World Building

World building is hard.

I’ve often looked on enviously at fiction authors who write in a real-world setting, I’ve always thought they had it easier when it came to their worlds.  I mean sure, no -one forced me to write a fantasy series, thereby rendering it necessary for me build a whole new world from the ground up.  It was just the natural way for me to go, having long been a fan of fantasy fiction.

I digress however, the subject of my writing envy.

I think I’ve been a little unfair to my fellow fiction writing contemporaries.  In truth, we all have to build worlds when we write fiction, it is important you see to set the rules of your world in advance and then stick to them.  There’s little more annoying than going through three quarters of a book being told one thing by the story, only for it to do an about face and do something entirely contrary to the pre-existing rules of the story.  It’s jarring and few things will break immersion faster.

In any genre, whether it be fantasy, sci-fi or something a little more grounded like romance or drama, the world the story takes place in needs to be built.  If built in advance, with the author noting the ‘rules’ of the world and keeping in mind it’s lore, then as long as the author sticks to them everything should be consistent and non-jarring.

The same is true no matter what type of fiction you’re writing.  I can well imagine the fact that the Harry Potter series of books were couched in a real-world setting didn’t make it any easier for J.K. Rowling to write them.  Indeed, Lee Child will have had in mind when writing the Jack Reacher books what the eponymous character was capable of when writing them.  All worlds, no matter their location need to be built to a point.

When writing Brogan and the Bandit King and further stories set in the same world I needed to do the same.  Elves and dwarfs are a no-no, but wizards and demons are fine.  There will be fantastical creatures of all varieties for the hero and his companions to battle, but no orcs or goblins.  These are the things I need to remember as I go on.

Anyway, enough of my rambling, I need to decide where to put a city.

The Promised Land

I talk to the books I’m reading, or more specifically the characters in them.

If you put ten writers in a room and asked them what the key was to any story, you would probably get ten different answers.  I personally think there is no definitive answer to this question, there a great number of things that make a good story.  Whether it be a coherent narrative, likeable characters or any other of the dozens of things that make great stories when put together.

Any good story must be able to catch the writer’s imagination however, it must be able to make them laugh, cry or cringe.  We’ve all read books that have had this effect on us, we’ve cringed at a gory scene or laughed when our favourite character has done something only to then be driven to tears when they’re killed off in the next chapter.  We then sit there cursing the writer because they have cruelly murdered our favourite character, despite knowing that in a narrative sense it was the correct thing to do.

It never ceases to amaze me how the written word can fire our imagination in a way that no other medium can.  I personally think it’s because we feel a sense of ownership, we imprint our own idea of how things look onto these imaginary worlds and people.  How many of us have sat there decrying casting director’s choices of people to play certain roles in screen adaptations of stories; this guy right here for one.

This is not a bad thing.

Being passionate about fiction is a good thing, no, a great thing.  I talk to the characters like they’re real and that’s when I know a story has really got me.  If you need to remind yourself that it’s a work of fiction, well, you’ve reached the promised land of reading in my opinion.

Short Story – Vernon and the Arch-Mage of Terkinott

Good morning everyone.  It had been a little while since I wrote a short story of any variety and so I decided to have a pop at writing one.  Lo and behold our intrepid adventurer Vernon came to the rescue.


He was almost there.  Vernon had spent the last three days climbing to the top of the spire, truly it had been an arduous climb, full of perils and magical traps galore.  He had met a man called Basil the Fantastic a couple of weeks ago, he had told him of a wizard’s tower nearby, the wizard he said, was known to grant magical artefacts to adventurers with great skill and cunning if they could prove their worth.

Now, after a considerable journey and no small amount of hazard he was almost at the top, all that stood in between him and his goal was a magical barrier and steely resolve of the Arch-Mage of Terkinott.  Should Vernon’s considerable verbal skills prove up to the task, he would leave here with the Golden Glaive of Nemaltos and the Grand Hat of Tomalbus; worthy prizes indeed.

‘Now,’ he said as he withdrew the Key of Grumbold from his satchel, ‘it is time to claim my prize.’

Vernon inserted the key into the Keyhole of Fates and turned it as the Grand Book of Keys had said, first counter clockwise, then clockwise and then all the way around counter clockwise once more.  With that he retrieved his journal from his pocket and proceeded to read the passphrase aloud.

‘The Arch-Mage of Terkinott has the grandest tower of them all!’ he shouted.

After a moment, the great double doors before him shook as the hidden workings of it shuddered to life and a moment later the doors began to slowly swing open.  He took a tentative step forward through the great portal and prepared himself for anything that he might find inside.  Once he entered the room he looked around at its contents and had to admit, he was very impressed with what he saw.  There were all sorts of alchemy equipment, flames heating vials of mysterious fluids of all sorts of different colours, great bookcases lining the walls, teeming with books containing who knows what and great telescope pointing up into the night sky.

‘It’s magnificent,’ he said.

‘What do you want?’ he heard a high-pitched voice say from behind him.

Spinning around with his glaive at the ready he prepared himself to have to fight some great beast, conjured from nowhere by the mighty arch-mage or a spectral apparition formed by magical power.  Instead the sight of a young man met him, at twenty years old if he was being generous, he was stood next to the telescope in baggy mage robes that clearly were not meant for him.

‘Who are you?’ Vernon asked.

‘I am the Arch-Mage of Terkinott, obviously,’ the boy replied tetchily.

Of course, this must have been a test to see if Vernon were worthy of the items he had come here for.  Determined to prove his worth, Vernon smoothed his clothes and straightened his posture before delivering his carefully constructed request.

‘Of course,’ he started, pausing for a moment to order his thoughts before continuing, ‘oh wise Arch-Mage, I come before you today to request a might boon.’

‘A boon?’ the Arch-Mage said, as if confused by Vernon’s statement.

‘Yes, I request the Golden Glaive of Nemaltos and the Grand Hat of Tomalbus,’ he said humbly.

The Arch-Mage stood for a moment looking him up and down, he reached up and started to scratch his chin as if considering his request.  A strained look spread across the mage’s seemingly young features, he seemed to be giving Vernon’s request serious consideration, though he was expecting to have to argue his case before the Arch-Mage gave up the items.  After a minute the Arch-Mage nodded and turned, walking to the rear of the chamber.  A moment later Vernon heard thumps and bangs, followed by the sound of something clattering to the floor, followed by no small amount of cursing from the mage.

After a couple of minutes of this there was suddenly silence and then the mage came walking back with a glaive and floppy brimmed leather hat.  ‘There you go, I uhm…bestow?  Yes, I bestow upon you the Blade of Tobasco and Hat of Numpties, now go forth and use them wisely.’

No sooner had he finished than he was ushering Vernon towards the door and out of the chamber, but realising something wasn’t quite right, he resisted and turned around to face the mage.

‘Now wait a moment,’ he said forcefully.  As he did so the boy seemed to shrink backwards as if scared Vernon might try to attack him.  ‘This is not a golden glaive, it is made from iron and the hat is a simple leather hat with no magical power whatsoever.’

‘Well who died and made you the magic expert?’ the mage said.  ‘I’m the Arch-Mage here and if I say they’re magical item, thingies, then that’s what they are.’

Vernon held his ground as the mage tried to push him towards the door, nevertheless he continued to push against him, resulting in the boy walking on the spot as he struggled against him in vain.  Eventually exhausted and panting heavily, the boy stopped and looked up at Vernon a look of fear on his face.

‘You’re not the Arch-Mage of Terkinott, are you?’

‘Uhm…no,’ the boy answered.

Vernon dropped the hat and the glaive that the boy had given him, raising his arms he gave an exasperated sigh at his misfortune before fixing the boy with an intense stare.

‘Well, where is he?’

‘He’s dead,’ the boy said, unable to meet Vernon’s gaze as he shuffled from one foot to the other.

‘How?’

‘He fell,’ the boy replied dejectedly pointing to a balcony on the northern face of the spire.  ‘He liked to have a big stretch on the balcony every morning, one day he got dizzy and fell off.’

Damn and bother, Vernon thought.  This adventuring lark just wasn’t paying off, first the golem, then the Chalice of Destiny and now this, it was as if the universe was playing some elaborate prank on him.

‘Well what about the glaive and the hat?’ he asked.  At the very least he could claim his prizes before he left the tower, that way the whole escapade wouldn’t be a total loss.

‘They’re gone,’ the boy replied.

‘Gone?’

‘I gave them to a man called Basil last week.’

‘Basil?’ he said, the look of anger on his face inviting no answer from the boy.

He had been duped, Basil the Fantastic was a cad, a bounder of the highest order.  He had spun a tale to Vernon that he knew he could not resist, despite knowing that there was nothing here to claim, because he had already claimed them.  Unable to contain his temper he kicked a nearby candlestick holder, sending it toppling into a nearby mirror, which in turn fell into a picture and so on.  This led to a cascade effect, whereby one object knocked another and another until the whole room’s contents were spilling to the floor.  Finally, a large globe was knocked from its stand onto the alchemy workbench and rolling across it, proceeded to knock all the vials over before finally the flame beneath one of them was knocked over into the mix of fluid.

‘Is that flamma-’

The tower exploded before he could finish.

Short Story – Vernon and the Chalice of Destiny

Good day to you all.  Upon taking a look back through my blog I realised two things.  Firstly I realised it has been slim pickings in terms of updates here and secondly it’s been a month since I last posted a short story.  It is therefore a great pleasure for to be able to rectify both of these things.


The Chalice of Destiny.

It was almost within Vernon’s grasp, all he had to do was work out how to turn off the flame jets before him.  The chalice itself was hidden inside a vault of some sort, the door was closed of course, but he knew it was in there; no-one had set foot in these caves for over two thousand years.  The flame jets however were proving quite the bother, he had come here with a group of seven other adventure seekers and all barring one of them had perished in the fire; the last of them had given up their quest and left.  But Vernon would not be so easily defeated, all he had to do was work out how to turn them off and open the doors, then it was simply a matter of reaching out and taking the chalice.

‘Hmm,’ he said idly.  ‘Perhaps it is some sort of puzzle.’

He started to look around at the tunnel in which he stood, the walls bathed in the orange glow of the flames fiercely gushing from the holes in the walls.  He had heard tell of some of these most ancient cave systems being littered with traps to keep the treasures within them safe, indeed that would make sense by the assortment of centuries old bones they had encountered, victims of an assortment of now sprung traps.  There were all sorts of carvings and engravings on the walls and floor, telling some sort of tale and he suspected, giving clues to the way into the vault.

‘What a bother,’ he muttered.

He leaned up against the wall and as he did so the stone slab beneath his foot seemed to shift, at first, he paid it no heed assuming the passing of years had taken its toll.  However, he moved across to the other wall and as he stepped on the next slab, it also shifted, causing him to examine them more closely.  Looking down at them he noticed the faint outline of a tree on each one, after a moment of looking at them he noticed that they were not the same, but were in various states of bloom.

‘Of course,’ he said realising the puzzle.  ‘It must be a combination lock, in the order of the seasons.’

Putting his foot on the tree he believed to signify spring, he pushed down as hard as he could and was rewarded with a satisfying click as something dropped into place.  Next, he placed his foot on the stone for summer, with the same result, before doing the same with autumn and then winter.  As he placed his foot on the last stone he heard a loud grinding sound like two stones rubbing together, followed by a loud thump and then a metallic sounding click.  He stood there half expecting to be decapitated by a fiendish trap of some variety, when suddenly the flames flickered and died, followed by the door to the vault grinding open.

‘Finally,’ he said stepping forward into the smoke rising from the now well-cooked corpses of his former companions.

He entered the vault and through the haze of the dust he could see a plinth, around four feet in height and a foot wide.  He started to get excited as he approached, knowing full well that the Chalice of Destiny was now in reach.  Then the smoke cleared and he was faced with an empty plinth, confused for a moment he thought it must have been another puzzle.  But as he looked around he saw carved into the walls laughing faces and slowly came to realise that not only was the Chalice of Destiny not here; it wasn’t anywhere.  It wasn’t even a myth and he had been the victim it seemed, of a very deadly two millennia old practical joke.

‘Bugger.’

Short Story – The Whisperers

Good mornings folks.  To kick my blogging efforts off for the new year I shall post for you a short story I wrote in response to a Writers’ Discussion Group prompt on Google+.  Once I again I didn’t win, but I did manage to double my vote count to two.  So I do win…on inside.


‘They can’t hurt you if you don’t let them.’

She kept whispering it to herself, over and over she said it. She needed to hear the words to reassure herself, to stop herself from getting frightened and fleeing as she had done the first time. She stood watching the pale blue light as it moved slowly down the train track toward her, they didn’t usually react to the living unless you interfered with whatever it was they were doing. She had no intention of interfering, she just had to get close enough to see it, to see it’s face.

‘They can’t hurt you if you don’t let them.’

That wasn’t strictly speaking true, back at camp the elders believed that they fed off people’s fear. She didn’t believe that though, she had seen a few of them up close and though she had been terrified each time, they didn’t get her. Polly knew it was their voices, if you heard their voices they would whisper things to you, anyone who heard their voices killed themselves. Maybe not straight away, sometimes they would wait days or a week, but they always killed themselves in the end.

‘They can’t hurt you if you don’t let them.’

The light from Polly’s torch was shaking now, the closer it got the more scared she got and the more the torch shook. She knew she should run, she knew she should go back to camp and never try this again, but she had to see. This was close to where she would have been when it happened, it could be her. So, she stood her ground, waited for it to reach her.

‘They can’t hurt you if you don’t let them.’

As it got closer Polly got out her headphones, she always listened to music when she went to see them. Unless you were deaf it was the only way to make sure you didn’t hear them, the only way to be sure you didn’t hear the whispers. No-one knew what they said, the people that heard them didn’t talk much afterwards. They became distant, sad even, until eventually they couldn’t take it anymore. She had made sure to scavenge some noise cancelling headphones, once they were on you could hear nothing but the music.

‘They can’t hurt you if you don’t let them.’

It was close now, she wasn’t good at judging distances. She hadn’t been taught that before it happened, she supposed now unless she met someone else that knew, she would never learn. It was though, close enough where she could make out the shape of a person in its aura. She could see its mouth moving, though it wasn’t close enough for her to see it’s lips. Even if she could she wouldn’t be able to make out what it was saying, the only way to know that, was by listening to them and everyone knew better than to do that.

‘They can’t hurt you if you don’t let them.’

The elders were scared, especially Mike; he was sixteen in a week and he was scared he was going to be taken…like the adults. It had been three hundred and two days since they had been taken, three hundred and two days since Polly had seen her. She turned off her torch, they went see through if you shined light at them and she needed to see it’s face. Finally, it was close enough for her to see.

‘Mom?’

Short Story – Vernon and the Golem

Good morning bloggers.  This is a short story that I have posted in one of my collections on Google+. The collection is called 500 Word Stories and as the title suggest I challenge myself to write a short story of no more than 500 words in length each week, I have decided also to post it here.  Enjoy!


‘Cliffs, rocks, chasms and more cliffs,’ Vernon said before noticing a bush nearby.  ‘Oh, and a shrub.’

It was the most barren place he had seen, though he didn’t have a great deal by which to compare.  Prior to leaving his father’s manor three months ago, he had never set foot out of the Brekari Lowlands.  He had always wanted to see the world, so one day he collected up his belongings and set out full of enthusiasm and fervour, it hadn’t lasted.  Money wasn’t the problem, his father was wealthy and so he had left with a full coin-purse, with further funds in vaults across the Duchy.

No, the problem was that the though the world was big, it didn’t seem to contain much excitement or adventure and for someone seeking such things, that was a problem.  Before leaving he had selected a glaive from the armoury.  It was a weapon he was familiar with, when he was young he’d been told to choose a weapon to train with, he chose polearms.  Fortunately, it basically being just a short sword perched on top of a big stick also made it suitable as a walking stick.  Truth be told he didn’t need it, he could have armed himself with a cheese-knife and he would likely have been safe.

Having found nothing of note in the lowlands he had set off into the hills, then the mountains.  He had read the stories of golems in these mountains, monstrously large creatures made of rock, brought to life by arcane magical energies.  Legend had it they were roused by a mage who inhabited this region, that he had lost control of his creations and they had killed him.

‘The fool,’ he said.

Suddenly he heard a crash as if something had fallen from a great height, then again and again, evenly spaced it continued.  He continued listening as it got louder, before realising that it was something walking.  Dropping his backpack, he listened more intently, he deduced that whatever was making the sound was approaching from a narrow high walled ravine.

‘Finally,’ he said excitedly, readying his weapon.

He could see a shadow cast on the ravine wall, finally after all these months of boredom, a fight.  The shadow kept increasing in size and he continued waiting, eventually it faded and the shadow got gradually smaller until it disappeared.  Had it retreated inside the ravine he wondered?  He was about to step forward, before he could he noticed something small approaching him, no more than a foot tall.  It got within five feet of him and he saw the most inoffensive creature imaginable, a miniature golem.

‘Oh typical,’ he said, rearing his foot back he kicked it high into the air.  ‘The ravine must have been amplifying the sound.’

Picking up his belongings with a loud sigh, he turned around and headed back down the mountain in disappointment.  ‘It seems like the world might be a bit shit.’

Short Story – Maelstrom

I wrote a short story for a writing excercise on a community I’m part of on Google+.  It’s a competition to write a story inspired by a picture posted on the community at the start of the week.  The one with the most votes wins, mine didn’t win, but I thought I would post it here for you nonetheless.  Enjoy!

Maelstrom

‘Are you listening to me, Wells?!’

Lieutenant Vespanzo wasn’t expecting an answer, she knew he wasn’t as his gaze had been fixed on the roiling maelstrom above the hill, fifty feet distant.  Stood beneath it he could see Eve, her hand raised towards toward the mass of sand and rock spinning chaotically above.  He couldn’t believe she was controlling it, small delicate Eve controlling such a destructive force.

Suddenly he felt a thump as Vespanzo smacked the back of environment suit’s helmet.  ‘Focus!’

He turned to face the lieutenant and as he did, he saw the colony on the plains beneath them.  It was three miles distant and Eve, with the power she wielded was preparing to obliterate it.  He thought about how they had gotten here, the events in the temple and the grisly fate of the rest of the team.  Only he and Vespanzo had survived to make the dash back, racing to get here before Eve, she was already here however and almost ready to destroy the colony of thousands.

‘I’ll work my way around those rocks,’ Vespanzo said pointing to a rocky formation, ten feet from Eve.  She fixed him with a steely gaze.  ‘I’ll take the shot, all you have to do is distract her.  It’s a shitty deal, but we have no choice.’

He nodded shakily and Vespanzo set off, Wells started his own journey towards Eve.  He kept low and made a pretence of trying to hide, however his whole purpose was to be seen.

As he made his way toward her he thought about their childhood together.  He was the older and more physically able, she was the smarter and more academically minded.  When he had joined the marines, she had gone to university.  When the third phase of colony expansion on NP-11 had been announced, Eve had been selected to go and when they were asking for candidates as Colonial Marines; he volunteered.

Not long after their arrival, they were selected for a mission to investigate a radio signal that had been detected.  They all knew what it meant, no human had been to this world before them, it was alien or some natural phenomena.  They should have ignored it, they had released something, it had killed the rest of the team and claimed Eve.

Cresting the hill, he looked up for a moment at the maelstrom above them.  Taking in a deep breath, he stood up and called out to her.  ‘Eve!’

Turning to face him, her head un-helmeted, was open to the planet’s atmosphere.  There was a look of recognition on her face.  ‘Lee, you’re here.’  He didn’t know how, but her voice was transmitting through his earpiece.

‘You’re not her,’ he muttered.

‘It’s me,’ she replied.

Vespanzo dodged out from cover behind Eve and took aim at her, without thinking he reacted.  ‘No!’  Quickly raising his pistol, he snapped off a shot at Vespanzo, her helmet’s visor shattered as oxygen exploded into the thin atmosphere.  She fell to the ground and Wells dropped to his knees as Eve approached, kneeling opposite him.

‘What did I do?’ he sobbed, tears streaming down his cheeks.

‘You saved me,’ she replied.

He threw his arms around her and she did the same to him.  He loved her, she was his sister and he could never have let anyone hurt her.  Letting go, he pulled away and saw the loving smile on her face, replaced with a malevolent grin.  The next sound he heard was the oxygen escaping from his suit, as she opened the seals on his helmet.