alone while he jaunted halfway across the world in search of an item that might be nothing but a myth. As for the quest itself, he frequently wondered why she had chosen the Gauntlet of Ven-Kerrick. He had asked her point-blank on the day she had chosen him as a suitor and she had replied with a cryptic, “Because I want it.” As he was accustomed to hearing that particular phrasing and seeing the entitled jut of her chin that accompanied the words, he had known there would be no additional information forthcoming. At the end of the day, Eryka was still the future queen of Falara and Brydon would always be a loyal subject. Whatever her motivation, he would do his duty and fulfill the terms of the quest to the end.

At least, he always thought he would.

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Killing Those Who Annoy You – A How-to Guide

Remember your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend? The controlling Narcissist that called you seven hundred and fifty times a day to make sure you weren’t flirting with the cute sales rep at your office? Or think about that boss you had who made every working hour torture with her micro-managing soul-destroying decisions (that she would conveniently forget were her idea the moment everything went to hell).

Now, think about the minor characters that your protagonist encounters. I say minor characters because those jerks don’t deserve a starring role. Now, imbue their (evil) souls into those pesky, rude characters that lurk in your novel and then kill them in horrible, tragic, and epically satisfying ways. Need someone to randomly die from drinking poison? How about that obnoxious bouncer that won’t let your character into the club? He looks just like the jerk in the Lexus that nearly ran me down last week. Knife-fight, anyone?

You’ll never convince me that George R. R. Martin didn’t create Joffery in the image of every seat-kicking little monster child that inhabits every airline ever, whining for treats and talking about super-irritating crap (my Gameboy died and I’m boooooored) well into the fifth hour of a delayed flight.

It can be hard to pull off this feat if you write romance or stories with less violence, but it’s still possible. Fiction is always better with a red-herring antagonist or some minor character that needs to die in order to move the plot along. Feel free to kill off that upstairs neighbor you had – the one that played the same seventeen notes on his electric guitar at three o’clock in the morning, trying to perfect his “moves” for his upcoming gig. Remember that guy? I just pushed him off a cliff. You’re welcome.

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How to Write Action Scenes!

When I write action scenes, I like to play with toys. Not always, because some scenes are easy enough to visualize, but when I have multiple characters (such as a large battle scene) it is much easier to lay out the scene with visual aids. I prefer to use things that are fun to play with, although I sometimes get sidetracked actually playing with them…

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Heroscape for the win!

So it might be a better idea to use toys with a minimal fun factor.

But any objects will work. I’ve been on the train and blocked action scenes with coins scrounged from my purse. Chess pieces work nicely, as do dice and any small objects such as wrapped candies. I don’t like to use items that are too similar because it can be easy to forget who is who.

As an example, let us suggest we have three characters battling three other characters and a dog. I set the scene as it would be in the beginning and identify each person (or animal). I move each of them into place for the first bit of action and write it out.

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But with better dialog…

This way, you won’t lose track of a character and your readers won’t wonder if one is off picking his nails with a dagger while his friends are being slaughtered. It’s also easier to visualize what each character will do instantly without trying to conjure up the scene in your head. If Badass Girl kills her enemy, she can hurry over and attack the dog that is mauling the leg of her companion.

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You know she could have taken them all herself.

This also allows you to account for time—how long will it take her to get to her friend? Will she need to run? Will she have to hurtle a dead body to get there? It will also allow you to focus on details you might miss while trying to juggle the whole scene in your head. (Did her sword get caught on a bit of armor—or bone?) What if one character trips? He’ll be down for a minute while the others are still moving.

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You get extra points for making sound effects while maneuvering them. *gurgle*

This works with any action scene that has multiple players, even non-battle scenes. Picture a large ballroom with two characters dancing while a third tries to get to them. Blocking it out this way and using tangible objects can make the scene much quicker to write, and more realistic in the long run. It is also a lot of fun.

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He’s no Legolas, but he’ll do in a pinch.

You heard the man.

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The Idea Stork

The Stork, Of Course

“Where do you get your ideas?”

I hear this question frequently and it always makes me laugh. “From the Idea Stork,” I want to reply, “similar to the one that brings babies and those spiders that randomly show up in the bathtub.” It might be a more satisfying answer than the truth, which is: “Everywhere.”

I usually don’t elaborate, either on everywhere or idea storks, but since this is a writing blog wherein I blog about writing, I shall give it a go. I think it’s important for writers (especially fiction writers) to constantly explore possibilities. In my case, I can’t seem to shut it off.

People Watching For Fun And Fodder

My primary source of information is simply people. I have a very long commute to and from my day job and this has been both a curse and a blessing. A curse because it takes precious time away from the process of actual writing, and a blessing because of the never-ending creativity fodder. Let’s face it, people are incredibly interesting.

I once encountered a man in the bus with a self-made tattoo. “Melissa” it said, scrawled down his forearm in a rough print, uneven and, frankly, unattractive. My mind spun crazily. Who was Melissa and why had this man felt the need to permanently mark himself with her name? Had he done it himself or had he recruited his ten-year-old  nephew to help? Was she an unrequited love? Old girlfriend? Book character? Favorite dog? (The paths my imagination took were likely far better than reality; I didn’t ask and he departed at the next stop.)

Create Your Own Club

Then there are the men with the handlebar mustaches, seen at different places and different times. “Why?” I want to ask. Do they think those enormous, curling mustaches are attractive? Are they part of a cult? A secret handlebar mustache society? Do they meet on Tuesdays and discuss twirling techniques and villain stereotyping? (The urge to put such a club in a story is great, I assure you.)

Tattoo

Not-so-secret Society?

Give Them A Backstory

And what about the beautiful black man dressed like a street thug while clutching a magazine written in French? He opened it next to me and began to read. With less than a minute to my exit, I did not have the time to ask him anything. “Who are you? Where are you going? Is your family, friend, lover from France? Canada? Did you learn the language as a child or an adult?” Without actual answers, my imagination had to fill in the blanks; just like that, a character was born. Perhaps one day he will interact with the icy blond businesswoman who sat near the front of the bus with perfect posture and unshakeable poise, looking utterly out of place on the grungy city bus. Where was her Mercedes? Had she fought with her boyfriend/husband/best friend/sister and stormed out of the car/condo/office to get on the bus and flee to her mother’s/the bank/the airport…?

And We’re Off!

The possibilities are endless. Maybe one day on the pages of a book she will bump into Mr. French Magazine and speak to him in flawless French. He will introduce her to his best friend, who has a handwritten tattoo scrawled on his forearm…

“Where do you get your ideas?” they ask.

Everywhere.

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