Sunday, September 28, 2014

Pre-writing for National Novel Writing Month 2014, Part 3

Note: I plan on publishing this as it's written through or some other platform, so if you want to be surprised, this is your cue to leave.


I have occasional problems with keeping characterization consistent, especially if I don't start with a clear idea in my head about who they are. This is an attempt to pin everyone in place before the story starts, in order from most important to least important.


Henry is a dark wizard, the adopted son of two dark wizards who tried to sacrifice him before deciding that they just couldn't do it. At the heart of his character is the question about how to be good, and the distinction between "dark" and "evil". His primary motivation is in trying to find his birth parents, which is really a proxy for discovering his place in the world, which turns out to be as a dark wizard of sorts, just how he was raised - dark, but not evil. He is one of the two primary characters.

Physical Description: Henry has curly blonde hair that he's constantly messing with and light blue eyes. He has a slender build, in part because he doesn't do much in the way of physical exercise (before acquiring a magical sword, that is). He has thin, deft fingers. He has a slightly crooked nose. He tends to move quickly, when he sets his mind to doing something. In a fight, he relies more on speed than brute strength, though also uses magic more than either of those. He tends to wear simple clothing, and has an affection for straps and pockets to keep his possessions with him.

Personality: Henry is smart and inquisitive. He's sometimes too boundlessly energetic for his own good. He tries his best to do what's right, but that's not always so clear. He tends to think things through and then follow his plans. His primary fault is a desire for acceptance and love, and a certain bluntness that people can find off-putting. His primary fear is being abandoned.


Sofia is a princess, the youngest child of the king. She was the subject of a prophecy when she was young that has seemingly doomed her.

Physical Description: Sofia has long red hair that she tucks behind her ears and dark green eyes. She has skinny legs, and stands taller than most girls her age. She has a smattering of freckles across her cheeks. She walks with purpose wherever she goes, and acts as though she'd deliberated on what she's doing even if she's making things up on the fly. In a fight, she'll stand at the back with a bow and arrow, but if she's in the thick of it, she'll go for fearless attacks at vulnerable places. She tends to wear light, breezy dresses, and goes barefoot whenever possible.

Personality: Sofia is brave and kind. She is taken by whims, which she tends to follow as though it were the only natural thing to do. She can be stubborn and brash, but she has a kind heart. Her primary fault is being insecure about her position in the royal hierarchy. Her primary fear is dark magic, but she has a distrust of magic in general.

Omake and Hirrush

Omake and Hirrush are Henry's adoptive parents. The story begins as they're about to sacrifice a baby (which is more played for laughs than horror). I haven't quite decided what it is that they hoped to accomplish by sacrificing him, but it needs to have been something that you could almost believe is worth it - maybe some piece of complex magic that will ensure health and prosperity for everyone in their section of the kingdom. By the time the story proper starts (when Henry is a teenager and ready to set off into the world) they have come to accept that they aren't willing to ever make that kind of sacrifice.

Physical Description: Omake is a large bear of a man with a thick black beard and thinning hair. Hirrush is thin and lanky. Their days of wearing dark robes are long past them, and they mostly wear workmanlike clothes that are good for doing the duties around the farm. Though they aren't proper farmers, they do care for a number of animals, and have a large garden. They both tend to smell earthy - Omake like wood, and Hirrush like animal furs.

Personality: Omake and Hirrush have balanced against each other in terms of personality. Omake is the optimist of the two of them, while Hirrush is the designated pessimist. Omake is the talker, while Hirrush tends to stay silent. Hirrush is more likely to be cautious and paranoid, where Omake tends to take more risks and assume the best of people.


Rowan is Sofia's brother, and the primary antagonist, though this isn't revealed until perhaps halfway through the book. I'm slightly worried about not setting up this conflict early on, so maybe he'll get a few viewpoint chapters as breathers every once and a while, to set up his turn and the primary plot in the second half of the book.

Physical Description: Rowan has a slender build and the same red hair as Sofia, though his is cropped short. Though he doesn't know it until later on, he is only her half-brother, which I suppose means that their mother (long departed) must have had red hair for the common genetics. He has small eyes, and a languorous demeanor. His naturally pale skin is made moreso by his tendency to stay inside and bury his nose in books. He wears half-moon spectacles that get discarded once he's used dark magic to correct his vision. Later on, he begins to transform himself with dark magics and becomes more powerful and fearsome.

Personality: Rowan is quiet and introspective. In a lot of ways, he's a mirror of Henry. He never had the love of his father, and his mother died fairly early in his life. Though he doesn't know it, he's a bastard born of the king's brother and the king's wife, and this has caused a good amount of tension in his relationship with the king (actually his uncle, not his father). Rowan has a strong desire to prove himself, which never seems to go quite right. He has a strong sense of inferiority that stems from watching his older brother. Because he's bookish and inquisitive, most of his efforts at proving himself revolve around intellectual pursuits, which never really please anyone. He comes to legitimately believe that he could do a better job running the kingdom (and he possibly even has a point, though I'm not entirely sure what problems the kingdom might have - maybe stagnation).

The Hunting Party

These are the secondary antagonists though the early part of the book. They consist of: Constance, a 90-year-old Foresworn Sister tasked with tracking down Henry, Miriam, a much younger Foresworn Sister who gets roped along into tracking down Henry after he comes to her orphanage, as she's the only one that knows what he looks like, and Ventor, a High Rector tasked with bringing the wayward princess back the capital. They don't start out together, but end up as travelling companions after running into each other and realizing that the two must be traveling together (which I think might be the end of the first act).

Constance is a old woman, short and stooped with grey hair and wrinkled skin. She also happens to be the single most powerful denialist known to Donkerk, though you wouldn't know it to look at her. She could punch straight through solid steel, catch a sword in her bare hands, and make a running jump of a hundred feet. For these incredible powers, she has taken a vow of silence, a vow of chastity, a vow of poverty, a vow of purity, and a vow of austerity, all of which she's kept faithfully since the age of 12. She is solid and unyielding, and stern insofar as her silence allow her to be. She speaks mostly in gestures and facial expressions.

Miriam came to the Foresworn Sisters late by their standards, at the age of seventeen, just a few years ago. She has taken the vow of purity and the vow of austerity, which marks her as a lesser Sister. She works at the orphanage that Henry was taken from, which is how she ends up mixed up in all this business. Because she hasn't taken the vow of silence, she often serves as the voice for the higher Sisters within her area. She has few of the powers that come with denialism, both because of how short of a time it's been since she took the oaths, and because she has taken few of the vows. She is thicker around the waist, and keeps her brown hair back in elaborate braids. In terms of personality, she is friendly and kind, but more tentative and indecisive than perhaps she should be, and defers to others too often.

Ventor is a member of the High Rectory, and tall man with an imposing musculature and a thick mustache who is bound more tightly with oaths than nearly anyone else in the whole of Donkerk. The most important of these is the oath of fealty to the King of Donkerk, which compels him to obey commands given by the King. Ventor is slightly unhinged, a man of great passions that he keeps tightly restrained. He wears a sacred armor given to him by the Rectory which he never removes, and which wicks away sweat and obviates any need for removal, which makes him far more formidable and has allowed him to take on more oaths than he would otherwise be able to. He doesn't eat, but he still feels hunger. He doesn't drink, but he still feels thirst.


By far the weakest part of the current plotting is the part between where Henry and Sofia meet up and head north, and the part where the crown teleports to her and they head south. I'll hopefully have put together a psuedocode version of the story by the time November rolls around, but right now I'm thinking that Henry is going to find his birth parents and Sofia is trying to make her life a little less magical - that, or she wants to become part of the Foresworn Sisters in order to avoid part of the prophecy about her. That's the most likely place that an important secondary character would be introduced.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pre-writing for National Novel Writing Month 2014, Part 2

Note: I plan on publishing this as it's written through or some other platform, so if you want to be surprised, this is your cue to leave.


I love magic, mostly because I love things that break the universe in various ways. Magic is a fairly difficult thing to get right though. Sanderson's first law of magic is "An author's ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic." Because both of the main characters of this story will be magic users, a fair amount of the conflict will be solved through magic, which means that this is something that needs to be pinned down now in pre-writing so that I don't bumble into problems during NaNo. Ideally, every aspect of the magic systems is a Chekov's gun that gets fired in the final act, where every trick is used and the story completes its circle. In the kingdom of Donkerk, where the story takes place, there are several varieties of magic. What follows is, in part, a design doc for me to consult when I need to remember something while writing.


The world is filled with spirits. While some small fraction of them take a physical form, it's generally accepted that for every one that's seen there are a thousand that are invisible and intangible. The physical spirits generally get divided into house spirits, which live in houses or buildings (generally one for each), and animal spirits, which live in the woods or fields. House spirits usually cobble themselves together from discarded or broken things around the house, while animal spirits usually take some variation on an animal, or some combination of animals. With that said, the spirits are wildly varied, and any time you might try to make a rule about what spirits are like, you'd also have to add a string of caveats and exceptions. The people of Donkerk generally have a copacetic relationship with the spirits. Having a house spirit is considered a boon, and killing an animal spirit is deeply taboo (mostly because they tend to come back angry).

A person with a deep connection to the spirits is called a spirit caller. While almost none of the spirits can speak, a spirit caller has a certain empathy with the spirits which allows them befriend the spirits and to soothe the troubled ones. Sofia, the female lead, is a spirit caller, though she is only distantly aware of it where the story starts. In times of need, she can call on the aid of the spirits, but they don't like to be called to do too much. In terms of setting up Chekov's guns for the finale, Sofia will meet and befriend a number of spirits that will help in the final showdown - their abilities and natures will be shown along the way.


This is the variety of magic that's all about giving up one thing for another. It's my take on goats and chickens being sacrificed in a pentacle of blood under the light of black candles. One of the major planned themes of the book is that "dark is not evil". Killing a chicken to cure a woman's infertility is dark, but it's not evil, and much of the taboo around this form of magic is simply superstition.

The power of a sacrifice is dependent on how much value there is in the thing that's being sacrificed, though of course "value" is rather subjective. Many books have been written on the nature of these trades, and if you were approaching the subject from the position of a modern man, you would probably have trading tables and exchange rates with all the variances calculated in. The dark mages of Donkerk instead consult a large number of tomes which tell them the circumstances that affect the power of a sacrifice, as well as dubious lists of information about what might be pulled from a sacrifice.

Generally speaking, sacrifice is tiered. Plants are worth less than animals, which are in turn worth less than humans. Material objects can also be sacrificed, with raw materials being worth less than finished goods - a lump of metal is worth less than a dagger, which is in turn worth less than a jeweled dagger crafted by a master. The simplest forms of sacrifism involve simply breaking or ruining a thing as part of the exchange, while more complex and powerful forms of the magic require a proper ritual to make the barter. Permanent sacrifices are worth much, much more than temporary ones - a lock of hair or a clipping of a nail produces a very small effect, where a sacrifice of bone or a life has the absolute greatest effect.

The effects of sacrifism fall into a number of categories (which are only loose descriptions that blur around the edges). The most important of these is warding, which is a protective magic. The smallest of wards can be done with a lock of hair, and will only hold a door shut for a few good pushes, while the largest of wards could completely lock away an acre of woods from sight, sound, and physical trespass at the cost of the lives of a hundred innocents. Wards can block all manner of things, and are highly useful to that purpose.

The second large class of sacrificial magic is bodily modification. Usually, this means healing wounds, fixing afflictions, or extending the life of the dark wizard. However, there are also much more evil uses of this class of trade, such as creating monsters out of animals or even people. There are also weirder applications, like replacing your arms with tentacles or lining your back with bone spurs. The thing to keep in mind is that sacrifism is all about trades, which means that you might be able to make a favorable arrangement, but you're unlikely to get out more than you put in (though you can use outside materials in order to make these trades).


The world is divided into three realms. The Physical Realm is where the animals, plants, and the bodies of people are located. The Spiritual Realm is where the spirits live when they haven't taken a corporeal form. The Mental Realm is where minds live. While the Spiritual Realm is barred to all but the most powerful of spirit callers, the Mental Realm is fairly easy for someone with a little knowledge and some small amount of skill to get to.

The Mental Realm is not really a place per se - it's more an interconnected set of cognitive spaces. Each is, essentially, a memory palace taken to the extreme and made very literal. Every person has their own mental domain, which reflects their psyche in different ways, and changes as their mind changes (attachments are made, memories are formed, skills are acquired, etc.). The exact shape and character of the mentis locus (which is probably-not-correct-Latin for "place of the mind") vary from person to person. For some, it's a small, cramped place in the middle of an indistinct city, while for others, it's a secluded glen. The size of the domain varies wildly, though the more there is to the mind in question, the more room is needed for all of the representational objects.

Accessing the mentis locus takes some training and focus, but it gets easier with practice. Access to the locus can greatly improve memory if the mentalist gains a familiarity with where representational objects are within his mind. It can also be used for self-awareness, such as examining feelings or connections. Though mental modification is dangerous, and the locus is an imprecise place, some mentalists use access to their locus to force changes in the makeup of their mind, usually in the hopes of self-improvement. Making actual changes through physical force is difficult, and takes an extraordinary amount of will, and the easier way is to change your mind through more conventional means with the locus as an aid. With more training, you can inhabit the locus and the Physical Realm at the same time with divided attention, so that you can take advantage of being able to see inside your mind while at the same time carrying on a conversation.

It is also possible to invade another person's locus in order to make changes to it, though this takes an extraordinary amount of willpower and skill. It gets much easier if you can deliver one of a variety of poisons (or drugs) to your target in order to weaken the natural barriers around their locus, but the most powerful of mentalists can do it naturally - and at the very highest tiers, can even do it without their target knowing that an intrusion is being made. Once inside someone's locus, you can almost all of the things that you can do within your own locus, though the abstract nature of the Mental Realm along with the unfamiliar surroundings makes this quite difficult. In theory, anything is possible when you have access to a person's locus, from removing memories, to altering their interpersonal connections, to changing their emotions, but these things take varying levels of training, power, and natural talent.


Denialism is the other side of the coin of sacrifism. Where sacrifism revolves around seeking out a trade with the spirits, denialism revolves around attracting spirits to you. Sacrifists make a ritual (if only a simple one) in exchange for some boon, but denialists make a ritual (usually not so simple) with the understanding that if they continue through with certain restrictions they will be granted a boon. Sacrifice is like buying something, where denial is like taking out a loan.

In Donkerk, the denialists almost all belong to the Foresworn Sisters or the High Rectory. The form of denial that they usually take is mental in nature; they voluntarily restrict themselves from speech, from decadence, from violence, from sex, from alcohol, from autonomy, or some similar thing. The only thing keeping them from breaking these formalized oaths is the fact that they would lose the powers granted to them. A denialist pact can be broken at any moment, and breaking one breaks all of them. Denialist powers take a long time to grab hold, usually on the order of a year, but they grow in power the longer any given oath has been in place. For that reason, the oldest denialists are the most powerful, and the denialist organizations tend to take in children instead of fully grown adults. Denial is more powerful the higher the cost to you, meaning that abstaining from your favorite things gives you more power for your oath. Because of that, the most powerful denialist have very intense personalities, since a denialist that was indifferent to the world would be giving up relatively little with their oath (and at the same time, that type of person would probably be more likely to break their oath).

The boons granted by denialism vary somewhat from person to person, mostly because they're granted by spirits that cling to the denialist on the strengths and durations of their oaths. The simplest effects are enhanced strength, speed, and durability, which make denialists into superior warriors. There are other effects beyond those though, which tend to be more individual and customized to the denialist in question. Because (from a writing perspective) the denialists are mostly going to be secondary characters, I feel a lot less pressure to define the extent of these, but right now I'm thinking that they will mostly be fantasy-flavored superhero powers like telekinesis, teleportation, and flight. Because the denialists don't get granted any additional abilities over the course of the story (which takes place over too little time for them to gain more power), instead I think they'll stay circumspect in their use of powers and not bust them out until appropriately awesome moments.

Magic Items

Magic items are, for the most part, a physical instantiation of a spirit. Normally, spirits live in the Spiritual Realm and only have the barest contact with the physical. When they take form as a house spirit or an animal spirit, they've halfway bridged the gap between the two. When they form into a magical item, they've taken the final step towards physicality, and this is one of the only ways that a spirit can truly be ended - either of its own choice, or through the willful force of a powerful spirit caller.

Like the spirits themselves, items are wholly unique, and each follows its own logic. These are magic items that are magical, and each magical item that a person comes across should have its own block of text to describe its appearance and effects. The Crown of Donkerk sits atop the head of the rightful ruler of the kingdom, can't be lost, stolen, or broken, and confers an astounding control over the wearer's voice. The Sword of a Thousand Forms flickers and changes in combat, taking the shape that its wielder most needs to parry, stab, or cut. Some are smaller, and more subtle - a coin that turns up heads five times out of six, a locket that lets the wearer find the nearest body of water, or a length of rope that makes powerful knots and can carry ten times as much weight as it should. Sometimes these abilities are predicated on what type of item it is, but just as often you'll find a scissors that causes plants to grow faster or a blanket that freshens the air of whatever room it's in.

Other Magics

There are magics beyond those possessed by the main characters, any beyond those which have an impact on the story. To the south, on a series of islands in the Juniper Ocean, the eloists are granted spiritual powers by engaging in an enormous, yearly tournament. To the northwest, the Caliphate of Carcer practices a different form of denialism which involves the binding of the body and wrapping of the eyes. There are the rare and powerful elementalists, who seem to draw raw power from the Spiritual Realm, the trahiists that can temporarily pull objects from their locus into the Physical Realm, and the dream-walkers of the Scour. The world needs to be larger than the story, both to open up the possibility of a sequel, and to keep it from feeling claustrophobic (as it only takes place in a single kingdom). These other magics are only alluded to though, so they only need token mention.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Pre-writing for National Novel Writing Month 2014, Part 1

I've done National Novel Writing Month for the past few years, which results in a lot of writing but not much that's usable. I'm totally fine with that, since writing is a muscle that you have to build up over time, and this coming November I plan to take the challenge again. In the hopes of producing something that's actually usable, this year I intend to do a fair amount of planning, world-building, and character work ahead of time so that I end up with something a little more structured.


Note: I plan on publishing this as it's written through or some other platform, so if you want to be surprised, this is your cue to leave.

I'm planning to follow Dan Harmon's Story Circle and do a pretty linear narrative with relatively few viewpoints and two main characters. So, with that in mind, here's a plot breakdown.

1. A character is in a zone of comfort.

The first protagonist is Henry, a boy who's sixteen for the majority of the novel. The opening chapters detail him being raised by two dark wizards and a friendly witch, and serves to get some of the exposition out of the way. The second protagonist is Sofia, a princess who's sixteen for the majority of the novel. The opening chapters detail her being bossed around by her little brothers, walked around with the house spirit, and eventually getting kidnapped at the age of five (by Henry's parents).

2. Something ain't quite right

Henry is a gifted dark wizard with a whole bunch of prophecies swirling around him. He wants to know his real parents, and while he loves his fathers, wants to go off and have an adventure. Sofia doesn't particularly like being a princess, especially with the restrictions placed on her, and so has decided to see whether the Foresworn Sisters would be a good place for her to go.

3. Crossing the threshold

Henry gets the call to adventure in some way; another prophecy manifests, or an orphan runs away to the farm where they live, or just decides to run away. He goes to the orphanage that he was taken from, looks up his file, and then runs away when the Sister cottons on to the fact that he was the orphan that disappeared so many years ago. As he runs away, he bumps into Sofia, and follows her on an adventure (in part because he's smitten with her). (This threshold needs work - it should ideally be a transformative moment for both of them. Maybe for Sofia it's a dalliance with magic? Not wholly decided on whether Henry recognizes her from his childhood, but she for sure doesn't recognize him.)

4. The Road of Trials

They pair up and travel north, to where they both have business. Henry is searching out his birth parents, while Sofia is searching out magic (though she doesn't quite know it). There are a number of different types of magic within the world, and we get a taste of all of them. Naturally, the Sisters are chasing down Henry (since he's the child of prophecy) while the royal guard is chasing down Sofia (who is a princess on the lam). Eventually both of these subplots are resolved, and the pair make a clean getaway, having other adventures along the way and picking up new skills.

5. Meeting with the Goddess

Henry and Sofia have their idyllic time together. They fall in love all along the Road of Trials, but here they both feel it keenly - a throbbing, teenaged love that can scarcely be contained by their hearts. An unspecified amount of time has passed, perhaps a year. Just as things are going merrily along, the magical crown of Donkerk plops down on Sofia's head, marking her as the new Queen of Donkerk. Given that she has two older brothers and her father was alive and well when she last saw him, this is cause for alarm, and the pair decide to sneak back to the capital in order to find out what has happened.

6. Meet Your Maker

The villain behind the happenings has been revealed; it's Sofia's brother, an illegitimate prince of Donkerk. He arranged for his father and brother to die, thinking that the crown would pass to him (and not knowing that he was really a bastard). This is the reverse Road of Trails, and things happen more quickly as Sofia and Henry use their newfound powers in order to infiltrate the capital. Tensions are thick between them, especially since Sofia's brother seems to have transformed himself into (or revealed as) a dark wizard. They both get beaten, hard, and barely escape with their lives. Maybe one of them gets captured.

7.  Bringing It Home

Sofia and Henry (or possibly only one of them if there's been a capture) return to the farm where Henry's parents live in order to get help from them. Sofia attunes herself to her magical side. Henry finds a new reading to the prophecies that have dominated his life, or possibly finally learns the truth about his birth parents - some mundane truth rather than something world-shaking. They gather up what they need, and make a second assault on the capital.

8. Master of Both Worlds

This is the final showdown. The full wealth of magics are interacting with each other here, and new and powerful abilities are put on display. Dark (but not evil) wizards fight alongside paladins that move with lightning speed. There's a final showdown, with a monologue from the heroes, and in the end, when the villain has been defeated, they get married and Henry becomes the King of Donkerk. There are (possibly literal) fireworks.

In sum, Sofia's character arc is that she's afraid of being different and feels trapped, but eventually finds herself and uses that newfound power and freedom to win the day. Henry's character arc is that he feels like he has to hide who he really is, and feels a lack of love in his life, but eventually finds that love (and later acceptance) in Sofia, and through her, the rest of the kingdom.

And that's Part 1. More on this later as I continue to organize my thoughts.