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.

 

 

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