One Hundred Thousand

My creative writing class has concluded, but some people from the class have taken the initiative to start up a sort of “writing circle”. The idea is to continue the process of writing and soliciting feedback from the group. Something Joel said to me after the last class that quite resonated with me was that for basically everyone the first 100,000 words they write is pure crap. Or he might have said ‘shit’, I can’t recall. I think that’s likely true, for everyone who isn’t some sort of literary genius. I’m actually thinking that our writers’ group should be called “One Hundred Thousand”, or possibly “One Hundred Thousand Words” in honor of the process of getting those first shitty 100,000 words done with so we can actually start producing some decent stuff.


The first meeting of the group is on January 10 (or 9 depending on who you ask, so I’ll have to determine what the actual date is). The tentative structure is that we’ll review from 4 to 6 pieces per meeting, and we’ll meet once per month. I imagine we’ll need some rules on how often one may submit, based on the size of the group.


With that in mind, I need to start writing! I’d love to have something submitted for the first meet, but at the same time I don’t want to rush to churn out something crappy just to get it in before the submissions limit is reached. I have an outline of a story in mind:


This story is about a dog and his family of humans. The story takes place over a holiday, likely Thanksgiving, when the extended family is together at the dog’s house. The basic plot is that the dog can smell that the family’s grandpa has colon cancer. No one else knows this, including the grandpa himself, but the dog knows this guy is going to be dead within a few months at the most. So the story is about the dog pointedly hanging out with the grandpa while the rest of the family pretty much ignores him, the way that families generally ignore the old folks. I’m envisioning a possible scene where some of the kids try to pull the dog away from grandpa to come play, and the dog actually growls at them to leave him alone, and there’s a bit of scolding and trouble for him having growled at the kids.


The story would be filled in with some reveries. I’m thinking at least one reverie on the part of the dog where he’s thinking about his brother Trevor (tentative name) who’s now dead. I’d like there to be some real attachment on the part of the reader for Grandpa as well – otherwise he’s just a motionless lump taking up space in the story. The POV changes could be tricky, because I’m envisioning starting off from the dog’s POV, then switching to the grandpa, then back to the dog. The grandpa’s reverie would be about… I don’t know. It should connect to the theme of loss, or of appreciating what you have while you have it. The story wraps up with… I’m not sure yet, but initially I was going to say I would show the grandpa dying and the family commenting on how the dog had been spending so much time with him – but that’s too heavy-handed. I think it could be better to just end the story with the dog watching as the family argues about who has to drive grandpa back to his retirement home.


So… tricky. Tricky story to write. I can see a lot of potential pitfalls in writing too sappy or too heavy-handed, which I have been known for. Still, I think it’s worth trying; and you know what else? I think it’s important that this writing group becomes a safe place for us to experiment with different themes and genres; so this definitely fits into that.



The Beastmen

So after letting the prior outline percolate in my brain for a while, I’ve decided that I’m reasonably happy with the premise. I think my major concern at this point is about the events after the ‘traditionalist’ rituals are forcibly halted. At first I had this idea that a gateway or gateways would begin to open, allowing imprisoned faerie-like creatures from some sort of other world to enter our own (or rather, to enter the world of the story). But I’m starting to like the idea that there are no gateways per se, rather the world itself starts to change to reflect a faerie-like aspect. So I’m imaging that maybe 1 in 4 or 5 people actually change into beastmen of some kind, and parts of the landscape and some of the major buildings actually morph into these fantastic versions of themselves.


In fact, I’m thinking that might be the setting for the story’s climax. Rather than having the protagonist journeying through a gateway into another realm, I would have him going to a familiar place, such as the Duke’s castle, but that familiar place has been completely subverted and turned into something fantastic, and likely dangerous.


I’d like to pack in enough ideas to keep the story alive. In particular, I want the setting to feel unique. To my mind, in fantasy one of the hallmarks of the genre is that the setting itself becomes a character. I mean, not literally, but the setting is so important it acts like a character to the plot, in the sense that the setting goes through conflict and changes with the story’s outcome. So it’s very important to me that this setting be more than just the “generic medieval setting” found in so much trash fantasy.


Other ideas, then:

  • The dog idea? People are all people, but they’ve been selectively bred like domestic dogs, so some people are tall, lanky, and agile, while some are stout and strong – which is true anyway, but I mean to an extreme degree, like some people have been bred to be like 9 feet tall and can run at 40 km/h while some people are 3 feet tall but can lift 400 pounds. In the world of dog breeding, different breeds are created for different purposes, such as tracking, racing, companionship, herding, sled-pulling, retrieving, et cetera. In the world of selectively bred humans, I think similar concepts would exist, but more likely it would be based on occupation. So miners would be bred to be short, strong, and resilient, but not that smart.
  • The government idea: this world lacks political bodies based on land. In the real world, governments are of a place, i.e. a city, a state, a country, and so forth. In this fantasy world that isn’t the case; instead, governments are based on ideologies, where people of a certain political stripe, or religion, or possibly even a trade or profession, have their own government and it’s independent of location. The idea here is there are lots of these “governments”, called sects – no that sounds too much like ‘sex’ – called… factions, politicos… better to have a made-up name that evokes what it is… guild, government, faction, politic, sect, mafia, family, kin, folk, relation, unit, regime, rule, command, administration, association, union, league, federation, society… maybe a play on -ocracy, like Facracy, guildocracy? No, that’s shit. Unity. Fedocracy. Allegiance. Something with ‘allegiance’… legian sounds like ‘legion’… Legie. Does that sounds like it’s pronounced Luh-Gee? or Leg-gee? I want it to be Leeg. League. Leige. Legiance. I like ‘Legiance’.
    • So anyway there’s a ton of Legiances around; I’m thinking that will create some problems with the outline of the story, though, because how does one Legiance enforce law over another? Maybe there’s a Legiance devoted to laws and enforcement, and another Legiance dominated by the ‘modernists’ has exerted enough influence to have them outlaw the ‘traditionalists’. That might work.


Dipping a Toe into Fantasy

Here’s a rough outline for a fantasy story.


  • The setting is an isolated area, but also a complete political denomination, like a duchy or barony or something like that; possibly somewhere at the edge of civilization
  • The people are split fairly evenly between traditionalists and modernists (not likely to be terms used in the story, just for my reference)
  • The traditionalists follow some of the old rituals and beliefs, some of which have a distinctly magical feel to them
  • Some of these rituals have been proven to be dangerous – children have gone missing or been hurt, people have done terrible things during or due to the effects of the rituals
  • Generally the rituals are not harmful though, they are more like celebrations and harmful incidents are rare
  • The modernists view these rituals as harmful: they feel the traditional ways are holding back progress and endangering people; in general they view the traditionalists as immoral
  • What no one but a few traditionalists know is that many of these rituals are important for the safety of the area – they are used to appease and ward against something; I’m not sure what yet, possibly something to do with monsters from another dimension, or from the depths of the forest or mountains, or under the sea… at any rate, something scary that no one would want to have to deal with
  • The modernists for a political action lobby that gains a lot of strength and influence, eventually enough to convince the duke or baron or whoever to outlaw the traditionalist rituals
  • The traditionalists continue to practice their beliefs in secret, but over time law enforcement officials stamp it out quite effectively
  • The last group of traditionalists are hardcore, and they know the dangers of ending the rituals; they have a cool old name like the druidic torque or something like that
  • The last small group isn’t enough to keep the rituals going to the extent needed, though, and the monsters begin to return
  • The modernists blame this on the traditionalists (out of ignorance, not malice)
  • Soon there are several conflicts taking place: the druidic torque is fighting for its survival against the law and the modernists while also combatting the monsters; meanwhile everyone is coming into conflict with the monsters as they begin to overrun the area
  • Likely at this time other things would be happening as well – the physical world of the area begins to revert to a fantasy state
  • The druids begin to split into two factions, one is comitted to restoring the rituals and returning things to the way they were, despite the fact that the legal and modernist forces would basically need to be defeated for this to happen, the other faction sees another solution – if the leaders or power source of the invading monsters could be destroyed, the world would be safe but could retain its connection to this fantasy state, allowing magic to remain in the world
  • Somewhere in the midst of all of this I need a hero, or a few heroes
  • The rest basically suggests itself: the heroes obviously side with the druidic faction trying to preserve magic in the world, and so begins a quest
  • This would be tough to do without falling into fantasy tropes, but I need a quest
  • Perhaps things aren’t as cut-and-dried as we’d like; these monsters are only monsters from our perspective – the rituals have kept them imprisoned for centuries in this harsh other land where they’ve been barely surviving
  • The druids in some ways now seem like the evil ones, having upheld a tradition that served to save the land for humans while denying it to these ‘monsters’
  • My mind keeps wanting the monsters to be faerie of some sort, but that feels cliched
  • And so the quests unwraps itself slowly as the heroes eventually reach a point where they can destroy or imprison the monsters forever
  • And the big finale is what? Options:
    • turn the tables and imprison the humans leaving the world to the invaders
    • destroy the invaders or cripple them somehow forcing them to be imprisoned forever
    • destory the power of the rituals so humans and invaders will be forced to learn to live together
  • I think I’m going to stop right there, that last one sounds good
  • So what happens is the hero finally understands everything and makes his decision
  • He’s discovered along the way how the rituals work: something to do with a… gateway maybe, something that is maintained by the rituals – possibly the home of the invaders is through a sort of mystical path that connects it to the ‘real’ world, and that path can be blocked off through the power of the rituals
  • The hero decides to destroy the gateway, throwing it wide open and ensuring that the invaders homeland is now permanently part of the rest of the world

There, not a terrible outline. I need to flesh it out quite a bit, and something about destroying the gateway… I wonder. Maybe the druids give the hero a device to use to destroy the power source of the invaders, and he uses it to destroy the gateway instead. Hmm.


Prose Poem

This is targeted to be 200 words, based on the scene where the adventurers approach the town of… hmm, it was ‘Whitecourt’ in the original adventure, but I guess I should change that. How about… Whitechapel? Alright. So, what’s the scene? The adventurers are approaching the town of Whitechapel; their horses are being abandoned because they refuse to approach the town; Whitechapel has a high fieldstone wall and a wooden gate; there are sentries, but something about them is odd; the sun is setting as they approach. That’s probably enough for 200 words.

The sun is setting. Whitechapel is ahead. The horses have been abandoned. Surrounded by woods and high hills. Sounds of the woods at night. The appearance of the town. The gate. The sentries.

Here’s the real question: can I fucking write this without regurgitating metaphors from other writers’ works? UMBRAL presence of the forest giving way to something darker… or something lighter and yet all the more foreboding for that… ooo spooky

The horses balked at the approach, seeming to prefer the black uncertainty of the woods to what lay ahead.

Here’s an idea: the woods are an orchestra of woodwinds – flutes and piccolos – but the instruments are wrong somehow: dead, broken, rotten, lifeless, hateful, arresonant (what’s a word for that? discordent?).

The village was visible ahead now, its fieldstone wall marking the boundary between civilization and wilderness.

The village of Whitechapel was our goal and the surrounding forests became an orchestra conducting… mmm orchestras don’t ‘conduct’.

As the sun disappeared behind… bleh

Take one:

Even the Sun seemed afraid of that impenetrable forest. As we entered its fastness our shadows quickly lengthened and then merged with the spreading gloom as the Sun cowered behind the distant jagged peaks, first sillhouted as black teeth against the sunset and then becoming one with the all-encompassing night. We rode an umbral path accompanied by a strange march. The trees bordering our trail seemed to stand with backs turned and boughs twisting above them like mad conductors to a strange orchestra of woodwinds arrayed before them. Flutes and piccolos playing a discordent symphony on dead and broken instruments.


 Mmm. Take two:

As we entered the fastness of that mighty forest our shadows lengthened and then merged with the spreading gloom. The Sun cowered behind the distant jagged peaks, first silhouetted as black teeth against the sunset and then becoming one with the encompassing night. We rode an umbral path between strange orchestras, the nearest trees seeming like mad conductors, twisting their boughs into commands for the legions of discordant woodwinds arrayed behind them. Flutes, piccolos, and instruments too foreign to be named all fashioned from things dead or broken or rotten accompanied us in a mocking march. When Whitechapel materialized out of the gloom ahead, our horses balked and would go no closer, seeming to prefer the trodden ground behind despite that dissonant symphony to what lay ahead. The fieldstone wall still stood, as high as a tall man’s head and cleft by a wooden gate hanging ajar, marking the terminus between wilderness and the village. The building beyond were visible only as deeper black shapes against the surrounding night. We approached afoot, the sound of the horses’ loping fading quickly behind us. Through the murk of filtered starlight we could see shadowed figures guarding the old gate. They seemed eerily undisturbed by our advance and stood waiting with an aspect of inevitability while that village like a lodestone drew us by the very substance of our blood.

Better. I’ll work on this a bit more and try to finalize it before the end of the day.



The Hook

I’ve been supposing that beyond the need for a story to have a theme it should also have some sort of a hook, or a catch, or a twist. Something clever, I guess, that catches the reader a little off-guard and makes the story memorable. I read a story called “Dog Person” a while ago that I really enjoyed. It was short and the entire setting was a farmhouse kitchen. In a nutshell, the story was about an old, sick dog that needed to be put down. So the farmer is getting his gun ready and is going to take the dog out behind the shed and shoot it. As the narrative develops, we find out that the farmer’s girlfriend hates the dog and has been feeding it bacon laced with rat poison to try to kill it. At any rate, the farmer eventually takes the dog and goes out behind the shed while his girlfriend waits in the kitchen. There’s a gunshot, and a few minutes later the dog comes wandering back into the kitchen. So there’s your hook, the story builds you up thinking the guy is going to shoot the dog, and then he goes and shoots himself instead, leaving the girlfriend with the dog she hates.


So here’s where things get difficult. I need a new story. My plan is to write a series of stories set in… well the setting I suppose. My idea is that before I try to tackle a novel I want to do a few things. First, I want to have some of my writing published. I also want to really develop my setting and its history and characters, and also to flesh out the themes I’d like to explore as well. So to my mind a great way to accomplish all of that is to write a series of short stories all taking place in this setting; beyond that, I’m not envisioning many restrictions. For instance, these stories could take place in the past or the future or the “present”… I’m thinking that the main setting will be about 1960, but using roughly 1920s level of technology.


That might not have made much sense. Let me outline my current plans for this setting:

  • The world is Earth, more or less, although with a dramatically altered history
  • The main difference is that magic is real, and that has caused there to be a number of historical differences between real Earth and the Earth of this setting
  • Why magic? Well, that’s the basis for fantasy. Magic becomes an allegory for… whatever, I guess. In this case magic is an allegory for anything prohibited – I’m thinking mainly alcohol and other ‘taboo’ concepts from the real world like prostitution, drugs, abortion, and so forth
  • In this setting, there was a time when the Earth was very much like many typical fantasy settings. Basically, we had wizards, monsters, and so forth, like Lord of the Rings, Forgotten Realms, or so many other stereotypical fantasy settings
  • The key difference is that the setting is mainly set in a fairly modern time, so you can say it’s like Middle-Earth once Middle-Earth reaches the modern era
  • The other difference is that for several hundred years, magic has been completely restricted, so there are no more wizards or monsters
  • Magic is restricted by a technology that allows magic to be ‘captured’ and stored or channeled very much like electricity
  • I’m thinking that where in real time the steam engine was invented, which launched the industrial revolution, in this setting it was the magic engine that was invented – basically the growth of technology was stifled by the presence of magic for centuries; no one really needed to advance technology because magic already did what most real-world inventions do; so when the magic engine was invented, probably about 1800 our time, it really changed things
  • One of the major effects was that it was determined that there is only so much magic available; in essence the Earth acts as a focus for magic and it generates a certain magical ‘flow’, so once that much magic is being used there is no more available
  • Over the decades, massive reactors have been built on ley-line nodes to siphon off and collect magical energy. That energy is the property of the state, and it is only allowed to be used as the state determines; the state also ensures that essentially all magical ‘flow’ is collected, so no “wizards” or other such people with an innate ability to command magic have access to its power


All of this leads to some reoccurring themes. One of the main ones would be the question of whether or not this practice of having the state control all magic is a good thing or not. The history of this world contains all of the sort of fantasy tales that you’d expect to see in any fantasy setting, with dragons and princesses and all sorts of juvenile adventure. But, now that is all in the past, there are no more wizards, or if there are they have no idea they’re wizards because there’s no magic any more. I can see having a few long-lived members of monstrous races still around, possibly a dragon or two, maybe some members of one of the fey races that are storied to be long lived. But the idea here is that magical races can’t survive in a world without magic. It might come across as too strong to have them actually dying… as in “we can’t reproduce without magic,” that seems weak. But, it could be that the magical species are becoming mundane. Unicorns are just horses now; dragons are just big lizards; elves are just homosexuals. So the world is safer, more predictable, probably more fair and equitable; but, it’s also more dull, it’s the fantasy world turned into the real world, and not everyone would be happy about that.


There might be an idea for a story in here. The first story could be about the invention of the magic engine. I wonder if that could be the big ‘reveal’… the reader doesn’t know what the engine is powered by until the end when we see that the story has been set in a fantasy world all along and it’s all about magic. Hmm. I’m not sure that would work, but it’s worth thinking about. Another idea would be a framed story – a story within a story: a young man is sitting at the base of the cooling tower of one of the massive magic reactors while his tutor tells him the history of the reactors and the magic engines; the story walks us through the salient points of this setting’s history and introduces some of the main themes; the twist then, is that we’ve never really been shown the tutor, he’s just been described in oblique terms, then at the story’s conclusion we finally get to see him and he’s actually a dragon; he’s lost his ability to fly, breathe fire, wield magic spells, et cetera, but he’s still a dragon and the story ends with the young man pondering the lost majesty of his tutor and the modern, safe world he has instead.



Returning to Themes

I know I’ve covered this ground, but I feel it’s something I’ll be returning to repeatedly. As an aside, I wonder if I should learn to type properly. I’ll try typing the rest of this blog using the home-row keys and all of that. I don’t know how well it will work.


All right. Here I am typing on the… fuck it I can’t stand that. I typing the way I type.


Okay, so I’m talking about themes. Why? Well, I have a 200 word prose-poem due on Thursday, and the only way I can think of creating some context for writing it is to outline a new story and then zoom in on one of the more evocative scenes. You know… I get what Joel is saying about writing evocatively, but sometimes I wonder if he doesn’t advocate going a bit too far. I mean, I get that you want to provide some detail and add some richness to your prose, but do you really want to get bogged down in that detail? Sometimes you just want to cut to the chase and move the plot forward. Anyhow…


So yes, themes. Themes because I start all of my stories with a theme. Then I move on to fleshing the specifics of the theme I want to explore, and then comes the outline. Or the characters and setting, I suppose, but to me that’s part of the outline.


What themes have I been interested in exploring lately? Well, I’ve been starting to plan out my next project – or series of projects, really. I’m reading “Last Call” by Peter Okent (sp?); it’s a history of prohibition in the States. I’m finding it interesting on its own, but not only that I’m planning on using it as the basis for my fictional world. In a nutshell, I’m using the themes of the Prohibition years to base a series of short stories, and ideally eventually a novel on. I think there are a number of interesting themes to be explored by looking at Prohibition, personally. Let me try to outline a few:


Morality and how it intersects with legality

I think this is a fascinating theme. I see this all the time, that people can’t tell the difference between a moral and a law. For instance, ask the typical person why murder is illegal and they’ll tell you it’s because it’s wrong to kill someone. To me, that’s a completely false statement. I don’t believe it’s inherently wrong to kill someone – in fact as long as you eat the body I can’t see how it’s ever morally wrong to kill anyone. I mean, people are no different than any other animal when it gets down to it, so as long as you eat what you kill I’m not seeing the problem. But really, I think the reason murder is a crime is that we acknowledge that our society would struggle to be orderly and productive if people were free to kill one another. Let me put this a different way. Consider automobiles. Every year in Canada, 3,000 people are killed in automobile collisions. Statistically, we could reduce that to zero if we reduced the speed limit to 20 km/h everywhere at all times. Consider that, really. We could save 3,000 lives per year, 30,000 per decade, 300,000 per century by simply agreeing to drive no faster than 20 km/h. What do you think that odds of anyone agreeing to that are? Somewhere close to zero? So to me this is interesting, because we’re so sure killing someone is a moral infraction of a very high order, and yet we’ll willfully consign 3,000 people a year to death just so we can get to work faster. Doesn’t that seem odd? So what’s my point? I resist having a point; I just want to explore the theme.


The role of government

This theme is central to Prohibition because in general the government had never been concerned with limiting the freedom of the people until Prohibition started. The one exception was emancipation – you were not allowed to own slaves. After Prohibition, you were not allowed to own slaves and you were not allowed to purchase alcohol.  I guess in nations like Canada and the U.S. where common law is practiced, it seems odd for a government to need to step in with some sort of constitutional mandate of what people are or are not allowed to do. There’s nothing in the Constitution for example that tells you you aren’t allowed to kill someone. That’s something the courts have decided and it’s enshrined in the common law of the nations.


The effects of laws and how real effect differs from intended effect

This is interesting, too. During Prohibition of course the Mob gained all sorts of power and wealth. Why? Because making something illegal doesn’t take away people’s’ desire for it, it just makes it harder to come by and hence more valuable. So during Prohibition, alcoholic beverage became quite valuable and very attractive to organized criminals to smuggle in. The other impact was that people started distilling their own alcohol in basements and sheds. Of course, that alcohol was often poisonous and the drinker would die, or go blind, or what-have-you. But in the eyes of the Prohibitionist that was an entirely fair and just fate for someone partaking in the demon liquor. This reminds me of abortion, actually. When you make abortion illegal you don’t stop it from happening, you just drive it underground into back-alley clinics where women risk their lives and criminals profit. Prostitution is like that, too. So are drugs. Imagine if cigarettes were made illegal, you’d have smuggling rings spring up over night so criminals could profit bringing in smokes for the people who want them. So we have alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, other drugs, abortions, prostitution, add gambling to the list… basically these are all things that are considered to be moral vices. Some people object to them, some people quite stridently. So through that moral objection and through the political pressure these moral groups can wield, these vices become outlawed. Does it help? Does it work? Well, most of these things have been illegal for decades if not centuries, and they’re all still here, so I’d say not.


It’s worth pointing out that these are large, overarching themes that I want to include in setting and character design, but I don’t think I want to smash the reader over the head with them. It would be way to heavy-handed a narrative style. I need to break these up and find some simpler, more personal themes to actually start writing stories about. You know, Party at Steve’s! could easily have been one of this series of stories if I’d wanted it to be.


But, the main conceit of the setting is that magic exists but it’s illegal. Magic becomes the big allegory for alcohol or drugs or prostitution or anything else that people have historically tried to suppress or destroy. Now, there’s a difference between trying to suppress something that’s blatantly harmful, like murder, and something for which there is arguably no victim, like alcohol. The gray area is that alcoholism can have a victim if a drunk beats up his wife or smashed his car into someone or something like that, but here we have to be careful and ask if that was the fault of the alcohol or of the drunk him or herself.




Here’s the completed “Earthrise” poem. I get feedback on it next week, so it will be interesting to see what people think of it. Frankly, I don’t consider myself much of a poet, but this was a fun exercise.


The Sun its path that day did stand

as to my kin and me

for an eon it did offend

mocked us with liberty.


Our hunting lodges had been masked

as laboratories

libraries where our trophies basked

the unknown our quarries.


The crew’s thoughts in their furtive glance

to shore tremulous smiles

the more knowledge we earned recants

our dreams as do a child’s.


The jeers from well-wishers toward

prophets our doom decreed

but my ghost stood aside that horde

of madmen and agreed.


We sailed past heights of ancient rock

upon old stages perched

where impatient people would flock

the horizon they searched.


That final boundary now passed

that yet forbidding wall

at every warning we laughed

a new challenge was all.


As twins with sutures of flesh tied

against what gods had sewn

the other’s face could not unhide

though it was so well known.


The shadowed hemisphere our jail

nor through epochs would turn

astronomy had told the tale

the truth we would now learn.


It did rise as we knew it must

as armed we were with math

it dawned over the world’s far crust

and we gripped in its path.


As a truculent god above

with knowledge absolute

for our trespass no defense of

hiding our profane route.


In all directions gray waves faced

in rows of subjects bowed

supplicants before it abased

some mad king’s throne did crowd.


To that strange court our ship that day

like an ambassador

from a nation of dirt and clay

vulgar and nothing more.


A countenance of such beauty

too much our minds to bear

past ken of mortal agency

artless to shield its glare.


The crew as one the gunwales scaled

until ‘twas I alone

adrift and wishing once more jailed

with those yet safe at home.


Blork. If that isn’t pretentious shit I don’t know what is.