Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Flora et Fauna: Creature Genesis (Part 1)

If you are like me, you have a stack of notebooks. They are probably full of notes regarding plot,
Public Domain image found via Pixbay
characters, snippets of dialogue, and gods only know what else. You may even have a recipe or two that you scratched down off of a site you found via Pinterest when looking for menu ideas for dinner. (I confess, I have more than two written down. They're also on note cards shoved into notebooks as bookmarks. Because anything makes a good bookmark, except for ketchup. Trust me on that last point.)

Last time, I spoke a little bit about how I come up with plants for Evandar's world. I wanted to take a minute to give you some tools for how to create creatures unique to your world. This is going to be a combination of techniques that I've acquired over the years and a few things that I have shamelessly stolen from other authors. (Not plagiarizing them as much as finding the concept too awesome not to play with, i.e. the elves with exceptionally LONG lives and divine origins a la Tolkien.)

The first question that I find I have to answer is what purpose the creature (plant or anything else, to be honest) is going to serve in the story. In book four, for example, dragons come on to the scene. The presence of the dragon is not just to look cool. (Even though dragons do look cool! Check out the real one here! They're just awesome!) The dragon fills a role in the story. It explains various quirks about the setting. The first one that comes to mind here is the utter lack of apex predators in Dragonwood forest, but there are others that are less obvious. The dragon also explains details about the history of the region, like why is the place called Dragonwod. And the dragon interacts with the main characters. It serves to move forward the plot lines for individual characters, that specific novel, and the over arching story arc of the series.

The dragon in this story is as much of a character as they are a creature. Many of the considerations that are taken for this creature are similar to those taken in character development because this is a creature with intelligence that is somewhat akin to human and it has agency in the story. Creatures that become characters, no matter how minor, require authors to determine their role in the story and how it is shaped by the fact that they are not human. This can range from a stock antagonist that is limited in its forms of communication because it lacks the ability to speak (such as the Shadow Rider that is in book two, they get more developed in the later books) to a creature that has a terrifying but undeserved reputation on the basis of what they are rather than who they are (like the dragon named GerĂ°a who is feared as monstrous when she is actually rather benevolent).

Then there are the creatures that are vehicles for plot but not strictly characters. The best example I can think of here is the Deamon Hounds. They show up fairly regularly but they are not characters. They are instead plot devices. They fit the slavering monster trope and hit the age old primal fears of the snarling predator in the dark buttons (ideally). They are a cross between generic cannon fodder and a recurring menace of an almost natural point. The Deamon Hounds are creatures that exist in the world as a work animal of sorts and don't merit much deeper thought than what their characteristics are and how you can use them to harry characters. Their depth is about the same as what is contributed to a faceless foot soldier in combat. Except they're not going to rate even as human. Given the generic hierarchy of what we're socialized to have empathy for, the animals are really low with the notable exception of the ones we're taught have a special place. (Check out the discussion of the Shoot the Dog trope to see what I mean.)

So, we have figured out what the creature is supposed to do in the story. Now, how do we figure out what they look like? How do we figure out what they need to fulfill their role within the story? And just how do we puzzle out what these creatures are like outside of that specific scene? Do they even matter beyond that scene?

These are four very important questions to answer. As tempting as it may be to jump to the details of what they look, sound, and smell like, we need to look at those last two questions first. Some of the creatures that you have may be recurring ones that show up for scenes far beyond the one where they are introduced. And some of those creatures are just there for a single scene. When you are considering the placement of a creature in the story, you may want to take a minute to pick how frequently you are going to use it. A single use creature is going to require less work, generally, than one that is going to show up many times. Thus, you don't need to worry about things like how that creature is going to play with your antagonist or if it is going to muddy up the details of your protagonist's next five plot points by simply existing.

Also, single scene creatures, if they're of relatively low importance to the plot line, can be described with minimal detail and not be terribly dissatisfying for your reader. If the creature is a background element that is there to serve as nothing more than window dressing or a secondary prop to the action unfurling, you can gloss over many details with relative impunity. Because your reader doesn't need to know that your exotic bird species have a distinction in the number of tail feathers for the males and the females of the species if that detail literally serves no point to your story. If those tail feathers, however, are crucial to the scene, you can include them and leave out something else that is non-functional to your story, like if they only eat red berries on Tuesdays in March. (It now strikes me that I am describing something that could have been in a Dr. Seuss book. I apologize for that, I've been reading a lot of that with my boys over the last two weeks. Gods save me from the Cat in the Hat.)

Now, let's say you have a creature that regularly shows up and is actually a part of your plot rather than a background 'image' to your story. How do you nail down the pertinent details and flesh it out? In my next post, I will share with you my check list of questions for creature development. I also hope to have some sort of a worksheet put together for you too. Because sometimes worksheets help, a lot. (True story: I forgot how much difference a worksheet makes in brainstorming until I saw my son working on one for his homework and how much easier it was for him with that bit of gentle direction. I've been out of school for too long, folks. I'm forgetting the basics now.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Saga of Book II in the Series!

It seems that I am having some difficulty with CreateSpace right now. It does not like the way I have my file set up. So, I am trying to finesse it into working. I will confess, I am tempted to hit the button for the NOPE orbital cannon right now. Still, I am not going to give up on this.

I am in the midst of learning how to tweak the cover so that it is acceptable. I recognize that at some point in the not so distant future, I am going to have to abandon the auto-generated cover styles. As apprehensive as I am about the prospect of creating my own covers, I am more troubled by the idea that my covers do not fit the theme for the books.

I am honestly intimidated by this entire process. It does not intimidate me as intensely as the prospect of aggressively marketing my work, but it still makes me uneasy. I am at a loss for how to proceed beyond this point. I know that I will figure something out as I muddle along. The learning process, however, is not that easy here.

Somehow, writer's block is a less horrible thing to wrestle with compared to this.


The title for book II has changed slightly. Previously, I had it uploaded as Dragon Child of Evandar. You will want to look for The Dragon Child of Evandar. You can also just hunt it down by the ISBN which is 978-1495954832. When the listing goes live, I will post a link here for you. I'm still working out how to set it up for distribution via e-book format.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Iron Lily (Part 11)

Halthor took the bowl of soup that was offered to him. The long silence that came after the elder priest, Moridan, told his tale had made the builder uncomfortable. "What becomes of me?" he asked when the younger priest, Mavora, refilled his cup of ale. Halthor took the cup and ran his thumb along its side, worn smooth by countless hands holding it. The young man pushed the bits of fish and tubers around in the bowl with his spoon.

Mavora noisily slurped the broth from his bowl. Ewen gave his uncle a look of mild annoyance as he chewed on the tan bear root and wondered if the tuber should have cooked a little longer to be less tough. As the ferryman considered if the toughness of the predominant vegetable in the soup was due to preparation or the fact that it was from a dried bit that was a few months old, he looked at Halthor. The builder's hands seemed too large to hold the horn spoon that was perhaps as long as his ring finger, at best. The dark colored horn seemed worn and possibly discolored. Ewen idly wondered if the spoon was a tooth gift to the man from the north.

Moridan watched Halthor eat slowly with a look of gloomy exhaustion. "You carry your father's blessing," Moridan said, "And that of he who is father of the fair ones. I doubt that an evil fate awaits you." At Moridan's words about his father, Halthor abruptly straightened and looked over at him in surprise. For a moment, a queer expression crossed Halthor's face as a thought passed through him. Though Moridan was skilled in the art of reading men's expressions and actions, he wasn't sure what went with the look that passed over his foretold guest's face.

"My father cursed the day I was born," Halthor said, "He murdered my mother. He would not bless me even if the Light Father appeared before him and commanded it."

Moridan set his bowl aside and leaned towards Halthor. As he did so, he peered intently into his eyes. A curious sensation came over Halthor, as though a long thread was being pulled from within him. Halthor shuddered and looked away. Moridan, however, did not need to see more. The visions that filled his mind as he looked into Halthor answered his questions, revealing scenes from Halthor's life, including those that it would be impossible for him to remember, such as his conception.

Moridan picked up his bowl and considered how to state what he learned. He knew clearly the anguish that Halthor suffered over the rejection from his mother's husband. If he wanted, he could touch where each bruise had been left and name the reasons why. "Halthor Sigridsonne," Moridan said solemnly, "the man that murdered your mother was not your father. It was the man who raised you." Halthor looked at Moridan in disbelief.

"Your mother married Kori Blackheart because of a prophecy she heard the day you were planted in her womb. The Good Mother's babbling daughter told Sigrid that your father would die an evil death the day you reached manhood. She turned her eyes upon Kori to spare Aleric Builder that fate, for her bones told her that you were within her fair field," Moridan explained, "Your red hair does not come from Kori's bloodline. Your mother's grandmother had hair like yours, even with the elf locks that come at dawn."

"How..." Halthor started. He looked down at his hands, suddenly feeling vindicated in the thought that he had since a child that his hands were like Aleric's. "How do you know this?" Halthor asked as he raised his eyes, "How did Aleric... My father, how did my father die?" Moridan looked at his bowl of soup. Halthor leaned forward and set a hand on Moridan's knee. His eyes silently plead for some sign that he was wrong, that Aleric still lived. Moridan's expression turned uncomfortable. "Please," Halthor plead in a voice that was almost lost in the pop and crackle of the fireplace.

"The black priests will send their dogs back again at dawn," Moridan said briskly, picking up his bowl and seeming to study its contents, "You should eat and make ready to leave at the first signs of gloaming. Ewen will see you to the traveler's rest. Davian should have all things ready for you when you get there. He has a sense about these things, like his brother." Halthor didn't move. Moridan glanced over. Pain shone in the young man's eyes. Moridan closed his eyes in an attempt to hide the surge of shame that rocked him.

The image of the fevered priestess babbling at Sigrid as the woman did her best to help break the fever with her poultices even as the other priestess plied her efforts in prayer assailed the old man. "The fickle child of the Light Father will take away the father of your child," Moridan said. Halthor went still. Moridan opened his eyes. Halthor's attention was caught by the snapping of a knot of resin in one of the pine logs. "The fickle child," Moridan started to explain in an apologetic tone when Halthor turned his attention back to Moridan.

"Fire," Halthor said. He looked over at the fireplace, haunted by the scene from his nightmare. "They burned him alive," he stated in a hollow tone, "He was sleeping but he didn't wake. The guild thought he was dead because he didn't stir when they pricked his foot with a pin or shouted in his ear. So they wrapped him in his shroud and burned him." Halthor found his taste for food fled him. He moved to set the bowl aside when Moridan stopped him.

"The sleeper who has the sleeping sickness does not feel pain," Moridan said, "It was all but a dream to him."

Halthor looked down at Moridan's hand on his wrist. The old man's skin seemed some odd cross between leathery and papery. Beneath it, he could see blue veins. He saw old scars across the back of his arm and the stag tattooed on the inside of Moridan's wrist. Halthor thought of the tattoo he saw on the inside of the king's wrist. A stylized lily was hidden within the antlers of the stag on the king's wrist. The priest's wrist, however, bore a simpler stag and something like a spear woven through the antlers.

"I am caught in the stag's crown," Halthor said. Moridan gave Halthor a sympathetic smile.

"The stag shall bear you to safety, if you do not fight him," Moridan said, "And his children will aid you."

Halthor looked from Moridan's wrist to his face. "As they aided my father?" Halthor asked bitterly.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Hi everybody!

I just deleted a pair of comments this evening. I don't like to delete comments but these ones went against my rules for posting comments. If you want to advertise something, contact me. Pitch your idea to me, convince me that it is something worth my time and space on my blog. Also, note, that your advertisement is going to come at some type of price - which we will negotiate when you make your pitch.

The people and products that I link to or permit to advertise here compensate me for the privilege. If you try to be slick and post links with out approval, your comments and material is going to be deleted. If I have to do this multiple times, I am going to contact the folks who run Blogger to ban you from commenting on any of my blogs. Depending on the material, I may even report you for harassment.

I prefer not to have to do these things. Please, when you comment on posts stick to the subject matter or topics that are related to it. If you want to advertise something, contact me via e-mail. We can work out an arrangement. If you want me to review something or promote your work, contact me via e-mail. I recognize that there are other authors struggling to make their name known in the market. I recognize that there are other artists who are trying to make a bit of coin with their work. And I know that there are many people who are at varying points within the publication and marketing process who want to have people consider their services.

I want to see all of you succeed. Let's work together. Contact me. Pitch your ideas. Send me samples even. If you can't pay me with monetary compensation, something else can always be worked out. We're all creative people. We all can find away to barter or otherwise work something out between us. Don't go against my rules for posting comments here, please. I would like for things to remain pleasant between all of us.

Thank you for your readership. Have a great week.


I have started the process of copying over material from this blog to a thumb drive so that I don't lose anything. It is not working quite as well as I wanted it do. But that seems to be the way of things right now with pretty much everything writing related at the moment. It has been very hard for me.

I still try to get some writing done in my offline work. I think that unsatisfactory is an understatement on par with astrological units of measurement. I have not felt well about it at all. My therapist asks me why I keep forcing myself to write. I have restrained the urge to ask her why she keeps breathing. I suspect that sarcasm is not an appropriate response, thus I bridled my tongue.

I don't know what I am going to get done this week. I keep telling myself that this will be the week that I get back to posting daily. I keep telling myself that this is the week that I will be able to write more than a mere four sentence paragraph. It feels like a tissue of lies and that I am engaged in something less productive than Sisyphus's boulder moving competition. Perhaps I will be lucky and things will start to improve.

Right now, I am feeling a great deal of despair and frustration. I apologize to all of you for the fact that I have been so quiet.