a precursor to world building month

Once upon a time, when I was trying to avoid defining a plot, a beginning, or an end to the vague story-idea I had in my mind (a few years ago– internet role play, of all things, taught me how to move a story along, but that’s another issue entirely), I used to build static characters that only had situations, not actions, and worlds with details but not events. I made maps. I drew terrain, and defined linguistic patterns so that I could have realistic naming conventions for the cities.

Saint Know-All brought up the point that world-building can be completely distracting from the writing process, and I thought that I’d address that. World building is done to enrich your story. It requires action, and relevance to the project. It needs to contribute. After all, there’s not much point detailing characters that won’t be mentioned in the story. And world-building is important in genres other than fantasy and sci-fi.

Building a planet, galaxy, alien races, and government are all world-building. But so is defining the layout of a character’s house, the kind of furniture in the front room, the name of the street that said character lives on, the gossip that is spread around, and the statue that was defaced in the local park. No one can completely define the place they’re writing… and when you start mapping out blades of grass, you’ve probably gone too far. So first, before we begin our world building project, we’ll need to define its scope.

Simply put, where does the story go, what topics does it consider or touch on, and what are we going to see most often? Detail that.

For instance, if your character is a member of the local nobility, you should have a very, very good idea of how their system works, what the local issues are, and what duties fall to whom in the government. Even if a king isn’t introduced, you should know what kind of man he is and what he will and will not involve himself with. What people eat halfway across the world from said character will not be considered important, unless the character has a penchant for foreign delicacies.

villain: sorche du remerdii: introduction

Sorche du Remerdii
“Common sense really isn’t that common.”

Sorche du Remerdii

(Ideally read to the tune of Don’t Fear the Reaper, by Blue Oyster Cult.)

Sorche is my favorite villain in this story– I’ve touched on him before in my Kione excerpt, and have been working on him in the background since June began and I figured out what a smart-ass he was.

“Apologies, du Jadis.” One of the men in black bowed slightly. Rylan decided (for now) that he was the leader, and noted his unusually dark skin showing between his cap and scarf. “This is a rescue, despite appearances. We’d appreciate it if you would move quickly. We’re not to hurt anyone.”

Another man appeared with bandages while a third pulled out Rylan’s coat that he’d left in the other room, along with his hat, muffler, gloves, but not his swords. Rylan allowed them access to his wounded arm, and they bandaged it (sloppily– Rylan thought he could have done better, even with one hand). “Who do you serve?” Rylan asked.

“Now?” The leader glanced back to the men who were keeping the doors. No one had intruded on them yet. “Very well. On behalf of my lord, Rylan du Jadis, I commend you for your bravery, congratulate you for your victory, and condemn you for your idiocy.” He offered Rylan an exaggerated bow, and pulled back his left sleeve to show a golden bracer, celestite set into the ring on his middle finger instead of a sigil. “You can call me Sorche du Remerdii.”

Sorche is the adopted son of Remerdii, a landed gentleman who has managed to achieve great wealth, and foster brother to Kione Remerdii. Sorche was taken as a small child and given the name of the Remerdii’s dead son and brother. Sorche has always been considered a gentleman as long as he could remember, given good rooms and private tutors, encouraged to compete with his brother Kione. He’s better than Kione at the Mordache Art, fighting and other physical activities, but falls short at tact and diplomacy. Sorche just can’t help but take jabs when he sees the opportunity.

I’ve put another Sorche excerpt, longer this time, under the cut.
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showcase of villainy, part iii

Villain Month

Here’s the weekly showcase for the third week in June. We’ve got one more week before the end of Villain Month!

I worked on my bully, Redaechyl, and wrote about what I think makes a good villain.


Saint Know-All started on her second villain: Darren Hare.


Aldersgatecycle has been working on Sir Sylvan DeLoire.


Nymeria spent this week focusing on Dawnelle Nymeron.


Ashley made a post on her villain’s setting.


That’s it for this week! I’ll post the final character showcase on July 1st!

good villains don’t pull punches

Easy to say. Much, much harder to pull off in writing. Why? Because realistically, there’s only so much that can be done to a character before they break. The more realistic the story, the more the reader identifies with the protagonist. The more the reader identifies with the protagonist, the more the events in the story don’t just happen to the characters– they happen to the reader, too.

I’ve toted my love of George Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series before. Why? Because a very well developed character, a beast of a fighter that had been developed painstakingly for three (long) books can win a fight, take an injury in the process, and die of tetanus. There are so many characters in his books that he can realistically kill a huge portion of his cast like that. It heightens your sense of danger for the favorite characters, it takes away the safety net, and the knowledge that some of these characters are not going to survive the next few hundred pages makes the material gripping. Good villains don’t pull punches.

The problem with imitating this style, however, is that stories that aren’t a series of 200k novels have a much smaller cast. You can hurt them, you can kill them, but know that whatever pain and torment they go through… it’s not just going to magically go away. These characters are going to have to last you till the end of the story. And a good villain, a good danger, is going to hurt what it comes across.

I’m about sixty percent of the way through my book. My heroine has already broken her arm twice, and during plotting for future chapters I’ve very nearly decided that I’m going to shatter her knee and kill a side-character that I’m rather fond of. There is no healing magic. She’ll never run again, or walk without her staff. Why? Because there’s a villain with the advantage who is clever enough to find her. Take away his advantage, let her win the struggle immediately, and he’s not much of a villain. On the other hand, give my antagonist what he seeks (answers for her possession of a dead friend’s mask) and he will kill her. Good villains don’t pull punches. There is no ‘before I kill you’ monologue. No last requests. No ‘by the power of sheer will’ victories. No drastic change in skill when it’s convenient for him to lose a fight.

Why do people love a good villain? Because that struggle between the characters, the wavering balance of power, the trade of victories and defeats is what makes the adventure. Without tension, conflict, that sense of danger and concern for losing something precious… there is no story.

villain: tarren kanichende: introduction

King Tarren II Kanichende de Marla“The first and worst of all frauds is to cheat one’s self. All sin is easy after that.”

King Tarren II Kanichende de Marla

I’ve always had problems with King Kanichende– he makes threats that sometimes he doesn’t keep for some reason, and his drive wavers and falters. I’m not sure if this is a fault on his part, or if I’m trying to keep my protagonists from being killed immediately (short book). I’ll start with what I do know about him.

Tarren adored his little sister.

Arielii Kanichende, the golden princess of Vastii. Beautiful, graceful, popular Arielii, full of dry wit and wry humor. Arielii could make a fool out of anyone, build up or destroy reputations. Arielii had wings, and was so thin that she could glide across the chasm their city was built around and make a show out of it. Tarren had been against her marriage to Chyril Jadis to begin with; he wanted Arielii to stay in the royal city and her marble palaces, not travel over the god-forsaken surface to marry. Arielii left too eagerly, too happy for a chance to see new things, though Tarren would have done anything to bar her (and tried, unsuccessfully– he still thinks that someone had told Arielii of his plans to stop her).

Arielii went to Renideo to her new husband, who lived in a flatter, less glamorous manor amid a series of underground lakes. She wrote to Tarren on occasion, always promising to return to see him, and told him that while the buildings were less than impressive, she loved the swans, which lived across the cavern with the lakes between them and the humans. They were white, but where they lived the algae glowed, and it cast a blue light on their plumage. Blue swans beating their wings against the water, flying over the city, with plenty of room for her to join them. When Tarren became the king, he had his inside men within Renideo start to give him regular reports on his sister. She didn’t seem to be missing him. She had a daughter, a half-wit, which she let the servants raise in hopes of a better child. Several years later she was pregnant again, and that was the last that Tarren heard of her directly.

Tarren’s inside man detailed the facts of her death thus: Arielii had survived the labor and was doing well, while her son had been stillborn. Her husband and half-wit daughter went into the room and were left alone. When they left the room again, Arielii was dead, and the retarded girl stopped speaking entirely. She didn’t say anything again until she was almost ten. Chyril married again, and his next wife also did not live for long. By the time the territory directly south of Chyril’s holding turned hostile, Chyril was on his fourth wife and kept a private harem, but no other children. Wyrren Jadis, Arielii’s daughter, was nearly twenty. Despite the obvious mental ability retardation the girl was reputed to have written a long, detailed thesis on a highly dangerous form of magic, probably ghostwritten by one of her father’s practitioners for the sake of her reputation.

The rebellion of Aiche to the south was almost convenient. Tarren set his inside man to stage the presence of his assassins in Chyril’s castle and demanded his niece pay him a visit– she could have three maids, but no guards of her own, and would be returned after the rebellion, provided that Chyril did not join or come to the aid of Aiche. Chryil agreed, and sent his only child.

Wyrren Jadis de Renideo had her mother’s golden hair, but her face was stiff, immobile. Her eyes didn’t open more than halfway, her mouth hung slightly open, and she never moved her eyes– she turned her entire head when she wanted to look at something, a stiff, ugly mockery of his sister’s features. She came with three maids, one pretty, the other two as ugly as herself, one fat, the other scarred and sallow. She also came with a slave bound in gold, a serious looking red-haired man who wore a sword at each hip and moved like a bodyguard. Her father had set her up with a man as a ‘possession’, to claim him as property to give his daughter her own guard, Tarren was sure. Despite the breech in terms, Tarren was satisfied enough that the girl could be tricked into revealing the details of his sister’s murder.

the role of a villain

A post partially inspired by listening to Tarja (formally of the band ‘Nightwish’– I adore gothic/classical crossovers in music) on the drive home from work yesterday. This month so far has done exactly what I intended it to do, completely re-examining my plot from the antagonist’s perspective. Sometime between the tracks ‘Poison’ and ‘Damned and Divine’ it occurred to me that everything would be better if the ‘romance’ between the villain and the heroine was genuine, not a set up at all, on both sides.

First off, if I do this it would mean that I’m missing a good part of the story focusing on the heroine. I would have to display their relationship as aside while dealing with a bigger problem. I’d have to come up with another plot to thread in with the two I’ve already got going. But it makes the story stronger, it makes the ending even more powerful, and it gives me the chance to really focus on some of the important characters that I’ve neglected.

Villains, I’ve discovered, subscribe to the principal that hate is not the opposite of love; that’s indifference. Give the audience good reason to love your villain, and it’s easier to twist. His betrayal of the protagonists is also his betrayal of the audience.

..

Also, I’ll be starting my first weekly ‘Villain Month’ showcase on Saturday, linking to everyone’s projects!

villian: kione remerdii: scene

“Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled. We called sadism a sexual perversion; but you must first have the idea of a normal sexuality before you can talk of its being perverted; and you can see which is the perversion, because you can explain the perverted from the normal, and cannot explain the normal from the perverted.” -C.S. Lewis, ‘Mere Christianity’

((A sample of Kione’s POV, to practice the details of my villain. We’ll call it free-writing, and I make no promises as to the quality of the prose.))

Kione had sat with his usual glass of firewine through breakfast, swirling the liquid and picking at his food though his stomach protested with every bite that he forced down his throat. He had imagined himself presenting a front of high spirits on this anticipated day, and though he had thought that he had better control over himself than this, had relied several times on his nerves, he found them failing him. The sensation worsened when young Prince Davyer Kanichende looked at him and asked, “You’re not sad, are you?”

“Sad, my prince?” Kione smiled and shook his head. “I can rarely eat before an event of importance. The coronation certainly counts, if nothing else in the world would. You must be very excited.”

“Don’t forget, we’re taking off the traitor’s head today.”
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villain: kione remerdii: entj

ENTJ: Extraverted Intuitive Thinking Judging (from the Jung Typology Test)

* slightly expressed extravert
* distinctively expressed intuitive personality
* distinctively expressed thinking personality
* moderately expressed judging personality

So I took this test with Kione Remerdii in mind, using what I already knew about him. It emphasized that he’s completely ruthless, hates ’emotional’ or personal problems (he especially grows impatient with phobias), and is naturally tidy. And then I found that the professional personality assessment article fit him to a T. It’s… rather scary, actually.

I’ve also decided that Kione really doesn’t see himself as evil. And on several counts, what he does can be perfectly justified. Sure, he had hundreds of unexpecting noblemen slaughtered by proxy. But on the other hand, the way things were going, it was faster and less damaging than a naturally occurring revolt, which seemed to be building up. Yes, he was double-dealing (quatrupal dealing?), but this was politics. What else could be expected? And those commoners down in the depths of the city that he set up to die… it was his only chance for change. One can not walk into a city in hopes of conquering it. One must rock the boat a little, send people scattering so that the man in question can more easily find his place.

He also has no need to explain any of this to anyone.

(Keep going for the personality test results, if they so interest you.)
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villain: kione remerdii: family

Just a villain-ramble. I tried to do a character-building sheet (he protested, saying that his tastes made him out to be a snob), then an interview (I protested– he was plotting to torture me until I agreed to let him triumph at the end of the book). So here’s some basic information on Kione.

(Oh, and it’s my twenty-fourth birthday today. At least three people have plied or are planning on plying me with food. 🙂 It’s making me wish I could eat more than five bites of anything.)

Kione Remerdii
Also, Kione, with diamonds in his hair, Kione, celestite lord, Kione, of blue crystal.

Family
Kione is an only child, mostly due to his race’s high infant and child mortality rate; the Mordache are almost human, except for their access to ‘The Art’, a magic that comes too strong and often too hard to control at young ages. He had had a brother, who did not live past three. After he died, he was replaced with a bastard Mordache boy who showed great promise– or at least, good health. He was given the name of Kione’s dead brother, Sorche Remerdii, and raised as a noble despite the child’s outlandish looks– kinky curls and slanted eyes. Incidentally, Kione brought Sorche to Vastii when he traveled there, and upon his promotion gave Sorche real political power by binding him in gold: the symbol of a high-ranking slave, letting them represent their master in all matters and effectively turning him from the bastard foster-brother into Kione’s second in command.

That had worked out better than Kione’s father had intended. He had wanted his son to keep good company, but when none of his siblings had lived and none of the other gentleman’s children looked as if they’d challenge him, he picked Sorche for his promising talent and constitution, as a brother and a rival. Sorche has always been the healthier of the two, since Kione never grew above 5’8 and didn’t excel at the Art or in physical prowess.

Kione’s father, much like Kione, was a workaholic and a perfectionist. He was always finding ways to improve his holding, and under his care the Remerdii territory grew rapidly. Kione was often put in charge of people or places and given no help. The boy would grow and improve, or he would fail and be punished. By the time Kione reached his mid-twenties he was left to deal with the entire holding, then the diplomatic relations with other territories, essentially coming into his inheritance without his father showing any signs of growing ill. It was his father who suggested that the king was an incompetent fool, and that Kione should take his position from him, if he could. Kione surveyed the king’s city, found several weaknesses, and went to exploit them.

Of course, his method prefers double-dealing, treachery, and mass murder, but no one’s perfect. Right?

His mother was of relatively little importance. She acted more as a decoration than anything, always quietly in the background happiest when left to her own devices.

cover art preview!

Blue Crystal, proposed cover

This is the very rough sketch of the future cover, commissioned from the wonderful Nykolai. Go see her gallery. (Rough idea for) The back:

In a sunless ice-world where cities are built underground, Vastii is a corrupt, dirty metropolis ripe with gangs, mercenaries, rebellion, and scheming politicians. To suppress an uprising in the west, the king took his own niece, Lady Wyrren Jadis, as a political hostage. Officially, her presence will ensure her father’s loyalty to a king that he never cared for. The king never mentioned that he intends to use Wyrren to accuse her father of murder.

Forced into a strange city with only a few companions, the king’s niece is seen as an easy way to the king’s ear or a weapon against the monarchy. But Lady Wyrren loves freedom more than comfort, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to fight for it.

Anyone think this is noteworthy enough to pick up at a bookstore and flip through a few pages?