Serial commas

serial commas meme, martha stewartCommas: those little morsels of goodness that few authors understand. In general, serial commas are used to resolve ambiguity. When we have a list in a sentence, not using commas can create some interesting situations.

Comma use is part of what we call ‘style:’

  1. Google says: “Style is the way writing is dressed up (or down) to fit the specific context, purpose, or audience. Word choice, sentence fluency, and the writer’s voice — all contribute to the style of a piece of writing.” 
We use a style to ensure consistency in our phrasing and punctuation, and make it easier for the reader to enjoy the book. The books I use to help me with that are Elements of Style, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the Oxford A-Z of Grammar and Punctuation.   In my opinion, as an avid reader, the style that always uses the serial comma is less likely to result in ambiguity. Consider the legendary book dedication often attributed to Teresa Nielsen Hayden:

To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

There is ambiguity about the writer’s parentage, because Ayn Rand and God can be read as meaning that the writer claims Ayn Rand and God are the parents. That is actually rather hilarious because Ayn Rand is famously atheist in her beliefs. (I’m not qualified to say whether or not God believes in Ayn Rand.)

Lets-eat-GrandmaHowever, a comma before and removes the ambiguity: To my parents, Ayn Rand, and God.

But lists can also be written in other ways that eliminate the ambiguity without introducing the serial comma, such as using other punctuation, or none, to introduce or delimit them. For example, in the following manner:

To God, Ayn Rand and my parents. Hemingway used and in place of commas in much of his work, and it was quite readable.

A famous example reportedly collected by Nielsen Hayden was found in a newspaper account of a documentary about Merle Haggard:

Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.  This could be taken to mean that Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall were Merle Haggard’s ex-wives.

Although Merle Haggard has been married five time, he was never married to either Kris Kristofferson or Robert Duvall,  and a serial comma would resolve that inaccuracy:

Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson, and Robert Duvall.

chicago manual of styleI’ve seen people launch into rants  against serial commas, claiming that it’s too many and looks awful.

I’m just going to say that argument  is hogwash.

Who are your writing for, yourself or an unknown reader who may one day buy your book?

If you are writing for your own eyes only, do whatever you like.

But if you expect others to enjoy your work, you need to think about the reader: consider what is going to make your work easy for the reader to understand what you are saying.

Other aspects of commas may escape me at times, but the serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma, is one I adhere to in my own work, and heartily wish other authors would too.

 

 

 

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World building part 5: history

Richard IIISometimes we feel like our plot is in motion but the reasons driving the action feel purely random. It’s a worldbuilding failure, but an easy fix. In writing historical fiction, a sense of randomness can be a factor, despite having accounts of real events to go by. This is where research becomes critical, because those who win the wars write the history, and they write it to show themselves in the best light. Consider Richard III:

Richard’s history was written by the victors. He was the last Plantagenet King of England, and he was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth by the Henry Tudor. The Tudor dynasty lasted for a long time, including Henry VII, Henry VIII, (Bloody) Mary, and Elizabeth I. Consequently, he was mythologized as a tyrant, particularly by Shakespeare, writing during Elizabeth’s reign, two generations later.

Richard III new lookYet with uncovering of his bones in a parking lot, there is a growing evidence that the Richard III Society may not be entirely wrong: his story may have been a bit less damning, and certainly he was no worse than those who followed him. He was a man of his era, as much as Henry Tudor was.

That all-too-human tendency to cover up  our failures and atrocities in the light of our righteous victory over a declared evil introduces contradictions and ambiguities into official accounts of events. That makes the work of creating an accurate portrait of large-scale events difficult.

Looking backward from our viewpoint, and with our values, it’s hard to figure out how things really happened in a particular era, without going well beyond the general, official history offered up by the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, and doing sincere, dedicated research. It’s easy to say “this happened this way and that’s that.” (It’s repetitious, too.)

But there will be accounts somewhere, and if they exist you will find them on the internet. Wikipedia is the starting point. Search for accounts that disagree with accepted dogma, and keep rephrasing your questions until you hit on the right one. Bookmark or keep a list in a word document of links directing you to the sites you have found, even if they had little to offer–you might need them later.

Remember, if you’re drawing on real-life history you must dig deep–don’t just skim the surface, reading the official recounting of events as written by the victors.  The internet is amazing. Historians are continually building our database of information and new discoveries regarding how ordinary people and marginalized groups truly lived. Many resources exist that will give a rounded account of life in the Middle Ages both in Western Europe and in countries around the world.

220px-HatshepsutIf you are relying on actual history to provide a framework for your world-building, you should reach beyond the official history of Europe. Asian history is rich and well documented, as is Egyptian. Of course the old adage that history is written by the victors holds true, as I said before, so let’s consider the story of Hatshepsut:

She was described by early Egyptologists as a minor player, only having served as a co-regent from approximately 1479 to 1458 BC, during years seven to twenty-one of the reign previously identified as that of Thutmose III. However, recent evidence shows that in reality, Hatshepsut reigned as pharaoh for more than twenty years.

Her successors, for whatever reason, attempted to rewrite history, erasing her name from monuments. Yet Hatshepsut was one of the most prolific builders in the ancient world, commissioning hundreds of construction projects throughout both Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Her buildings were considered far grander than those of any of her Middle Kingdom predecessors’ works, and were certainly more numerous.

Despite the long period of prosperity during her rule and the amazing constructs she built of stone, Hatshepsut’s influence and accomplishments were marginalized and credit for her work was given to others. Early Egyptologists superimposed their own ideas and values on their interpretations of history.

270px-WLANL_-_koopmanrob_-_Maat-ka-Re_Hatsjepsoet_(RMO_Leiden)They failed to understand the ritual religious symbolism of statues an art depicting her and didn’t take into account the fact that many women and goddesses portrayed in ancient Egyptian art often lack delineation of breasts, and that the physical aspect of the gender of pharaohs was never stressed in the art. This is in part due to the fact that in ancient Egyptian religious art, subjects were romanticized to fit the ideal of the time, and viewing it from an Edwardian mindset, early scholars believed her merely an overly ambitious “King’s Great Wife” or queen consort.  Recent discoveries, however, are righting that wrong, and she is now considered one of the greatest pharaohs of Egyptian history.

Nowadays, it may be easier to find good, unbiased information on ancient Egypt than it is to get an impartial history of post WWII America.

Reality aside, what if your story revolves around a conflict of some sort in your fictional world?

A major worldbuilding trap that is easy to fall into is not clarifying why an event of apocalyptic proportions is taking place at this moment in time, rather than, say thirty years ago.

So in our second draft, one thing we want to strengthen is our sense of history. WHY is Evil Badguy making his move now? What stopped him from putting his nefarious plan into motion two years ago, and conversely, why can’t he wait until next week? Some critical factor must have prevented him from making his move, some obstacle which no longer holds him in check.

What you have to do is identify what it was that  kept your villain in check, and make sure it is somehow introduced into the story. This can be done in the same unobtrusive way you slip in other background. In the process you will discover factors that kept other political actors in your society in check as well. It’s all about checks and balances. What are the unwritten rules that everyone knows and which constrain their actions?

The main difference between writing historical fiction and speculative fiction is that the writer of speculative fiction can make the history fit the tale. The writer of historical fiction does not have that latitude.

 

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World Building part 4: Questions to consider when creating a society

Thomas Cole, 1836: the Course of Empire: the Consummation

Thomas Cole, 1836: the Course of Empire: the Consummation

In speculative fiction, we often have one culture that is more advanced in contrast to the neighboring, somewhat more primitive cultures. Each of these societies have unique cultures, and if you know the culture of your characters’ homeland, you understand your characters and why they think the way they do.

But what is a society formed of? Initially, people come together and form  small communities, or tribes,  for protection. They find it’s a good way to consolidate more consistent sources of food and resources. With adequate food and shelter, people live longer and are generally healthier. Out of a need to get along with each other, they develop certain commonly agreed upon rules-of-the-road for sharing that wealth. Eventually these common rules become a complex social structure. As life becomes easier for the population in general, other amenities of civilization begin to be a part of their culture.

I write in many different worlds with widely varying levels of technology and forms of government. When I first began writing I knew it was important to know what the social structure was in each fantasy world, so I made a list of questions to consider when I begin constructing a new society. I was new at this, so please bear with the randomness of the order in which these things are listed:

  1. The butter churnSocial Organization: Society is always composed of many layers and classes. How is your society divided? Who has the wealth? are there
  • Nobility?
  • A servant class?
  • A merchant class
  • A large middle class?
  • Who makes up the poorest class?
  • Who has the power, men, women—or is it a society based on mutual respect?
  1. Language, the written word, and accounting: Do they have a written language? This is really important if you are setting your people in a medieval world or in a really low-tech society, because it determines how knowledge is passed on. Low-tech generally equals an oral tradition.
  • How are people educated?
  • Who is allowed to learn to read and write?
  • How are bards, storytellers and other disseminators of knowledge looked upon?
  • How is monetary wealth calculated?
  • Do they use coins? What is their monetary system? If you are inventing it, keep it simple. (I generally use gold,  divided into tens: 10 coppers=a silver/ 10 silvers=a gold)
  1. Franz Defregger, 1921: Auf der Alm

    Franz Defregger, 1921: Auf der Alm

    Ethics and Values: What constitutes morality?

  • Is marriage required?
  • How are women treated? How are men treated?
  • How are same-sex relationships viewed?
  • How are unmarried sexual relationships seen in the eyes of society?
  • How important is human life? How is murder punished?
  • How are treachery, hypocrisy, envy, and avarice looked upon?
  • What about drunkenness?
  • How important is truth?
  • What constitutes immorality?
  • How important is it to be seen as honest and trustworthy?
  1. Religion and the Gods: How important is religion in this tale? If it is central, ask yourself: Is there one god/goddess or many? If the worship of a deity is a key part of your tale, you must design the entire theology. You must know the rituals, and know how their deity holds their hearts. You must know how that deity considers his/her worshipers.
  • What sort of political power does the priestly class wield?
  • What is the internal hierarchy of the priesthood?
  • Who has the power?
  • Is this religion a benevolent entity or all-powerful, demanding, harsh?
  • How does the priesthood interact with the community?
  • Who can join the priesthood
  • Do people want to join the priesthood or do they fear it?
  • How is the priesthood trained?
  1. Jahn Ekenæs, 1908: Family in a Norwegian fjord landscape

    Jahn Ekenæs, 1908: Family in a Norwegian fjord landscape

    Level of Technology: What tools and amenities does this society have available to them? What about transport?

  • Hunter/Gatherers?
  • Agrarian/farming
  • Greco-Roman  metallurgy and technology?
  • Medieval metallurgy and technology?
  • Pre-industrial revolution or late Victorian?
  • modern day?
  • Or do they have a magic-based technology?
  • How do we get around and how do we transport goods? On foot, by horse & wagon, by train, or by space shuttle?
  1. Government: There will be a government somewhere, even if it is just the local warlord. Someone is always in charge because it’s easier for the rest of us that way:
  • Is it a monarchy, theocracy, or a democratic form of government?
  • How does the government fund itself?
  • How are taxes levied?
  • Is it a feudal society?
  • Is is a clan-based society?
  • Warlord, President, or King/Queen?
  • How does the government use and share the available wealth?
  • How is the government viewed by the citizens?
  1. Crime and the Legal System: What constitutes criminal behavior and how are criminals treated?
  1. Foreign Relations: Does your country coexist well with its neighbors?
  • If not, why? What causes the tension?
  1. Feat of the grenadier of leib-guards Finnish regiment Leontiy Korennoy in the battle of Leipzig at 1813

    Feat of the grenadier of leib-guards Finnish regiment Leontiy Korennoy in the battle of Leipzig at 1813

    Waging War: This is another area where we have to ask what  their level of technology is. It is critical for you as the author to understand what sort of weapons your characters will bring to the front, and also what the enemy will be packing. Do the research and choose weaponry that fits your established level of technology.

  • What kind of weaponry will they use?
  • How are they trained?
  • Who goes to battle? Men, women, or both?
  • How does social status affect your ability to gain rank in the military?

This is by no means a comprehensive list. It was initially meant to be a jumping off point, just a short list of things for me to ponder, but I thought I would share it with you today. Considering this little list of ideas always leads to my realizing a kajillion other rather large concepts that  combine to make up  a civilization. You are welcome to use this roster to form your own inventory of ideas about society.

What I originally did was to write the whole story of the community my protagonist grew up in, a word-picture of about 5000 words, and then I set it aside, to use as reference material. This is the method I still use today.

When you have cemented the society in your mind,  the world your characters inhabit will flow naturally and your protagonists will fit into it organically. Their society will be visually real to the reader, even if the world it evokes in their minds isn’t exactly your vision of it. You will have done your job, by giving them a solid framework to imagine the story around.

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To swag or not to swag

HTB Bookmark side B copyI’ve several multi-author events coming along in the near future, and I’ve been preparing accordingly. I’m now technologically able to accept any sort of payment for my sales at these events: I actually own a portable store.

Now I have to consider swag–that portable bit of treasure to keep others thinking about you and your books.

It’s always hard to know what sort of swag to invest in, what is going to pay for itself. I can’t really afford to go nuts here, so I’m going to see what my author friends are pushing, and try to determine just what is going to be the right fit for me.  So I ordered the old standby indie swag-item, book marks.  I’ll make sure each book I sell has one in it, and if a passerby asks for one I will hand them out. Some folks like them so I’ll make sure I have some for them, but at various different conferences and conventions, I’ve observed that a lot of things like that just get tossed unless the person actually asked for it. Why invest in something that will just end up littering the mall?

I went to an event and met a lovely man from Alaska who practically forced me to take a cardboard replica of his book cover. As I said, he was friendly and nice, but…it must have been costly and I had no idea what to do with it. By the time I arrived home it was a mangled mess and went out with the recycling. Thus, I don’t even remember his name, or his book.

That incident got me to asking myself: what do I really want out of this? After all, I am selling my brand, and that brand is my author name.  I want people to remember it.

Business card MockupSO: Business Cards–These are an absolute must. They’re cheap and easy to make on my home computer and good to hand out when asked for one. Keep it simple and readable, with just the facts:

  • Your Author Name
  • Your website
  • Your Fan Email Address
  • Any other contact information you feel comfortable giving out
  • Your book title (s)

Remember: Don’t Junk It Up.  Simple and readable is the way to go with business cards.

I have another friend who is investing in postcards that have to do with his book, and each one will have a coupon to redeem a free paper copy of his forthcoming novella–and that’s a good idea, but also costly. I need to keep my costs a low as possible, so that will not be an option for me. Romance authors are encouraged to offer all sorts of little swag items–chap-stick, makeup mirrors, even tote bags–these are costly though. Whatever I do, it has to be effective and low-cost.

HTB Stamp copyI do think custom post it notes might be a good idea.  They seem reasonably priced, and fairly easy to do. Again, I think the key is to do it like business cards and book marks–keep it simple and just the facts: Author Name, website, and book title. If I decide to do those, I’ll let you know how it goes.

I had fun finding clip-art and designing a special Huw the Bard Stamp for an event that will happen in June–each participating author will have a stamp and will stamp the programs of the crowd as they pass through.  This was intriguing, and something I can use later in so many ways. Plus it was only $ 7.95 + shipping.

Anyway, I’m sure my little stamp will be great fun for the grandkids–heh heh…hold still and let grandma stamp this little tattoo on you….

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Dark, Gothic, and hurtling toward disaster

Steampunks  by Kyle Cassidy

Steampunks by Kyle Cassidy

Well…apparently my current scifi work-in-progress, a short story, is steampunk. Who knew? My good friend, author Lee French, figured it out yesterday at our regular Tuesday morning brainstorming session at Panera. After she pointed it out, I could see it clearly, despite my original thought that because I had set it on a mining-colony world, it was a scifi tale.

I was a little surprised I hadn’t seen it earlier, and once it was pointed out, I could see why I was struggling with the tale–I didn’t know what I was writing.

It began as an exercise in writing from the point of view of the flâneur–the man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street. Click here for Scott Driscoll‘s great blogpost on the flâneur. In short, he tells us that: “With a flâneur narrating, you can remove the noticing consciousness from your point of view character to accomplish other purposes.”  

The flâneur  is frequently found in literature from the 19th century.  The story is filtered through his eyes and perceptions–it distances the reader from the immediacy of the scene, so be forewarned: genre-nazis and arm-chair editors who want the material delivered in 60 second sound-bytes of action won’t love it. Literary fantasy explores the meaning of life or looks at real issues, and I tend to write from that aspect. Often, the fantastic setting is just a means to posing a series of questions. Sometimes the quest the hero faces is in fact an allegory for something else. I read good literary fantasy–it tends to be written by men and women who can actually write. Not only are the words and sentences pregnant with meaning, but they are often beautifully constructed, and I learn the craft of writing from reading it.

The Rainy Day, Gustave Caillebotte

The Rainy Day, Gustave Caillebotte

My flâneur is Martin Daniels, a young, wealthy, retired crystallographer. He spends his time roaming his city’s streets and sitting in sidewalk cafés observing his fellow citizens, and making social and aesthetic observations. He regularly finds himself crossing paths with one man in particular, Jenner: a self-made man who came up through the mines.

Jenner is battering against the prevailing social barriers which stand in the way of his achieving a political office that he covets, using whatever means at his disposal. He is uncouth, a barely civilized rough-neck with a bad reputation, but something about him draws Martin’s attention, and so he finds himself both observing Jenner, and listening to the whispered gossip that surrounds the man.

One day, as Jenner is passing Martin’s table,  his hat blows off and Martin catches it, returning it to him. Jenner then introduces himself, and admits that he has been watching Martin for some time. He has a task for Martin, one that intrigues him enough to bring him out of retirement. Thus begins an odd relationship.

Thus my flâneur ceases to be merely an observer, and becomes my protagonist, yet he is reporting the events from the distance of his memory, so he is still the observer.

aesthetic definitionSo what is Steampunk?  Mike Perschon, in his dissertation, The Steampunk Aesthetic: Technofantasies in a Neo-Victorian Retrofuture, has described it as “…an aesthetic that mixes three features: technofantasy, neo-Victorianism, and Retrofuturism.” The key word here is aesthetic.

So how does that relate to my short story? When I looked at it with a critical eye, I realized it incorporates all three of those devices:

Technofantasy: Technology that lacks plausibility, or utilizes fantasy elements as the force or motive behind an action or process. No explanations will be given. The technology exists within the story, not the real world.

Neo-Victorianism: A setting that evokes the nineteenth century, whether it is set there or  not. In my tale, the use of the flâneur evokes a 19th century atmosphere, as do the other constraints I had inadvertently written into it.

Retrofuturism: How we think the past viewed the future. It is set in the distant future, but it is a future I think Victor Hugo would have recognized.

I have always perceived steampunk as cogs and diodes, dark atmosphere, rather Gothic, and with a plot that has the protagonists hurtling toward disaster. Now I know it is all that and more. They hurtle toward disaster, with a nineteenth century flair.

Thus my sci-fi flâneur is now the protagonist in a steampunk mystery. This short story, which had sort of stalled, is now back on track and fun to write. Through writing short stories we have the opportunity to write in different genres, and stretch our writing-wings.

I learn more about the craft of writing with each tale, and that fires me up, helping me see my longer works with fresh eyes.

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Rainy Saturdays

I’ve been doing a little more reading lately. I like reading on my Kindle.  Might have some book review blogs to write for Best in Fantasy soon. I had to cut back on that because my editing business picked up rather sharply and my previously copious quantities of free time suddenly became  moot.

Also I’m a regular contributor at Edgewise Words Inn, which has been a LOT of fun. But this means I must occasionally write…doh!

mort - terry pratchettThe reading world suffered a great loss when we heard the news that Sir Terry Pratchett had died. His work was hilarious, irreverent and absolutely divine. Of all his many great characters, I think Death was his best, and Mort was my favorite book in the Discworld Series.

Losing him just emphasized the rain this weekend.  It’s been a strangely warm winter for us Pacific Northwesterners. For one thing, down in my valley we had no snow. Usually we get at least a small snowstorm. We’ve had a little frost, but nothing terrible.

Also, we’ve had very little black-ice this year, for which I am grateful, but truthfully that really is odd. Black ice, sometimes called clear ice, refers to a thin coating of glazed ice on a surface. While it’s not truly black, it is virtually transparent, allowing the black asphalt/macadam roadways or the surface below to be seen through it—hence the term “black ice.”  It’s been a winter staple here for the last few years–going to work in the morning on a safe, dry pavement takes all the adventure and high drama out of the morning commute.

It was a normal rainy March weekend, and I’m so spoiled by a winter of sunshine and warm weather, that I feel all whiny about it.

I know–how sad.

a medieval pieSo  on Saturday we got over the way most people do–we went shopping. I upgraded my phone and and got a fancy thing or two–and we bought food, and baked a pie in honor of Pi Day.  But not one this fancy—>

It was sort of fun– I don’t really do a lot of shopping in person, because the Drones of Amazon will deliver anything I need, from glittery hair clips to zebra print carpets. I get my music, kindle books, clothes, shoes–you name it, I get it from Amazon. They even sell books, and deliver them right to my house!

371px-Grim_reaper -courtesy offictional characters wiki by PigheadBut Sunday was a different thing. Dealing with a kidney stone. Didn’t sleep well–woke up at 2:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep.  Suffered the agonies of the damned but survived another one. Stayed home and figured out how to use the new technology. Tried to catch up on my writing.

Accidentally blew off a write-in.

Oops.

Actually, when I am having a day like that, I doubt if I should be allowed behind the wheel of a vehicle… .

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Worldbuilding part 3—Magic

Mårten_Eskil_Winge_-_Tor's_Fight_with_the_Giants_-_Google_Art_ProjectEvery now and then I read a book where it’s clear the author has no concept of his own magic system.  You, as the reader,  are sailing; the story is flowing; and then suddenly you realize that Bart the Mage seems to have unlimited magic ability.  Well, that’s no good, because now there is no tension; no great ordeal for Bart to overcome. Bart can do anything–game over–end of story. The book goes into the recycling bin, unfinished and you never buy that author’s work again.

Every author has their own way of doing this, but I approach it from an engineering and scientific viewpoint–I spend time designing the system:

Let’s talk about Bart. He’s a lowly journeyman mage. For a multitude of reasons he has decided that he must rid the world of Evil Badguy; a very powerful, very naughty wizard.  Evil Badguy is very strong, and has great magic, and he seems unstoppable! But fortunately for our story, there are rules, so he is not omnipotent. He has a weakness and your protagonists now have the opportunity to grow and develop to their fullest potential in process of finding and exploiting that weakness.

Now let’s say that Bart is a mage with offensive magic – maybe he can cast lightning at an enemy, or perhaps he can set fires with his magic.  Can he also use magic to heal people?  Can he heal himself?  What are the rules governing these abilities and how do these rules affect the progress of the story?  When it comes to magic, limitations open up many possibilities for plot development.

Let’s say that Bart can only reliably use one sort of magic. This is good, because now you have need for other several characters with other abilities. They each have a story which will come out and which will contribute to the advancement of the plot. Each character will have limits to their abilities and because of that they will need to interact and work with each other and with Bart whether they like each other or not if they want to win the final battle against Evil Badguy.  This gives you ample opportunity to introduce tension into the story. Each time you make parameters and frameworks for your magic you make opportunities for conflict within your fantasy world, and conflict is what drives the plot.

VAYNE final-fantasy-xii_305674What challenge does Bart have to overcome in order to win the day?

  • Is he unable to fully use his own abilities?
  • If that is so, why is he hampered in that way?
  • How does that inability affect his companions and how do they feel about it?
  • Are they hampered in any way themselves?
  • What has to happen before Bart can fully realize his abilities?

Without rules, there would be no conflict, no reason for Bart to struggle and no story to tell.

So now, you realize that you must create the ‘rules of magic.’  Take the time to write it out, and don’t break the laws, without having a damned good explanation for why that particular breaking of the rules is possible.

Each world should be unique, and so we need to tailor the magic to fit each unique situation.

  • Who can use magic?
  • What kind of magic can they use?
  • How are they trained?
  • What happens to those who abuse their gifts?
  • How common is magic?
  • How does the ability to wield magic fit into the political system?

I have two worlds that I am currently writing in, and their magic systems are radically different.

The following was my first list from 2009 for creating the world when we were originally designing a game that eventually became The World of Neveyah series.

Elemental Battle Magic of Neveyah

 Water:   non battle-use can fill water jugs and basins

  • Water spout (novice)
  • Gully Washer (intermediate)
  • High Seas (Advanced)
  • Raging River (Advanced)

Earth:   non-battle use, putting out campfires, digging holes, gardening

  • Square Dance (novice)
  • Landslide (intermediate)
  • Mudslide (advanced)
  • Mountain Drop (Advanced)

Fire:  non battle use – can light candles, and ignite fire in fireplace

  • Hot Shot (novice)
  • Fire Ball (Intermediate)
  • Inferno (advanced)
  • Hell Fire (Advanced)

Lightning:  non-battle use for lightning: creating finish on armor, glazing pottery

  • Cat-Zapper (novice)   Zippety-Doo-Dah (novice-spell)
  • Thunder Fist (intermediate)
  • Curtain Call (Advanced)
  • Thunder Walking (Advanced)

This basic grocery list has since evolved into a complete curriculum for domestic uses, and the names for most of those spells has changed, but it remains relevant because it shows how I divided it. A game player would have had to gain in strength in order to use those spells, and that is how my characters do in the Neveyah books.

Saint_georges_dragon_grasset_beguleIt’s very different in the Billy’s Revenge series which set in Waldeyn, an alternate-medieval earth which is the setting for Huw the Bard. There, the actual environment is magic and Huw’s journey involves his overcoming its inherent dangers. The plants and animals of Waldeyn are shaped by the overwhelming abundance of magic in that world, like radioactivity affects and mutates life here.  Many of the most dangerous creatures are born of twisted magic, or as they call it, majik.

Mind-majik, healing, and the ability to imbue their healing majik into a potion or salve is the feminine side of majik, governed by the Sisters of Anan.

The ability to bind the elements into weapons and wield them is the male side, and they are governed by the Brotherhood of St. Aelfrid.

Part of their political/religious power comes from the fact that it has been determined the majik is a God-given gift, and all who’ve been granted that ability must be bound to the church.

There are strict rules, and if a gifted person doesn’t choose to serve the people through being bound to the church, the ability to sense majik is taken from them by the Mother Church.

I don’t have any main characters in Waldeyn who are majik wielders, although one side character in the forthcoming novel, Billy Ninefingers, is a member of the Brotherhood of St. Aelfrid: the Fat Friar, Robert DeBolt. However, many times these characters are in need of healing. (Heh heh.)

Because of my characters’ frequent tendency to bleed, gaining and acquiring good healing potions and salves is important.

In the World of Neveyah, which is where the Tower of Bones series is set, the situation was different—The Tower of Bones grew out of what was originally the walk-through for a computer-based RPG that was never built. Thus the constraints of magic are quite strict, but as you saw in the list above, they are game-based.

final-fantasy-guys-xii-basch_255851In the forthcoming prequel to Tower of Bones, Mountains of the Moon, a mage is either a healer or a battle-mage. Healing is building and preserving, battle-magic is death and destruction. It is thought that one can’t be both, because on the rare occasions that a dually-gifted mage is born, they go mad. There is a strict system in place for controlling magic and those who are able to use it, and this creates the conflict.

Once again, there is a governing body for mages–in Neveyah it is the Temple of Aeos. Children with the gifts are taken to the Temple and trained in the use of their gifts until they are adults. They are sworn to serve and protect the Goddess Aeos and her people, or die doing so.

But forty years after Wynn Farmer’s tale, during the time in which the Tower of Bones takes place, the clergy has been decimated by a great war that took place twenty years before. The goddess Aeos is in danger of losing the battle with Tauron the Bull God. She slightly changes the way her magic works. Wynn’s grandson, Edwin Farmer, is the first to be born with the ability to wield both sides of the magic who also has the force of character to survive the learning process. His biggest problem is there is no one who can teach him how to use his dual gifts—his teachers only know how one side or the other works.

That learning process forms a huge part of his story. Yes, Edwin has access to power, but so does the antagonist, Stefyn D’Mal, and he is completely mad. Even so, he has rigid constraints. These constraints create the conflict.

Remember, unlimited power in a mage equals unlimited boredom to the reader. Magic without rules is tiresome and unbelievable, and no one wants to read that story.

Thor-Everything-Loki

 

 

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