28 Apr 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 31

"Something just happened.  Something opened and then there was, I don't know."
"No.  She called it . . . evil."
"It's reactive, the Blade."
"A fraction of an infinite number is still an infinite number."

The sun disappeared behind the trees.  A fire crackled in a clearing.  Tricia held her hands close to the small blaze, warming them up.  She was utterly exhausted from the practice she had put in.  Her limits had been thoroughly tested and stretched.  Tricia knew that she far surpassed her previous ability to the point she was surprised she considered herself the most powerful in the area.  Her previous self was a mere pretender, a wanna-be compared to what she could wield now.  There would be none who could stand up to her, power for power.  With some thought, some planning, she would be unstoppable, even by the so-called Bladekeeper.

27 Apr 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 30 - Commentary

Even absolute power needs some training, in The Soul Blade Chapter 30.

While Tricia is learning how to harness the raw power at her fingertips, Brenna's dealing with a home life that involves bizarre towel rituals.  Tricia's carrying the story for now; she's the villain and her next move will be what gets Brenna going again.  Yet, it's Brenna's story.  She should be taking the lead.  Unlike Brenna's reaction to Amy, it's not an easy fix.

Carly, who was originally meant as a one-shot and done character, returns.  Her original purpose was to show that Brenna isn't alone in having paranatural abilities.  However, Carly's sensitivity meant that she'd feel what Tricia had done.  Opening a portal to another dimension isn't quiet, at least on the magical wavelengths.  Missy did have a good point.  Calling the police to say, "There's evil afoot," is going to get at best a polite brush-off.  Police, at least in fiction, tend not to be as willing to believe in the supernatural without proof.  Brenna did get a pep talk out of it, though.  Sometimes, we all need someone who can take a look at what you've done and tell the truth and that we've done good.

Missy's line, "The ghost of the Seventh Cavalry riding down Broadway odd?" had a placeholder in for the street name.  I was in the middle of an idea and didn't want to lose my train of thought by derailing it with research.  I put the placeholder in to fix later by looking for popular places in San Diego along a main drag*.  As with Crossover and using Washington and Main, a placeholder is good to keep things moving along.  Just remember to replace it later while editing.

Tricia, now that she has phenomenal cosmic power and no itty bitty living space, has to learn how to use that magic.  Mostly, she's acting as a conduit for her passenger.  Of course, having someone at your ear telling you to concentrate doesn't always go well.  I'm starting to set up the climax, though.  I finally figured out where I was going!  Problem is, everything still hinges on Tricia.

Matt returns again!  Last time we saw him, Brenna had revealed the Soul Blade to him, telling him about its legacy.  He's had time to think about what she said and showed.  They're going to try to be a couple.  Now they just have to work out how to have a relationship between his crazy hours, her crazy hours, her crazy sister, and her tendency to have full conversations with people he can't see.  That should be in a follow-up story.

Friday, Brenna has another night off, in The Soul Blade Chapter 31.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Jem and the Holograms.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Fixing the 2015 Jem and the Holograms.

* If you're looking for someplace busy to have a ghost regiment or a zombie horde charge through a busy street in Ottawa, I recommend Bank Street from Wellington to the Queensway, Somerset Street from Bank to Preston (which gets you Chinatown and Little Italy), Preston Street from the Queensway to Carling, or Richmond through Westboro, from Churchill to Golden.  Right now, Rideau Street, which would have been decent, is under heavy construction due to the installation of a new LRT.  Another good place, though with no street names, is the Byward Market.

26 Apr 2017

The Elf's Prisoner - Post-NaNo World Building - The Lands

For a project that started with just three characters in mind and absolutely no world building done at all, NaNo 2015's The Elf's Prisoner managed to hold together on a re-read.  Better still, ideas about the world itself started coming together.  What was meant to be a single post of thoughts grew to be a mini-series, so here are the parts to come:
Part 1 - The Lands - below
Part 2 - Militaries
Part 3 - Elves
Part 4 - Architecture
Part 5 - Magic
Part 6 - Wrap Up
The original idea was, essentially, an AD&D-style fantasy.  The character classes are there.  Kazimier is a cleric, Nyssa and Leomund are fighters, edging into cavaliers, Wren is a ranger, and Jyslyn is a multi-class magic-user/thief.  And, yes, that's going back to first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  I did want to file off the serial numbers, though, to pull the story away from its roots.  The magic system owes more to Shadowrun than it does any flavour of D&D's Vancian fire-and-forget magic.  There's more work to be done with the magic system, though, to get the right flavour, but I'd need other wizards to appear.  Jyslyn's knowledge of magic is incomplete, and that was a deliberate choice when I realized where I was going with her character.  I'm also trying to make arcane and divine magic different.  Jyslyn channels magical energy, and her rod acts as a focus.  Her choice of spells also reflects that she comes from an innately magical place, where her people have some resistance to being enspelled.  As a counterpoint, Kazimier's magic is based on prayer, calling upon the Lightbringer, so there may be a possibility that his spells may not work if he goes against his beliefs.  There is a lot of work that needs to be done, but the basic laws of magic are down, at least in my head as it applies to the main characters.

That still leaves the world.  Geographically, it's British Columbia.  I did realize that I needed to know, roughly, where my characters were heading and wanted to avoid a more European feel.  The locations I have don't map to any place in BC.  I needed a rough idea of geography and didn't want a one-to-one mapping of my setting to the province.  That way, if I needed to expand or shrink distances, I could.  Flexibility is key when writing by the seat of your pants during NaNo.

The Seven Dominions, the homeland for Nyssa and Leomund, was inspired by Traveller's Third Imperium.  The Imperium is broken into seven domains, six of which are administered by an archduke*.  I changed the areas inside the nation from "domain" to "dominion" based on Canadian history, specifically, the old proper name for the country, the Dominion of Canada.  Sometimes, paying attention in history class is a good thing.  The name implies a history as the separate ares came together for some reason in the past.  I need to work out that past at some point, but it wasn't important at the time of writing.  Traveller and history also gave me an idea of how to break down the various parts of the Seven Dominions, from duchies to baronies and even knightly estates.  Even if I don't go back to the nation, I do know the hierarchy of nobility there.  Technically, this means that Nyssa does have an estate, one that gets neglected as she executes her duty, but she has good staff that prefer it when she's not there**.

One idea that was playing in the back of my head while I was writing started when I worked out the differences between Jyslyn's home and Kazimier's.  The dark elves are exiles from elven society, either cursed or blessed depending on who tells the tale of their past.  Surface elves call dark elves "The Accursed"; dark elves don't see it that way.  Given that the two societies shown share a common ancestry, I realized that they should be a reflection of each other.  Thus, both Wildwood and the Sundered Chasm have a Council of Matriarchs.  However, these aren't the only elven nations, above ground and below.  I have in mind at least one more elven nation, the grey elves to Wildwood's high elves, living in a city of crystal.  To get a better idea, I've compared each nation to an existing one.  The crystal city, which will get named by the time the story reaches it, is essentially England.  Wildwood is Canada, a former colony now independent but on good terms.  The Sundered Chasm is a cross between Australia and the US, a former penal colony that fought for independence.  The comparison isn't great, but it gives me a starting point and gets the idea across.

With the comparisons to other countries, it occurred to me that the elves do share a common language, much like England, Canada, Australia, and the US do, each with its own dialect.  That got me thinking further.  The better comparison may be Parisien French and Quebecois French.  Thanks to a few centuries of linguistic drift where neither location interacted much with the other, there is a difference between the two French languages, though both are notably still French, ignoring Montreal's joual.  I still have to figure out how to get that idea across, especially since most of the dialogue after Nyssa arrives in Wildwood is in a common trade tongue.  I will have to go back and modify some of Jyslyn's lines to reflect   However, knowing I will have this concept, I can think about how the crystal city elves will speak.

Naming characters was one of the first hurdles faced.  I didn't want to create names whole cloth making them sound Tolkien-esque.  That works for single characters in gaming, not an entire society.  Instead, I decided to use existing names from different languages, modified to sound more fanciful when needed.  Elven names, except for Jyslyn's, were based on Polish names.  For the Seven Dominions, I used Cymric names, thanks to the King Arthur Pendragon RPG.  The humans in and around Silver Trailings use Pict and Irish names.  Niceans, because they aren't from the mainland, received a different source of names, Indonesian.  Dwarves, when they finally get a name, will use Aztec, Toltec, and Myan as a source.  Using the different sources means that it's easier to tell who is who, just from the name style.

The dwarves of The Elf's Prisoner turned out to be a mechanical bunch.  Not to the point of Dragonlance's tinker gnomes, but still starting to develop technology.  The Realm Below the Mountain has a canal built so that goods and materials can be shipped down to the coast without having to use large caravans vulnerable to banditry.  Sure, the canal could also be assaulted, but barges are difficult to run away with across the mountain terrain.  The dwarves also have a rail system underground*** to let them get from dwarven nation to dwarven nation.  Again, more thought and planning will be needed, but the idea is sound enough.

Because the dwarves are insular, they realize that they need a buffer between the Realm Below the Mountain and the surface world.  Silver Trailings started as a trade town and grew into that buffer, allowing the dwarven realm to keep its focus on its dealings below the surface.  As a trade town, Silver Trailings sees people from around.  It`s not quite a wretched hive of scum and villainy, but there are sections of the town that qualify.

The Brotherhood of Nicean Islands came about in part because I wanted something other than another landlocked nation.  A nation consiting of a number of islands isn't something that appears that often in fantasy, yet in reality, there are a number of island countries.  The other part was from the islands near Vancouver and thinking it would be neat to have something like that in my world.  The Niceans became a nation of merchants; they began by trading amongst themselves and as they explored away from their homeland, discovered that they had goods other lands wanted.  As for the name, I have no idea how that came about.  I think the general idea was that the islands banded together for common cause, in this case, trade.

At the beginning of the story, there is peace in the land, though it can be shattered.  The Count of Varin, of the Seven Domains, tends to overreact to threats.  The dark elves of the Sundered Chasm just need an excuse to march on Wildwood.  The Niceans are pricklish and, while their traders are friendly, their ambassadors are not.  Silver Trailings is well aware that it is the first line of defense if the Realm Below is attacked, and there's no guarentee that the dwarves will assist in protecting them.  There are marauding bands of gnolls and goblins roaming the countryside, thus the need for patrols in all the nations.  There is work behind the scenes between the leaders of the different nations to keep the area from erupting into war.

Are there other peoples in my unnamed land?  Yes.  Some are spoilerific, so those details aren't being presented here, but they, too, are being developed as are their lands and their names.  Slowly, the setting is coming alive, to the point where the rest of the story's world will live, breathe, and go on no matter what my characters do.  That, ultimately, is my goal with the setting, to make it feel full beyond the needs of my plot and the outside the reach of my characters.  To be sure, Kazimier, Jyslyn, Nyssa, Leomund, and Wren will have an impact of the world's history, but the world should have a history to affect.

* The seventh, the Domain of Deneb, which includes the Spinward Marches, never had one appointed, thanks to Arbellatra Alkhalikoi, who kept the domain as hers even after becoming Empress after the Civil War.
** And this just came up and wasn't considered when I started.  On the fly world building can lead to interesting results.
*** Yes, an underground railroad, though I will avoid using that name in the story.

21 Apr 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 30

"I could take a pay cut."
"I did enjoy your mochas."
"Come closer, so you may partake in your reward."
"I expected a double cross from you."
Brenna lay on her stomach in her bikini as she sketched, her bikini top untied.  To her right, Missy, also in a bathing suit, sat in one of Brenna's camping chairs.  The leggy blonde glanced down at her friend.  "Bren, really, just go topless."

"I don't need a tan on my breasts.  Just my back."  Brenna set her pencil down.  "I bought a dress that's backless but covers my front."

"Are you sure you didn't put the dress on backwards?"

"Positive.  Like I'd make that sort of mistake."

"When did you get it?"

"Same day I got attacked."

Missy removed her sunglasses to get a better look at her friend.  "Did you buy it for your dinner with Matt?"

20 Apr 2017

The Soul Blade Chapter 29 - Commentary

Checkov's gun went off, in The Soul Blade Chapter 29.

The pacing issue is still around.  While Tricia is handling the heavy lifting for the plot, Brenna is waiting for her cue.  Problem is, the story is Brenna's, not Tricia's, so there is a lot being shown of the Hallidays and their lives.  Tricia gets to violate the laws of nature.  Brenna gets forced out of the house by her own sister.

Brenna not being a morning person surprised me.  Part of it may be that ghosts are more active at night, so that can mess up Brenna's sleep patterns.  She also doesn't have to be up early for any reason, unlike her father, who works, and her sister, who has classes.  Brenna can avoid the early morning chaos and eat breakfast at a leisurely pace instead of having to scarf down a couple slices of toast while filling a thermos with coffee.  What work Brenna does have is freelance; as long as it gets done, the hours aren't as important.

Fabric stores are money drains for people who sew.  My mother quilted.  She would often go to a fabric store to get something for a one quilt and come back with fabric that she thought she could use for future projects.  Cosplayers tend to be the same.  Fabric stores are like live mouse traps to them.  Brenna isn't just thinking of the work she needs to complete, but of future possibilities.  She really should have an Etsy shop.

Tricia used the gun she picked up at the end of Chapter 28  I hope Fiona's demise wasn't telegraphed too hard.  Tricia planned to have Fiona as the last sacrifice.  The shock of betrayal in the dispatched soul would have an exquisite taste, or so Tricia believes.  The portal opened.  Partially.  Tricia siphoned off a bit of each soul for her own misuse.  She assumed that the ashen man would do to her what she would do to him if their positions were reversed.  To be fair, she was correct.  Evil doesn't share power well with others.  The ashen man was going to kill her, though he'd never tell her that.

The question of how to show what the ashen man is saying inside Tricia's head was one I had to consider during NaNo.  The original work has the interior dialogue marked as italics.  I've used italics in the past to show what a character is thinking, notably in Subject 13.  With that as a precedent, I wanted to clearer that it was the ashen man and not Tricia speaking.  The temporary solution is a font change.  I have no idea if it works, so let me know.

Friday, power corrupts; absolute power is nifty, in The Soul Blade Chapter 30.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Hanna-Barbera's Godzilla.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Jem and the Holograms.

19 Apr 2017

Unruly - Genesis of an Idea

An idea occurred to me for a potential Unruly arc.  Since there may be people looking for information on how writers, amateur or otherwise, get ideas and since writing down the thought process may help me figure out what I'm doing, here is how the concept is forming.

The idea came to me after watching the Jem and the Holograms episode, "Alone Again".  The episode turned into the series' anti-drug public service announcement, which every cartoon at the time was doing, in part to get the money available.  The beginning of "Alone Again" had me hoping for a different direction.  A new Starlight girl, Laura, who lost her parents in a car crash, arrived at the mansion because the other foster homes were full.  Laura is shy and withdrawn, and I was hoping that the ep would go into the other girls learning how to work with her while not forcing her to open up before she was ready.

Since the episode didn't deliver there, that left the idea sitting in my head.  Turns out, I do have a means already to explore that idea.  Unruly already provides the setting, the Ulrich F. Gephardt Academy for Unruly Girls, which will separate my Laura-analogue from her family without having to drop a meteor on them while also dropping the girl into a strange new environment.  And, let's face it, the Academy isn't for girls who can't stand up for themselves.

Next step is figuring out what I need for this story.  I have the girl and her basic personality - shy, withdrawn, uncomfortable around others.  She'll need a new name just to avoid confusion in the audience's mind with the Laura who already exists.  The new girl will also need a reason for being at the Academy.  The school is for girls who aren't so much in trouble but who are trouble.  Whatever the reason is, it has to be believable with her desire to be alone.

Speaking of wanting to be alone, it's hard to do that when you bunk with three other girls.  The new girl's roommates will also have to be developed.  That's not really a problem, at least for the setting.  Each girl will also need a background, including why they're at the school.  I could use the opportunity to add a few more magical students to go along with Fawna and Kristi, plus add some diversity* to the cast.

I also have to figure out what year they are in and when the new girl arrived.  I'm hesitant to have her be new along with Laura, simply because it starts looking odd to have so many new students coming in at odd times.  A natural time for the new girl to arrive would be Grade 7, like Caitlin, or Grade 9.  In the latter case, the new girl is missing two years of socialization with the other inmates, which may help with her not wanting to join the rest of the girls.

Even setting her in Grade 9, I still have to figure out if I want her story to be concurrent with the main plot featuring the seniors that's ongoing-ish or set the story back a couple of years so that the new gril is a year behind Caitlin.  This ties into the problem with having the new girl show up the same time as Laura.  I'm tempted to place the story two years prior; that way, the new girl and her roomies become the seniors once Caitlin's cohort graduates.  The benefit to this approach is that there will be a character in place for the audience when the new seniors debut.

Once I can get the above worked out, I'll still need a plot.  Laura's first weekend as an Unruly still had her thrown into the thick of things.  Even starting the new girl on the proper first day of class in September, events still have to happen.  She may not be prepared for life at the Academy, but her roomies will be ready to show the world, Oshawa, and their classmates that they haven't been beaten down.

* Diversity with Unruly is touchy.  On one hand, I do want the Academy to reflect the reality of high school populations today.  One the other, these are students who have had run-ins with the law, so adding, say, a Carribean Canadian who ran a ring cornering a third of Hamilton's illegal market is problematic, to put it mildly.  I don't want to perpetuate stereotypes.

14 Apr 2017

The Soul Blade - Chapter 29

"Thanks for running out on me, Brenna."
"Medical?  Oh, Brenna, I didn't know."
"You know, Bren, maybe fashion school wasn't the best place for you."
"It belongs to a little old lady in Texas who died a week ago."
Brenna's alarm clock blared at her.  She reached out from under the covers, trying to find the alarm by feel.  Her fingers found her reading glasses and her sketch pad, but no clock.  With a groan, Brenna threw back her blankets and rolled on her side.  She opened her eyes and saw that her alarm clock had been moved to the far side of her night table.  With effort, Brenna leaned as far as possible so she could turn her alarm off.

She let her arm dangle off the side of her bed as she tried to decide if she wanted out of bed.  Brenna closed her eyes, giving them a rest.  She vaguely heard her bedroom door open.  "Oh, come on, Brenna!" her sister said.  "Get out of bed already."

"What time is it?" Brenna asked, her voice rough.

"Time for you to wake up."


Grace huffed in irritation.  "I either need you to help me or to be out of my way.  I'm vacuuming the carpets this morning."

Brenna pulled her arm back in bed.  "Okay, okay, I'm getting up."  She snuggled under her covers.