The First Fifteen? Make That 120.

A Blank Page

Recently, a reader asked about my writing process, especially the way I prepare to write. The reader felt at a loss about plunging in during, say, those first 15 minutes before sitting in front of the computer and typing an opening sentence. I need more than 15 minutes–much more. I’ve read and absorbed some very good tips about this stage of the game. They suggest steps to take when a story seems like a ‘great’ idea, when characters insist on being represented, or when an Otherworld starts to gel in the imagination–when the writer is standing on the edge of a whole new adventure and does not know where to direct her feet.

I tried putting a few of those steps into practice when I wrote Malevir: Dragons Return, but not with confidence coming from experience.  At this point in my writer’s life, however,  two strategies work well for me. They have helped me organize a sequel, which is coming along splendidly.

The first strategy that organizes me is my sketchbook of doodles and drawings. I like to cartoon and invent grotesque images of creatures that may or may not inhabit our world. The act of drawing my characters helps me visualize them more clearly. I sketch them in different situations and in varying garb (or feathers, scales, whatever works). I go to image sites like Pinterest to see how other artists imagine similar characters, but I avoid outright imitation. My characters are my own invention.

Character profiles provide another, challenging way to flesh out my characters. Once I define them, sort out their powers, backstories, and their relationships to each other as well as to possible settings, I’m able to weave their stories together; they intersect and drive the narrative forward. When I force myself to imagine every interaction and possible outcome, a big surprise bubbles up—the story’s logical ending. I envision the ending at the outset of the process, of course, but by slowly building my characters’ every nuance and discovering their motivation, I can write a logical, magical, totally appropriate ending to the story.

Every writer approaches the process differently. The key is finding a playful approach that makes the prospect of writing an anticipated pleasure, not a dreaded chore.

Character Update

another Kurnan

KURNAN Kirrillson

lives in Fossarelick, in the middle of the Veiled Valley of Dragonwolder. We meet him when Seerlana, a secret dragon-rider, finds him, a fearful boy hiding in his family’s cottage loft.   She introduces him to the copper dragon Isabella and they hit it off.  He becomes her friend and soon  her rider.

Not only does he learn to ride a dragon, but he shares thoughts with the Copper, persuades her to join the cause against a monstrous evil called the Malevir, and rides her into battle against the beast conjured by the Malevir to destroy the dragons. Kurnan and Isabella are among the first to confront this beast when it arrives at a lodge where all its intended victims are sheltering.

Isabella’s strategies bury the beast (temporarily) and give the valley folk time to hide. Kurnan falls off his dragon as Isabella twists and turns to outmaneuver the beast just as it is spewing venom. The poison chokes Kurnan and knocks him out. At this point it looks like he is dying.

He remains in a mostly comatose state for the duration of the novel. Nevertheless, the various remedies he receives are keeping him alive for…Book II! Image borrowed from digital-art-gallery.com

 

 

Where Do Characters Come From?

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Where Do Characters Come From?
Written works in the fantasy genre often depend on magical creatures, which drive their narratives and draw the reader into an otherworldly setting. Malevir: Dragons Return and its sequel Where Dragons Follow offer up dragons, sprites, goblins, giants, and powerful incarnate forces–either benevolent or malevolent—as well as animals that have magical abilities of their own.
Whenever an author in this genre creates an original world, she faces many challenges. Archetypes and subsequent variations on many magical and mythical creatures impose characteristics and behaviors to which a writer might feel obliged to defer. The collective imagination of every culture demands conformity. Hence, dragons are fierce, mercurial, fire-breathing, and dangerous in Western culture; yet, in contrast, dragons in Chinese culture symbolize power, strength and good fortune. The latter command respect while the former, like Smaug in The Hobbit are feared and antagonized. The dragons of the Veiled Valley meet neither criterion. They act rather as allies and benefactors, supporting the valley’s human settlers and their magical friends. They are the Malevir’s chief challengers and foes.
My sprites, whom I have dubbed Loblin (an individual sprite is a Lobli), are another example of breaking with tradition. They resemble brownies—helpful and performing chores for the humans to whom they are attached by affection as much as by duty—but I have given them unique powers, related to musical charms and to communication skills. Only 18 inches high, with speckled green skin and clothing in many shades of brown, Loblin pass unnoticed by humans if they so choose, but they remain alert to any call for help from their human charges. The Loblin, in turn, owe their lives and safety to a giant named Rocánonom whose magical powers and origins are the subject of another blog on www.malvir.com where I elaborate one of the three giants I have imagined for this series.
And what is the Malevir? The first novel of the Malevir trilogy might persuade the reader that this creature is a two-headed basilisk with frightening powers of its own. Where Dragons Follow will disabuse the reader of that concept. The Malevir will emerge as a greater foe than even the dragons could imagine. Only the power of the Mystic Scintilla, a radiant source of benevolence, might be able to oppose the Malevir and defeat it; and only much more tradition-flouting narrative from yours truly will reveal the outcome.

One of a Thousand Faces

red dot warrior

“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” Willa Cather
Yes, Willa, but each re-telling wears a different face and leads us to another place, perhaps never seen before, but somehow familiar. Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with One Thousand Faces and the works of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung propose that all stories, from the latest Star Wars film to Harry Potter’s epic, and Malevir: Dragons Return, present a hero, among certain archetypes. To quote Christophe Vogler, “The theme of the hero myth is universal, occurring in every culture, in every time; it is as infinitely varied as the human race itself; and yet its basic form remains the same, an incredibly tenacious set of elements that spring in endless repetition from the deepest reaches of the mind of man.” (http://thewritersjourney.com/hero’s_journey.htm#Practical)
The hero’s journey involves a call to adventure, a break with the ordinary and every-day that leads to a personal transformation brought about by challenges and temptations. In the end, the hero finds redemption and returns to his origins. The narrative of Malevir: Dragons Return pretty much follows the sequence of Campbell’s “monomyth” theory; but it features more than one hero. Recently, I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Waiting for the previews to end, I wiggled in my comfy cinema seat with the expectation that I was about to see another “guy” film, an adventure story in which female characters would be more a distraction than a vital element of the tale. Instead, I met a cadre of heroes, Finn, Poe, and Han Solo; Rey and Leia Organa—three men, two women all at different stages of their quests.Rey is a tough and resilient fighter with hidden power; she mirrors a character I created in my novel, Azile, the young teenager who becomes increasingly aware of her own powers. Both young women experience a transformation as their characters develop.
Quoting Vogler again: “The repeating characters of the hero myth such as the young hero, the wise old man or woman, the shape-shifting woman or man, and the shadowy antagonist are identical with the archetypes of the human mind, as revealed in dreams. That’s why myths, and stories constructed on the mythological model, strike us as psychologically true.” The Force Awakens’ psychologically shape-shifting Kylo Ren, a diminished version of Darth Vader, and his mentor, the Supreme Leader, Snoke, provide chilling antagonists to our heroes, so like the Malevir as he plots and carries out his designs on Azile and her brother; but you’ll have to read the book to find out how the beast does that.

Illustration credit: Sir Thomas, Knight of the Kind Thoughts Thinking Circle (aka T.)

No Kidding

children-s-games-1560-2

 

Nnylf and Azile, two characters featured in Malevir: Dragons Return, live in Fossarelick, a small village in the Veiled Valley. In many ways, the village resembles its medieval English counterpart, but has no manor house or overlord to impose rules, customs, and taxes. Nnylf and Azile may have played in Fossarelick’s dusty lanes when they were small, but as the adolescents we meet in the novel’s early chapters they have left behind their childish ways. It’s amazing that they have survived their childhood, given frequent threats of illness, injury, and attacks; but magic flows throughout their valley and counteracts what would have amounted to potentially lethal experiences for their medieval analogs.

In fourteenth-century England, boys went to work at age seven and could be punished as adults for their crimes. Men reached their prime in their twenties and grew old in their forties, while a woman was an adult at age seventeen (Chaucer referred to a thirty-year-old woman as “winter forage”). Life in Fossarelick, agrarian and cooperative, by contrast, is less harsh than in “Olde” England, although here, too, children grow up quickly. Their parents need help at home and in the fields. The village’s egalitarian culture has counted on everyone, regardless of gender, to contribute to the community’s survival through hard work and mutual aid.

However, the Malevir’s attacks on the Veiled Valley change that culture radically. Men become dragon-hunters while women and children remain in the village, surrounded by neglected fields and facing daily scarcities, anger, and resentment. In these circumstances, life in Fossarelick shares more of the miseries and inequities of a medieval English village; yet, a few inhabitants of Fossarelick, including the two adolescents, look for ways to restore peace and solidarity to their home. Nnylf and Azile’s search brings them to an unknown part of their region where they meet strange creatures and events that turn their expectations upside-down and alter their lives forever.

 

 

Backstory: Rocánonom the Giant

Rocánonom’s Manual of Magic

Before the Forest People settled in the Veiled Valley, before the Orferans, a powerful dragon clan, made their home in a Sunriseside Mountain cave, and well before Malevir threatened the valley, another sort of being lived there. Three very tall and colossally strong giants left their wanderings in the Beyond for the warm seasons and verdant plains of the Veiled Valley. They came from different points: the graying, stooped wood giant Haldoren entered the Coldside Desert from its farthest boundaries; sturdy rock giant Enderfon, a smile always rounding his jagged blue cheeks, trudged up from the shore beyond the Warmside; and rugged Rocánonom, the man giant, came by sea. Many Turnings of the World ago, they agreed to find each other and prepare the land for people they knew would come to build new homes there.  The giants would become guardians, Protectors of the Trace, the Forest, and the Mountains.

Only one giant would survive the journey. Haldoren skirted basilisk pits and nests that pocked the surface of the desert, but a two-headed aiglonax ambushed him. Swooping down from the mountains, it pulled him apart with its beaks, tore the giant in two, and devoured him. Enderfon faced a different menace—the heat. Stifling winds were drying lakes and rivers that crossed the Warmside. Grasses and flowers withered and trees became skeletal. Dust devils danced across the barren expanses and soon the half-rock giant collapsed under a mountain overhang. Before the next Moon-Rising, Enderfon moved no more. The Malevir had turned his heart to stone.

Rocánonom, however, pulled his boat onto the shore of the Coldside Sea, and trekked through mountain passes until he reached low, rolling hills and meadows that would become known as the Anonom Trace.  In his pack, he carried a vellum-paged book, bound in stiff leather—the grimoire he found hiding within a stone wall of the castle that rose from an island of the Coldside Sea.

Invocations filled the pages of the manual of magic, enchantments that gave Rocánonom the power to call on the Great Forces when he needed their help. The sea would have drowned him, but it froze at his command and he trudged across its icy surface to the shore. Mountains might have crushed him, but gusts of wind pushed him gently up the slopes and righted him when he stumbled. He arrived at the Trace and waited for the other giants.