Plot-noodling! (following on from "Twisting the Cliche")

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Josh Deb Barman

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May 24, 2004, 11:31:45 PM5/24/04
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Sorry Patricia! I must have missed the incredibly detailed post of
yours in the "Twisting the cliche" thread until today - it must have
taken you ages to write it. I'll try to provide more details for you,
but I'll concentrate on the more important issues rather than to
answer each and every point you made. Apologies if my posts have been
vague and general so far; it's not because I'm worried of theft of
ideas (after all, I'm complaining about the lack of ideas in my
work!!) it's more to do with not wanting to burden you with details
but rather providing an outline; I wasn't aware that this approach
wasn't helpful - I told you I was wet behind the ears didn't I? ;)

With a new approach in mind, here's a new thread (sorry at the
length).

"Patricia C. Wrede" <pwred...@aol.com> wrote in message news:<40a93e46$0$8693$a18e...@newsreader.visi.com>...

<snip>

> How much have you got *total*? I don't mean just "in final written form."
> I mean: What have you got in the way of notes and background information?
> You said later in the post that you'd written an unsatisfactory plot
> outline; how many pages is/was it? And your "previous versions" -- do they
> constitute an actual Really Bad First Draft, or are they just a large
> (small) heap of disconnected fragments written out of order that don't fit
> together? In either case, how big is the stack of "unacceptable" previous
> versions?

I've got about 100 pages of the first version plot outline PLUS, 5 or
6 maps, family trees, notes on culture, dress, language, religion,
warfare, magic, a creation story (which I probably won't use, at least
not in the same format), poetry, descriptions of some of my
characters...

Oh, and my 100 pages is actually micrographic handwriting on graph
paper! So it's probably a hell of a lot more than 100 pages. Probably
600-800 words per page. I didn't use the computer back then.

As for continuity, the bits flow for a while then stop. Then flow and
stop. Large plot gaps need to be filled. The first rewrite of the
handwritten notes is continuous as far as it goes. So no, I don't
actually have a full (but bad) draft.

> And *why* ***exctly*** are those previous versions unacceptable?
> Inconsistent? Clunky prose? No plot? Too much plot? Cardboard
> characters? Nothing but character study (see "no plot", abvoe)? What is
> the problem with what you've done?

Clunky prose, reads like history book, cardboard characters,
inadequate character study...overall a clumsy effort. And yet if you
compare it to things like "The Saga of the Volsungs" it's not too
dissimilar in style (not that I would dare apply all those negatives
onto that great work).

> No, *you* see above. What, ****EXACTLY**** do you mean by "translating it
> to paper in a less-generic way"? From where I sit, that could mean "I don't
> know how to write expository description." It could mean "I need to know
> how to work description into action." It could mean "I don't have a story
> to tell." It could mean "I have a story, but it just seems too obvious."
> It could mean "I am scared stiff of putting words on paper and I am
> searching desperately for every possible way of cat-vacuuming I can find, in
> order to put off actually having to do so." It could mean "I have a dozen
> stories I *could* tell, but they all sound kinda flat to me." It could mean
> "I really want to write Tolkien's appendices, at novel length, and be able
> to sell it." Or it could mean half a dozen other things.

Categorising it is difficult, but I would say it's a cross between "I
have a story but it seems too obvious" and "I don't have a story" -
contradictory, but I'm referring to the gaps between those obvious
bits. I don't think I've been cat-vacuuming...and as for Tolkien, I'm
very conscious of not trying to write his appendices since I know I'm
a great admirer of his work and it's all too easy for that to occur.

> What, exactly, do you want to *do*? (If you really can't articulate it
> specifically, we'll start from "write a novel." But I warn you, that'll
> probably mean backing up and going over a lot of stuff that you aren't
> having trouble with and that isn't giving you any problems.)

You know, that might actually be quicker!

> So we're back to plot problems. Why, ***exactly***, did you decide to
> reconsider the plot? Because a first reader (friend, teacher, colleague)
> said "this is generic"? Because you read an article that said that killing
> off princesses was boooooring, and you killed off your princess? Because
> you invented the "basic plot" back when you were ten, and discovered that at
> twenty-something you weren't really interested in that any more? What?

No, it's my assessment that it's not interesting enough. Perhaps a
touch of the last point too.

> Do you *like* your story? What bits of it? (I assume you don't like the
> whole thing, or you wouldn't be looking at wholesale changes.)

I don't think I have a story. I have some quite nice scenes in my mind
but little in the way of linkage. No overall plan. That's where I have
to do the work.

<snip>

> > I think the problem I have is more akin to that a falcon faces if it
> > wants a particular pigeon from a flock of hundreds. Only one is right
> > (for whatever reason), but it's confused by the multitude that aren't.
>
> So what you're saying is, the plot you have come up with doesn't *feel
> right*, but you don't know how to find the one that does, because there are
> too many possibilities?

In a way, yes. The scenes I describe above can be linked in various
ways, but it's not obvious to me which way. The quiet interludes, the
building of the plot - these things prevent the story from being one
headlong rush of scene after scene. That is what is lacking.

<snip>

> Who are your three central characters? What does each of them want more
> than anything else in the world? Why? Why haven't any of them ever gotten
> that thing before now, or tried to? (Or *have* they tried, at some point in
> the past, and failed?)

Now I understand you want specific details, I'll give them to you -
but later on in a block...

> I have no idea whether the problem is with the world or not, because you
> haven't told me anything about your world yet. And I've only your word for
> it that there *is* a plot problem, because you haven't told me anything
> about the plot, yet, either. In any case, it's far too soon to be talking
> about ditching your work to-date.

Ditto. And I'm not really at the point of ditching it yet. Not until
I've had a really good try at finishing it and it still hasn't worked.

> I am inclining toward a suspicion that you just haven't thought things
> *through*, decade of background work or no, but as yet that's mainly just a
> suspicion based on experience and a bit on the manner in which you talk
> about your work. I can't *tell*, because you haven't provided any actual
> specific details.

I'm inclined to agree with this. Let's not make any mistake about it
though. It's not a decade of continuous work. I've worked on it, left
it, worked on it again, left it for longer, etc. There is no order to
what I've been doing. So this time, I decided to *just write the
damned thing*. But it's not that easy!

> This, for example, sounds like an English lit class analysis. It is not
> *specific*. I don't even know whether your protagonist is male or female,
> let alone have a name, and I have no idea at all what happens. I don't know
> if this is single or multiple viewpoint, past or present or future setting,
> or indeed anything at all that would let me pick your plot out of a stack,
> generic or otherwise.

<snip>

> I keep *saying*, it's all in the execution. The execution is in the
> details. "There are significant life-changing events" is neither detailed,
> nor specific. "The hero gets mugged while tending sheep, and his left hand
> gets cut off" is detailed and specific. So is "The heroine arrives home to
> find her father has died, and her stepmother intends to marry her (the
> heroine) off to a scumbag tomorrow in order to get her out of the way."

See details later.

> If you're being cagey because you think somebody will "steal your ideas," I
> can't help you. I can tell you that nobody will, and that it wouldn't
> matter a hill of beans if somebody did (because no two writers do the same
> thing with the same idea anyway), but if you're worried about ideas being
> stolen, you won't believe me. If it's just reflex English-class-itis,
> that's different.

Ugh no. At the moment, I'd pity anyone desperate enough to want to
steal my ideas. Besides, I've already posted some of them in another
thread. As I wrote at the top of this post, I just didn't realise you
wanted to know all those details!

> > > Chapter 2 adds more detail on the scene & action set by Chapter 1 and
> > introduces two new characters, allies of my protag who hitherto was
> > the only real-time character, barring a spear-holder type character
> > and memories of characters from my protagonist's past. There is some
> > exploration of one of these new character's past in the form of a
> > flashback.
>
> I'm beginning to see why you think your plot is generic; it's because you
> never talk about it except in really, really general terms that could apply
> to *hundreds* of different stories. Your plot description so far, for
> example, would work nicely for a novelization of Shakespeare's "Richard III"
> if the opening soliloquy got used for the first chapter. >

Hmmm. But that's not how I'm thinking of it. I was merely trying to
avoid typing out all the details because I didn't think they would be
helpful. OK, that's the last time I say that.

> > almost infodump mode as some history is explained to my naive protag
> > by the allies.
>
> Why does your protag need to have this explained *right now*?

Good point. This is the point where I thought things were going off
the rails, so even I realised this wasn't the right time to introduce
this material

> > I would say elements of this history may be seen as
> > generic, and henceforth, the plot starts to lack something. Luckily,
> > I've stopped here rather than continue and write something bad (which
> > would lead to another rewrite if I just ignored it now). I just need
> > to unlock what I want to happen next. I need to tie in the antagonists
> > again, making them converge on the protag & co but I'm finding it
> > hard. It's not supposed to happen just yet, I need to fill some time
> > and I need to introduce another key character who will become my
> > protag's confidant. But I have no idea how just yet. Still, it will
> > come with time!
> >
> > This particular problems sounds more like writer's block, doesn't it?
> > As opposed to an overall problem of approach.
>
> It sounds to me as if what you need is a good long session of plot-noodling.
> This is, however, *not possible* if you won't provide specifics, like name
> and sex and age of protagonist, what kind of situation he/she is in, what
> the main story-problem is, and so on.

Details soon!

> > I don't think I can let this one go that easily. It may take another
> > ten years to come up with another concept to such depth <g>.
>
> It's not the depth of the concept; it's the execution. No, really.

I'll take your word for it; as I keep saying, I'm not experienced
enough to tell the difference, which is not surprising since I've not
actually executed a full novel yet.

> > Seriously, I can't send it out now, it's not finished at all. I have a
> > *really* basic outline story which reads like a history textbook from
> > when I was quite young, and that's no good as a narrative. I made one
> > previous attempt at writing the said narrative based on the *history*
> > but stalled at about halfway, due to work pressure but also a lack of
> > direction. When I came to look at this version after a couple of
> > years, the flaws in what was there were very obvious to me.
>
> So what were they? The flaws, I mean.

The flaws are: even though the rewritten version reads better than the
text, it is still clumsy in execution and there are gaps between
scenes. So yes, plot noodling required. I don't think I'll be nearly
so clumsy now, but the plot issues have to be sorted out.

> Plot outlines *always* sound stupid. They have to; you're compressing
> 90,000-200,000 words into five or ten pages. I'm still trying to get a
> handle on whether there's any sort of *real* problem with your original
> plot, or whether you just *think* there is. (Of course, "I hate this and I
> don't want to write it that way any more" is most definitely a real problem,
> even though it's generally not a problem with the plot per se. And if that
> happens to be the problem you're working at, well, the only solution is to
> junk the plot you hate and come up with something else. Which seems to be
> pretty much what you're doing.)

Haha. Well, my plot outline is about 30 times longer than that. It's a
cross between a plot outline and an attempt to write the novel. The
fact is aside from the start, there is no plot, just scenes.

> > I don't think that the basic idea has gone stale. What's stale is the
> > way I executed the idea the first time around. My second attempt (so
> > far) is *much* better than the first one, far deeper and
> > freer-flowing.
>
> If that's what you're looking for, great. It's unsurprising that your
> second attempt is working better for you than your first one; writing is a
> skill that gets better with practice, and from the sound of things, you did
> quite a lot of writing to come up with your "unacceptable previous
> versions." That means you got a lot of practice, which means you improved
> noticeably. This is a *good* thing, though it is extremely annoying when it
> means that one looks back over a year of output and realizes that the whole
> first half is going to take major revising in order to bring it up to the
> current level of the most recently written bits.

I don't think it's so much a question of practice (since I haven't
actually written much since), more a question of increased maturity
and being generally more widely-read in the genre now.

> >However, it runs the risk of floundering because the
> > plot seems to me to be in danger of becoming generic (sorry, I had to
> > slip that in). Or rather, there is a risk of a vacuum in the plot,
> > which may ultimately be filled with bad generic stuff if I'm not
> > careful.
>
> All you have to do to avoid that is to come up with at least ten different
> possibilities every time you need to think up a plot twist or "what happens
> next." Then you throw away the first three to five possibilities on the
> list, and pick from the last half. The "generic" stuff -- the obvious stuff
> that *anybody* would think of -- usually comes up first.

Now that sounds like a really good technique! I'll be sure to try it.
And I'm not a strange-thinker; I'd love to be, but I'm more
run-of-the-mill. So it
might work.

<snip>

> So...what is the story that you have, the one you want to tell? Start
> there, and it can be noodled into shape, all at once if necessary, or more
> likely a bit at a time.

Alright, you wanted details: -

My WIP (presently titled "The Last Child") is set in an archaic
timeframe, told in third person narrative.

My protag is an 11 year old boy called Torsten. He is the main
viewpoint character, but not to say the only one. Torsten is at first
glance a very ordinary child with a simple upbringing in an insular
forest village, and he lives with his uncle (a woodcutter and
carpenter) and his aunt (who does various jobs centred around their
hut). He like swimming, fishing, playing in the forest, etc, though he
also has to help his aunt and uncle with chores. He's unusually
perceptive, intuitive & empathic, and is intelligent without being
learned or streetwise. He's also unusual in appearance. Whereas most
of the other people are dark-haired, dark-eyed, aquiline-nosed with
squarish jaws, he's golden-haired, blue-eyed, with a short, slightly
uplifted nose and a heart-shaped face. Initially he's seen by the
villagers as a very *cute* child, but two incidents change that
adoration.

FLASHBACK 1 (2 years previously): An old woman (who is actually a
witch), passes through the villagers, sets eyes on him, shrieks in
surprise and tries to grab him [the premise being she recognises
*something* in him]. Luckily for him, his uncle is standing with him
and raps the witch on the hand with a pole to prevent this abduction.
She backs off but sings a song (which is actually a spell) which in a
pied-piper way tries to lure Torsten away from his uncle to her side.
In it, she names him "daemon-child", instructs him to wander with her
and promises to teach him many wondrous things because "thou hast more
power than any has had". Torsten feels a strange compulsion to go with
her, but doesn't get to act on it because his enraged uncle and the
other villagers chase the witch out of the village. They never see her
again, but since that public naming as "daemon-child", the villagers
start to mistrust him, in the way of simple people.

FLASHBACK 2 (couple of months after flashback 1): Torsten was playing
in the village when a chained dog jumps out at him. Due to the shock,
he then has what we would recognise as an epileptic fit (his first),
which brings everyone running. Despite them thinking he was dying, he
recovers fully after an hour or so, and the villagers go to seize the
dog. However, when they get there, they find the dog shaking,
wild-eyed, foaming at the mouth - in other words rabid, but they don't
know that. Instead, they link the dog's appearance with Torsten's
earlier fit (to them, the symptoms look similar) and surmise (wrongly,
based on the witch incident) that this daemon-possessed child has
inflicted terrible revenge on the dog by possessing the dog and
treating it in a like manner. The dog is killed and life continues,
but grumbling suspicions grow about Torsten.

BACK TO THE "PRESENT": Being the perceptive boy he is, he is not
unaware of these suspicions and has suspicions of his own. Why would
the witch call herself his mother (as she appears to imply in the
spellsong, though she actually says "I'll be your mother")? Why
doesn't he have parents when everyone else does? His aunt and uncle
have 'fed' him some story about his parents dying of pestilence in
another village when he was a baby. Why doesn't he look like his aunt
or uncle and anyway, which of them is his blood-relation?

He starts to believe the "daemon-child" theory and is filled with an
intense self-loathing, even viewing himself as ugly - although people
later describe him as being the "fairest child they've ever seen" -
because he's never seen anyone like himself before.

So that's my protag.

The story actually starts with him fishing at a point on the river a
little way from the village. Then, with his unusual senses, he
perceives *something* and, acting on instinct, decides to hide in the
river behind a boulder. Moments later, a strange band of outlandish
warriors ride into view, stopping to water their horses. Unfortunately
for Torsten, they have two hounds with them who of course scent that
someone's been there. Torsten submerges himself behind the rock and
the hounds are foiled by the water. The warriors realise something is
amiss, search the banks but finding nothing, head towards the village.

Torsten gets up and is almost immediately discovered by a scout from
the group of warriors who is moving more covertly. The scout goes for
him with a crossbow, only grazing him but draws a knife and leaps into
the river after Torsten. Torsten picks up a stone and throws it at the
scout, more to buy time than anything else. He runs away into the
forest without looking to see if he had hit, fully expecting to be
shot before he reaches cover. However, the scout is actually floating
face-down in the river, the implication being that the stone either
killed or stunned him (weird!). Torsten is in such a panic that he
keeps running until he hits something and falls over.

What he runs into is a new character, Faluthain (33 year old
travelling warrior, also appears foreign but different to the other
soldiers) who will become Torsten's main ally. He takes the story of
Torsten's flight, binds his wounds then asks him where he is from and
who he lives with. When he hears the name "Nimlin" he breaks the news
to the boy that his aunt and uncle are dead by now because those
soldiers were sent to destroy it and everyone in it.

In grief, Torsten runs off and outdistances Faluthain, who is chasing
him to prevent him getting caught too. Torsten reaches his village,
find the outlanders burning it and driving the villagers into the
burning huts or putting them to the sword. He sees his dead aunt &
uncle. He is devastated and is almost discovered, but Faluthain
catches up with him, snatches him from danger and spirits him away
into the forest again. They meet Faluthain's sister, Laurenna (31
years old, also a warrior but particularly skilled in archery) who has
also been scouting around. It turns out that they've been sent by a
man called Eludan to race against these soldiers to rescue as many
people from Nimlin before it was destroyed. Unfortunately, Torsten is
the only person they save from the village (hence one meaning of "The
Last Child"). This Eludan actually rescued Faluthain & Laurenna when
they were infants from a similar situation and has raised them and
trained them to be what they are - his agents. They feel a deep
empathy and bond with the doubly-orphaned boy due to this similarity
and decide to take him back to Eludan.

Cut to the enemy camp. We meet one of the main antagonists, the Baron
Szarchat (a cunning, malicious, deadly, giant of a man), who is the
leader of the outlanders. We meet his henchmen, in particular a
promising scout called Xerlat who discovers that 3 people (i.e.
Torsten, Faluthain & Laurenna) have escaped from Nimlin. We learn a
bit more about Szarchat's orders from his boss. The village is then
destroyed utterly and there is a mage involved. To cut a long story
short, they've been sent because the Powers That Be have detected
ripples of pure energy emanating from Nimlin which are the by-product
of sorcery being used and fear its strength and potential. So, they
attempt to stamp out the threat by destroying the entire village.

You've probably guessed who the ripples are coming from! Torsten is
just beginning to come into his power, something that will see him
become the most powerful mage eventually (if he survives). The reason
that The Powers That Be are worried is that they can sense his power
from hundreds of miles away, which indicates a great deal of power.
Actually, as he nears puberty, Torsten's been using his power
unconsciously for every single mundane action he does, hence his
unusual mental gifts, fleetness of foot, swimming ability etc. And
this indicates a special type of mage - a 'magical being' (one with
large amounts of inherent power that can be used directly as well to
manipulate environmental energy) rather than manipulators (who have
smaller amounts of inherent power but tame environmental energy to
cast spells - which they must LEARN from another manipulator). Magical
beings use their power without needing to learn anything (though this
is at a more cruder level), unless they want to cast the sort of
sophisticated spells that the manipulators can - in which case they
become far more powerful than the ordinary manipulators as they in
effect become manipulators as well as being magical beings.

So the witch was right, though she used the term "daemon" rather
loosely.

The Eludan character is the chief opponent of The Powers That Be. He's
an ancient and powerful mage, himself a magical being who can
manipulate environmental energy and therefore cast spells. They fear
him getting his hands on the unknown person who is giving off this
enormous raw energy, as Eludan would train the most powerful magical
being/manipulator ever and use him to destroy them.

What I've set out above is the first 4 chapters. Very broadly, the
rest is how Torsten, Faluthain and Laurenna are hunted first by Xerlat
and Szarchat and then by some of the Powers That Be themselves, before
making it to a neighbouring realm and to the 'safety' of Eludan, who
recognises that Torsten is indeed the one he has been sensing.
Torsten's training starts but they are not safe there as the The
Powers That Be themselves move to stamp out Torsten's future threat
before he's ready and even Eludan cannot withstand them, so they have
to flee. The only safe place is the island realm of an exiled king who
was ousted by his own brother from the country that Torsten lived in.
The King is actually Eludan's son-in-law, having married Eludan's
sorceress daughter.

Again, in short, at the time of the coup (10 years ago), the King's
brother seized the king's only son (his youngest child, an infant) and
cruelly left him to die in the forest (though I'm not revealing that
until the end). The Queen and her 6 daughters managed to flee and an
ambush that was set for the King & his retinue by his brother and the
Powers That Be almost worked - except that he managed to escape on his
own. He, his wife and daughters set up camp in this island realm they
also preside over.

By the end of the book, it turns out that Torsten is actually that
little prince left to die in the forest (hence another meaning of "The
Last Child"), but that his 'uncle' the woodcutter discovered him one
day whilst collecting wood and brought him back to Nimlin, explaining
away the sudden appearance of a (different-looking) baby by saying
that his cousin and her husband had been killed by pestilence, leaving
their son to him. Therefore, Torsten is not only a prince, but the son
of a sorceress and the grandson of Eludan himself (hence his
incredible gift). Of course, Eludan knew this from the moment
Faluthain & Laurenna brought Torsten to him (he could sense the
kinship) but had kept it to himself to protect the boy.

Eludan is effectively a chessmaster, building a position from which to
drive the Powers That Be back from the lands they've invaded. His
pieces include Torsten, the King and Faluthain himself, who is in fact
(unknown to anyone other than Eludan & the King) a king of another
fallen realm (hence his & Laurenna's traumatic origin). So Eludan is
bringing all these royal lines back from the dead in order to
challenge the Powers That Be.

That's the end of this book. The next book goes on to how he actually
puts all of this into action.

While I've got ideas for scenes in the period from the flight from
Nimlin to where Torsten meets Eludan and again from there to the
King's isle, there are a lot of gaps between. I do know that Szarchat,
Xerlat, the mage and some supernatural enemy called forth by the mage
pursue the three escapees until they get to Eludan's side. I also know
that the higher, more evil Powers That Be hunt a larger group
(consisting of Eludan, Faluthain, Laurenna, Torsten and at least 3 new
characters) until they reach the safety of the King's isle.

The end, covering the revealing of all the various secrets that Eludan
has been keeping shouldn't be too hard.

So yes, the basic plot patterns are well-used ones. I suppose you can
see elements of Herod/baby Jesus, Richard Lionheart/Prince John,
Merlin/Arthur to name but three

As for your question about the main protags (probably Torsten, Eludan,
Laruenna & Faluthain) and what they *want*: -

I've already dealt with Eludan.

Torsten just wants to stay alive most of the time, but also needs to
find out why he's different, who his family were, what this thing is
that's making him do these strange deeds, who he is, why he is who he
is, why, why, why... ;)

Faluthain is consumed by the need to do the right thing, to strive
against the Powers That Be as he's been trained to by Eludan. Once he
finds out he's a king, he's also driven by a sense of responsibility
towards his oppressed people. He is however, unsure of his ability to
be a king and Torsten's father is instrumental in mentoring him in
this aspect.

Faluthain's sister Laurenna is more complex. While she has the same
training as her brother and therefore the same righteous sense of
duty, her views are tempered by a realism born of the fact that she's
a woman. Rescuing and caring for Torsten brings out hitherto unknown
maternal instincts and she realises that she's running out of time to
marry (she's 31 for God's sake - the marrying age for women in that
culture is on average 15-22 years) and have children of her own - a
feeling that her brother cannot relate to as he doesn't have the same
restrictions. She is proud of her role as an *agent of good* but is
torn by the need to give it all up to be a *real woman* (her own
words!). Added to this is the complication of love interest from two
competing characters who join the group on the second trip - a hard &
ruthlessly efficient spy/assassin who impresses her with his prowess &
bravery and a gentle & humorous minstrel who charms her with his wit &
philosophy. The men represent the choice she must make.

Obviously Laurenna is what the spy and the minstrel really *want*!

Aside from these characters, we pick up another, slightly older boy
somewhere along the line who becomes Torsten's confidant. That's his
role in this book, his own motivations are not an issue until much,
much later in the series.

Has that helped give you some details?

Dan Goodman

unread,
May 25, 2004, 1:36:34 AM5/25/04
to
josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh Deb Barman) wrote in

> That's the end of this book. The next book goes on to how he actually
> puts all of this into action.

Take what you can use, and leave the rest:

It occurs to me that part of the problem may be that you're writing the
first book rather than writing a story.

It sounds as if what you have is a multi-volume story -- rather than a
set of one-volume stories with a larger story arc, or a set of
independent one-volume stories set in the same history but not part of a
greater story.

If so, you might need to work on the story all the way through -- and
then go back, put in
stuff all through it which you won't realize belongs there till you have
the ending, and decide where to divide it into books.

Digressing a bit, on not realizing Patricia wanted details: Someone
else's general description almost never gives me any useful information.
Even when it's accurate.

And quite often it's not accurate. There've been people convinced that
I'd told them I grew up in New York City, and others convinced I'd told
them I'd grown up in a small town.
I have never told anyone either of those things.

In the first case, they've decided that New York City and New York State
are identical. Or arrived at the same mistake by discarding the word
"State" after "New York" as irrelevant.

In the second case, they've decided that "rural area" and "small town"
have the same meaning.

An article in a local half-monthly paper said that the subject of an
interview had grown up in the South, and still had that accent. "The
South" is a fairly large area, and no monocultural. Later, the article
said she'd grown up on the east coast of Florida. That narrows it down to
perhaps three dialects.

--
Dan Goodman
Journal http://dsgood.blogspot.com or
http://www.livejournal.com/users/dsgood/
Whatever you wish for me, may you have twice as much.

Zeborah

unread,
May 25, 2004, 6:25:03 AM5/25/04
to
Josh Deb Barman <josh_de...@yahoo.com> wrote:

> As for continuity, the bits flow for a while then stop. Then flow and
> stop. Large plot gaps need to be filled. The first rewrite of the
> handwritten notes is continuous as far as it goes. So no, I don't
> actually have a full (but bad) draft.

Snipping everything else, but really I'm replying to your plot summary;
and to what Dan said, about the possibility of needing to plot out the
whole story.

Depending on what sort of writer you are -- this varies enormously --
Dan might be right that you need to plan the whole story arc (to a
greater or lesser extent). Or you might need, at some point, to put the
rest of the arc entirely out of your mind and focus on this book.

It seems to me like you've got the main plot: boy starts out with
questions about who, what, and why he is; by the end of the book he's
gone through a lot, has grown up a bit, and has had his questions
largely answered. "Coming of age" is a respectable plot that goes back
to Jack and the Beanstalk and then some.

But, depending on what sort of writer you are....

For me, what you have now would be enough to start with: you've got the
first several chapters, and you've got a general direction after that.
When I start writing, that's usually about what I've got: so I start
writing my way through the things I know, and as I write, I get more
ideas: one of my characters is hesitant to meet Duke Hobris, so I
think, "Hmm, he must be a villain; why? what'll he do?" etc.

Some other authors might need to know everything.

And other authors again might need to know nothing at all.

What have you written, story-wise (as opposed to background-wise)? Some
scenes scattered here and there? Some scenes/chapters starting at the
start of the book? Where did it get stuck?

How long ago did you write it? If a long time ago, what happens if you
try rewriting it now _without looking at what you wrote before_?

> Clunky prose, reads like history book, cardboard characters,
> inadequate character study...overall a clumsy effort.

Your characters sound fine from the summary -- and certainly the boy
does.

> I don't think I have a story. I have some quite nice scenes in my mind
> but little in the way of linkage. No overall plan. That's where I have
> to do the work.

What you described sounded like a story, and like a plan: Boy has
questions about himself. Boy's city is destroyed. Boy and friends flee
to safety. Boy and friends get chased. Boy and friends escape. Boy's
questions are answered.

(It's possibly I shouldn't summarise it like that lest you think it's a
cliche. It's not: it's a trope. Tropes are good things. I'm just
summarising it this way to explain why I think it looks like a story and
a plan.)

If that doesn't look to you like a story and a plan, what do you think
is missing?

> In a way, yes. The scenes I describe above can be linked in various
> ways, but it's not obvious to me which way. The quiet interludes, the
> building of the plot - these things prevent the story from being one
> headlong rush of scene after scene. That is what is lacking.

Some good stories have been written based on a headlong rush of scene
after scene. (Possibly not long multi-book sagas, but I wouldn't bet on
never.)

Hmm. If all your scenes are action-filled and you feel there are no
interludes for characters and readers to stop and think, try asking R.L.
about Bickham scenes; that might be helpful.

>So this time, I decided to *just write the
> damned thing*. But it's not that easy!

Er, what's the appropriate response to this?

Oh, yes.

MWA-HAHAHA!

:-)

(In other words: yes, we all have that problem.)

> Haha. Well, my plot outline is about 30 times longer than that. It's a
> cross between a plot outline and an attempt to write the novel. The
> fact is aside from the start, there is no plot, just scenes.

"Running away fast while people pursue fast" is a plot -- though not a
detailed one.

Okay, plot noodling questions...

What scenes do you have planned already?

Have you tried writing a summary of each scene on a piece of card and
shuffling them around to find out which order they go in? Or do you
already know the order?

Take each scene one at a time and consider

a) what has to happen for this scene to take place?
i) where do they have to be?
ii) does anyone have to be dead/sick/angry?
iii) do they need to have lost or found anything?

b) given this scene, what could happen next?
i) does it change the direction they travel?
ii) has someone just died/got injured/been badly insulted?
iii) have they just lost or found something?

(These are not necessarily the best of plot-noodling questions for this
format, depending on how many scenes you've planned already, but could
be helpful to think about anyway.)

What kind of terrain are they travelling through? What constraints does
that pose on them? Do they need special equipment? special skills? Do
they need a map or know the way?

Where do they think they're headed? Why? Are their reasons correct?

What do they think they know that turns out to be wrong?

It's way past my bedtime now.

Zeborah

Mary Gentle

unread,
May 25, 2004, 7:20:00 AM5/25/04
to
In article <fbd6aed6.04052...@posting.google.com>,
josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh Deb Barman) wrote:

[...]

I'm not Patricia W. - who will say things at greater length and more
insightfully. <g> But a couple of thoughts occurred to me, and I wondered
if they might be useful...

[PW:]

> > And *why* ***exctly*** are those previous versions unacceptable?
> > Inconsistent? Clunky prose? No plot? Too much plot? Cardboard
> > characters? Nothing but character study (see "no plot", abvoe)?
> > What is
> > the problem with what you've done?
>
> Clunky prose, reads like history book, cardboard characters,
> inadequate character study...overall a clumsy effort. And yet if you
> compare it to things like "The Saga of the Volsungs" it's not too
> dissimilar in style (not that I would dare apply all those negatives
> onto that great work).

The thing is, is it clunky and and 'inadequate' as regards characters
because you were writing in the style of the Volsung Saga (which starts
out to do, and does, completely different things than modern fiction), or
did you set out to write it "modern" and it just ended up crap?

It's reasonable to take stuff from earlier models -- good writers steal,
after all -- but the closer you get to a historical original, on the
whole, the smaller the readership that enjoys it. At the moment. (And I
stress "at the moment". Frex, Eddison's books remain stubbornly in print,
for all there being far more readers who scratch their heads at combined
saga+Jacobean prose than not...)

But I was wondering if you need to get a bit further from your source, or
whether you're just not managing to write what you want to in a
contemporary way?

[...]

[PW:]

> > So what you're saying is, the plot you have come up with doesn't *feel
> > right*, but you don't know how to find the one that does, because
> > there are
> > too many possibilities?
>
> In a way, yes. The scenes I describe above can be linked in various
> ways, but it's not obvious to me which way. The quiet interludes, the
> building of the plot - these things prevent the story from being one
> headlong rush of scene after scene. That is what is lacking.

Bickham.

:-)

Actually, you could probably save yourself a lot of trouble by just
Googling on 'Bickham' in rasfc, and reading some of the old discussions,
but to try and put it in a paragraph:

It's possible that "one long headlong rush of scene after scene" is the
last thing you need. Bickham, in SCENE AND STRUCTURE, has a structure
that he calls "scene and sequel". The "scenes" are the Things That Happen
(action scenes, revelations, the wrong word let slip in a conversation;
whatever). Any occurrence is a scene. A 'sequel', in Bickham's terms, is
where the protagonist takes in what has happened, thinks about it, decides
what he/she will do, and acts. That act becomes the next scene.

It doesn't have to be used as mechanically as that -- you can "nest"
mini-sequels inside scenes, frex. And sequels can be reflections, or
transition passages that span time, or just what the hero thinks in the
time it takes him to leap into the saddle ("I'm outta here!", possibly).

But what it gives you, at its best, is an on-going structure of tension
and release leading to tension: rinse and repeat. There's enough brief
relaxation between things happening that it isn't so headlong the reader
drops out from exhaustion. And every 'WTF do I do NOW?'-sequel presents
the reader with another plot-question to be answered -- whether it's "do
they get away?" or "will he tell her?" or whatever -- and then they (with
luck) read on to get the question answered.

By that time, of course, you'll have slotted in more plot-questions, so
that although one anxiety is satisfied, there's a bunch more that aren't.
Until the end of the book, of course, and then you wham the final answers
into place.

Bickham is specific about scene-and-sequel being used to put the
protagonist in a worse and worse situation -- every scene should end with
a "disaster" for the protagonist, and every sequel-decision the
protagonist takes should lead them into deeper shit than before. Until
the end, when the protagonist succeeds. This works very well, and you can
get a good explosive end out of it, but it's not the only way you can use
the structure -- you can have minor and major successes along the way,
provided there's _something_ in place that keeps the reader reading.

Anyhow, Bickham's not the only source of structural models, either, but he
did strike me as apposite for a place to start here.

[...]

[Details:]

> My WIP (presently titled "The Last Child") is set in an archaic
> timeframe,

Can I just say "huh?" What's an 'archaic timeframe?'

>told in third person narrative.
>
> My protag is an 11 year old boy called Torsten. He is the main
> viewpoint character, but not to say the only one.

[...]

Good - because having read through the synopsis, it strikes me that you've
got a cracker of a second protagonist in the archer. _She's_ the one with
the biological clock ticking, and the conflict between babies and career,
and the two interesting potential lovers. That would set up a very
different POV to Torsten, who at 11 regards all that as a closed book, but
has all the magic-potential opening up to him (which I assume she doesn't
have). Could work very nicely as a pair of contrasted narratives.


[Torsten backstory]

Torsten's basically your standard adopted child who doesn't look like his
"parents" - and if he hasn't worked some of that out by the age of 11 (he
_knows_ there are questions he mustn't ask), I'm going to wonder about
him...

It strikes me that basically he's Kim, or Mowgli -- he fits in (as far as
he does fit in anywhere) with people who aren't his own people. And he
doesn't fit in with the people who it turns out he should belong to.
Kipling isn't the only one to have made a cracker of that story.

[...]


> but since that public naming as "daemon-child", the villagers
> start to mistrust him, in the way of simple people.

Ehhh. 'Simple people' are usually very complicated people indeed. If you
mean 'people living a simple rural life', that doesn't at all necessitate
a simple - or homogeneous - reaction to Torsten. Granted, there'll be the
kind of people who make "village gossip" a power that can drive people to
suicide, but there'll be people who go against the flow, too. "In the way
of simple people" is way too simplistic.

[...]

> BACK TO THE "PRESENT": Being the perceptive boy he is, he is not
> unaware of these suspicions and has suspicions of his own. Why would
> the witch call herself his mother (as she appears to imply in the
> spellsong, though she actually says "I'll be your mother")? Why
> doesn't he have parents when everyone else does? His aunt and uncle
> have 'fed' him some story about his parents dying of pestilence in
> another village when he was a baby. Why doesn't he look like his aunt
> or uncle and anyway, which of them is his blood-relation?
>
> He starts to believe the "daemon-child" theory and is filled with an
> intense self-loathing, even viewing himself as ugly - although people
> later describe him as being the "fairest child they've ever seen" -
> because he's never seen anyone like himself before.

That strikes me as an accurate psychological reaction, but I'm not sure
it's because of what he _looks_ like. It depends, I suppose, what he
wants to focus his feelings of "I don't BELONG" onto.

[...]



> The story actually starts with him fishing at a point on the river a
> little way from the village. Then, with his unusual senses, he
> perceives *something* and, acting on instinct, decides to hide in the
> river behind a boulder. Moments later, a strange band of outlandish
> warriors ride into view, stopping to water their horses. Unfortunately
> for Torsten, they have two hounds with them who of course scent that
> someone's been there. Torsten submerges himself behind the rock and
> the hounds are foiled by the water. The warriors realise something is
> amiss, search the banks but finding nothing, head towards the village.

OK, two points.

(1) the story doesn't necessarily start here, this can be covered in
flashback if you need it too; and

(2) even before we get to the "barbarians burned my village!", my brain is
screaming "Conan!" (and "Xena!" :) I've read this before; I've seen this
before... The one redeeming quality seems to be that Torsten doesn't
immediately decide he's on a quest for vengeance -- which, if I were you,
I'd stress, because it's the thing that breaks the cliché.

If you want to start with the village, then

> Torsten picks up a stone and throws it at the
> scout, more to buy time than anything else. He runs away into the
> forest without looking to see if he had hit, fully expecting to be
> shot before he reaches cover. However, the scout is actually floating
> face-down in the river, the implication being that the stone either
> killed or stunned him (weird!).

would be a reasonable place to open, assuming you can get him to notice
that something odd has happened. Or,


> What he runs into is a new character, Faluthain

would do, to start the book, because you can get all the backstory you
have so far into the conversation while he's binding up Torsten's wounds.
(i.e. you can make quick references to the witch and the dog, as
appetisers, and then move the plot on, explaining them later when there's
a pause).

[...]

> In grief, Torsten runs off and outdistances Faluthain, who is chasing
> him to prevent him getting caught too. Torsten reaches his village,
> find the outlanders burning it and driving the villagers into the
> burning huts or putting them to the sword. He sees his dead aunt &
> uncle. He is devastated and is almost discovered, but Faluthain
> catches up with him, snatches him from danger and spirits him away
> into the forest again.

Credibility problem here. Unless the bad guys are utter idiots, or just
incompetent, they're going to have a cordon around that village, and
Torsten and friends are either very smart, magical, or toast... And I
tend to prefer stories where the bad guys aren't total losers. If the
child goes back into the village, chances are he's just plain dead.

>They meet Faluthain's sister, Laurenna

She's interesting.

> This Eludan actually rescued Faluthain & Laurenna when
> they were infants from a similar situation and has raised them and
> trained them to be what they are - his agents.

He's suspicious.

> Cut to the enemy camp.

Who's your point of view character here? I'd be interested in reading
about things from an antagonist's POV:

>We meet one of the main antagonists, the Baron
> Szarchat (a cunning, malicious, deadly, giant of a man), who is the
> leader of the outlanders.

Him, especially, but only provided he _is_ cunning as described. Which
does not, on the whole, mean waiting until your scouts come back and say
"We missed him, Boss" before you kick into action...

[...]

> To cut a long story
> short, they've been sent because the Powers That Be have detected
> ripples of pure energy emanating from Nimlin which are the by-product
> of sorcery being used and fear its strength and potential. So, they
> attempt to stamp out the threat by destroying the entire village.

On the whole, I think you can make a reasonable case for the actions of
the Bad Guys. (Other than "I'm BAD!!!") If you can tell there's
nuclear-weapon level magic emanating from somewhere, and you don't know
who controls it, it's not unreasonable to do the "wipe 'em all out" thing.

I'm not entirely convinced there wouldn't be a faction of bad guys who'd
rather surround the village, sort through the people, find the proto-mage,
and make nice with him -- especially if he turns out to be only 11 -- on
the grounds that they can make a lot of use of him before it gets to the
termination point. But that's just my suspicious mind. <g>

[...]

> You've probably guessed who the ripples are coming from! Torsten is
> just beginning to come into his power, something that will see him
> become the most powerful mage eventually (if he survives).

If he's _that_ powerful, why wouldn't he? He's already doing things
subconsciously. It sounds like we're into "It's A GOOD Life!" territory,
where the boy's going to manipulate bad things into happening to anyone
who opposes him... or even mildly pisses him off.

Or, anyway, since you've set it up that this is largely unconscious magic,
I think you have to make it clear why this _doesn't_ happen.

[...]

> So the witch was right, though she used the term "daemon" rather
> loosely.

Hmm. So are you, I think. :)

> The Eludan character is the chief opponent of The Powers That Be. He's
> an ancient and powerful mage, himself a magical being who can
> manipulate environmental energy and therefore cast spells.

My immediate reaction is "Oh my gawd, not ANOTHER one!"

>They fear
> him getting his hands on the unknown person who is giving off this
> enormous raw energy, as Eludan would train the most powerful magical
> being/manipulator ever and use him to destroy them.

I think it would be reasonable to be on the Powers' side here. (You don't
watch _Angel,_ by any chance?) Even Gandalf came near to slipping, and
that was with the moral gravity of Tolkien's universe to back him up --
which it doesn't seem to me that Eludan has...

You've set it up as good guys/bad guys, but the material's there to set it
up as good guys, good guys who use bad methods, ambiguous characters who
could be good or bad, and a basic concern about what "good" might be
anyway, in the presence of a weapon this powerful...



> What I've set out above is the first 4 chapters.

Nah. Two chapters, max, and you could get it into one perfectly easily.

>Very broadly, the
> rest is how Torsten, Faluthain and Laurenna are hunted first by Xerlat
> and Szarchat and then by some of the Powers That Be themselves, before
> making it to a neighbouring realm and to the 'safety' of Eludan,

OK, that's a half-page transition scene, unless you've got any seriously
interesting stuff on the way. :)

[...]

> Torsten's training starts but they are not safe there as the The
> Powers That Be themselves move to stamp out Torsten's future threat
> before he's ready and even Eludan cannot withstand them, so they have
> to flee.

Doesn't Torsten feel somewhat betrayed by that? This guy's been claiming
to be pretty hot, and here he is legging it into the far distance...

Besides which, if Eludan can't stand up to the Powers, why on earth have
the Powers let him survive this long?

>The only safe place is the island realm of an exiled king

And this is where you can do your back-up, explaining _why_ this place is
safe. Needs a convincing reason.

[...]



> Again, in short, at the time of the coup (10 years ago), the King's
> brother seized the king's only son (his youngest child, an infant) and
> cruelly left him to die in the forest (though I'm not revealing that
> until the end).

OK, you have a problem here -- which is that the reader will have spotted,
ten seconds after you mention it, that Torsten is the Missing Heir.

No, it isn't always like that in real life, but this is a book, and as
soon as you tell the reader that Torsten's adopted, the reader will be
fitting him into possible families. And, come on, it's going to be the
King...

It's also a problem because

> By the end of the book, it turns out that Torsten is actually that
> little prince left to die in the forest

is dumb. Unless there's a seriously good reason, possible heirs don't get
left exposed to die, they get their throats cut. And you haven't given us
a good reason, except that the bad guy is dumb. Which isn't a good
reason.

I think, if you're going to do a "lost heir" story, you're best advised to
get it out into the open as soon as possible -- if a reader has to wait
until the end to find out that, yes, the boy is the King's son... book
hits wall, most likely. I'd be inclined to spill the beans around the end
of chapter 2. Then the story becomes not about who the heir is, but what
it means to be a lost heir, which is a potentially interesting story.

>(hence another meaning of "The
> Last Child"), but that his 'uncle' the woodcutter discovered him one
> day whilst collecting wood and brought him back to Nimlin, explaining
> away the sudden appearance of a (different-looking) baby by saying
> that his cousin and her husband had been killed by pestilence, leaving
> their son to him.

Oh, his aunt's an imbecile, too? <g>

Not even one quarrel to the effect of "You don't bring your damn bastards
back here, and especially not one you appear to have got on some foreign
blonde tart?"

Even if he comes clean, I think "Look, no good _ever_ comes of picking up
a baby somebody's exposed to die -- check the bugger for a birthmark" is a
more reasonable reaction than, "oh, look, a baby..."

Unless you can convince us different, of course...

>Therefore, Torsten is not only a prince, but the son
> of a sorceress and the grandson of Eludan himself (hence his
> incredible gift). Of course, Eludan knew this from the moment
> Faluthain & Laurenna brought Torsten to him (he could sense the
> kinship) but had kept it to himself to protect the boy.

He's also up shit creek without a paddle, if this Eludan can't protect him
-- there's always a way to infiltrate "safe" places. Which isn't an
uninteresting situation to be in, in narrative terms.

> Eludan is effectively a

plot device

>chessmaster, building a position from which to
> drive the Powers That Be back from the lands they've invaded. His
> pieces include Torsten, the King and Faluthain himself, who is in fact
> (unknown to anyone other than Eludan & the King) a king of another
> fallen realm (hence his & Laurenna's traumatic origin). So Eludan is
> bringing all these royal lines back from the dead in order to
> challenge the Powers That Be.

Well, actually, Eludan is a lot more like Prospero than he is like
Gandalf, reading that. Which is good, because it means he can be devious
as you like. But I would immediately be wondering why Torsten trusts him,
and how soon he's going to stop trusting him, and what happens then.


>
> That's the end of this book.

I'd guess that's the end of part one of a book, which could be as short as
four or five chapters.

>The next book goes on to how he actually
> puts all of this into action.
>
> While I've got ideas for scenes in the period from the flight from
> Nimlin to where Torsten meets Eludan and again from there to the
> King's isle, there are a lot of gaps between.

That may be a hint, actually -- that there are gaps may mean there are
places where you should jump-cut, or do transitional paragraphs.

It's worth doing a synopsis of the story (as opposed to all the stuff
that's just "going on"), so you can see what scenes you really need, and
what's fine but can be mentioned in a sentence later on.

>I do know that Szarchat,
> Xerlat, the mage and some supernatural enemy called forth by the mage
> pursue the three escapees until they get to Eludan's side.

Is this anything more than an action-loop?

I also know
> that the higher, more evil Powers That Be hunt a larger group
> (consisting of Eludan, Faluthain, Laurenna, Torsten and at least 3 new
> characters) until they reach the safety of the King's isle.

I'm now confused about how many Powers there are...


>
> The end, covering the revealing of all the various secrets that Eludan
> has been keeping shouldn't be too hard.

I'm still moderately convinced that it's your first revelation-scene, not
the end of the story. The one that comes when you "change gear" between
the beginning and the middle of the story -- in effect, 'here's the set
up, here's the crap we're in, NOW what do we do?' And then the middle
further complicates that set-up.



> So yes, the basic plot patterns are well-used ones. I suppose you can
> see elements of Herod/baby Jesus, Richard Lionheart/Prince John,
> Merlin/Arthur to name but three

Moses, Xena, Callisto in _Xena,_ Conan, vast _swathes_ of EFP... :) Yes,
bluntly, I can. Which is why you need to know what interests _you_ about
this particular story-template. Then you can tell it your own way, and it
won't matter that the basic patterns are recognisable.



> As for your question about the main protags (probably Torsten, Eludan,
> Laruenna & Faluthain) and what they *want*: -
>
> I've already dealt with Eludan.

You haven't, actually. He's mildly interesting as it stands, but I don't
believe him. Even Prospero got his ass kicked out of Milan -- and the
plot had to have him burn his books at the end, so the resolution didn't
have to cope with that much free magic in the world.

It's possible that Eludan starts off as the good guy and ends up as the
bad guy: it depends what he really wants. And, of course, how much moral
black-and-white you want in the story, and how much in the way of shades
of grey.


>
> Torsten just wants to stay alive most of the time, but also needs to
> find out why he's different, who his family were, what this thing is
> that's making him do these strange deeds, who he is, why he is who he
> is, why, why, why... ;)

But, more interestingly, once he's found out, he's got to work out what he
does about people's expectations of him, and his own responsibilities.
He's eleven. With great power comes... well, the ability to make colossal
fuck-ups, quite often.



> Faluthain is consumed by the need to do the right thing, to strive
> against the Powers That Be as he's been trained to by Eludan. Once he
> finds out he's a king,

He's a king? Damn, my eyes glazed over at some point, I missed that.

Do we need another Aragorn?

>he's also driven by a sense of responsibility
> towards his oppressed people. He is however, unsure of his ability to
> be a king and Torsten's father is instrumental in mentoring him in
> this aspect.
>
> Faluthain's sister Laurenna is more complex. While she has the same
> training as her brother and therefore the same righteous sense of
> duty, her views are tempered by a realism born of the fact that she's
> a woman.

It'll be interesting to see a fantasy society that doesn't have
egalitarian treatment of the genders. Assuming it isn't just the same old
oppression, which we can read any day of the week in mainstream books. :)

>Rescuing and caring for Torsten brings out hitherto unknown
> maternal instincts

Really? An 11 year old? The woman's nuts!

I'm more familiar with friends saying that babies bring out their maternal
instincts... but what do I know? Being about as maternal as a brick...
<g>

I wonder if she also thinks of him as a little brother?

>and she realises that she's running out of time to
> marry (she's 31 for God's sake - the marrying age for women in that
> culture is on average 15-22 years) and have children of her own - a
> feeling that her brother cannot relate to as he doesn't have the same
> restrictions. She is proud of her role as an *agent of good* but is
> torn by the need to give it all up to be a *real woman* (her own
> words!).

The interesting thing you could do to her is get her pregnant early on,
and have her cope with the baby as the plot progresses. Her views on real
womanhood might go through some fascinating permutations under those
circumstances....

(But it depends on what you know about her: whether she's one of those
people who will make good mothers, by their own long-held standards, or
whether she's someone who likes the idea of a baby far better than she at
first likes the reality of one.)

>Added to this is the complication of love interest from two
> competing characters who join the group on the second trip - a hard &
> ruthlessly efficient spy/assassin who impresses her with his prowess &
> bravery and a gentle & humorous minstrel who charms her with his wit &
> philosophy. The men represent the choice she must make.

Well, OK, why can't she have _both_ of them?



> Obviously Laurenna is what the spy and the minstrel really *want*!

Hmm. <g> Unless one of them is sublimating, of course...



> Aside from these characters, we pick up another, slightly older boy
> somewhere along the line who becomes Torsten's confidant. That's his
> role in this book, his own motivations are not an issue until much,
> much later in the series.

And he sounds potentially very interesting, too -- if he's Torsten's
friend, you've got that whole thing about what happens when you're _not_
the Chosen One? Which could complicate their relationship nicely.

That character reads to me like someone you'd introduce after the
immediate early set-up, so that he can bring plot-complications in with
him. It depends on how long you want the narrative to be, and how you
want to pace it, as to whether his motivations come in in another book, or
just in a later part of the first one.

Anyhow, like I say, Patricia will be along shortly to say this better...
:-)


Mary

Most recently published:
1610: A SUNDIAL IN A GRAVE, novel, Orion UK, hc & tpb
CARTOMANCY, short story collection, Orion UK, pb

Brian M. Scott

unread,
May 25, 2004, 2:40:51 PM5/25/04
to
On Tue, 25 May 2004 12:20 +0100 (BST) mary_...@cix.co.uk
(Mary Gentle) wrote in
<news:memo.2004052...@roxanne.morgan.ntlworld.com>
in rec.arts.sf.composition:

> In article <fbd6aed6.04052...@posting.google.com>,
> josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh Deb Barman) wrote:

[...]

>> Faluthain's sister Laurenna is more complex. While she has the same


>> training as her brother and therefore the same righteous sense of
>> duty, her views are tempered by a realism born of the fact that she's
>> a woman.

> It'll be interesting to see a fantasy society that doesn't have
> egalitarian treatment of the genders. Assuming it isn't just the same old
> oppression, which we can read any day of the week in mainstream books. :)

>>Rescuing and caring for Torsten brings out hitherto unknown
>> maternal instincts

> Really? An 11 year old? The woman's nuts!

Why not? It's possible for a 22-year-old to bring out
paternal instincts (among other things) in a 52-year-old.

> I'm more familiar with friends saying that babies bring out their maternal
> instincts... but what do I know? Being about as maternal as a brick...
> <g>

> I wonder if she also thinks of him as a little brother?

A more interesting possibility: not only does he appeal to
her maternal instincts, but she finds him attractive (though
she probably doesn't admit it to herself). I remember a
cute kid about that age who had a 30-year-old women of my
acquaintance wrapped around his finger; it was quite amusing
to watch. Fortunately, he was also a very nice kid.

[...]

Brian

R. L.

unread,
May 25, 2004, 2:57:44 PM5/25/04
to
On Tue, 25 May 2004 12:20 +0100 (BST), mary_...@cix.co.uk (Mary
Gentle) wrote:

>In article <fbd6aed6.04052...@posting.google.com>,
>josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh Deb Barman) wrote:

/snip/

>>The scenes I describe above can be linked in various
>> ways, but it's not obvious to me which way. The quiet interludes, the
>> building of the plot - these things prevent the story from being one
>> headlong rush of scene after scene. That is what is lacking.
>
>Bickham.
>
>:-)
>
>Actually, you could probably save yourself a lot of trouble by just
>Googling on 'Bickham' in rasfc, and reading some of the old discussions,
>but to try and put it in a paragraph:
>
>It's possible that "one long headlong rush of scene after scene" is the
>last thing you need. Bickham, in SCENE AND STRUCTURE, has a structure
>that he calls "scene and sequel". The "scenes" are the Things That Happen
>(action scenes, revelations, the wrong word let slip in a conversation;
>whatever). Any occurrence is a scene. A 'sequel', in Bickham's terms, is
>where the protagonist takes in what has happened, thinks about it, decides
>what he/she will do, and acts. That act becomes the next scene.

Yes.... In Bickham's sequels sometimes he feels, thinks, decides his
next goal ("I'll sue her" ... "I'll murder her"), and then makes some
little plan or active step toward it. Such as deciding he will phone his
lawyer tomorrow to make an appointment, or will go shopping for a gun,
or something. That's the hook you mentioned below, and the end of the
'sequel'.

The next Bickham scene on his thread is when he arrives at the gun shop
or is trying to get past the lawyer's secretary on the phone, or
whatever. Putting the 'hook' thing into action and finding conflict.

>It doesn't have to be used as mechanically as that -- you can "nest"
>mini-sequels inside scenes, frex.

Yes. I'm experimenting with Visio flowchart software (thanks to all who
made suggestions). I may try using a special shape for 'sequel' and
making sure each 'scene' has one. :-)

>And sequels can be reflections, or
>transition passages that span time, or just what the hero thinks in the
>time it takes him to leap into the saddle ("I'm outta here!", possibly).
>
>But what it gives you, at its best, is an on-going structure of tension
>and release leading to tension: rinse and repeat. There's enough brief
>relaxation between things happening that it isn't so headlong the reader
>drops out from exhaustion. And every 'WTF do I do NOW?'-sequel presents
>the reader with another plot-question to be answered -- whether it's "do
>they get away?" or "will he tell her?" or whatever -- and then they (with
>luck) read on to get the question answered.

Yes, lots of little arcs.

>By that time, of course, you'll have slotted in more plot-questions, so
>that although one anxiety is satisfied, there's a bunch more that aren't.

Eugene Vale talked about this too.


R.L.

R. L.

unread,
May 25, 2004, 3:39:11 PM5/25/04
to
On Tue, 25 May 2004 22:25:03 +1200, zeb...@paradise.net.nz (Zeborah)
wrote:

>Josh Deb Barman <josh_de...@yahoo.com> wrote:
>
>> As for continuity, the bits flow for a while then stop. Then flow and
>> stop. Large plot gaps need to be filled.

/snip/

>What you described sounded like a story, and like a plan: Boy has
>questions about himself. Boy's city is destroyed. Boy and friends flee
>to safety. Boy and friends get chased. Boy and friends escape. Boy's
>questions are answered.
>
>(It's possibly I shouldn't summarise it like that lest you think it's a
>cliche. It's not: it's a trope. Tropes are good things. I'm just
>summarising it this way to explain why I think it looks like a story and
>a plan.)

Nice example of the meaning of 'trope'.


>If that doesn't look to you like a story and a plan, what do you think
>is missing?
>
>> In a way, yes. The scenes I describe above can be linked in various
>> ways, but it's not obvious to me which way. The quiet interludes, the
>> building of the plot - these things prevent the story from being one
>> headlong rush of scene after scene. That is what is lacking.
>
>Some good stories have been written based on a headlong rush of scene
>after scene. (Possibly not long multi-book sagas, but I wouldn't bet on
>never.)
>
>Hmm. If all your scenes are action-filled and you feel there are no
>interludes for characters and readers to stop and think, try asking R.L.
>about Bickham scenes; that might be helpful.

Mary G. just gave a good summary. Google links are too long for Usenet
but at my tech archive links I have a bunch of them to 'Scenes' threads,
threads about Bickham, etc.
http://www.midnightengineers.com/rl//rasfc/#archive-links

/snip/

>Have you tried writing a summary of each scene on a piece of card and
>shuffling them around to find out which order they go in? Or do you
>already know the order?
>
>Take each scene one at a time and consider
>
> a) what has to happen for this scene to take place?
> i) where do they have to be?
> ii) does anyone have to be dead/sick/angry?
> iii) do they need to have lost or found anything?
>
> b) given this scene, what could happen next?
> i) does it change the direction they travel?
> ii) has someone just died/got injured/been badly insulted?
> iii) have they just lost or found something?

Nice, 'scene noodling'. :-) I've seen a system that also plans who the
protagonist of each scene is, and what is his goal for that scene, etc.


R.L.

Aquarion

unread,
May 25, 2004, 5:42:06 PM5/25/04
to
On Tue, 25 May 2004 22:25:03 +1200, zeb...@paradise.net.nz (Zeborah)
wrote:

>Josh Deb Barman <josh_de...@yahoo.com> wrote:


>
>> As for continuity, the bits flow for a while then stop. Then flow and
>> stop. Large plot gaps need to be filled. The first rewrite of the
>> handwritten notes is continuous as far as it goes. So no, I don't
>> actually have a full (but bad) draft.
>
>Snipping everything else, but really I'm replying to your plot summary;
>and to what Dan said, about the possibility of needing to plot out the
>whole story.
>
>Depending on what sort of writer you are -- this varies enormously --
>Dan might be right that you need to plan the whole story arc (to a
>greater or lesser extent). Or you might need, at some point, to put the
>rest of the arc entirely out of your mind and focus on this book.

My problem with the "Gigantic Arc" universe thing is that I have a
decade[1] of thinking about how the universe works, and I keep trying
to explain it all in one go. Be it one Jordanesque epic, one
threeByTwo fantasy series, A novel, a short story, a flash or even -
in one exceptionally silly move - a drabble. Over the years it gained
characters, a plot, subplots and intrigue and all the necessary stuff.

Because I'm a computer geek, I then found a computer application to
organise all this.

Because I'm a web-dev computer geek, I wrote my own. So the contents
of the Fantasy World Cevearn is now dumped along with years of snipits
of ideas in a cross referenced, interlinked, everything-but-the-sink
WikiWikiWeb database, and I was about to start it, when there was a
hoppity skippity, and suddenly I was attacked by a rabid plot bunny.
Twice.

Now I'm writing Sci-Fi.

Yours in Total Sincerity,

Aquarion

[1] Amounts may be exaggerated.

--
"Ve belong dead"-- O | Aquarion. Ph33r |V|y 1337 P@|\|70 5K1||Z
\\\\\ +-|-+ | http://www.aquarionics.com
\\\\\\\__o | |
___\\\\\\\x/___ _/ \_ | Resurrecting dead hedgehogs since 1998.

Josh Deb Barman

unread,
May 25, 2004, 8:20:13 PM5/25/04
to
mary_...@cix.co.uk (Mary Gentle) wrote in message news:<memo.2004052...@roxanne.morgan.ntlworld.com>...

> I'm not Patricia W. - who will say things at greater length and more
> insightfully. <g> But a couple of thoughts occurred to me, and I wondered
> if they might be useful...

No, by all means go ahead. I need lots of help! :)

> > Clunky prose, reads like history book, cardboard characters,
> > inadequate character study...overall a clumsy effort. And yet if you
> > compare it to things like "The Saga of the Volsungs" it's not too
> > dissimilar in style (not that I would dare apply all those negatives
> > onto that great work).
>
> The thing is, is it clunky and and 'inadequate' as regards characters
> because you were writing in the style of the Volsung Saga (which starts
> out to do, and does, completely different things than modern fiction), or
> did you set out to write it "modern" and it just ended up crap?

Oh no, I'm not trying to write like Saga of the Volsungs. I only
picked that book up a couple of months ago. This problem predates
that! The Saga isn't even a source, I'm just commenting on how the
styles appear similar - if one looked at the Saga in terms of modern
writing, it isn't well done. But that of course is missing the point,
since it was written in Icelandic poetry form. But I digress!

> It's reasonable to take stuff from earlier models -- good writers steal,
> after all -- but the closer you get to a historical original, on the
> whole, the smaller the readership that enjoys it. At the moment. (And I
> stress "at the moment". Frex, Eddison's books remain stubbornly in print,
> for all there being far more readers who scratch their heads at combined
> saga+Jacobean prose than not...)
> But I was wondering if you need to get a bit further from your source, or
> whether you're just not managing to write what you want to in a
> contemporary way?

In fact, there is no one obvious source I'm working from.

> Actually, you could probably save yourself a lot of trouble by just
> Googling on 'Bickham' in rasfc, and reading some of the old discussions,
> but to try and put it in a paragraph:
>
> It's possible that "one long headlong rush of scene after scene" is the
> last thing you need. Bickham, in SCENE AND STRUCTURE, has a structure
> that he calls "scene and sequel". The "scenes" are the Things That Happen
> (action scenes, revelations, the wrong word let slip in a conversation;
> whatever). Any occurrence is a scene. A 'sequel', in Bickham's terms, is
> where the protagonist takes in what has happened, thinks about it, decides
> what he/she will do, and acts. That act becomes the next scene.

Yes, I think I need to use something quite similar to Bickham there.
My problem is that there is a headlong rush of scene after scene OR no
obvious link between the scenes. I need to work on the 'sequels'.


Yes, that sounds like a good structure to try. It's never interesting
if things get too easy and one should remember that events don't just
happen, they have consequences that the protag must deal with, process
and decide on.

> [Details:]
>
> > My WIP (presently titled "The Last Child") is set in an archaic
> > timeframe,
>
> Can I just say "huh?" What's an 'archaic timeframe?'

I.e. it's not futuristic. I guess I got the terminology wrong, but
hopefully the context would explain things better than I did...

[...]


> > My protag is an 11 year old boy called Torsten. He is the main
> > viewpoint character, but not to say the only one.
> [...]
>
> Good - because having read through the synopsis, it strikes me that you've
> got a cracker of a second protagonist in the archer. _She's_ the one with
> the biological clock ticking, and the conflict between babies and career,
> and the two interesting potential lovers. That would set up a very
> different POV to Torsten, who at 11 regards all that as a closed book, but
> has all the magic-potential opening up to him (which I assume she doesn't
> have). Could work very nicely as a pair of contrasted narratives.

Yes, I'm hoping to flip viewpoints between Torsten, Laurenna and
Eludan...the others also to lesser degrees.

> [Torsten backstory]
>
> Torsten's basically your standard adopted child who doesn't look like his
> "parents" - and if he hasn't worked some of that out by the age of 11 (he
> _knows_ there are questions he mustn't ask), I'm going to wonder about
> him...

Hmm, they're not actually supposed to be his parents, they're his aunt
and uncle (well, in fact his uncle is meant to be his second cousins
once removed upwards). So it's not inconceivable that he might not
look like them all that much. Also you have to consider the couple
suddenly having this toddler (as he's just walking when he's found) -
no pregnancy, no birth, no neonatal period!! He's definitely NOT
supposed to be their son, only the nephew, whom they've adopted from
relatives who have perished.

> It strikes me that basically he's Kim, or Mowgli -- he fits in (as far as
> he does fit in anywhere) with people who aren't his own people. And he
> doesn't fit in with the people who it turns out he should belong to.
> Kipling isn't the only one to have made a cracker of that story.

Hmm, that's an interesting link - I hadn't thought of that. But true.

> > but since that public naming as "daemon-child", the villagers
> > start to mistrust him, in the way of simple people.

The reason Torsten's still alive and not burned at some stake is
testament to the fact that there are opposing views. But I didn't go
into that depth in the precis I wrote. And while the villagers are
simple, their beliefs are not (hence the complex theories about the
dog and the fit), but again it's hard to convey that in a plot
outline!

[...]

> > BACK TO THE "PRESENT": Being the perceptive boy he is, he is not
> > unaware of these suspicions and has suspicions of his own. Why would
> > the witch call herself his mother (as she appears to imply in the
> > spellsong, though she actually says "I'll be your mother")? Why
> > doesn't he have parents when everyone else does? His aunt and uncle
> > have 'fed' him some story about his parents dying of pestilence in
> > another village when he was a baby. Why doesn't he look like his aunt
> > or uncle and anyway, which of them is his blood-relation?
> >
> > He starts to believe the "daemon-child" theory and is filled with an
> > intense self-loathing, even viewing himself as ugly - although people
> > later describe him as being the "fairest child they've ever seen" -
> > because he's never seen anyone like himself before.
>
> That strikes me as an accurate psychological reaction, but I'm not sure
> it's because of what he _looks_ like. It depends, I suppose, what he
> wants to focus his feelings of "I don't BELONG" onto.

Well, look at it this way. Difference cultures have different ideas of
what is considered beautiful. Go to Taihiti and they'll look at our
supermodels in horror thinking "those poor ugly diseased girls" (well,
so might we, but that's another story!). And Western society looks at
them and sees these lumpy obese people. The description of the
villagers I've given is what is considered normal. Torsten does not
fit, ergo he is 'abnormal-looking' and it's only a short step from
there to thinking that you're ugly.

I didn't really intend him to feel that he doesn't belong too much.
After all, the village is his home and he's very happy with his
'family'. When that's ripped away from him, he suffers a lot. So yes,
he thinks something is odd, but accepts it because the status quo is
comfortable.


> > The story actually starts with him fishing at a point on the river a
> > little way from the village. Then, with his unusual senses, he
> > perceives *something* and, acting on instinct, decides to hide in the
> > river behind a boulder. Moments later, a strange band of outlandish
> > warriors ride into view, stopping to water their horses. Unfortunately
> > for Torsten, they have two hounds with them who of course scent that
> > someone's been there. Torsten submerges himself behind the rock and
> > the hounds are foiled by the water. The warriors realise something is
> > amiss, search the banks but finding nothing, head towards the village.
>
> OK, two points.
>
> (1) the story doesn't necessarily start here, this can be covered in
> flashback if you need it too

Well, I have him fishing and daydreaming and going into the
flashbacks. I guess it could be done the way you suggest but then I
might have a few too many flashbacks. The action then rudely disturbs
his daydreams; I think you need to 'be with him' as his world starts
to crumble and I wonder whether that would be so well done in a
flashback.

> (2) even before we get to the "barbarians burned my village!", my brain is
> screaming "Conan!" (and "Xena!" :) I've read this before; I've seen this
> before... The one redeeming quality seems to be that Torsten doesn't
> immediately decide he's on a quest for vengeance -- which, if I were you,
> I'd stress, because it's the thing that breaks the cliché.

Woah! Who said anything about vengeance? He's only 11 and not in any
position to get even. He doesn't know anyone at all and has to trust
two complete strangers. He's not even sure who has done this to him.
Any vengeance he can get will not occur for years and years - and in
fact he never directly gets it. In fact, he doesn't think anything at
that time - he's too numbed. It's Faluthain and Laurenna who whisk him
away before he becomes yet another casualty. You're absolutely right,
going immediately for revenge would be cliched and unbelievable.


> If you want to start with the village, then
>
> > Torsten picks up a stone and throws it at the
> > scout, more to buy time than anything else. He runs away into the
> > forest without looking to see if he had hit, fully expecting to be
> > shot before he reaches cover. However, the scout is actually floating
> > face-down in the river, the implication being that the stone either
> > killed or stunned him (weird!).
>
> would be a reasonable place to open, assuming you can get him to notice
> that something odd has happened. Or,
>
> > What he runs into is a new character, Faluthain
>
> would do, to start the book, because you can get all the backstory you
> have so far into the conversation while he's binding up Torsten's wounds.
> (i.e. you can make quick references to the witch and the dog, as
> appetisers, and then move the plot on, explaining them later when there's
> a pause).


Hmm, I can see where you're coming from - you don't want me to dish it
up for the reader too easy so soon. It might work, I'll need to think
about it...


>
> > In grief, Torsten runs off and outdistances Faluthain, who is chasing
> > him to prevent him getting caught too. Torsten reaches his village,
> > find the outlanders burning it and driving the villagers into the
> > burning huts or putting them to the sword. He sees his dead aunt &
> > uncle. He is devastated and is almost discovered, but Faluthain
> > catches up with him, snatches him from danger and spirits him away
> > into the forest again.
>
> Credibility problem here. Unless the bad guys are utter idiots, or just
> incompetent, they're going to have a cordon around that village, and
> Torsten and friends are either very smart, magical, or toast... And I
> tend to prefer stories where the bad guys aren't total losers. If the
> child goes back into the village, chances are he's just plain dead.

Ah, I didn't explain myself well. In the story, he runs to a grassy
knoll overlooking the village (but not in it) and, transfixed, sees
all of these details in an instant (the way you do when there is
something horrendous in front of you) before Faluthain catches up,
drags him down to the ground and rushes him away.



> > This Eludan actually rescued Faluthain & Laurenna when
> > they were infants from a similar situation and has raised them and
> > trained them to be what they are - his agents.
>
> He's suspicious.

Haha, interesting that you instantly mistrust Eludan...I hadn't meant
him to be that sinister really.


> > Cut to the enemy camp.
>
> Who's your point of view character here? I'd be interested in reading
> about things from an antagonist's POV:

In the enemy camp, we start off from the POV of one of two guards
standing outside the commander's tend. The scout Xerlat rides up. He's
arrogant, smug, laid-back & cheeky...and that really annoys the guard
(as he's everything that the guards are trained not to be). He demands
to see the commander (to tell him the news that some people have
escaped, but he doesn't tell the lowly guard that). The guard replies
that the commander is resting and has instructed not to be disturbed
(as they think the job is done). Basically Xerlat twists the guard's
arm into going into the tent to ask the commander. We realise why the
guard is so reluctant when Szarchat wakes with a sleeping but
predator-like rousability and grabs the guard's 6 ft something frame
by the throat and lifts him three feet into the air with one hand.
Even when Szarchat realises it's not a random intruder, he lingers for
a moment, fascinated by the mottling of the skin on the guard's face
as he asphyxiates and only releases him when he's about to pass out.
We infer therefore that this Szarchat is one sadistic badass! But also
very competent and sly. Xerlat is shown in, and explains the reasoning
behind his conclusion that three people have escaped (there is no
direct sighting). Szarchat notes the tensions between the guards and
Xerlat and plays them one off another: initially humiliating the
guards by putting Xerlat in charge of them as they go to hunt these
escapees. However, he brings Xerlat back to the ground with a bump by
saying that he wants the escapees heads or he'll seek others instead
(meaning Xerlat's). He doesn't need to do all of this, a direct order
would suffice but he's sadistic and plays his men's intense fear of
him to the maximum. It's how he keeps everyone in line. So through the
guard's POV, we see (a) Szarchat's fearsome nature and (b) Xerlat's
cocksure attitude.

> >We meet one of the main antagonists, the Baron
> > Szarchat (a cunning, malicious, deadly, giant of a man), who is the
> > leader of the outlanders.
>
> Him, especially, but only provided he _is_ cunning as described. Which
> does not, on the whole, mean waiting until your scouts come back and say
> "We missed him, Boss" before you kick into action...

Well, he chooses to delegate because he can't be sure that these three
include the one that he's been told to look for - what if he leaves
and the magical being is still hiding somewhere around the village?.
His mage is still searching for evidence of the magical being and
hasn't sensed that they've slipped away. But I take your point. He
isn't slow to act once the mage says he can't find the magical being
among the dead. So he sets off after Xerlat and co. So we have two
waves of persecutors. So when Faluthain & Laurenna foil Xerlat and co,
they're still not safe...


> > To cut a long story
> > short, they've been sent because the Powers That Be have detected
> > ripples of pure energy emanating from Nimlin which are the by-product
> > of sorcery being used and fear its strength and potential. So, they
> > attempt to stamp out the threat by destroying the entire village.
>
> On the whole, I think you can make a reasonable case for the actions of
> the Bad Guys. (Other than "I'm BAD!!!") If you can tell there's
> nuclear-weapon level magic emanating from somewhere, and you don't know
> who controls it, it's not unreasonable to do the "wipe 'em all out" thing.

What the readers don't know yet is that Szarchat's superiors suspect
who the magical being will be. They knew at the time of Torsten's
birth that he was destined to develop great power - as did Eludan who
first realised it (remember, he's the boy's grandfather and would have
been one of the first people to hold him). They suspect, but they do
not know for sure. And that brings more trouble. Because Torsten is
also the last son of the ex-king. So they want to get rid of him for
that reason too. So yes, the nuclear-level threat is important for the
reader to realise, but there are other reasons which will be made
clear later on.

> I'm not entirely convinced there wouldn't be a faction of bad guys who'd
> rather surround the village, sort through the people, find the proto-mage,
> and make nice with him -- especially if he turns out to be only 11 -- on
> the grounds that they can make a lot of use of him before it gets to the
> termination point. But that's just my suspicious mind. <g>

Well, it's after all mainly a military detachment sent out to
obliterate the village. They don't know the details, they've just been
told to destroy the village and everyone in it. The only people who
might know more are (a) Szarchat, but it's not in his nature to
befriend anyone he's supposed to kill and (b) the mage who is likely
too scared of Torsten's potential to try to befriend him. Just kill
him now before he gets big and strong!!

> > You've probably guessed who the ripples are coming from! Torsten is
> > just beginning to come into his power, something that will see him
> > become the most powerful mage eventually (if he survives).
>
> If he's _that_ powerful, why wouldn't he? He's already doing things
> subconsciously. It sounds like we're into "It's A GOOD Life!" territory,
> where the boy's going to manipulate bad things into happening to anyone
> who opposes him... or even mildly pisses him off.
>
> Or, anyway, since you've set it up that this is largely unconscious magic,
> I think you have to make it clear why this _doesn't_ happen.

Torsten isn't all-powerful yet. He's got tremendous potential and is
leaking large amounts of power but it's wasteful, most of it is
escaping rather than being used - at the moment his gifts are
manifested mainly in perceptions and empathy. And of course he doesn't
know he's a mage, he's just an 11 year old boy. He also hasn't done
anything to anyone yet (apart from the soldier who was chasing him).
So he could still be killed easily since he has no way of defending
himself. The reason why Torsten just can't frazzle someone who annoys
him is that he's not connected with his power yet. It's striving to,
but he hasn't reached that moment where he can consciously act in that
way. The unconscious usage of the magic (so far) can only accentuate
normal function, not do something that is totally paranormal like
cursing someone or flaming them.


> > So the witch was right, though she used the term "daemon" rather
> > loosely.
>
> Hmm. So are you, I think. :)

Of course. But *I* didn't call him a daemon. The witch did. I'm merely
reporting what the she said! ;)

> > The Eludan character is the chief opponent of The Powers That Be. He's
> > an ancient and powerful mage, himself a magical being who can
> > manipulate environmental energy and therefore cast spells.
>
> My immediate reaction is "Oh my gawd, not ANOTHER one!"

Why not? He's the lad's grandfather after all! And, as it turns out
much later, he's one of the Gods' chief servants in human form. So
it's not unreasonable for him to be like that. Also, I need someone to
train Torsten or the poor boy will be toast...

> >They fear
> > him getting his hands on the unknown person who is giving off this
> > enormous raw energy, as Eludan would train the most powerful magical
> > being/manipulator ever and use him to destroy them.
>
> I think it would be reasonable to be on the Powers' side here. (You don't
> watch _Angel,_ by any chance?) Even Gandalf came near to slipping, and
> that was with the moral gravity of Tolkien's universe to back him up --
> which it doesn't seem to me that Eludan has...

I'm not sure what you mean...that's probably because I don't watch
Angel. I know who he is but that's about it! Am I right in thinking
that Eludan seems to be more sinister to you than the Powers That Be
(despite their methods)? The ambiguity is interesting though, as you
mention. It might be a good idea not to make it plain that Eludan is a
good guy until later. The fact of the matter is that the Powers That
Be are not good at all. Not in the slightest. I think I'd better
explain about them a bit...

The one at the back of it all for now is the 'dark lord' Manador who
is a deeply malevolent and dreadful spirit of evil. We don't meet him
in this book though, we only feel his manoeouvrings. He acts through
his three main henchmen: the Nameless Ones, three warlock-knights so
ancient that no-one can remember who they are. All four of these
antagonists are themselves magical beings/manipulators, so this is why
Eludan cannot just sweep them away. He could match any one of them but
is outnumbered and outgunned. He *needs* Torsten to even the odds for
him. They obviously do not want this. Why can't they just destroy
Eludan? Well, he's a wily old fox for a start, with millennia of
experience to help him evade capture. Secondly, he doesn't really
venture out of the realms where the bad guys don't hold sway. Thirdly,
the Nameless Ones have other important things to do rather than just
hunt one mage. They're busy conquering lands for their master.

The Nameless Ones engineer the fall from power of Torsten's real
father the King (Kaspar), by bewitching the King's younger brother
(Armin) and using him to supplant the real king. It's the new king who
(presumably acting on orders from the Nameless Ones, who are
elsewhere) orders his vassal Szarchat to destroy the village.

[...]


>
> > What I've set out above is the first 4 chapters.
>
> Nah. Two chapters, max, and you could get it into one perfectly easily.


The flipping of POV to the antags suggests (though I suppose doesn't
demand) a chapter break. And then we go back to the protag. So we have
3 chapters already.



> >Very broadly, the
> > rest is how Torsten, Faluthain and Laurenna are hunted first by Xerlat
> > and Szarchat and then by some of the Powers That Be themselves, before
> > making it to a neighbouring realm and to the 'safety' of Eludan,
>
> OK, that's a half-page transition scene, unless you've got any seriously
> interesting stuff on the way. :)

I'm just outlining it here for you but it's a long journey. I'm trying
to come up with all that interesting stuff right now.

> > Torsten's training starts but they are not safe there as the The
> > Powers That Be themselves move to stamp out Torsten's future threat
> > before he's ready and even Eludan cannot withstand them, so they have
> > to flee.
>
> Doesn't Torsten feel somewhat betrayed by that? This guy's been claiming
> to be pretty hot, and here he is legging it into the far distance...
> Besides which, if Eludan can't stand up to the Powers, why on earth have
> the Powers let him survive this long?

As I've explained earlier, Eludan is not a match for all of them
together. But neither is he a fool, so he has ways of escaping them.
Added to that, they are too busy elsewhere to deal with him together
(and they'd need to as he's not a pushover) unless of course he gets
his hands on the new magical being - they'd drop everything once they
realise that's happened. The Nameless Ones' brief is wide-ranging:
above all is the subjugation of the western half of the world. So
Eludan himself is actually only one aspect of that, until he makes
himself more powerful by acquiring Torsten. When that happens, they
have to act, and Eludan knows this. All of them leave the place they
are at, which isn't a very secure place.



> >The only safe place is the island realm of an exiled king
>
> And this is where you can do your back-up, explaining _why_ this place is
> safe. Needs a convincing reason.

Well, to draw a parallel with the Silmarillion, the island realm is
kind of like a floating Gondolin. Manador & the Nameless Ones (read
Morgoth & co) know that Kaspar (read: Turgon) is still alive, but they
don't know where he's gone. The island is far to the west, in waters
they haven't explored (since their lands are to the east) and in fact
no-one other than those who are there, Eludan and one other person
know where Kaspar has gone. So its secrecy is its protection. Of
course, that is not infallible...as it turns out in the second book.

> > Again, in short, at the time of the coup (10 years ago), the King's
> > brother seized the king's only son (his youngest child, an infant) and
> > cruelly left him to die in the forest (though I'm not revealing that
> > until the end).
>
> OK, you have a problem here -- which is that the reader will have spotted,
> ten seconds after you mention it, that Torsten is the Missing Heir.
> No, it isn't always like that in real life, but this is a book, and as
> soon as you tell the reader that Torsten's adopted, the reader will be
> fitting him into possible families. And, come on, it's going to be the
> King...

But I'm not going to mention it. Only around the time when the secret
is revealed will the full story be told.

> It's also a problem because
>
> > By the end of the book, it turns out that Torsten is actually that
> > little prince left to die in the forest
>
> is dumb. Unless there's a seriously good reason, possible heirs don't get
> left exposed to die, they get their throats cut. And you haven't given us
> a good reason, except that the bad guy is dumb. Which isn't a good
> reason.

The official line is that Prince Armin grabbed Torsten and rode into
the forest and killed him and dumped the body. He actually intended to
do that, reached the forest, drew his knife and was going to slit the
kid's throat - like you said. But you're not reckoning with Torsten.
Although a helpless babe at the time, his power struggles free at
times of need and he caught Armin's eyes with his own and Armin finds
he could not kill his nephew. Armin is not inherently evil, he's been
bewitched himself by the Nameless Ones and so he does evil things. But
when he looks for what he thinks is for the last time into his nephews
big blue eyes, he finds he cannot do what he planned to. And yet, he's
too far gone to relent completely. Caught between opposing powerful
bewitchments, he just rides off, leaving the toddler alone in the
forest. Later, he reasons that Torsten will die of
thirst/starvation/get gobbled up by a wolf anyway, and he's afraid of
the Nameless Ones finding out that he didn't do the job. Luckily for
him, there's no way of them knowing this (without directly
interrogating him with sorcery, which they have no reason to) since
Torsten's power isn't at beacon-level yet. I'm thinking of revealing a
lot of this as part of Armin's death-scene in the second book, where
the mortal blow frees his mind from the Nameless One's witchcraft and
he confesses all as he lies dying. By this, I intend to make him a
less unsympathetic character at the end, since he had no choice in his
actions.

> I think, if you're going to do a "lost heir" story, you're best advised to
> get it out into the open as soon as possible -- if a reader has to wait
> until the end to find out that, yes, the boy is the King's son... book
> hits wall, most likely. I'd be inclined to spill the beans around the end
> of chapter 2. Then the story becomes not about who the heir is, but what
> it means to be a lost heir, which is a potentially interesting story.

Well, in the context of the whole series of novels, it will be
relatively near the start, since it's towards the end of the first
book. Actually, the fact that there is a lost heir will not really be
mentioned. Kaspar is still alive, he has 6 daughters. He's almost
erased the fact that he had a son, it's too painful for him to bear.
So the reader won't know to speculate. The second book is really where
Torsten explores what it is to be the Heir.

> >(hence another meaning of "The
> > Last Child"), but that his 'uncle' the woodcutter discovered him one
> > day whilst collecting wood and brought him back to Nimlin, explaining
> > away the sudden appearance of a (different-looking) baby by saying
> > that his cousin and her husband had been killed by pestilence, leaving
> > their son to him.
>
> Oh, his aunt's an imbecile, too? <g>
>
> Not even one quarrel to the effect of "You don't bring your damn bastards
> back here, and especially not one you appear to have got on some foreign
> blonde tart?"

No, she's in on it - they're hoodwinking the rest of the village. And
in truth, they want him. Notice I didn't mention any foster-siblings?
Either the aunt or the uncle is infertile. So the foundling Torsten
really is a gift to them. They'd love to pretend that he's their son,
but they know it's ridiculous to do so because there's been no
pregnancy etc. There's no suggestion of infidelity by the uncle. He
tells the truth - that he found a baby wandering in the forest all
alone - she believes him, and they cook up a story.

> Even if he comes clean, I think "Look, no good _ever_ comes of picking up
> a baby somebody's exposed to die -- check the bugger for a birthmark" is a
> more reasonable reaction than, "oh, look, a baby..."
>
> Unless you can convince us different, of course...

Their desperation for a child overcomes that fear of the unknown
origins of the baby. And for all they know, the baby's parents may
have *just* met a sticky end somewhere - they don't know Torsten's
just been left. Convinced?

[...]

> > Eludan is effectively a
>
> plot device
>
> >chessmaster, building a position from which to
> > drive the Powers That Be back from the lands they've invaded. His
> > pieces include Torsten, the King and Faluthain himself, who is in fact
> > (unknown to anyone other than Eludan & the King) a king of another
> > fallen realm (hence his & Laurenna's traumatic origin). So Eludan is
> > bringing all these royal lines back from the dead in order to
> > challenge the Powers That Be.
>
> Well, actually, Eludan is a lot more like Prospero than he is like
> Gandalf, reading that. Which is good, because it means he can be devious
> as you like. But I would immediately be wondering why Torsten trusts him,
> and how soon he's going to stop trusting him, and what happens then.

Yes, Gandalf is more straightforward - a good wizard who discovers
things and acts for the good of the free peoples of Middle Earth as
soon as he can; there is less guile in him. Eludan is at heart a good
person, but he acts by subterfuge, hiding families, keeping secrets,
ressurrecting lost lines. He has to be like this, because of the odds
against him. He figures that the less people who know, the safer the
secrets - which is risky because it relies on his personal survival.
But that's the sort of person he is.

Of course, Eludan is on a different league of guile to Torsten.
Torsten doesn't even realise that there are all these secrets. He's
very innocent and naive to start with - he doesn't even know that
kings could be bad people (since there's a prevailing propaganda that
kings are chosen by the Gods). You've got to remember, Eludan is
several thousand years old. You tend to pick up a few tricks during
those centuries of subterfuge and an 11 year old is no match. Of
course, it might be interesting if Eludan were to make one minor slip
that Torsten notices and worries at until he finds the truth...he is
after all very perceptive despite his naivety.

[...]


> >
> > While I've got ideas for scenes in the period from the flight from
> > Nimlin to where Torsten meets Eludan and again from there to the
> > King's isle, there are a lot of gaps between.
>
> That may be a hint, actually -- that there are gaps may mean there are
> places where you should jump-cut, or do transitional paragraphs.
>
> It's worth doing a synopsis of the story (as opposed to all the stuff
> that's just "going on"), so you can see what scenes you really need, and
> what's fine but can be mentioned in a sentence later on.

Yes, I think that's a good idea. Some structure to work around.

> >I do know that Szarchat,
> > Xerlat, the mage and some supernatural enemy called forth by the mage
> > pursue the three escapees until they get to Eludan's side.
>
> Is this anything more than an action-loop?

Perhaps Torsten discovering more about himself? I take your point
though, it's where I'm struggling at the moment.

[...]

> > The end, covering the revealing of all the various secrets that Eludan
> > has been keeping shouldn't be too hard.
>
> I'm still moderately convinced that it's your first revelation-scene, not
> the end of the story. The one that comes when you "change gear" between
> the beginning and the middle of the story -- in effect, 'here's the set
> up, here's the crap we're in, NOW what do we do?' And then the middle
> further complicates that set-up.

OK, but this is not a stand-alone novel. It's meant to be book one of
a series.

[...]


> > As for your question about the main protags (probably Torsten, Eludan,
> > Laruenna & Faluthain) and what they *want*: -
> >
> > I've already dealt with Eludan.
>
> You haven't, actually. He's mildly interesting as it stands, but I don't
> believe him. Even Prospero got his ass kicked out of Milan -- and the
> plot had to have him burn his books at the end, so the resolution didn't
> have to cope with that much free magic in the world.
>
> It's possible that Eludan starts off as the good guy and ends up as the
> bad guy: it depends what he really wants. And, of course, how much moral
> black-and-white you want in the story, and how much in the way of shades
> of grey.

I'd prefer him to start off appearing to the reader as ambiguous and
then clearly become the good guy towards the end. I think to have
Manador, the Nameless Ones AND Eludan against Torsten would be too
overwhelming odds! One thing that might not be obvious from what I've
written is that he's a very trusted mage in the West. He's been around
for centuries, helping them keep the Enemy at bay. He's not quite
succeeded, but he's trying to rectify matters. Then there is a
complicating factor in that he's lost his colleague by the wayside (a
mage like himself) so he's doing the job of two.

> > Torsten just wants to stay alive most of the time, but also needs to
> > find out why he's different, who his family were, what this thing is
> > that's making him do these strange deeds, who he is, why he is who he
> > is, why, why, why... ;)
>
> But, more interestingly, once he's found out, he's got to work out what he
> does about people's expectations of him, and his own responsibilities.
> He's eleven. With great power comes... well, the ability to make colossal
> fuck-ups, quite often.

Good point.

> > Faluthain is consumed by the need to do the right thing, to strive
> > against the Powers That Be as he's been trained to by Eludan. Once he
> > finds out he's a king,
>
> He's a king? Damn, my eyes glazed over at some point, I missed that.

I did mention it, back when I said Eludan was like a chessmaster,
playing his pieces - including resurrecting Faluthain's line.

> Do we need another Aragorn?

Well, Aragorn is a more complex character since he knows he is the
king but is essentially afraid of what he sees as the weakness of
Isildur within him. Faluthain knows nothing about his line. With
typical omission, Eludan just told him that he rescued Faluthain and
Laurenna when they were little children. They believe the
circumstances to be like Torsten's...in fact, it was during a coup
which ended the reign of Faluthain's father.

So I see the similarities, but I'm not going to dwell on Faluthain's
becoming a king - so hopefully he won't be too much like Aragorn, who
is a far more central character to LOTR than Faluthain will be to this
story.

> > Faluthain's sister Laurenna is more complex. While she has the same
> > training as her brother and therefore the same righteous sense of
> > duty, her views are tempered by a realism born of the fact that she's
> > a woman.
>
> It'll be interesting to see a fantasy society that doesn't have
> egalitarian treatment of the genders. Assuming it isn't just the same old
> oppression, which we can read any day of the week in mainstream books. :)

She's very much gone against the grain, forcing her way to equality by
sheer stubbornness and hard work. There's no oppression as such, it's
just an expectation of what the different roles of women and men are.
She's had to prove she's just as good as any man at what she's chosen
to do, if not better in some respects. It's been the story of her
adolescence and she's since had a good decade of enjoying well-earned
equality. But she's unconsciously had to sacrifice a lot. She has no
fixed home, but wanders with Faluthain on Eludan's errands. Whilst
quite attractive-looking, she dresses for functionality, wearing
clothes of a teenage boy rather than dresses and rides astride a horse
rather than with side-saddle. By the time she has her crisis of faith,
she realises that (a) she's older than most women who seek a partner
and children and (b) that she might not be viewed very much as a woman
anymore by men since she has become so "man-like" in their view. The
latter actually terrifies her - that she has now become unattractive
to men because they might view her as being like a man.

> >Rescuing and caring for Torsten brings out hitherto unknown
> > maternal instincts
>
> Really? An 11 year old? The woman's nuts!

Read the above. She's definitely got *issues*!

> I'm more familiar with friends saying that babies bring out their maternal
> instincts... but what do I know? Being about as maternal as a brick...
> <g>
>
> I wonder if she also thinks of him as a little brother?

Yes, that too.

> >and she realises that she's running out of time to
> > marry (she's 31 for God's sake - the marrying age for women in that
> > culture is on average 15-22 years) and have children of her own - a
> > feeling that her brother cannot relate to as he doesn't have the same
> > restrictions. She is proud of her role as an *agent of good* but is
> > torn by the need to give it all up to be a *real woman* (her own
> > words!).
>
> The interesting thing you could do to her is get her pregnant early on,
> and have her cope with the baby as the plot progresses. Her views on real
> womanhood might go through some fascinating permutations under those
> circumstances....

Maybe in the second book, once she's chosen her partner.

> (But it depends on what you know about her: whether she's one of those
> people who will make good mothers, by their own long-held standards, or
> whether she's someone who likes the idea of a baby far better than she at
> first likes the reality of one.)

She has definitely romanticised the idea of having a baby. But I think
she'll be ok in the end. I haven't worked out what happens to her in
the middle of the whole story (not just this book). I do know that
eventually she chooses to give up her nomadic archer's lifestyle and
settles down with the minstrel because he offers her the life she
wants, whereas the spy offers more of the same, exciting though it is.
Though she still trains archers at home ;)

> >Added to this is the complication of love interest from two
> > competing characters who join the group on the second trip - a hard &
> > ruthlessly efficient spy/assassin who impresses her with his prowess &
> > bravery and a gentle & humorous minstrel who charms her with his wit &
> > philosophy. The men represent the choice she must make.
>
> Well, OK, why can't she have _both_ of them?

Well, she does, to start with, which is OK for a while. But she has to
make a final choice of who to marry and settle down with.

[...]

> > Aside from these characters, we pick up another, slightly older boy
> > somewhere along the line who becomes Torsten's confidant. That's his
> > role in this book, his own motivations are not an issue until much,
> > much later in the series.
>
> And he sounds potentially very interesting, too -- if he's Torsten's
> friend, you've got that whole thing about what happens when you're _not_
> the Chosen One? Which could complicate their relationship nicely.

As I fully intend it to.

> That character reads to me like someone you'd introduce after the
> immediate early set-up, so that he can bring plot-complications in with
> him. It depends on how long you want the narrative to be, and how you
> want to pace it, as to whether his motivations come in in another book, or
> just in a later part of the first one.

Like I said, both Torsten and this character, Saithyan, will be
together for a couple of books. So in this book, he can be a confidant
to help us discover Torsten's feelings and how he's coping. Also to
insert maybe a bit more humour into the story. With TWO boys around,
there are infinitely greater numbers of possibilities for getting into
trouble, especially if Saithyan is a bit goofier and less introverted
than Torsten is.

The plot-complications will come and may drive them apart for a while,
and I see Saithyan acting more as a foil then rather than as a
confidant.


> Anyhow, like I say, Patricia will be along shortly to say this better...
> :-)

Well, you've don't a very decent job yourself. Lots of ideas there,
thank you! :)

Josh Deb Barman

unread,
May 25, 2004, 8:58:59 PM5/25/04
to
Dan Goodman <dsg...@visi.com> wrote in message news:<Xns94F462F72E3...@209.98.13.60>...

[...]


> It occurs to me that part of the problem may be that you're writing the
> first book rather than writing a story.
>
> It sounds as if what you have is a multi-volume story -- rather than a
> set of one-volume stories with a larger story arc, or a set of
> independent one-volume stories set in the same history but not part of a
> greater story.

I'm not really a fan of series where the individual volumes end with a
cliffhanger that demands that you *must* read the next volume (cue a
cheesy announcer's voice: "find out what happens next time on...") or
worse, just stop. My ideal would be to write self-contained novels
that stand on their own but which have an overall story which
progresses with each volume.

But yes, I'm going to take my time with this 11 year old character,
he's got a long way to go. Several volumes way to go.

> If so, you might need to work on the story all the way through -- and
> then go back, put in
> stuff all through it which you won't realize belongs there till you have
> the ending, and decide where to divide it into books.

I have a basic idea, but I think you're right. I need to work on the
outline of the whole story as well as those of the individual volumes.

> Digressing a bit, on not realizing Patricia wanted details: Someone
> else's general description almost never gives me any useful information.
> Even when it's accurate.
>
> And quite often it's not accurate. There've been people convinced that
> I'd told them I grew up in New York City, and others convinced I'd told
> them I'd grown up in a small town.
> I have never told anyone either of those things.
>
> In the first case, they've decided that New York City and New York State
> are identical. Or arrived at the same mistake by discarding the word
> "State" after "New York" as irrelevant.
>
> In the second case, they've decided that "rural area" and "small town"
> have the same meaning.
>
> An article in a local half-monthly paper said that the subject of an
> interview had grown up in the South, and still had that accent. "The
> South" is a fairly large area, and no monocultural. Later, the article
> said she'd grown up on the east coast of Florida. That narrows it down to
> perhaps three dialects.

Good points there. Thanks for your help :)

Brian M. Scott

unread,
May 25, 2004, 9:09:35 PM5/25/04
to
On 25 May 2004 17:20:13 -0700 josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh
Deb Barman) wrote in
<news:fbd6aed6.04052...@posting.google.com> in
rec.arts.sf.composition:

> mary_...@cix.co.uk (Mary Gentle) wrote in message
> news:<memo.2004052...@roxanne.morgan.ntlworld.com>...

[...]

>>>They fear
>>> him getting his hands on the unknown person who is giving off this
>>> enormous raw energy, as Eludan would train the most powerful magical
>>> being/manipulator ever and use him to destroy them.

>> I think it would be reasonable to be on the Powers' side here. (You don't
>> watch _Angel,_ by any chance?) Even Gandalf came near to slipping, and
>> that was with the moral gravity of Tolkien's universe to back him up --
>> which it doesn't seem to me that Eludan has...

> I'm not sure what you mean...that's probably because I don't watch
> Angel. I know who he is but that's about it! Am I right in thinking
> that Eludan seems to be more sinister to you than the Powers That Be
> (despite their methods)?

He doesn't necessarily seem sinister at the moment, though
you could easily make him so. What worries me (and, judging
by the Gandalf comment, Mary as well) is what there is to
keep him from replacing the Powers -- benevolently, no
doubt, from his point of view, but ... .

> The ambiguity is interesting though, as you
> mention. It might be a good idea not to make it plain that Eludan is a
> good guy until later. The fact of the matter is that the Powers That
> Be are not good at all. Not in the slightest. I think I'd better
> explain about them a bit...

> The one at the back of it all for now is the 'dark lord' Manador who
> is a deeply malevolent and dreadful spirit of evil. We don't meet him
> in this book though, we only feel his manoeouvrings. He acts through
> his three main henchmen: the Nameless Ones, three warlock-knights so
> ancient that no-one can remember who they are. All four of these
> antagonists are themselves magical beings/manipulators, so this is why
> Eludan cannot just sweep them away. He could match any one of them but
> is outnumbered and outgunned. He *needs* Torsten to even the odds for
> him. They obviously do not want this. Why can't they just destroy
> Eludan? Well, he's a wily old fox for a start, with millennia of
> experience to help him evade capture. Secondly, he doesn't really
> venture out of the realms where the bad guys don't hold sway. Thirdly,
> the Nameless Ones have other important things to do rather than just
> hunt one mage. They're busy conquering lands for their master.

How big *is* this world? Eludan, Manador, and the Nameless
Ones have evidently been around for a *long* time; why
haven't they long since sewn everything up?

[...]

But if this doesn't come out until the second book, you lose
the reader who thinks 'This is dumb'.

[...]

>>>Added to this is the complication of love interest from two


>>> competing characters who join the group on the second trip - a hard &
>>> ruthlessly efficient spy/assassin who impresses her with his prowess &
>>> bravery and a gentle & humorous minstrel who charms her with his wit &
>>> philosophy. The men represent the choice she must make.

>> Well, OK, why can't she have _both_ of them?

> Well, she does, to start with, which is OK for a while. But she has to
> make a final choice of who to marry and settle down with.

At least one of the three is insufficiently unconventional!

[...]

Brian

Josh Deb Barman

unread,
May 25, 2004, 9:16:03 PM5/25/04
to
zeb...@paradise.net.nz (Zeborah) wrote in message news:<1ged3hz.1pwt9ws1gfth1cN%zeb...@paradise.net.nz>...

[...]

> Depending on what sort of writer you are -- this varies enormously --
> Dan might be right that you need to plan the whole story arc (to a
> greater or lesser extent). Or you might need, at some point, to put the
> rest of the arc entirely out of your mind and focus on this book.

I think I need some basic idea of where the whole thing is going but
yes, at some level, I need to just concentrate on getting this one
going. But that's difficult without an idea of what's happening!

> It seems to me like you've got the main plot: boy starts out with
> questions about who, what, and why he is; by the end of the book he's
> gone through a lot, has grown up a bit, and has had his questions
> largely answered. "Coming of age" is a respectable plot that goes back
> to Jack and the Beanstalk and then some.
>
> But, depending on what sort of writer you are....
>
> For me, what you have now would be enough to start with: you've got the
> first several chapters, and you've got a general direction after that.
> When I start writing, that's usually about what I've got: so I start
> writing my way through the things I know, and as I write, I get more
> ideas: one of my characters is hesitant to meet Duke Hobris, so I
> think, "Hmm, he must be a villain; why? what'll he do?" etc.
>
> Some other authors might need to know everything.
>
> And other authors again might need to know nothing at all.

I'm still trying to find my style. But I'm definitely not in the last
category!

> What have you written, story-wise (as opposed to background-wise)? Some
> scenes scattered here and there? Some scenes/chapters starting at the
> start of the book? Where did it get stuck?
>
> How long ago did you write it? If a long time ago, what happens if you
> try rewriting it now _without looking at what you wrote before_?
>
> > Clunky prose, reads like history book, cardboard characters,
> > inadequate character study...overall a clumsy effort.

Story-wise, I have two different versions. I have a handwritten
manuscript from about 1995-6 which covers a lot of ground but is very
sketchy and clumsy etc. I have a better version where I rewrote the
first version and then re-rewrote it again. I guess the last revision
of that was in 2000. Now, while it is undoubtedly better than the
first version, it still is far from the complete picture. Because I've
added bits here and there, improves scenes at points but not others,
it is a bit disjointed. I've decided to use that as a guide but
actually write from scratch. This is what I've done now. It's flowing
much better and my style of writing has developed and improved, and
I'm more widely-read now.

> Your characters sound fine from the summary -- and certainly the boy
> does.

The info I've given comes from my current version - the total rewrite
from scratch. So yes, the characterisation is something I'm not so
worried about this time as it's much better.

> > I don't think I have a story. I have some quite nice scenes in my mind
> > but little in the way of linkage. No overall plan. That's where I have
> > to do the work.
>
> What you described sounded like a story, and like a plan: Boy has
> questions about himself. Boy's city is destroyed. Boy and friends flee
> to safety. Boy and friends get chased. Boy and friends escape. Boy's
> questions are answered.
>
> (It's possibly I shouldn't summarise it like that lest you think it's a
> cliche. It's not: it's a trope. Tropes are good things. I'm just
> summarising it this way to explain why I think it looks like a story and
> a plan.)
>
> If that doesn't look to you like a story and a plan, what do you think
> is missing?

The details between. The interludes. My very first version reads like
a news report almost. It gives facts, then clunks into dialogue. This
time, I've started successfully IMO to blend things together smoothly.
But I'm getting stuck after a decent start, because I'm not sure what
happens in the middle of the story.

> > In a way, yes. The scenes I describe above can be linked in various
> > ways, but it's not obvious to me which way. The quiet interludes, the
> > building of the plot - these things prevent the story from being one
> > headlong rush of scene after scene. That is what is lacking.
>
> Some good stories have been written based on a headlong rush of scene
> after scene. (Possibly not long multi-book sagas, but I wouldn't bet on
> never.)
>
> Hmm. If all your scenes are action-filled and you feel there are no
> interludes for characters and readers to stop and think, try asking R.L.
> about Bickham scenes; that might be helpful.

Yes, Mary's already filled me in on this. Good stuff, I'll try it.
While I'm writing better now, I still get into *modes* too rigidly. If
I'm writing action, there will be an action scene; if I'm trying to
write the interlude, it will seem to go on and on rather than
*inter-lude*. I need to meld these together better.

> >So this time, I decided to *just write the
> > damned thing*. But it's not that easy!
>
> Er, what's the appropriate response to this?
>
> Oh, yes.
>
> MWA-HAHAHA!
>
> :-)
>
> (In other words: yes, we all have that problem.)

I had guessed! ;)

[...]


> Okay, plot noodling questions...
>
> What scenes do you have planned already?

Well, as you may have gathered, the start is pretty decent. The end is
also quite well planned. There are a couple of key scenes in the
middle which I have in mind. But that's all.

> Have you tried writing a summary of each scene on a piece of card and
> shuffling them around to find out which order they go in? Or do you
> already know the order?

I need to get the cards ready for all the scenes first I think! But
yes, that would be a useful way of doing it.

> Take each scene one at a time and consider
>
> a) what has to happen for this scene to take place?
> i) where do they have to be?
> ii) does anyone have to be dead/sick/angry?
> iii) do they need to have lost or found anything?
>
> b) given this scene, what could happen next?
> i) does it change the direction they travel?
> ii) has someone just died/got injured/been badly insulted?
> iii) have they just lost or found something?
>
> (These are not necessarily the best of plot-noodling questions for this
> format, depending on how many scenes you've planned already, but could
> be helpful to think about anyway.)

Thanks for that, I'll try it. My problem is that I've never approached
writing in a systematic, logical manner. I've just sat down and
written things. I've never analysed a scene like that. Maybe that's my
problem, so let's hope this works!

> What kind of terrain are they travelling through? What constraints does
> that pose on them? Do they need special equipment? special skills? Do
> they need a map or know the way?
>
> Where do they think they're headed? Why? Are their reasons correct?
>
> What do they think they know that turns out to be wrong?

More very pertinent points, thanks!

> It's way past my bedtime now.

Ditto, so off to bed! :)

Patricia C. Wrede

unread,
May 25, 2004, 11:20:54 PM5/25/04
to
"Josh Deb Barman" <josh_de...@yahoo.com> wrote in message
news:fbd6aed6.04052...@posting.google.com...

> I'm not really a fan of series where the individual volumes end with a
> cliffhanger that demands that you *must* read the next volume (cue a
> cheesy announcer's voice: "find out what happens next time on...") or
> worse, just stop. My ideal would be to write self-contained novels
> that stand on their own but which have an overall story which
> progresses with each volume.

I apologize for having missed a bunch of posts in here -- I was out of town
and away from all possible Internet from, essentially, late Friday to late
yesterday. Niece's graduation. So once again, I'm coming in in the middle.

But...is there some reason why you *can't* write self-contained novels?

> But yes, I'm going to take my time with this 11 year old character,
> he's got a long way to go. Several volumes way to go.

And is there some reason why you *must* start at the "beginning" when he's
eleven?

For some stories, of course, this is exactly the right thing, but there are
tons of serieses out there that were not written in the order that their
internal chronology would seem to indicate. And if you're having trouble
doing stand-alones, writing out of order is one useful way of achieving
that. Is there some interesting adventure that happens to him when he's
eighteen or twenty-three or thirty-one or whenever, that you could start
with as a self-contained novel, with all the stuff you've figured out about
when he was eleven and later as background?

If your reaction to the above was basically "Eeeeuuuuww -- no way!" then
it's probably not what you want to do. But if it was "I can't give up on
the eleven-year-old story; I've put too much work into it!" then maybe you
should think again. And if it was "Gosh, that sounds
interesting...but...but...but...um..." then it might be what you need to do
even if you don't really want to; it's worth a serious look, anyway. And of
course if you thought "Wow! That's a great idea! Why didn't I think of
that?" and went off and wrote the opening two chapters, it's obviously the
right thing. ;)

> I have a basic idea, but I think you're right. I need to work on the
> outline of the whole story as well as those of the individual volumes.

Do you? Is the "big story," the multi-volume one, the thiing that you are
primarily interested in telling, and nothing else is anything but secondary?
Or is this a case of doing the biography of the character, and having enough
idea of the general outline that you're having trouble coming up with
book-sized bits of his life to look at in detail?

It's *possible* that you're the sort of writer who really needs to have the
whole thing pinned down, but with something as large as this sounds...well,
it seems fairly likely to me that you'll run into the problem of things not
coming out according to plan *somewhere* along the line. If you need more
planning than you've got, by all means do it, but keep in mind that you're
probably going to need a lot more flexibility than you think you will.

Patricia C. Wrede


Dan Goodman

unread,
May 25, 2004, 11:28:02 PM5/25/04
to
josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh Deb Barman) wrote in

> Good points there. Thanks for your help :)
>
Quite welcome!

Meanwhile: Two of my characters are headed for a long discussion about
whether they could be a good couple with the proper counseling. And they
haven't even held hands yet.

And this is supposed to be a short story.

David Friedman

unread,
May 26, 2004, 12:27:24 AM5/26/04
to
In article <fbd6aed6.04052...@posting.google.com>,
josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh Deb Barman) wrote:

> The Saga isn't even a source, I'm just commenting on how the
> styles appear similar - if one looked at the Saga in terms of modern
> writing, it isn't well done. But that of course is missing the point,
> since it was written in Icelandic poetry form.

Prose, actually, like (I believe) all the sagas, although with bits of
poetry embedded in it.

--
Remove NOSPAM to email
Also remove .invalid
www.daviddfriedman.com

Zeborah

unread,
May 26, 2004, 3:37:16 AM5/26/04
to
Josh Deb Barman <josh_de...@yahoo.com> wrote:

<snip>

>Because I've
> added bits here and there, improves scenes at points but not others,
> it is a bit disjointed. I've decided to use that as a guide but
> actually write from scratch. This is what I've done now. It's flowing
> much better and my style of writing has developed and improved, and
> I'm more widely-read now.

Sounds like the rewrite-from-scratch is working well for you, then.

> The details between. The interludes. My very first version reads like
> a news report almost. It gives facts, then clunks into dialogue. This
> time, I've started successfully IMO to blend things together smoothly.
> But I'm getting stuck after a decent start, because I'm not sure what
> happens in the middle of the story.

Ah. Yes. Yes, I know that problem.

> Yes, Mary's already filled me in on this. Good stuff, I'll try it.
> While I'm writing better now, I still get into *modes* too rigidly. If
> I'm writing action, there will be an action scene; if I'm trying to
> write the interlude, it will seem to go on and on rather than
> *inter-lude*. I need to meld these together better.

One possibility is to take a look at an author who you admire and who
writes books that are similar in style/tone to what you want to do, and
see how that author handles it.

> Well, as you may have gathered, the start is pretty decent. The end is
> also quite well planned. There are a couple of key scenes in the
> middle which I have in mind. But that's all.

What's the last scene you have written? What have they just done? What
has just happened to them? Have they made any decision (and what is
it?) or are they just going with the flow (and where is it taking them?)

If they have a specific goal yet, is there something immediately
stopping them from reaching that goal? Do they have enough food? Are
they tired or fresh? Any wounds slowing them down? Are there hostile
strangers about? Wild animals? Do they know the way? Are the bad guys
close behind them? Are the bad guys setting up an ambush?

If they don't have a specific goal yet, why not? What are they doing in
the meantime? Do they all have different goals? What will it take to
reach a single decision? (Once they reach a single decision, go back to
the paragraph above this.)

<snip scene analysis ideas>

> Thanks for that, I'll try it. My problem is that I've never approached
> writing in a systematic, logical manner. I've just sat down and
> written things. I've never analysed a scene like that. Maybe that's my
> problem, so let's hope this works!

Sometimes just sitting down and writing things is quite enough.
Sometimes that gets stuck and analysis can prove useful. (If analysis
doesn't prove useful there are other things to try, but it's one way to
start.)

Zeborah

R. L.

unread,
May 26, 2004, 6:31:00 AM5/26/04
to
On Wed, 26 May 2004 19:37:16 +1200, zeb...@paradise.net.nz (Zeborah)
wrote:

>Josh Deb Barman <josh_de...@yahoo.com> wrote:

/snip/

>> While I'm writing better now, I still get into *modes* too rigidly.

Have you tried writing scenes, or at least the notes for them, out of
order? Then when in action mode, you could do several travel/action
scenes, and when in interlude mode you could do several campfire/romance
conversations, and fit them together later.

>>If
>> I'm writing action, there will be an action scene; if I'm trying to
>> write the interlude, it will seem to go on and on rather than
>> *inter-lude*.

I have problems with reaction/interlude/sequel/new plan passages too. It
helped me a lot to see Bickham's recipie for making that quite different
than the action scene. My muse kept trying to put an action/conflict
pattern into the reaction passage, when all that's really needed is the
character feeling, then thinking, then deciding, then determining next
step. Which can fit into a transition or something, doesn't need a whole
scene.

>> I need to meld these together better.

As Mary G. said, they can be nested and interwoven in all sorts of ways.
She didn't give examples, but after a physical action scene, while the
character is resting in bed and his lover is helping him decide the next
goal, they could have a quarrel which would be more important than
whatever the physical action was about. Then later during some physical
action he could remember the quarrel and decide what to do about it.
Etc.

Louis L'Amour seems to put in sequels to half a dozen scenes from
previous chapters every time the hero rides two pages through beautiful
scenery without physical conflict. :-) Also a 'sequel' to one 'scene'
can be spread out in bits through a couple of chapters. He rides along
feeling a reaction to a scene with the girl. Then there's a fight or
something, and he reacts to it, then rides along and thinks about the
girl, etc.


>One possibility is to take a look at an author who you admire and who
>writes books that are similar in style/tone to what you want to do, and
>see how that author handles it.

I color-coded a bunch of text for whether it was action or reaction,
then played with the font size and zoom percent till I could see a
pattern on screen. Think I used some Tarzan books. It wasn't easy to
find things in public domain that clearly fitted Bickham.


R.L.
--
http://www.houseboatonthestyx.com/rasfc/
Taboos, 'rules', links to archives & FAQs & crit groups etc
and blog on current rasfc issues

Catja Pafort

unread,
May 26, 2004, 9:38:21 AM5/26/04
to
Mary wrote:

> It's possible that "one long headlong rush of scene after scene" is the
> last thing you need. Bickham, in SCENE AND STRUCTURE, has a structure
> that he calls "scene and sequel". The "scenes" are the Things That Happen
> (action scenes, revelations, the wrong word let slip in a conversation;
> whatever). Any occurrence is a scene. A 'sequel', in Bickham's terms, is
> where the protagonist takes in what has happened, thinks about it, decides
> what he/she will do, and acts. That act becomes the next scene.
> It doesn't have to be used as mechanically as that -- you can "nest"
> mini-sequels inside scenes, frex. And sequels can be reflections, or
> transition passages that span time, or just what the hero thinks in the
> time it takes him to leap into the saddle ("I'm outta here!", possibly).

For me, reading Bickham has clarified that gentle wave pattern - you
have a 'scene' where Stuff Happens which is fast, tense, and full of
conflict (for various values of, where 'conflict' means discrepancy
between what the character wants and what he gets, or what he says and
what he does, or a misunderstanding between two characters, or...)
The 'sequel' is the bit where everybody licks their wounds, plans,
reflects, where you can put in the explanations of how the fight went
and why it went that way (no time for reflection when your character is
swinging his sword), character and reader get a breather, and where you
have the next conflict mapped out and set up.


> But what it gives you, at its best, is an on-going structure of tension
> and release leading to tension: rinse and repeat. There's enough brief
> relaxation between things happening that it isn't so headlong the reader
> drops out from exhaustion. And every 'WTF do I do NOW?'-sequel presents
> the reader with another plot-question to be answered -- whether it's "do
> they get away?" or "will he tell her?" or whatever -- and then they (with
> luck) read on to get the question answered.

I think it's important to remember that 'scene' does not mean 'fast' and
'sequel' slow; but I find that my scenes have far more dialogue in them,
whereas the sequels can be almost exclusively reflection & observation.


> By that time, of course, you'll have slotted in more plot-questions, so
> that although one anxiety is satisfied, there's a bunch more that aren't.
> Until the end of the book, of course, and then you wham the final answers
> into place.

For a trilogy (the quadrology-in-attack measures almost an Ash by now)
would you still wrap up everything at once? I have too many strands
(character and plot) for that to work; although I'm now thinking that I
should have a proper climax of sorts. I still haven't got a handle on
structure; particularly when it comes to endings. (I'm much better with
beginnings; more practice)


> Bickham is specific about scene-and-sequel being used to put the
> protagonist in a worse and worse situation -- every scene should end with
> a "disaster" for the protagonist, and every sequel-decision the
> protagonist takes should lead them into deeper shit than before. Until
> the end, when the protagonist succeeds. This works very well, and you can
> get a good explosive end out of it, but it's not the only way you can use
> the structure -- you can have minor and major successes along the way,
> provided there's _something_ in place that keeps the reader reading.

I think the deeper and deeper shit works if you have a good explanation
*why* so much goes wrong; because the less success the protag has, the
harder it is to picture him as competent enough to win the final
confrontation.

(quoting myself, from a post entitled 'how the other half writes'):

"Bickham uses the example of a guy who wants to be the first to climb a
mountain, and it's a good enough example that I want to nick it. Sure,
he can be twarted at every step of the way - no funding, injuries,
self-doubts - but if the story is about Fred and the mountain I want a
significant part of it to *be* about Fred and the mountain. If he never
gets out of Blackpool, it's a story about a man with a dream, but not
the one I wanted to read.

And, similarily, if I am to believe that he's *capable* of being the
first to climb a mountain in Nepal, I need to see throughout the story
that he's got the necessary skills - he's got to be a good climber; he's
got to be able to live under primitive conditions and arrange things
with people whose language he doesn't speak, etc etc. Depending on the
level of the conflict I envision, he might be overcoming a physical
difficulty, he might have to race someone else who also wants to be the
first, or his personal victory might be that, after a lifetime of being
used to success that just when he's got the final triumph in front of
him, he can put the safety of others ahead of personal gratification.
So, I want to see the character grow more skilled, not just more
desperate."


Robin Hobb's 'Assasin' series is an example of how that model goes
desperately wrong. The main character loses throughout the trilogy -
every single confrontation he seems to come out worse; he's caught,
escapes, is caught _again_, escapes only with the clothes on his back-
until at the end, you need a blimmin miracle for him to a) survive and
b) for the bad guys to lose.

This litany of disasters made for a very boring book. I want to read
about characters overcoming difficulty, proactive characters, not people
being clobbered by the author. I like the idea that a scene makes a
significant change; which might mean a failure, or a new problem, or a
change of status - stay-at-home Frodo vs. Frodo on the road.


> [Details:]
>
> > My WIP (presently titled "The Last Child") is set in an archaic
> > timeframe,
>
> Can I just say "huh?" What's an 'archaic timeframe?'
>
> >told in third person narrative.
> >
> > My protag is an 11 year old boy called Torsten. He is the main
> > viewpoint character, but not to say the only one.
> [...]

Why is an archaic protag on a strange world named after a guy I went to
school with? T(h)orsten is such a common name in North Germany, I found
it *quite* distracting, but I always hate reading about Toms, Dicks and
Harrys. (Mary K's excempted)


> > The story actually starts with him fishing at a point on the river a
> > little way from the village. Then, with his unusual senses, he
> > perceives *something* and, acting on instinct, decides to hide in the
> > river behind a boulder. Moments later, a strange band of outlandish
> > warriors ride into view, stopping to water their horses. Unfortunately
> > for Torsten, they have two hounds with them who of course scent that
> > someone's been there. Torsten submerges himself behind the rock and
> > the hounds are foiled by the water. The warriors realise something is
> > amiss, search the banks but finding nothing, head towards the village.
>
> OK, two points.
>
> (1) the story doesn't necessarily start here, this can be covered in
> flashback if you need it too; and
>
> (2) even before we get to the "barbarians burned my village!", my brain is
> screaming "Conan!" (and "Xena!" :) I've read this before; I've seen this
> before...

Half the time the burning only serves to get the character into the
world :-(


> If you want to start with the village, then
>
> > Torsten picks up a stone and throws it at the
> > scout, more to buy time than anything else. He runs away into the
> > forest without looking to see if he had hit, fully expecting to be
> > shot before he reaches cover. However, the scout is actually floating
> > face-down in the river, the implication being that the stone either
> > killed or stunned him (weird!).
>
> would be a reasonable place to open, assuming you can get him to notice
> that something odd has happened. Or,

I think that would be a reasonable action-packed opening; and I'd be
inclined to pull back slightly and _show_ the floating, (and that the
stone was thrown with a lot of hatred) but not that he realises what
happens - otherwise it could be that he sees it as confirmation of his
status.

.]
>
> > In grief, Torsten runs off and outdistances Faluthain, who is chasing
> > him to prevent him getting caught too. Torsten reaches his village,
> > find the outlanders burning it and driving the villagers into the
> > burning huts or putting them to the sword. He sees his dead aunt &
> > uncle. He is devastated and is almost discovered, but Faluthain
> > catches up with him, snatches him from danger and spirits him away
> > into the forest again.
>
> Credibility problem here.

Seconded. It's just a bit *too* much rape and pillage and trauma for the
poor sod - I'd like to see him more disoriented (and if this guy is any
sort of a healer, even with just a belt kit or a hip flask, he'll give
the kid enough poppy juice/alcohol to knock him out if he can't be
reasoned with.)



> > What I've set out above is the first 4 chapters.
>
> Nah. Two chapters, max, and you could get it into one perfectly easily.

It depends how plot-driven the whole thing is. I get many more chapters
out of far less action ;-)


> >Very broadly, the
> > rest is how Torsten, Faluthain and Laurenna are hunted first by Xerlat
> > and Szarchat and then by some of the Powers That Be themselves, before
> > making it to a neighbouring realm and to the 'safety' of Eludan,
>
> OK, that's a half-page transition scene, unless you've got any seriously
> interesting stuff on the way. :)

Well, my reaction was 'what's new'? Good guys, bad guys, very very very
powerful mages, chases, good Samaritans...

<yawn>

(Difficult to get it across in a short synopsis, maybe? What *does* make
this different? I am currentlly not-reading Andre Norton's 'Brother to
Shadows' which is so full of clichees that I just can't face it. Tension
aplenty, but nothing I'm not familiar with)


> > Again, in short, at the time of the coup (10 years ago), the King's
> > brother seized the king's only son (his youngest child, an infant) and
> > cruelly left him to die in the forest (though I'm not revealing that
> > until the end).
>
> OK, you have a problem here -- which is that the reader will have spotted,
> ten seconds after you mention it, that Torsten is the Missing Heir.
>
> No, it isn't always like that in real life, but this is a book, and as
> soon as you tell the reader that Torsten's adopted, the reader will be
> fitting him into possible families. And, come on, it's going to be the
> King...


The power of Story...


> It's also a problem because
>
> > By the end of the book, it turns out that Torsten is actually that
> > little prince left to die in the forest
>
> is dumb. Unless there's a seriously good reason, possible heirs don't get
> left exposed to die, they get their throats cut. And you haven't given us
> a good reason, except that the bad guy is dumb. Which isn't a good
> reason.
>
> I think, if you're going to do a "lost heir" story, you're best advised to
> get it out into the open as soon as possible -- if a reader has to wait
> until the end to find out that, yes, the boy is the King's son... book
> hits wall, most likely. I'd be inclined to spill the beans around the end
> of chapter 2. Then the story becomes not about who the heir is, but what
> it means to be a lost heir, which is a potentially interesting story.

Also, isn't being king *and* powerful enchanter a bit much? Why are
these wizard kings so easy to dispose of?


> > Eludan is effectively a
>
> plot device

<giggle>

> > Faluthain is consumed by the need to do the right thing, to strive
> > against the Powers That Be as he's been trained to by Eludan. Once he
> > finds out he's a king,
>
> He's a king? Damn, my eyes glazed over at some point, I missed that.
>
> Do we need another Aragorn?

Have you *looked* at Viggo Mortensen? Of *course* we do!!!

<drool>

> >Rescuing and caring for Torsten brings out hitherto unknown
> > maternal instincts
>
> Really? An 11 year old? The woman's nuts!

I suppose it could, if he's a bit shy and traumatised and in obvious
need of mothering. I've got a thirteen-year old showing her vulnerable
side who brought out the maternal instincts of one of my characters; and
the family planning has progressed to renovating a cottage and, errm,
spending a lot of time there alone.


> I'm more familiar with friends saying that babies bring out their maternal
> instincts... but what do I know? Being about as maternal as a brick...
> <g>

Foalies, on the other hand....



> I wonder if she also thinks of him as a little brother?

A mixture, I suppose. Or, at least, -I can envision.


> >and she realises that she's running out of time to
> > marry (she's 31 for God's sake - the marrying age for women in that
> > culture is on average 15-22 years) and have children of her own - a
> > feeling that her brother cannot relate to as he doesn't have the same
> > restrictions. She is proud of her role as an *agent of good* but is
> > torn by the need to give it all up to be a *real woman* (her own
> > words!).
>
> The interesting thing you could do to her is get her pregnant early on,
> and have her cope with the baby as the plot progresses. Her views on real
> womanhood might go through some fascinating permutations under those
> circumstances....

And that would make it worth reading - it's what comes after the happy
ending.


Equally, the not-heir (but older, more competent, more stable) would be
an interesting one to read about - because he could cope with the role
so much better. What are his feelings? His challenges?

Catja

Josh Deb Barman

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May 26, 2004, 2:55:56 PM5/26/04
to
"Brian M. Scott" <b.s...@csuohio.edu> wrote in message news:<1hm48oz4sggfu.y...@40tude.net>...

> > I'm not sure what you mean...that's probably because I don't watch
> > Angel. I know who he is but that's about it! Am I right in thinking
> > that Eludan seems to be more sinister to you than the Powers That Be
> > (despite their methods)?
>
> He doesn't necessarily seem sinister at the moment, though
> you could easily make him so. What worries me (and, judging
> by the Gandalf comment, Mary as well) is what there is to
> keep him from replacing the Powers -- benevolently, no
> doubt, from his point of view, but ... .

The odds are stacked up heavily against him. If you take Gandalf,
there is no way he could replace Sauron and the Nazgul. It's the same
sort of odds here.

> > The one at the back of it all for now is the 'dark lord' Manador who
> > is a deeply malevolent and dreadful spirit of evil. We don't meet him
> > in this book though, we only feel his manoeouvrings. He acts through
> > his three main henchmen: the Nameless Ones, three warlock-knights so
> > ancient that no-one can remember who they are. All four of these
> > antagonists are themselves magical beings/manipulators, so this is why
> > Eludan cannot just sweep them away. He could match any one of them but
> > is outnumbered and outgunned. He *needs* Torsten to even the odds for
> > him. They obviously do not want this. Why can't they just destroy
> > Eludan? Well, he's a wily old fox for a start, with millennia of
> > experience to help him evade capture. Secondly, he doesn't really
> > venture out of the realms where the bad guys don't hold sway. Thirdly,
> > the Nameless Ones have other important things to do rather than just
> > hunt one mage. They're busy conquering lands for their master.
>
> How big *is* this world? Eludan, Manador, and the Nameless
> Ones have evidently been around for a *long* time; why
> haven't they long since sewn everything up?

It's a very big world. What's delayed things is that King Kaspar's
realm Dorthan is a vast and strong country which has been a buffer
limiting the expansion of the bad guys. When the Nameless Ones
engineered Kaspar's fall from the throne of Dorthan (giving it to
their puppet Armin), that's the time they were allowed to expand and
threaten Eludan directly.

I'm not intending to mention the fact that there is a little prince
until the second book. So there will be no question of them thinking
"this is dumb".

Brian M. Scott

unread,
May 26, 2004, 3:13:31 PM5/26/04
to
On 26 May 2004 11:55:56 -0700 josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh

Deb Barman) wrote in
<news:fbd6aed6.04052...@posting.google.com> in
rec.arts.sf.composition:

> "Brian M. Scott" <b.s...@csuohio.edu> wrote in message
> news:<1hm48oz4sggfu.y...@40tude.net>...

>>> I'm not sure what you mean...that's probably because I don't watch
>>> Angel. I know who he is but that's about it! Am I right in thinking
>>> that Eludan seems to be more sinister to you than the Powers That Be
>>> (despite their methods)?

>> He doesn't necessarily seem sinister at the moment, though
>> you could easily make him so. What worries me (and, judging
>> by the Gandalf comment, Mary as well) is what there is to
>> keep him from replacing the Powers -- benevolently, no
>> doubt, from his point of view, but ... .

> The odds are stacked up heavily against him. If you take Gandalf,
> there is no way he could replace Sauron and the Nazgul.

But there is: he could take the ring and -- with the best of
intentions, of course -- use it. He explicitly recognizes
the possibility, as I recall; certainly Galadriel does. And
with the best of intentions, he'd end up creating his own
version of hell. That it wouldn't be Sauron's seems rather
unimportant.

> It's the same sort of odds here.

Eludan is effectively an angel?

[...]

>> How big *is* this world? Eludan, Manador, and the Nameless
>> Ones have evidently been around for a *long* time; why
>> haven't they long since sewn everything up?

> It's a very big world. What's delayed things is that King Kaspar's
> realm Dorthan is a vast and strong country which has been a buffer
> limiting the expansion of the bad guys. When the Nameless Ones
> engineered Kaspar's fall from the throne of Dorthan (giving it to
> their puppet Armin), that's the time they were allowed to expand and
> threaten Eludan directly.

Okay, but I really do think that you need something on the
scale of Majipoor, or Vance's _Big Planet_, or Ringworld to
make it convincing.

[...]

Brian

Josh Deb Barman

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May 26, 2004, 3:18:43 PM5/26/04
to
green...@cix.co.uk (Catja Pafort) wrote in message news:<1gecrfx.udj4w79nvfscN%green...@cix.co.uk>...

> Why is an archaic protag on a strange world named after a guy I went to
> school with? T(h)orsten is such a common name in North Germany, I found
> it *quite* distracting, but I always hate reading about Toms, Dicks and
> Harrys. (Mary K's excempted)

But Torsten is an ancient name, from Scandinavian "Torsteinn", meaning
"Thor's Stone".

As for why he's got an "Earth" name on a strange world, who knows?
Maybe it's a coincidence. My own name may sound like it comes from the
Hebrew "Joshua" but it's actually from ancient Sanskrit and even means
something totally different.

Brian M. Scott

unread,
May 26, 2004, 4:04:53 PM5/26/04
to
On 26 May 2004 12:18:43 -0700 josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh

Deb Barman) wrote in
<news:fbd6aed6.04052...@posting.google.com> in
rec.arts.sf.composition:

> green...@cix.co.uk (Catja Pafort) wrote in message
> news:<1gecrfx.udj4w79nvfscN%green...@cix.co.uk>...

>> Why is an archaic protag on a strange world named after a guy I went to
>> school with? T(h)orsten is such a common name in North Germany, I found
>> it *quite* distracting, but I always hate reading about Toms, Dicks and
>> Harrys. (Mary K's excempted)

> But Torsten is an ancient name, from Scandinavian "Torsteinn", meaning
> "Thor's Stone".

Small correction: the normalized Old Norse form of the name
is <Şorsteinn>, though as late as the settlement of Iceland
it was actually still *<Şorstainn>. If the name goes all
the way back to Proto-Germanic and is not strictly a North
Germanic coinage, it will have derived from something like
*<şunarastainaz>, literally 'thunder-stone'.

> As for why he's got an "Earth" name on a strange world, who knows?
> Maybe it's a coincidence.

The possibility is legitimate, but that won't override
readers' reactions. I don't myself mind in the case of
short names that have multiple origins even in our world.
<Torsten>, on the other hand, really does very strongly
suggest the Germanic name: it's long enough and complex
enough to make coincidence feel unlikely. How many readers
will be similarly bothered is another question.

[...]

Brian

Suzanne A Blom

unread,
May 26, 2004, 6:45:36 PM5/26/04
to

Aquarion <drw...@tmbg.org> wrote in message
news:ste7b0d27da8jg7jn...@4ax.com...

>
> My problem with the "Gigantic Arc" universe thing is that I have a
> decade[1] of thinking about how the universe works, and I keep trying
> to explain it all in one go. Be it one Jordanesque epic, one
> threeByTwo fantasy series, A novel, a short story, a flash or even -
> in one exceptionally silly move - a drabble. Over the years it gained
> characters, a plot, subplots and intrigue and all the necessary stuff.
>
> Because I'm a computer geek, I then found a computer application to
> organise all this.
>
> Because I'm a web-dev computer geek, I wrote my own. So the contents
> of the Fantasy World Cevearn is now dumped along with years of snipits
> of ideas in a cross referenced, interlinked, everything-but-the-sink
> WikiWikiWeb database, and I was about to start it, when there was a
> hoppity skippity, and suddenly I was attacked by a rabid plot bunny.
> Twice.
>
> Now I'm writing Sci-Fi.
>
Attack of the killer plots, ah yes. Have fun.


Josh Deb Barman

unread,
May 26, 2004, 8:15:12 PM5/26/04
to
josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh Deb Barman) wrote in message news:<fbd6aed6.04052...@posting.google.com>...

> "Brian M. Scott" <b.s...@csuohio.edu> wrote in message news:<1hm48oz4sggfu.y...@40tude.net>...
> > > Am I right in thinking that Eludan seems to be more sinister to you than > > > the Powers That Be
> > > (despite their methods)?

> > He doesn't necessarily seem sinister at the moment, though
> > you could easily make him so. What worries me (and, judging
> > by the Gandalf comment, Mary as well) is what there is to
> > keep him from replacing the Powers -- benevolently, no
> > doubt, from his point of view, but ... .

> The odds are stacked up heavily against him. If you take Gandalf,
> there is no way he could replace Sauron and the Nazgul. It's the same
> sort of odds here.

Of course Gandalf could have if he took the Ring for himself...the
difference here is that Torsten is a person and may not take to being
manipulated, especially once he's powerful. And regardless of what
Eludan may or may not be, Torsten's definitely an out-and-out goodie.
What was there to prevent Gandalf from taking the Ring, other than
that he was a *good guy* and knew what would happen if he did the
deed?

Hmm, it's just occurred to me that I might have misinterpreted what
you were saying. Do you mean rather what is *ethically* preventing
Eludan from merely taking the place of Manador and the Nameless Ones?
If that is what you mean, the anwer is this: Eludan is the son and
chief servant of the Sun God, who had another (human) son, who is
Torsten's ultimate ancestor. He was sent down by the Gods to contend
with Manador specifically. His seemingly neverending life will lose
its purpose when Manador is dead - so he would age normally and die
(and therefore be returned to the Gods) in due course. This is meant
to prevent him from being some kind of Ever-King (although this
doesn't apply to Torsten, who potentially could be in the same
position!).

Two ways around this of course for ultra-cynics: (a) he defeats and
captures Manador but does NOT kill him (dangerous as Manador would be
a slippery prisoner) (b) he joins with Manador & the Nameless Ones.

Josh Deb Barman

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May 26, 2004, 8:34:28 PM5/26/04
to
"Patricia C. Wrede" <pwred...@aol.com> wrote in message news:<40b40d93$0$8697$a18e...@newsreader.visi.com>...

> I apologize for having missed a bunch of posts in here -- I was out of town
> and away from all possible Internet from, essentially, late Friday to late
> yesterday. Niece's graduation. So once again, I'm coming in in the middle.

I know exactly how that can happen. I'm soon (as in days) to sit
finals myself!

> But...is there some reason why you *can't* write self-contained novels?


No reason...I'm trying to make each volume self-contained, but part of
a greater whole.

> > But yes, I'm going to take my time with this 11 year old character,
> > he's got a long way to go. Several volumes way to go.
>
> And is there some reason why you *must* start at the "beginning" when he's
> eleven?

Again no reason - other than he would be some kind of superman figure
if I suddenly start the tale when he's older. The deal is that he does
his most extraordinary feats before he's fully reached his potential -
in fact, well before that. I'm setting up the big climax showdown with
Manador for when he's 16. I want the intervening years to show his
development from a kid with lots of potential but is untutored and
naive to someone who can shake the world. To start with him shaking
the world makes it too easy.

Once he's fully matured, even Manador and all the Nameless Ones
together wouldn't withstand him. That's why they're so shit scared of
him and want him dead *yesterday*. It's more interesting a tale if
Torsten has to struggle, rather than just click his fingers and all
the bad guys disappear in a puff of smoke (a wild exaggeration, but do
you get the gist?).

> For some stories, of course, this is exactly the right thing, but there are
> tons of serieses out there that were not written in the order that their
> internal chronology would seem to indicate. And if you're having trouble
> doing stand-alones, writing out of order is one useful way of achieving
> that. Is there some interesting adventure that happens to him when he's
> eighteen or twenty-three or thirty-one or whenever, that you could start
> with as a self-contained novel, with all the stuff you've figured out about
> when he was eleven and later as background?

He will have some interesting things to do when he's a bit older, but
nothing to compare with what he did as a child. Yes, that sets him up
for redundancy once he's older, but I have that in hand.

> If your reaction to the above was basically "Eeeeuuuuww -- no way!" then
> it's probably not what you want to do. But if it was "I can't give up on
> the eleven-year-old story; I've put too much work into it!" then maybe you
> should think again. And if it was "Gosh, that sounds
> interesting...but...but...but...um..." then it might be what you need to do
> even if you don't really want to; it's worth a serious look, anyway. And of
> course if you thought "Wow! That's a great idea! Why didn't I think of
> that?" and went off and wrote the opening two chapters, it's obviously the
> right thing. ;)

To be honest with you, "Eeeeeeuuuuw, no way!". I like flashbacks as
part of a tale, but writing entire prequels, nah. I'd like to work
towards along the crescendo of his power and his problems, rather than
start at the peak and fade backwards.

> > I have a basic idea, but I think you're right. I need to work on the
> > outline of the whole story as well as those of the individual volumes.
>
> Do you? Is the "big story," the multi-volume one, the thiing that you are
> primarily interested in telling, and nothing else is anything but secondary?
> Or is this a case of doing the biography of the character, and having enough
> idea of the general outline that you're having trouble coming up with
> book-sized bits of his life to look at in detail?

I do want to tell the whole story. I also have broadly what he
achieves in the various stages of his life. But trying to tell the
story is the hard bit!

> It's *possible* that you're the sort of writer who really needs to have the
> whole thing pinned down, but with something as large as this sounds...well,
> it seems fairly likely to me that you'll run into the problem of things not
> coming out according to plan *somewhere* along the line. If you need more
> planning than you've got, by all means do it, but keep in mind that you're
> probably going to need a lot more flexibility than you think you will.

Yes, this is the reason that I've resisted making an overall plan so
far. However, I think I'll need to at least think about it some, or I
won't have enough to aim towards. I'm not going to set things in
stone.

Khiem Tran

unread,
May 26, 2004, 9:00:45 PM5/26/04
to
"Patricia C. Wrede" <pwred...@aol.com> wrote in message news:<40b40d93$0$8697$a18e...@newsreader.visi.com>...


> It's *possible* that you're the sort of writer who really needs to have the
> whole thing pinned down, but with something as large as this sounds...well,
> it seems fairly likely to me that you'll run into the problem of things not
> coming out according to plan *somewhere* along the line. If you need more
> planning than you've got, by all means do it, but keep in mind that you're
> probably going to need a lot more flexibility than you think you will.

And speaking of things not going according to plan, things do seem to
have been going remarkably well according to plan so far... from your
synopsis anyway.

The thing is, all your characters seem strangely passive. They react
to threats, they follow orders from someone else, they achieve things
by luck or by involuntary action, and in the end it seems like
whatever they do, they're going to end up at the preordained endpoint
anyway. It seems like it's you pulling the strings as much as it is
Eludan. I wonder if, on your second time around when you know the
characters a little better, they won't start to get more active
themselves and then suddenly your plot could go anywhere.

Even Eludan seems to be only doing enough to keep the story going
according to plan. He sends two agents to rescue "as many people as
possible" from the village and by luck ends up with the one person he
really wanted. What would have happened if they'd arrived a day early?
Would they have tried to take the whole village?

Maybe one idea for the rest of Book One is to give the characters a
chance to be a bit more proactive. Does Faluthain get any leadership
decisions to make? Say the raiders are about to attack another
village. Do the good guys double back to warn or help them, or do they
press on with the mission? Does Torsten ever get offered the chance of
*not* going with the agents and *not* finding out about his past? Do
the characters ever have any option *other* than to retreat, retreat
and then end up on the King's Isle?

Hope this helps,
Khiem.

Josh Deb Barman

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May 26, 2004, 10:41:36 PM5/26/04
to
"Brian M. Scott" <b.s...@csuohio.edu> wrote in message news:<1k2isnh7u5my6.t3hyvh9zxmo$.d...@40tude.net>...

> But there is: he could take the ring and -- with the best of
> intentions, of course -- use it. He explicitly recognizes
> the possibility, as I recall; certainly Galadriel does. And
> with the best of intentions, he'd end up creating his own
> version of hell. That it wouldn't be Sauron's seems rather
> unimportant.

Yes, I realised that later. My correction post is winging its way
through cyberspace right now and will land before this one does. Which
makes this comment pointless. Oh well. Still, there is a difference,
as I explained...

> Eludan is effectively an angel?

That's a very good piece of logic. My earlier corrective post shows
you've hit near the mark.

> [...]
>
> >> How big *is* this world? Eludan, Manador, and the Nameless
> >> Ones have evidently been around for a *long* time; why
> >> haven't they long since sewn everything up?
>
> > It's a very big world. What's delayed things is that King Kaspar's
> > realm Dorthan is a vast and strong country which has been a buffer
> > limiting the expansion of the bad guys. When the Nameless Ones
> > engineered Kaspar's fall from the throne of Dorthan (giving it to
> > their puppet Armin), that's the time they were allowed to expand and
> > threaten Eludan directly.
>
> Okay, but I really do think that you need something on the
> scale of Majipoor, or Vance's _Big Planet_, or Ringworld to
> make it convincing.

Well, put it this way. The known world is mostly on one landmass
stretching from East to West. Broadly speaking, the world is split
down the middle between good and bad (crude oversimplification of
motivations, but hey). On the Western side, about 70% is Dorthan.
Eludan lives in a realm called Peredon to the west of Dorthan. So he's
got 70% of the 'good' lands between him and the Nameless Ones. That
is, until Dorthan falls.

Then, as was so succinctly stated by one of the Gungans in The Phantom
Menace - "it's ouch time".

Josh Deb Barman

unread,
May 26, 2004, 10:50:14 PM5/26/04
to
"Brian M. Scott" <b.s...@csuohio.edu> wrote in message news:<1h4rk4ldfza17.1...@40tude.net>...

> >> Why is an archaic protag on a strange world named after a guy I went to
> >> school with? T(h)orsten is such a common name in North Germany, I found
> >> it *quite* distracting, but I always hate reading about Toms, Dicks and
> >> Harrys. (Mary K's excempted)
>
> > But Torsten is an ancient name, from Scandinavian "Torsteinn", meaning
> > "Thor's Stone".
>
> Small correction: the normalized Old Norse form of the name
> is <Şorsteinn>, though as late as the settlement of Iceland
> it was actually still *<Şorstainn>. If the name goes all
> the way back to Proto-Germanic and is not strictly a North
> Germanic coinage, it will have derived from something like
> *<şunarastainaz>, literally 'thunder-stone'.
> > As for why he's got an "Earth" name on a strange world, who knows?
> > Maybe it's a coincidence.
>
> The possibility is legitimate, but that won't override
> readers' reactions. I don't myself mind in the case of
> short names that have multiple origins even in our world.
> <Torsten>, on the other hand, really does very strongly
> suggest the Germanic name: it's long enough and complex
> enough to make coincidence feel unlikely. How many readers
> will be similarly bothered is another question.

It's sufficiently unfamiliar to most readers of English or American
descent, I think.

In the language I've invented for my world Torsten means "strong
heart". Every name has a meaning.

And of course, Torsten is what his "aunt" and "uncle" named him
(presumably amazed that he survived alone in the forest as a toddler).
The name given to him by his father the King of Dorthan is "Arunden".
Now don't anyone say I named it after an English town! It's not quite
Arundel...

(Speaking of which, anyone remember the rhyme that goes something like
"Arundel offam/stinking fish/eats it off a dirty dish?" - did I make
that up, if not where do I remember it from?)

Brian M. Scott

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May 26, 2004, 11:25:49 PM5/26/04
to
On 26 May 2004 17:15:12 -0700 josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh
Deb Barman) wrote in
<news:fbd6aed6.04052...@posting.google.com> in
rec.arts.sf.composition:

> josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh Deb Barman) wrote in message
> news:<fbd6aed6.04052...@posting.google.com>...

>> "Brian M. Scott" <b.s...@csuohio.edu> wrote in message
>> news:<1hm48oz4sggfu.y...@40tude.net>...

>>> > Am I right in thinking that Eludan seems to be more sinister to you than
>>> > the Powers That Be (despite their methods)?

>>> He doesn't necessarily seem sinister at the moment, though
>>> you could easily make him so. What worries me (and, judging
>>> by the Gandalf comment, Mary as well) is what there is to
>>> keep him from replacing the Powers -- benevolently, no
>>> doubt, from his point of view, but ... .

>> The odds are stacked up heavily against him. If you take Gandalf,
>> there is no way he could replace Sauron and the Nazgul. It's the same
>> sort of odds here.

> Of course Gandalf could have if he took the Ring for himself...the
> difference here is that Torsten is a person and may not take to being
> manipulated, especially once he's powerful. And regardless of what
> Eludan may or may not be, Torsten's definitely an out-and-out goodie.

That doesn't so much answer the question as shift it from
Eludan to Torsten. It sounds to me as if in the end he's
going to be by far the most powerful entity in the world,
and at least one of his major role models will have been a
schemer and manipulator. Oh, and it sounds as if his most
significant achievements will be behind him by the time he's
20. In the long run he and those around him are likely to
be a lot happier if you kill him off or put him to sleep
under a mountain.

> What was there to prevent Gandalf from taking the Ring, other than
> that he was a *good guy* and knew what would happen if he did the
> deed?

He was quite literally inhumanly good, and he existed in an
unrealistically black and white universe, and even so he was
tempted. Your universe may be equally black and white, but
Torsten, if not Eludan, lacks some of Gandalf's advantages
in this respect. In the short run -- the story arc covering
the defeat of Manador, say -- this isn't a real problem, at
least for readers who are willing to accept such a universe;
you just(!) have to be sufficiently convincing and tell a
good enough story to carry us along for the ride. If you
eventually show much of Torsten's later career, though,
you'll need to consider what keeps him from slipping over
into using his powers to *make* things work 'right'. Or
make him the problem for the next good guy.

> Hmm, it's just occurred to me that I might have misinterpreted what
> you were saying. Do you mean rather what is *ethically* preventing
> Eludan from merely taking the place of Manador and the Nameless Ones?
> If that is what you mean, the anwer is this: Eludan is the son and
> chief servant of the Sun God, who had another (human) son, who is
> Torsten's ultimate ancestor. He was sent down by the Gods to contend
> with Manador specifically. His seemingly neverending life will lose
> its purpose when Manador is dead - so he would age normally and die
> (and therefore be returned to the Gods) in due course. This is meant
> to prevent him from being some kind of Ever-King (although this
> doesn't apply to Torsten, who potentially could be in the same
> position!).

> Two ways around this of course for ultra-cynics: (a) he defeats and
> captures Manador but does NOT kill him (dangerous as Manador would be
> a slippery prisoner) (b) he joins with Manador & the Nameless Ones.

And in fact (a) looks to me like a real temptation. One
needn't be ultra-cynical to think that at some point Eludan
*has* to deal with this possibility.

Brian

Brian M. Scott

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May 27, 2004, 12:09:24 AM5/27/04
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On 26 May 2004 19:50:14 -0700 josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh

Deb Barman) wrote in
<news:fbd6aed6.04052...@posting.google.com> in
rec.arts.sf.composition:

> "Brian M. Scott" <b.s...@csuohio.edu> wrote in message
> news:<1h4rk4ldfza17.1...@40tude.net>...

[...]

>>> As for why he's got an "Earth" name on a strange world, who knows?
>>> Maybe it's a coincidence.

>> The possibility is legitimate, but that won't override
>> readers' reactions. I don't myself mind in the case of
>> short names that have multiple origins even in our world.
>> <Torsten>, on the other hand, really does very strongly
>> suggest the Germanic name: it's long enough and complex
>> enough to make coincidence feel unlikely. How many readers
>> will be similarly bothered is another question.

> It's sufficiently unfamiliar to most readers of English or American
> descent, I think.

You think? I'd actually be somewhat surprised if it were,
at least among the part of the population that reads
fantasy. (Wouldn't be the first time, to be sure. It's
always disconcerting to discover how many of my adult
students don't know how many days each month has.) Again,
this may not be a problem; it appears that a great many
readers aren't bothered by such things. For that matter, it
would not in itself cause me to put the book aside; I've put
up with *far* worse onomastic sins for the sake of a good
story.

[...]

Brian

Patricia C. Wrede

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May 27, 2004, 11:40:19 AM5/27/04
to
"Josh Deb Barman" <josh_de...@yahoo.com> wrote in message
news:fbd6aed6.04052...@posting.google.com...
> "Patricia C. Wrede" <pwred...@aol.com> wrote in message
news:<40b40d93$0$8697$a18e...@newsreader.visi.com>...

> > But...is there some reason why you *can't* write self-contained novels?


>
> No reason...I'm trying to make each volume self-contained, but part of
> a greater whole.

OK...then what's the problem here? I seem to be missing something...

> > > But yes, I'm going to take my time with this 11 year old character,
> > > he's got a long way to go. Several volumes way to go.
> >
> > And is there some reason why you *must* start at the "beginning" when
he's
> > eleven?
>
> Again no reason - other than he would be some kind of superman figure
> if I suddenly start the tale when he's older. The deal is that he does
> his most extraordinary feats before he's fully reached his potential -
> in fact, well before that. I'm setting up the big climax showdown with
> Manador for when he's 16. I want the intervening years to show his
> development from a kid with lots of potential but is untutored and
> naive to someone who can shake the world. To start with him shaking
> the world makes it too easy.

Piffle. You're an author. Your *job* is to make it harder. If you can't
do it by piling on suitably difficult problems (so if he can shake the
world, see how he does with two worlds, or three, or six...), then you tone
down his abilities.

> It's more interesting a tale if
> Torsten has to struggle, rather than just click his fingers and all
> the bad guys disappear in a puff of smoke (a wild exaggeration, but do
> you get the gist?).

Oh, yes...but all that means is that you're looking in the wrong spots for
your later-life stories. There are really horrible, painful things that can
happen to somebody who is has these sorts of physical super-abilities:
falling in love with somebody who doesn't reciprocate is one of the more
obvious (especially if he finishes up the Big Action Finale at 16!).

> To be honest with you, "Eeeeeeuuuuw, no way!". I like flashbacks as
> part of a tale, but writing entire prequels, nah. I'd like to work
> towards along the crescendo of his power and his problems, rather than
> start at the peak and fade backwards.

And why did you instantly assume I was proposing you start with your Age
16-Big Action Finale? I'm thinking more about starting with something that
happens when he's 25 or 30, and trying to cope with being, essentially, a
has-been (or at least, somebody who hit his peak at 16 and it's been all
downhill since then). If you can't think of any interesting stories that
could have happened to him at that point in his life, it's quite likely that
his *story* ends when he's 16 and defeats all these bad guys, even though
his *life* continues on for a good long time thereafter.

Furthermore, writing a prequel is not much like writing a flashback, unless
of course you deliberately choose to use a flashback structure for it.

> I do want to tell the whole story. I also have broadly what he
> achieves in the various stages of his life. But trying to tell the
> story is the hard bit!

Yes. And your point would be?

I'm just not at all sure that laying out the story in advance is going to do
much of anything to make telling the story easy. Easier. And possibly I
missed it, but I *still* haven't seen you explain what "the whole story"
*is*, to you. What's the story you want to tell? Most of what I've seen
glimpses of is this 11-to-16 arc, which sounds perfectly fine to me, but you
obviously want the rest of his life, too. Why? What's going on *after*
he's 16 that makes it "the whole story" that you want to tell?

Patricia C. Wrede


Josh Deb Barman

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May 27, 2004, 2:05:47 PM5/27/04
to
Thanks for your input. I'll try to address some of the points you
raise.

nguyen_k...@yahoo.com.au (Khiem Tran) wrote in message news:<6115c740.0405...@posting.google.com>...

> The thing is, all your characters seem strangely passive. They react
> to threats, they follow orders from someone else, they achieve things
> by luck or by involuntary action, and in the end it seems like
> whatever they do, they're going to end up at the preordained endpoint
> anyway. It seems like it's you pulling the strings as much as it is
> Eludan. I wonder if, on your second time around when you know the
> characters a little better, they won't start to get more active
> themselves and then suddenly your plot could go anywhere.

That's a good point. I hadn't really thought about them being passive
like that. Torsten of course almost has to be passive. He wasn't
expecting all of this and he's totally numbed by the destruction (at
least for a while). Faluthain & Laurenna were of course sent by
Eludan, so in that sense they are passive. However, I guess I should
give Faluthain a bit more executive decision making ability (and the
need for this) since he's there and Eludan isn't. Thanks for the tip.

> Even Eludan seems to be only doing enough to keep the story going
> according to plan. He sends two agents to rescue "as many people as
> possible" from the village and by luck ends up with the one person he
> really wanted. What would have happened if they'd arrived a day early?
> Would they have tried to take the whole village?

Well, yes it is fortunate that out of all the villagers, he gets the
right one. Or is it - as Torsten's gifts are the only thing that
allowed him to avoid the soldiers the first time. Faluthain & Laurenna
were the only two he could send at such short notice and they have no
magical gift and can't sense who is the right person, so he has to
instruct them to save as many as possible. They've been trying to lead
the outlanders astray with false trails but to no avail. There was no
way they could defend the village - it was merely an attempt to save
as many people, possibly leading them to safety.

> Maybe one idea for the rest of Book One is to give the characters a
> chance to be a bit more proactive. Does Faluthain get any leadership
> decisions to make? Say the raiders are about to attack another
> village. Do the good guys double back to warn or help them, or do they
> press on with the mission? Does Torsten ever get offered the chance of
> *not* going with the agents and *not* finding out about his past? Do
> the characters ever have any option *other* than to retreat, retreat
> and then end up on the King's Isle?

Interesting idea. Szarchat's mission is specific to Nimlin; that
doesn't mean of course that this sadistic individual wouldn't attack
another village just for the hell of it. As for Torsten, he is too
numbed to make decisions to start with, so Faluthain & Laurenna make
them for him.

> Hope this helps,

It has, thanks! :)

Marilee J. Layman

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May 27, 2004, 4:28:16 PM5/27/04
to
On 26 May 2004 19:50:14 -0700, josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh Deb
Barman) wrote:

>It's sufficiently unfamiliar to most readers of English or American
>descent, I think.
>
>In the language I've invented for my world Torsten means "strong
>heart". Every name has a meaning.

Maybe. We are more well-read here than most. I've known two American
men both named Torsten (well, one was Thorsten, but you didn't say the
h) and the WashPost obits today has one for "Swedish Tennis Star
Torsten Johansson, 84."

--
Marilee J. Layman

Marilee J. Layman

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May 27, 2004, 4:30:00 PM5/27/04
to
On Thu, 27 May 2004 00:09:24 -0400, "Brian M. Scott"
<b.s...@csuohio.edu> wrote:

> It's
>always disconcerting to discover how many of my adult
>students don't know how many days each month has.

I actually have to recite the rhyme, and I need it fairly often
because you can't tell when inhalers run out, you have to assume they
have the number of inhalations they say and calculate how long they'll
last, which almost always goes over a month barrier.

I have to do that, too, to calculate when to start and stop the
progesterone half of my HRT.

--
Marilee J. Layman

Khiem Tran

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May 27, 2004, 7:58:55 PM5/27/04
to
josh_de...@yahoo.com (Josh Deb Barman) wrote in message news:<fbd6aed6.04052...@posting.google.com>...

> Well, yes it is fortunate that out of all the villagers, he gets the
> right one. Or is it - as Torsten's gifts are the only thing that
> allowed him to avoid the soldiers the first time. Faluthain & Laurenna
> were the only two he could send at such short notice and they have no
> magical gift and can't sense who is the right person, so he has to
> instruct them to save as many as possible. They've been trying to lead
> the outlanders astray with false trails but to no avail. There was no
> way they could defend the village - it was merely an attempt to save
> as many people, possibly leading them to safety.

Okay, so that's one possibility. But consider some of the
alternatives. Think how the story would change if Eludan had been more
ruthless and calculating - say he tells F & L to save The Chosen One
at all costs and not to waste time with the other villagers. Or what
if he tells them to spirit T away and let the other villagers die - so
that the Powers That Be might think they've succeeded? Or what if a
different Eludan had told F&L of how important T could be, how this
could be their last great hope, that they had to be willing to die to
save him, even to sacrifice each other in needed. Or think of the
different story yet again if Eludan tells F & L that the forces of
darkness are about to attack a village and there's a great hope there
that needs to be saved. But how will we know him? That's easy. Go
there and look for the sole survivor. Or what if the reason T escaped
was because Szarchat was too lazy to give his men proper orders - that
would be a very different story yet again. Or if the two agents only
made it in time because L rode her favourite horse lame? Or if they
could have made it a day early, but F was drunk - or overambitious -
maybe he tried to fool the outlanders when he should have just rushed
straight to the village and told everyone to run now, run for your
lives, and by the way, has anyone seen a chosen one who must just have
brought this whole misery upon you? Think of the story where the
reason T escaped was because he was used to hiding from the other
village children.

I'm with Catja here - I think you just need to let your characters run
a little and give them a chance to shape the story - as individuals,
not just as generic 11-year old orphans or duty-bound warriors.

Khiem.

Cally Soukup

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May 27, 2004, 10:21:16 PM5/27/04