Tag Archives: imagination

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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F is for FUN!

I know you were probably expecting F is for Falara, but I just touched on Eaglecrest in the last post and, frankly, Falara isn’t the most exciting place. It’s often cold and they spend a lot of time indoors, drinking. The food there is pretty good, which speaks even more highly of Toryn’s cooking since managed to impress Brydon. But I digress because this post is about fun!

Some fantasy novels, I’ve found, become mired down in their own seriousness, and every word drips tension and drama until, by the end, the reader feels as if they’ve walked every agonizing step with their heroes and need a couple of weeks to rest their brains. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing and I’ve devoured plenty of those in my day, but I appreciate it when an author takes the time to give their characters a little bit of fun, because without that life is pretty much a dull, endless quest towards that lava pit on Mount Doom.

Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Volcano_q.jpg#/media/File:Volcano_q.jpg

“Volcano q”. Licensed under Public Domain via

For my characters, fun can have vastly different meanings. Brydon’s idea of fun is a nice workout with his sword, shooting at targets to perfect his skill with a bow, or possibly sleeping. He enjoys sleeping much more than he lets on in the book; don’t let him fool you. He pretends to enjoy reading, but most of the books he’s read have been dull histories or church documents discussing the proper way to live a noble life.

Toryn, on the other hand, thinks the best way to have fun is hours of companionship of the naked variety. He doesn’t have much opportunity for casual dalliance during the quest and he finds it ironic that Brydon gets more action during their journey than he does. Of course, being attracted to the more volatile sort of woman is a drawback in that regard, first with Alyn and then Daryna. By the time he meets Daryna he has, thankfully, learned that sometimes it’s better to not get involved with the ones who might shred all your clothes during the night in a fit of jealous rage. I’m not saying Daryna would do such a thing, except that she totally would.

Romantic shenanigans aside, Toryn has a tendency to add elements of fun to what might otherwise be a boring journey, although Brydon doesn’t always appreciate his assistance in that regard. Toryn is always ready with a sardonic comment, which sometimes provokes the others to certain levels of annoyance.

The cleft was far too narrow for Brydon to climb down and assist her, and she could not reach her own ankle.

“Can you slide your foot out of the boot?” he asked finally.

“Don’t you think I already tried that?” she snapped. Brydon’s urge to leave her strengthened.

“Well?” Toryn called. “Is she dead?”

“No, she’s stuck in the rocks,” Brydon replied.

Alyn groaned as Toryn’s guffaw reached them. “Too many meat pies and pastries?” Toryn asked.

Alyn shouted several loud slurs about Toryn and his parentage and then she wrenched at her leg. Rage must have lent her strength, for she was suddenly free and clambered out of the hole like an angry badger.

Brydon eventually gets used to Toryn’s quips, although he never gets past the urge to bruise him for the privilege.

“I need to tell you something.”

Toryn sighed and set the pot near the fire. “You’re not planning to confess your undying love, are you?”

Brydon punched him on the shoulder.

Or shove him into nearby water features.

“And if you return without the gauntlet?” Toryn asked.

“I resume my old life as before. But I would be privately considered a failure.”

“What does your princess want with it?”

Brydon grinned and then laughed. “My place is not to ask why, Tory, my friend. Mine is to quest and bring back.”

“Sort of like a hound?” Toryn asked.

“I suppose,” Brydon replied with a growl and shoved him at a nearby fountain.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Larus_heermanni_in_a_fountain_in_Sausalito,_California.jpg#/media/File:Larus_heermanni_in_a_fountain_in_Sausalito,_California.jpg

“Larus heermanni in a fountain in Sausalito, California” by Wingchi Poon – Own work.

Although occasionally Brydon gets to turn the tables.

Toryn sat up and tugged his boots on. “When I agreed to come with you, I expected a nice, quiet journey,” Toryn grumbled. “What have I gotten? Lions. A viperous Akarskan wench. An insane Penk who thinks he’s a werewolf. Captured by thieves. A battle with thieves. A battle with more thieves. A man who disappears into thin air before I can slice him in two. A Falaran who can read my mind. Swamps, mud, rain, bugs, and fever. A city full of howling madmen and tax collectors. Now this. I can’t wait to see what happens next. Did you plan all this?”

“If you are finished whining, I suggest we go find Davin,” Brydon said mildly.

When all is said and done, one fun character can spice things up just enough to keep the others on their toes, and prevent long journeys from getting monotonous.

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D is for Davin

Davin is one of the more interesting characters in the series, and one that I feel achieves a great deal of growth. He starts out as someone with no interest in life after suffering through a traumatic and abusive childhood, and then losing his best friend through a situation involving paranoid jealousy. He meets Alyn after she is kidnapped by slavers and she finds herself oddly bonded to him. Her reliance on him begins to shake him out of his self-imposed distaste for living and although he is resistant to joining Brydon and the others on their quest, it eventually becomes clear that he has skills necessary to the survival of the group.

Davin’s history is never quite revealed in the series, although it is hinted at. His mother, Faan, is a full Vai who became mentally unstable for unknown reasons. She exists in human form but shuns people, except for rare villagers or travelers who seek her out for assistance. Davin’s father is a complete mystery. Davin grew up hearing an assortment of tales from his mother, each wilder than the last, until he began to wonder if she even remembered how he had been conceived. At times, Davin’s father was said to be a wandering bard, a prince from a faraway land, a fanged demon, or a black were-panther wearing man-flesh by night and a furred pelt by day. In one memorable tale she likened him to the wind itself. Davin tried to gather any kernels of truth from the stories, but had no idea what was fantasy and what was real. As a child he always felt that his father would return one day, possibly to come and claim him as his precious son, but as time passed Davin realized it was unlikely he would ever meet the man, if man he was at all. In hindsight, it’s entirely possible that Davin’s pureblooded Vai sire went off to study rocks or trees or ocean dwelling creatures, unconcerned about any progeny he might have left behind.

Blackleopard

“Blackleopard” by Qilinmon at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blackleopard.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Blackleopard.JPG

Due to his mother’s madness, Davin grew up having little idea who or what he was. His mother was content to remain in her human form, living in seclusion, selling herbs and cures and magical charms to locals who called her a madwoman or a sorceress, fearing her even while seeking out her special gifts. Thankfully there is no stigma against magic on Tarma, as the most common tales of the supernatural involve Kerrick and the gauntlet. There are stories of magical beings, but most are considered to be helpful or at least harmless. The Vai themselves are known only to a few, mainly the highest scholars of the church or those that have some sort of connection to existing Vai.

As Davin’s abilities began to manifest, he had no idea that there were others like him. Instead, he believed himself to be a freak, especially when he learned that he could alter his shape into that of any animal. Although desperate to know where his abilities had come from, he had no desire to ask his mother. Her thoughts had become an open book to him, broadcasting wildly until he had learned to block them out. They were no more coherent in raw form than they were articulated. Finally unable to tolerate his mother’s madness, Davin fled his childhood home and went to seek out someone, anyone, who might know who or what he was.

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C is for Church

The Church in the Gauntlet Series is pretty much a cobbled-together mess with a loose basis in Christianity with several references lifted directly from the pages of their most popular book. Brydon worships Adona, a direct variant of Adonai, and there are frequent mentions of Shaitan and Sheol. There is a strong patriarchal element to the primary religion, as evidenced by only a single Order that allows female participants. I created the religious background for Brydon’s world with the intention of making him a paladin-like figure, not quite realizing how important the different elements of the Church would become. The religious heirarchy is divided into four main branches:

The Order of Might – Warriors, soldiers, and the organized armed militia. They may or may not work directly for the ruling party, depending on the region. In Falara, the Church is autonomous; in Ven-Kerrick they work for the Overking. There are five branches of the Order of Might – Brotherhoods of the Lance, the Shield, the Ring, the Sword, and the Gauntlet.

The Order of Knowledge – There are three branches of this order, each with a different specialty. The Brotherhood of the Book is responsible for research and the maintenance of tradition, as well as the establishment and upkeep of all of the Temples. They are the church bookkeepers. The Order of the Pen are scribes and messengers, dealing with all things written, while the Brotherhood of the Path are traveling scholars, taking knowledge of the church far and wide, and performing rituals and ceremonies in far villages. Some settle long enough to teach the willing how to read and write.

The Order of Healing – The healers are the least diverse of all the religious orders, mingling freely in each city and temple without much rivalry or division. The Order of the Rose is the only branch of the church that allows women to “take the robe” although there is a large movement in Kaneelis demanding their acceptance into the other three. All healers wear yellow robes, with only the sash colors differentiating them between the orders of the Rose (red), the Leaf (green), and the Chalice (white).

The Bardic Order is the final branch of the Church and they far less defined than the others. They possess no temples of their own and instead have a scattering of schools wherein they learn a variety of musical instruction. From there, each bard takes up a robe and sash (or sometimes merely a badge) and heads out into the world to provide entertainment to the masses. There are five aspirations in the Bardic Order and only a handful of men have attained all five in their lifetimes. With talent and a lot of hard work, one may become a Minister of Song, Harp, Lyre, Pipes, or the Lute. With at least one Ministry Badge pinned to robe or vest, the new bard may go out into the world and provide the gift of music to the culture-starved masses. In return, bards tend to look for new material, seeking out interesting songs, instruments, and stories handed down from village to village and family to family.

Anyway, it’s possible I may have a few too many notes regarding the social, political, and religious history of the world in which my novel is set. Oh wait, it’s not possible to have TOO MANY NOTES. (It’s finding them later that’s the trick.)

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A is for Alyn

I started writing this series in high school and despite multiple revisions, the main plotline never changed, nor did most of the original primary characters. The initial concept I had for the book was simply “a group of adventurers going on some sort of quest”. Deep and thoughtful, I know. With that in mind, I scribbled out a list of random possible characters and then rolled a 20-diced die to determine which would make the final cut. (I still have this list, stuffed away in a folder full of random notes.) The first three were as follows:

The Bridegroom

The Assassin

The Horsemistress

There were actually six in the original lineup and they immediately gave me a quick framework with which to work, and the story expanded from there. Four of the main characters are men, and two are women. Looking back, I’m thankful that I didn’t make them all men, not realizing at the time that there was a dearth of active female characters in fantasy. With that said, Alyn, the whip-cracking, horseback-riding, Toryn-hating Akarskan, is not my favorite character. I’ve tried to like her, I really have, but she is abrasive and hard-headed. She is mercurial and sometimes doesn’t know what she wants from one moment to the next. She is angry a lot. She frequently falls for the wrong men. She may be the fictional embodiment of some of the qualities I don’t like about myself, which could explain why I don’t care for her very much.

While it wasn’t intentional, Alyn ended up being similar to the main character, Brydon. They are both rather single-minded, exhibit near-extreme loyalty to their personal beliefs and adherence to duty, and they will hotly leap into battle when they perceive an injustice. They are both superior with a bow, although Alyn’s whip-wielding skills makes her a unique and handy person to have in a fight. Personality-wise, however, she differs vastly from Brydon. Where he is open and friendly, trusting and patient, Alyn is guarded and frequently hostile. She trusts with difficulty, if at all, and is impatient to the point of explosive. When she meets Toryn, these qualities acted like oil on flame, igniting an ongoing antagonistic war, the sparks of which re-kindle each time they see one another. The sexual tension between them is obvious from the beginning, noticed even by Brydon who can, admittedly, be a little oblivious when it comes to affairs of the heart..

By Cgoodwin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Little is known about Alyn’s past, and it’s hard to say what motivates her, as well as what shaped her into the hardened warrior first encountered by Brydon and Toryn in The Gauntlet Thrown. We might have learned more about her had she not traveled with two men who were far more concerned with their own troubles to bother asking about hers, although it was likely that her prickly nature prevented them from digging too deeply into her affairs.

I like to think she has grown as a character, evolving from a self-absorbed hothead into a vital member of Brydon’s team. She exhibits both vulnerability and strength, and discovers that there are things worth fighting for beyond the ideals with which one has been raised. As the author, I can congratulate myself on Alyn’s successes and failures, and revel in the fact that she is a relatively solid character at the end of the day. But I still don’t have to like her.

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Character Interview #1 – Brydon Redwing

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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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