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Welcome 2014!

It’s strange, chatting to the people in various spheres of my life. The verdict on 2013 seemed mostly unanimous: it was a year that knocked a lot of people flat. Sure, there were good moments, but the consensus generally seems to be cautious optimism to embrace the New Year.

I don’t usually do resolutions…but there are a few things to which I’m looking forward, and which I’d like to accomplish this year.

The Book Formerly Known as Strix

This. Book. Oh my God. This book. My frustrations with Strix are infamous. For whatever reason, this book kept kicking my knees in all through 2013. Fortunately, Gabrielle is a wonderful, patient editor who helped me morph it into a new book (albeit one with the same premise).

So far as I’m concerned, Strix is dead. Not every book lives, which is a terrible, hard thing to learn. But! But but but! I’m incredibly excited by this new book. Since there is no longer a strix in it (the adage “murder your darlings” became my personal mantra, chanted as I huddled in the corner of my darkened room), I can’t call it that anymore.

When it comes out depends on how fast I write. Possibly spring 2014? Whether I podcast it depends on too many factors to guess right now.

Victorian Dark Fantasies

I had so much fun writing the VDF. I think it’s a solid book and this year, my goal is to shop it around. We’ll see what happens. And since I realized halfway through that it’s not necessarily a standalone novel, a sequel may be in the cards.

After all, I’d love to send my dynamic duo south. There are more politics and history to explore there, and for one character, that lovely northern accent may start becoming a slight problem….

Back to School

When I graduated last June, I declared that I was taking a break from academia.

Then Stonecoast emailed.

And so in ten short days, I’ll be boarding a plane to Portland, ME, for my first Stonecoast residency. Doing my MFA there definitely falls into the “If You Told Me This Two Years Ago, I Would Have Laughed At You” file. I’m astonished and nervous and ridiculously excited and slightly sick to my stomach all at once.

My goals: learn stuff, write better, keep on top of everything.

Podcasting

God, I miss podcasting. I’m making more time for it in 2014. Mostly, things are in the “Seekrit Projikt,” “vague planning and idea-bouncing” stage, but expect more Canadian accents in your headphones this year.

Friends and Family and Such

At the end of my last grief counselling session, the therapist said, “Well! It sounds like you have some really good people around you.”

“Yes,” I answered, without missing a beat. “I do.”

I do.

2013 found me leaning on my friends far more than I’d usually be comfortable with. But they were there. You know who are you are, and I thank you with all my heart.

But being a functional human being and paying some of that kindness back/forward is a major life goal for me this year. For the first time since my dad died, I feel on an even keel. I feel capable of being a good friend and actually contributing to my various relationships again.

Arohanui, guys.

And so….

My metaphor for 2013 is thus. Imagine coming home and seeing a wrecking ball and gaping muddy pit where your house used to be. You’re shocked and devastated, and can’t conceive how this could happen. As you sort through the ruins, you realize that some things are too broken to save. Others are way stronger than you ever imagined.

Um…you know I live here, right?

Eventually, you clear out most of the wreckage. Then you find someone strengthened your existing foundations and installed some new ones, too. While the loss is heartbreaking, you can build something entirely new and utterly wonderful on top of it.

May 2014 be a year of building. All of my best, to all of you.

KT

When The Book Doesn’t Work

It’s a sickening feeling when you realize your book doesn’t work.

Dread lodges in the pit of your stomach like a stone. You can try to deny it, you can try to push onwards, you can rationalize until you’ve nearly convinced yourself, but there’s no escaping the certainty:

The book doesn’t work.

I’ve started Strix for the third time. Third time through, third completely different story. Honestly, this is less rewriting, more throwing the book out and writing a brand-new one with the same premise. I’m finally liking it again, which is a HUGE deal for me. Rewriting was definitely the right choice.

But getting there – oh man, the most painful writing experience I’ve had yet. Though I’m still in the trenches, shell-shocked and clutching my rifle, I think I have a few battle scars. Possibly even a helpful word or two:

You are chained to nothing

Every draft of Strix, from the first half-hearted attempt I started before Hapax even sold, to the draft before this current one, started with the same sentence. Every. Single. Bloody. Time. I was chained to my protagonist, to the idea of what I wanted my protagonist to be, and when it became clear certain elements weren’t working, I shoehorned them in because I thought they “should” be there.

Don’t do this. The thing you most want to keep might be dooming your story over and over and over. “Murder your darlings,” be ruthless, and don’t be afraid to throw the kitchen sink out the window.

Maybe not your computer, though….

Why are you writing this?

That being said, you need to know why you are writing this story. What is the story’s heart, what is its essence that keeps you banging your head against it? That cannot get thrown out. Well, it can, but then you’re writing an entirely different book.

The premise of Strix is the same. The notion of a sweeping soteriological arc through my universe’s entire history is the same. That’s what drew me to it. I needed to keep that.

Nothing is wasted

I’ve lost count of my Strix drafts. I wrote 40,000 words of an early version before Hapax had even sold, then trunked it (even then, clearly, I knew something was wrong). Some elements from the official Strix 1.0 carried to Strix 2.0. Some elements from Strix 2.0 carry to Strix 3.0. Nothing from Strix 1.0 shows up in 3.0.

That’s ok. Because I couldn’t have written 2.0 without 1.0. They were practice drafts.

This is me writing Strix 1.0. This is me writing Strix 1.0 in Dunedin, New Zealand. This is me writing Strix 1.0 in Dunedin in…oh, MAY OF 2012. (Also, look how short my hair is! I may or may not need a haircut….)

Get backup

Think of the people you know. Friends, acquaintances, coworkers, neighbours, dog park pals, whatever. Is there someone who enjoys reading books like the books you write? Is it someone who is clever and insightful, who understands how stories work, who isn’t afraid to be honest, and whose opinion you value?

Approach them very nicely. Ask, very politely, if they will beta read for you.

And if they say yes—oh, it can be such a lovely relationship.

Beta readers catch things you won’t. They’ll read the story as readers, but informed and purposeful readers. I have several friends who are kind enough to read my early drafts and I’m incredibly grateful for them.

Of course, while you need people to ask the hard questions, you also need people who will hold your hand when it’s midnight and you’re sobbing at their kitchen table. Sometimes, if you’re very lucky (and I am), these people are one and the same.

Writing may look like a solitary occupation, but no one’s really alone in this.

Make yourself accountable

Which is what I’m doing right now. Here’s the deal: I leave for my very first Stonecoast residency on January 10th. I am not taking Strix with me. Not going to happen, I need it done before I leave.

Which means I need to reach the end of the story in a little under a month.

End of story.

By writing an average of 3000 words/day, I can make it. In the two nights I’ve been writing Strix 3.0, I’ve reached 6,600 words. So far, I’m on target!

But I am putting it here, on this blog, officially:

Done By Stonecoast

Hold me to this. And if you’ve got a project you need finished, January 10th is as good a deadline as any, right? Join the fun!

KT

Fighting Silence

I’ve been trying and failing to write a blog post for weeks. Not because I have nothing to say. I’ve tried to write posts about writing dialects, dipping into new genres, updates on the Victorian Dark Fantasy, the fact that I’m going to Stonecoast, collaboration with other writers, collaboration with other creative-types…

Inevitably, they end in despair and files deleted unsaved. I’ll get to about this point, actually, and then my fingers freeze and my mind races. Who would want to read this? Who wants to read anything I write? I can’t write ads for cereal boxes. Look at me, about to gut Strix and start it over for the third time. My writing sucks, and hey, I could also be a better friend, sister, daughter, employee….

I haven’t deleted this draft yet. This is progress.

Many writers are prone to fits of insecurity and self-doubt. We all know the stereotype: the tortured writer pulling their hair out, utterly convinced they’re nothing more than a hack.

Sometimes, it isn’t about writing.

My paralyzed silence isn’t entirely writing-related. A while back, I was informed that by asking my friends for help following my dad’s death, I was being a self-absorbed burden on the people I loved most.

It still bothers me.

For the past few weeks—about as long as I’ve been struggling to write anything—anxiety over my friends has been tearing me to pieces. Are they sick of me? Why can’t I just be my old self again? I totally am a burden. I’m no fun. Who in their right mind would want to hang out with this sack o’ sad?

And if I had a nickel for every time someone’s said, “That’s ridiculous. We’re your friends,” I could enjoy a lovely early retirement at the age of 22.

Right here, at this point right…now, I really want to give up on this blog post and withdraw back under my covers. Let’s see if we can make it through.

Because here is the connection. I’ve become scared to come out of my shell in real life, for fear that people will just think, “Pfft, KT, still sad over everything. Why can’t she keep her thoughts inside like a big girl?”

What that comment did several months ago was punch every button in my psyche, confirm every whisper that says, “You’re worthless, they don’t like you, they just feel sorry for you, and you’d better watch it because I don’t think you read social cues well enough to tell the difference.

“No one cares.”

And it’s that last one that’s damning for writers in particular. For fiction to work, people have to care. There is no tangible benefit to fiction. Not like there is to something like deck-building. If a deck-builder comes to my house and I pay them money, I get a deck at the end. If I go to a bookstore, buy a book, and read it, I have a book.

But I didn’t pay money for a bundle of processed wood product. Really, I paid for things that don’t exist: characters, places, and events that someone made up. Also a whole bunch of new thoughts, ideas, and feelings…but those only come if I’m willing to invest some part of myself into the figments of someone else’s imagination. Fiction doesn’t work if no one cares.

But if you’ve somehow convinced yourself that no one cares about you, the intrinsic, essential you, then it logically follows that no one would care about the products of your mind.

That “X” button at the top right hand corner looks tempting…but I will finish this.

I’ve been spending a lot of time hiding out in my room because I can’t face imposing myself on my housemates. I’m quiet in choir because it’s easier to stay behind the safety of my walls. My days in the brewery are my saving grace because I’m distracted by things I love, but I can run the historic kitchen on autopilot—and autopilot is dangerous because it lets me spend too much time in my own head.

Silence feels safer. But silence inevitably spirals into nights lost to tears and nightmares. And inevitably reminds me of the Silence:

It’s the same with writing. Not writing feels safer. But none of us got into writing because it seemed safe. We got into writing because there was something we had to say, some story we had to tell.

I have to tell stories about six-winged redheaded goddesses and rural villages hiding dark secrets. I have to talk about my heroes’ endless searches for safe harbours and the terrible costs of my villains’ isolation and rigidity.

And sometimes I just have to say:

I am sad.

– KT

We did it. Thank you for reading.

Pace Yourself

With NaNoWriMo starting tomorrow, word count and pace-of-writing has been on my mind. For those unfamiliar with the term, National Novel Writing Month challenges writers to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 1667 words per day.

Word count’s a really personal thing. Some people have bigger ones, some have smaller ones, but as long as yours works for you and gets the job done, it’s probably fine.

*Snerk*

(Yes, I’m twelve. Why do you ask?)

I’m a fast writer and I can slog. In my third year of university, I made the wonderful discovery that armed with a decent outline, I could write a paper in a day. A hard, brutal, brain-numbing day, but a single day.

StJohnEssayme

Well, that was fun.

When writing Strix 2.0, I was motivated to push it out very quickly. I rewrote the novel essentially from scratch from late April to late June: 80,000 words in about two months, averaging 2000 words/day.

Then I wrote the Victorian Dark Fantasy. There was no pushing involved with this book. It gushed out (*snerk*) from late July to late September: 100,000 words in about two months, averaging 2000 words/day with a few 5000-7000 word days.

I’m not convinced this way is better.

After all, here we are in late October, and what have I done since then?

Pretty well nothing. I rested for two weeks while my betas read, and then I’ve spent the last two weeks editing. I’ve written a few blog posts and such for the day job. Looking at my Whiteboard of Doom, I see several things due in the next two weeks, all of them hitting just when I’m really, really tired.

This is the thing: writing is draining. Not just in terms of long nights, it’s draining in that you’re pulling out raw emotion, distilling it down, and putting it on paper. For me, this was particularly true of the Victorian Dark Fantasy. In one sense, it was an easy book to write, because the words wouldn’t stop flowing. In another, it was incredibly difficult for precisely the same reason.

When I was a little kid, I ran a lot of cross-country. My strength lay in pacing—I understood that if I went off the start line like gangbusters, I’d be too tired to finish. Far better to take a steady pace and pass the early leads later on.

I don’t seem to be very good at that while writing. I charge out of the gate and sprint the whole way, and I think the only reason I haven’t collapsed so far is that I’m young and spry and excessively caffeinated.

It’s a weird balance, though. On the one hand, yes, I’d love to take things slowly and not feel exhausted by the end of every project. I’m reminded of Spoon Theory: you only have so many spoons, so you need to consciously choose how to spend them. But at the same…there are so many things I want to write. There are so many stories to tell. And frankly, writing’s been pretty important to the ol’ budget this year.

I guess finding the happy balance between WRITING ALL THE THINGS and not dying is another aspect of professionalism. Full time authors can’t burn out, because then their circumstances become very precarious. If you don’t write, you don’t eat—so it’s probably best to ensure you can write consistently for years and years to come. The secret I need to learn is that word count means very little if it kills you.

So to all of you starting NaNo tomorrow: best of luck, have fun, write as much as you are able—and take care of yourselves. We’re all here cheering!

-KT

The music worth 100,000 words

I’ve been editing the Victorian Dark Fantasy all afternoon, headphones in, as per usual. In keeping with the mood of the book, it’s been mostly Celtic music the past few weeks—both pseudo-Celtic-inspired-it-sounds-close-enough music and actual Gaelic-language folksongs.

I love them.

But it’s not just the bouncing fiddles and reels that have me wriggling with joy. See, lots of people know about using images as story prompts. You look at a picture and it triggers a story (or questions that lead to a story) on some visceral level.

Who’s that girl? What’s with her shadow? What does the bear know? (courtesy http://www.emptyspace.thepoolisfull.org)

Honestly, I mostly use music.

I’m not a musician, but music seems to bypass my squirrel-brain and punches me right at the level of emotion. Because I tend to hear everything at once if I’m not careful, it also helps quiet my brain down—the racing thoughts just get drowned out. And, like many writers, I use music to help get into the mood of a story/scene.

But for me, it also triggers stories. And that’s kind of awesome, because I’ll be searching for music to help with one story, and inadvertently stumble across another piece that sparks something else. It exposes me to a lot of cool stuff, both musically and story-wise.

Take the Victorian Dark Fantasy. Early thoughts had been clattering around for a while, but the story really only snapped into place when I found a lovely Scottish tune called “Mari’s  Wedding” (or “Marie’s Wedding,” or “Mairi’s Wedding” or “Mairi Bhan”). Actually, the song only caught my attention because I wondered if it had anything to do with the play “Mary’s Wedding.” It doesn’t seem to. And aside from the fact that someone named Mari/Marie/Mairi is getting married, it has nothing to do with the VDF, either.

Except it does. Because listening to that song, I caught a flash of character—and then I started asking questions. I also started looking for more music, something that could help me enter this emerging world.

Second2

Mairi’s kitchen. 😉

Among others, I found “Mo Ghile Mear,” which has been on repeat for weeks. And then, very recently, I found “Téir Abhaile Riú.”

That’s the one that’s been making me grin like an idiot for the past two days. Because in this song about a young girl wanting to hook up with some sailors in Galway, I hear another conflict in this world. I hear opportunities to make my characters confront some really difficult choices. I hear the beginnings of another story.

After a very rough year, I think I’m finding my passion again. That’s a very, very good thing.

Naturally, I’m getting ahead of myself, still riding the “I FINISHED THE BOOK!” high. I do need to return to Strix. Not to mention a few other projects in the pipe…

But oh man, when I hear that chorus, I just squirm with excitement:

Téir abhaile riú, téir abhaile riú
Téir abhaile riú Mhearai
Téir abhail gus fan sa bhaile
Mar tá do mhargadh déanta…

Yayyyyyy!

KT

Dragon Con Round-Up: 2013 Edition

Dragon Con felt subdued this year. Not that it was small; I swear there are more people every time, and this year I actually needed 30 minutes to travel between panels. Nevertheless, a lot of faces were missing. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun, but it was a different convention than last year’s.

The Marriott on Saturday night.

The Marriott on Saturday night.

Now, the fun stuff: what did I do for three days? (Yep, I skipped out early Monday morning; Tuesdays at cons are too depressing for me.)

I chatted with editor Gabrielle Harbowy about Strix and saw a very early mock-up for a potential cover (spoiler: I love it…which means I should possibly get this darn thing finished). I wandered the dealers’ room and finally met Thomas and Sarah of Brute Force Studios. I went to some panels and readings, where I met Suzanne Church and caught up with Rob Sawyer. I wrote. In a happy twist of fate, I discovered that the Hyatt was screening a 24h/day Doctor Who marathon all weekend long, which gave me a place to retreat when I needed to recover but still wanted to feel like I was participating in the convention.

The Hyatt turned out well - most of my panels were there and I moved like a mole through its subterranean levels.

The Hyatt turned out well – most of my panels were there and I moved like a mole through its subterranean levels.

Several of my friends had exciting things happen: Mur Lafferty won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (i.e. the Hugo that is not a Hugo). I can’t think of anyone more deserving, and I’m absolutely thrilled for her. Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris picked up another Parsec for Tales from the Archives. Again: so very proud.

Also, Sylvester McCoy, better known as the seventh Doctor, presented at the Parsecs. He pwned the ceremony. He needs to get his own podcast which I will then listen to obsessively, because he was brilliant…though I’m sensing a trend towards very short acceptance speeches next year!

"Doctor WHO?" After that presentation, I'm going with "Doctor Awesome."

“Doctor WHO?” After that presentation, I’m going with “Doctor Awesome.”

And that was about it, really. The post-con haze is settling upon me, and I’m very cognizant of the fact that I now have to work for eight days straight while juggling three different writing projects and starting Strix-the-Podcast.

So, you know, a typical month coming up. 😉

KT

When the Hero Comes Home: Volume II

Excitement!

I’m in an anthology entitled “When the Hero Comes Home 2,” the second volume of the acclaimed “When the Hero Comes Home.” The Hero anthologies (along with “When the Villain Comes Home”) are about what happens after “ever after.” When the journey is over, the battle done, and the hero returns in victory or defeat…well, then what? Can you really come home again?

This theme is close to my heart; I got my invitation to submit only a few months after returning from New Zealand. So basically, the conversation went like this:

Gabrielle: Hey, Katie, do you write short fiction?
Me: Um…I could.
Gabrielle: You know you’re getting an invitation to Hero 2, right?
Me: I do now. (thinking) So, I totally just came home from a long adventure to the other side of the world….

I don’t usually gravitate towards writing short stories. But it’s something I’m trying to do more of, so I was really grateful for the opportunity to write something for Hero 2, especially because the theme was so meaningful to me. In the end, I’m quite pleased with the way my story (“After the Winds”) turned out. Things change while you’re away from home: not just for you, but for the people you left behind. How do you deal with the fact that you’ve all become different people who have grown in different ways, at different rates?

(And my usual rule applies: I’ll shamelessly borrow places (oh hai, NZ!), but nothing else.)

The coolest thing about Hero 2? All the other authors in there. There’s some serious talent here – I work with really cool people. 🙂

So where can you get this wonderful book? Well, it’ll be off the printer and on Amazon very shortly. In the meantime, the ebook version is available early…at a discount!

EPub

Kindle

There’s also a Goodreads page!

And more excitement! Dragon Con is this upcoming weekend, and I will be there, despite the fact that my con preparation looks like this:

Oh, yeah, Dragon Con…mmm, that’ll be fun…
Hey, what day is my flight?
What TIME is my flight?
Lalalala, writing away on a new book…
…I guess I should edit Strix more, because I’ll see Gabrielle soon…
…at DRAGON CON! When is that, again?
I guess I should pack soon.
Where am I staying again?
Oh yeah. Ok. I know where that is.
Don’t I have a confirmation number or something? Hey, when do I need to be at the airport?
What’s my name? Who am I?

If you’re around, come say hi. I’ll have a few copies of Hapax on hand to sell in back alleys. I suspect I’ll be mostly lurking by the podcasting and alternate history tracks (not on any panels, but always looking to learn things!).

See you soon!
KT

Burnout and Balance

By the way, I’m twenty-two. It occurs to me that I never did a birthday post. Mostly because…reasons. I don’t know—I was busy with Strix or something.

Speaking of Strix, the manuscript came back to me. Then I fiddled around with it some more, and tossed it back over the wall to my editor. Scripts are off to the actors for Strix-the-Podcast (you knew that was coming, right?). I’ve begun recording my narration and amassing a collection of music and sound effects. I’ve nearly hit ~10,000 words on The Victorian Dark Fantasy. The Secret Kids’ Opera Project got the thumbs-up from the artistic director and the music makes me squee. When The Hero Comes Home Volume II (I’ve got a story in there) comes out soon. I write for two blogs. There are various other projects at the “Hey, KT, wanna do X for me?” stage of things. Also, I have a dayjob, and it is an awesome dayjob.

Somehow, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not doing enough.

Looking at the preceding paragraph, I realize the absurdity of that statement. That’s partly why I wrote everything out. Nevertheless, it’s a very real feeling. There is this nagging sense that I should be doing more. I should have The Victorian Dark Fantasy written already! I should have another podcast! I should blog more! I should be freelancing and writing more short stories!

Part of me says, “Heck yes. I’m young. I can still survive on willpower, day-old pizza, and caffeine. If I’m going to be doing all of this, now is the time to do it.”

The other part of me says, “You know, there might be a reason you’re perpetually ill…”

His mistake was forgetting the pizza. Good protein in the pepperoni.
(courtesy: http://www.thecampuscompanion.com)

 

Burnout is a problem for creative types. And as my long-suffering family can attest, it’s always been a particular problem for me. Not that it’s a problem that I really know how to solve, because the answer I come up with always seems to be, “Do more work!” It’s like running laps in July to forget about thirst.

Of course, it’s also really fun. That’s the trap. The more we enjoy things, the harder it can be to draw the distinction between work and play. At which point, forget about rest. Of course, this backfires eventually….

I suspect it’s also linked to Imposter Syndrome, which is hugely prevalent among writers, actors, artists, musicians, academics, and so forth. If you’re scared that someone’s going to point out what a fraud you are, it makes sense to be trying to churn out as much work as possible. Either something will be good enough that you no longer feel like a fake, or at the very least, everyone will be too distracted to realize your fraudulence.

This isn’t a terribly effective tack, either. It’s hard to create when you’ve tapped the well dry. Really, it comes back to balance. It isn’t all “on” or “off,” “black” or “white,” “all” or “nothing.” It’s quite possible to work hard without working yourself to exhaustion. I realize the irony of me saying this…and I also realize that I’m going to be struggling with this one for a while. But better struggling with it than blithely unaware, eh?

-KT

 

 

A Room of One’s Own

I blame P.C. Haring.

My nemesis (*shakes fist*) was telling me about some upgrades he was planning to make to his studio. Of course, we were Skyping as I sat in a jumble of books, papers, pens, iThings, and headsets. It looked like a bookshop and electronic store had delivered an unholy child on my desk, and then said hybrid had exploded from sheer self-horror.

It was not pretty.

More to the point, I didn’t feel pretty. By which I mean productive, which sometimes feels similar, in a weird sort of way. But books crowded my elbows as I tried to type. Pens eluded me. A tottering pile of books threatened to spill on the floor, and the cords of my various microphones and headsets tangled around my chair.

And in that moment, talking to P.C., I had an epiphany (the last time P.C. inadvertently gave me an epiphany, I ended up podcasting Hapax, so there you go). If I’m a writer and podcaster, that means I spend a lot of time at my desk. Sure, Erik and I invade coffee shops every two weeks or so, but the majority of my work is done in this one small room. If that’s the case, shouldn’t it look like a vaguely-professional space? Or at least, a space in which I can be vaguely professional?

Perhaps I secretly just wanted to procrastinate. Also, it was my off-day from the dayjob. Those never end well.

Whatever the reason, I spent some time this morning cleaning and organizing my room. The desk area was my main focus; I found space for the books, chased down the pens, cleared space for the iThings. Coolest of all, I found some wee hook things, and used them to mount my headsets on the wall (I always think I have too many, until I remember that each one has a discrete purpose).

End result? I feel great. It’s an inviting space, a space that I want to spend hours in. Writers are like opera singers: you ought to be able to practice your art anywhere, in any position (I’m thinking of Tosca and Vissi d’arte here) but some places and positions work better than others.

WritersDesk

Also! Excitement! After mulling it for weeks, I took the plunge and got a new microphone. It’s quite different from my trusty headset, but the more I play with it, the more I like it. Having a radio announcer-style mic apparently makes me more hyperactive and talkative.

Making friends with Nessie (yes, my mic has a name. It is Nessie).

Making friends with Nessie (yes, my mic has a name. It is Nessie).

Sound quality is good (almost too good—it picks up a lot more, which means more night-recording whilst our neighbours renovate) and you can un/mute it by tapping the base, which is cool. Also records differently for voice and music. Most importantly, because it is not a headset, more than one person at a time can use it….

…which may or may not be important, as I return to my spiffy desk to send out some scripts. 😉

– KT

Making Magic: Questions for World-Builders

When world-building, certain elements grab my interest and focus more than others. Generally speaking, I am not hugely interested in political science or economics. Those who read Hapax may have noticed a distinct lack of court intrigues (though I totally implied that the City is run by councillors—somewhere in chapter 19, I think! It wasn’t hugely important to the story). That’s not to say I have no clue how my characters are feeding themselves, I just tend to spend less time on it than I do on the theological/magical side of things.

And magic is what I wanted to explore today, because I’ve just had to create a new magic system for The Next One. After working so long and so thoroughly with the aither, it’s very strange to say, “Well, actually, now magic works this way.”

But it’s been good to revisit the process of crafting magic systems. Honestly, it seems like most of my process is just asking myself questions and running thought experiments. Here is a by-no-means-exhaustive list of the sorts of questions I ask myself:

TO START:

  • Is there magic?
  • Where does the magic come from? Is it a natural process of this world that can be harnessed like fire or electricity? Is it inherent to the magic-user? Was it always there and a goddess woke people up to it in a desperate attempt to save the world?
  • To what extent is magic related to this world’s gods? Is it at all?
  • Can magic in this world be explained by natural laws, even if these laws aren’t “natural” as we understand them in this world? If so, what are these laws? (Did you, for instance, butcher a corrupted version of string theory?)
  • What does magic actually look/smell/feel/taste/sound like? If there was active magic around, who would notice, and how?
  • What can magic not do? (And there ought to be something magic can’t do. Otherwise, it ain’t magic: it’s a problematic plot element at best, and a deus ex machina at worst.)

MAGIC-USERS:

  • Does everyone have magic, or just some people?
  • If just some people, what percentage of the population, roughly?
    • If just some people, how do they learn about/learn to control their magic?
  • Closely related: do only humans get magic, or do other species? Does their use of magic differ?
  • Come to think of it, how does the use of magic vary among various magic-users?
  • How do people get magic? Do they always have it? Does it come naturally with other changes at puberty? Do you sacrifice a goat at the Harvest Moon to receive it?
  • How do magic-users view themselves?
  • Can you make a living with magic? Why or why not?
    • If so, how is that organized? Unions, freelancers, guilds, alchemists locked away in ivory towers turning iron into gold?
  • Have the magic-users formed their own unique subculture? Alternatively, is magic so ingrained in the culture that the two are impossible to separate?
  • Can a magic-user lose their magic, or will they have it forever?

USE OF MAGIC:

  • Walk me through the casting of a typical spell. How does it work?
  • What materials and/or equipment, if any, do you need to perform magic? Where does one obtain these items?
  • Is magic more point-and-shoot (i.e. Harry Potter), or does it require hours of special preparation?
  • What is the cost of magic? (HINT: Magic always has a cost. No such thing as a free lunch, especially not in stories.)
  • What sorts of spells is a magic-user most likely to perform?
  • How does an individual magic-user’s traits (age, gender, intrinsic skill, experience, occupation, place in the religious/magical/social hierarchy) affect the efficacy of their spell-casting?
  • Does magic work differently in different locations/at different times, or is it equally accessible at all times and in all places?
  • Do magic-users mostly work in groups, solo, or a mix? What determines this?
  • What could cause a spell to go wrong? What does “going wrong” look like?
  • What happens if a spell goes wrong?
  • Has the use of magic changed throughout history? If so, how? Why?
Apollo-era Mission Control. Not going to lie, this is not unlike how I picture the creation of an MCB. (Source: www.fineartamerica.com)

Apollo-era Mission Control. This tense focus, cooperation, and attention to detail is pretty much how I picture magic in Hapax.  Except without computers.  (Source: http://www.fineartamerica.com)

MAGIC IN SOCIETY:

  • Does magic require years of study to master, or can any idiot mumble some words out of a book and cause some result? Is it an inborn trait that cannot be taught, only refined?
  • Who’s doing the teaching?
  • What impact does magic have on the economy? (See? Even I get to economics eventually…)
  • What impact does magic have on the government? The military? Are there parallel organizations running alongside the non-magical, are they all heavily integrated with magic, or are magic-users too few/weak to make a difference?
  • To what extent has magic replaced science? If you have magic for enough years, will you wind up inventing a magical refrigerator? Transit? Or God help us…magic androids???
  • How does society at large view magic and magic-users? Positively? Negatively? Ambivalently? Better to call a magician than a plumber?
    • Have these attitudes changed in the past? Why or why not?
  • Are there “magic only” institutions? If so, what are they?
  • Is there art/literature/music either inspired or actually created by magic?
    • If so, do we then get into a debate about who’s the “real artist” – the guy painting with a paintbrush by hand, or the girl making colours appear in the air with her will?
  • Are there any industries/areas of life that magic does NOT touch? If so, what? Why?
  • Do magic-users abide by different laws? Either their own separate code, or a subset of society’s laws? Are they considered above the law, unfairly persecuted, or neither?
  • How do you discipline/penalize someone with magic?
  • Are some groups of magic-users seen as “better” than others? Why? By whom?

LOOPHOLES!!!!

  • Can the laws of magic be broken? If so, when, how, and with what consequence? (HINT: you generally don’t want to be breaking your own rules, unless you have a very, very, VERY good reason for doing so.)
  • Are your magic-users unaware of some laws/aspects of magic, and/or have they gotten some things wrong? If so, how and why?
  • Does the nature of magic ever change?
  • Are there any remaining apparent contradictions in your magic system? If so, what? Also, can you resolve them in such a way as to enrich the story?

Again, a good start, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. If you want exhaustive, check this one out. It may look a bit daunting, but a good rule of thumb? Build what you need, and imply the rest.

– KT