Starting over

Here we go again! It has been NINE YEARS since my first go at National Novel Writing Month, and though I used to take a crack at it every year, I eventually stopped trying. Not every exercise is good for every moment, and I have found myself suffering severe brain drain in the month of November.

A black, old-fashioned typewriter on a dark wood surface. The left side of the photograph fades into darkness.
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

This time, I’m saying, “Fuck it,” and choosing to have fun with it! I am reviving my old fantasy novel with a new outline and a goal of 50,000 words by November’s end. I’ve been idly adding to the “Research” folder in Scrivener when ideas for backstory strike me, and I’m ready to start doing something with all of that worldbuilding.

To set the scene: our story takes place in a world where magic is divided into colours and oaths can bind one to their word. One man seeks to escape a punishment that does not fit his supposed crime, a promise he made contrecœur, and he will travel the land in search of his remedy. Expect colour theory, queer sex, and genderfuckery!

“What, NaNo AGAIN? What about my cuddles?”

I won’t be keeping the fun to myself: I will invite those interested to join me on Patreon for updates and a weekly reading of my favourite tidbits. Stay tuned for further news of this wild adventure on the road to 50,000 words! Let me know about your project, NaNo or otherwise, in the comments! đź“Ą

What is Project: Destiny?

It’s been months now that I’ve been writing here about my baby, my oldest project, and how I aim to finally complete it this year. I’ve been annoyingly vague about what it is, though. The page I’ve created for it still doesn’t have a proper description. I suppose that superstitious part of me worried that if I wrote up a finely-detailed rĂ©sumĂ© of the project, it would sink my chances of actually getting it done. I think I have enough forward momentum to chance it now.

Project: Destiny tells the story of a young man who has been hidden all his life by his mother, who feared her enemies would try to harm him in order to manipulate her. She travels to the far south on a journey and does not return. When he learns of her death, he is determined to continue her work and find out what happened to her. He recruits a well-read companion before setting out, realizing that he knows nothing of the world and that being a gifted shadeweaver may not be enough.

This much of the story has remained constant since the beginning. In the first version, though, the protagonist had a different name and was not a shadeweaver but a sorcerer, one who casts spells by drawing magic circles inscribed with particular symbols depending on the desired effect. Sorcerers were identified by their golden- or amber-colored eyes. There were also wizards, whose eyes were blue, and magicians, whose eyes were green. Wizards had nearly limitless power and could move mountains at will. Magicians had extremely powerful talents, but their abilities were constrained to one single skill.

Shadecraft has changed all this. It is the study of the natural energies of the world, broken down into eight color-coded categories: four for the material aspects of the universe, four for the abstract. One who weaves the energies of these eight Shades into patterns to work wonders is called a shadeweaver. They view their work as art or science, and do not appreciate having the word “magic” attributed to it by common folk.

I first began writing this story when I was fourteen. Between actual drafts (that would eventually get scrapped before completion), I dreamed up elements of the world, details to lend it more realism, many of which I suspect won’t get used in this book. A book only needs enough detail for the reader to have the illusion of being able to see interesting things in the distance as they follow the path of the characters, like a tunnel painted with elaborate scenes depicting what’s going on beyond, or what has happened before. I don’t necessarily need to come up with a culture for a people never seen in the book, their homeland never visited by the characters. It’s been almost fourteen years since the start of this, though, and I think I’ve done a bit of that, some of it as an excuse to procrastinate and delay writing the actual narrative.

My goal with this is to write an interesting story set in a world with a rich history, a diverse span of cultures and peoples, and a system of magic that doesn’t involve characters pulling instant solutions out of their hats by doing things the reader thinks them incapable of. It’s an adventure, the characters will struggle and face danger, possibly death or dismemberment. It’s also the story of a young man trying to discover who he is as he enters the world for the first time.

Religion of Destiny

I’m getting back into the swing of writing on Destiny, which is fun and something like visiting an old friend (albeit a friend whose details I can change if I like). Older drafts have begun with Sehra waiting outside a house on the cliffs, something I’ve needed to change because what mother leaves her eight-year-old daughter to play with the edge of high cliffs nearby? This new draft begins with the death of Sehra’s father, the event that drives her mother to seek the aid of the witch atop the cliffs. This time, Sehra will be invited into the house instead of left to play with seashells.

One thing moving back has afforded me is a chance to introduce the dominant religion of the region in which Destiny mostly takes place. Two fisherman burst into a church, holding a third between them; the third fisherman is unconscious and in grave peril. His comrades bring him to the church to seek the aid of nuns, who are skilled in the healing arts. Also, a church is an apt location to pray for the health of a wounded friend.

I enjoy making up religions, taking elements from this one and that one to create an interesting set of deities and clergymen. There is the Church of the Sun, whose followers worship Destiny and Her Daughters and call themselves Followers of the Path. They believe that those who study and use “magic” are servants of Fate, the Unraveler. Magic-users, on the other hand, believe the universe was created by the Shaper, who bound the Oathbreaker and created six other deities to govern various aspects of reality. However, magic-users do not usually worship the deities of their paradigm.

“Honeycakes!” Sehra gushed, reaching out for one. Her mother pulled them away.

“What do we say before we eat?”

The girl grunted in frustration, then put both hands together and closed her eyes. “Our thanks to you, Destiny, for this bounty. Bless this food and all those who share it. Bless it by sea, sky and stone, as you have blessed me. By the Three, so let it be.”

“So let it be,” Donja repeated, smiling. Sehra grabbed a cake from the top of the pile and bit into its sticky sweetness with relish.

So here we have a bit of prayer, like saying grace before meals, that would be lacking from a magic-user’s routine. The Church of the Sun has ceremony and tradition, while the other has the practice of magic.

Realistic fantasy, colors with substance

Having written on duality, especially that of creation and destruction, I’m thinking of elements in my oldest project. If you look at my blog’s header, you’ll notice the following four symbols:


I have these tattooed on my inner right forearm; they represent four principal deities in Project: Destiny, and also the four domains of magic they govern. The symbols don’t derive any meaning from their shape. They are all manipulations of the orange symbol, the oldest and simplest of them.

Violet represents the duality of creation and destruction. In Project: Destiny, it also is the domain of reality and its boundaries.

Next is black, the color of chaos, secrets and lies. It also represents the future, as entropy dictates that order must descend into chaos; and thus mortality and death.

In opposition, white is the color of order, knowledge and truth; as well as the past. Black and white do not represent good and evil, however. Both lies and truth can be used to either end, as can chaos and order.

Orange is a special color in the world of Destiny. It represents many things, primarily oaths. In the world of Destiny, people are taught to never swear an oath to someone they cannot trust with their lives, as skilled “wizards” can use their power to bind the unwary to fulfill such an oath. Orange also represents language, blood ties, and humanity. This is in opposition to violet, whose power over creation and destruction can be compared to the power of gods.

Four other symbols complete this set, and these are tattooed on my left forearm: one for each of the classical elements of water, fire, earth and air. Together, these make up the eight colors of magic as portrayed in Project: Destiny.

I find it very important that magic have limits. If a character is backed up against the wall only to cast some kind of spell as a last resort, it needs to be realistic enough to be anticipated by the observant reader. If magical folk can spell their way out of any unpleasant circumstance by bending the laws of nature, they quickly become irritating. For this reason, I spend a lot of time on the way magic works in my fantasy projects. What does it cost the user? What can it do? How can it be beaten? When is it not worth the effort?

I feel like a learned a long time ago that for it to be worth the read, fantasy has to be realistic. The best-defined magic system can make all the sense in the world, and no one will give a damn if the characters aren’t interesting or don’t do anything worth reading about. Otherwise it’s all pretty colors without any substance underneath.

More adventures in the Dreaming

I finished Fables & Reflections last weekend and thought yesterday would be a prime opportunity to pick up the next volume at a bookstore downtown. Yes, the second-to-last shopping day before Christmas. Great idea. The bookstore was packed and alas, only copies of the first volume of the Sandman remained on the shelves. I left without purchasing anything, despite the many tempting journals on the ground floor.

I believe this is as far as I’ve ever gotten in the Sandman. In high school, I asked the local library to borrow the volumes from other libraries. It always took weeks before the next volume arrived, so eventually I grew discouraged and stopped. Then the summer after my senior year when I had no bills but a nice cashflow from working 20 hours a week at Subway, I didn’t think to finish the series.

Fables & Reflections was an interesting journey through the pages of history. It didn’t really advance Dream’s story at all, but it was filled with gorgeous imagery and interesting characters and scenarios. I especially enjoyed seeing all of the Endless in one place for the first time; I believe in the main narrative that I’ve yet to see Destruction.

One of my favorite things about Dream is that he’s flawed, he often lets his stupid pride get in the way of acting as he should. I relate to that, despite my mortal limitations. I also enjoy seeing him as envisioned by different artists, or by different characters with different religious views and so he fits differently into each of their pantheons. I think it’s a fine metaphor for the way each of us looks different and is something different to each of the people we interact with.

That said, Merry Christmas Eve. Happy writing and reading!

The First Law

I’m currently rereading the third book of The First Law trilogy, a series recommended to me by a friend, a series that I quickly fell in love with. The world is realistic and gritty, rife with violence and danger; the characters are interesting, engaging, and defy archetypal expectations; and, most importantly for me, magic makes sense and has dire consequences if misused or used too freely.

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The author, Joe Abercrombie, has decided not to provide us with a map of his world, which suits me fine. Most of what I read these days is on my Kobo, which doesn’t display maps very well; I didn’t know the true shape of George R. R. Martin’s world of Ice and Fire until I bought the poster set of maps last year. Maps are lovely, but they can be distracting while reading. I have a tendency to flip to the front flap to see exactly where people are talking about.

Because of the lack of a map, we are forced to imagine the Circle of the World and its various regions. Luckily, three of these regions can be accurately named the North, the South and the West. The books visit all three of these and presents conflicts between certain regions and the central (I believe) kingdom of the Union, a kingdom filled with self-serving and/or empty-headed gentry struggling to seize power in the midst of the king’s declining health.

I greatly enjoy the writing, there is a lot of humor (especially dark humor) in it. I find myself highlighting certain passages to share them with my husband while we’re in the mĂ©tro. My favorite characters are the soldier turned torturer after an extended imprisonment in the South rendered him unfit to do much else, and the highly manipulative and secretive Magus, pulling the strings with unknown intentions.

The trilogy contains a few revelations near the end that make the books more interesting to reread, though I would give them another go if only for the world and the characters and the writing. To any fan of fantasy who enjoys stories that do not take themselves too seriously (though the tone is quite serious indeed through a lot of the tale), I highly recommend The First Law trilogy: The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings.

Incidentally, I found a new way to read on the train, making excellent use of my winter coat and my Kobo’s protective case:

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