Writing Wednesday: Worldbuilding and Mythology-Making

I’ve been working on Phantom revisions and Princess Beyond the Thorns planning concurrently for the last few weeks.  I’m more than halfway through this pass of Guardian of the Opera, Book Three, and I’m nearly done with character creation for my next project.  I’ve recently turned to worldbuilding instead, figuring out the fantasy world this new book is set in.  It’s separate from my Beyond the Tales series, so it calls for entirely new decisions!

I got surprisingly far into the process before I realized there ought to be a pantheon of gods specific to this world–something that wasn’t in my previous fantasy series at all.  I worked out a handful of major gods (although they all still need names!) and the last bit of character-building I’m doing is deciding who (and how) each character worships.

Here’s my initial notes on the major gods, though it may change as I write…

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There is a pantheon of major gods, and a large number of small, local gods identified with places. Gods are not considered to have a fixed gender; people will regard any god by whatever gender feels most approachable/comfortable to the individual. Tendencies shift in different areas and over different eras. The major guilds generally have a chosen patron god, and many people have one they most connect to, but this is nonexclusive. Even priests/priestesses of a particular god may occasionally worship another. People usually have statues or emblems of their chosen god. Small villages will have a chapel suitable for all the gods, including the local one. Larger towns and cities will have temples specific to each major god. The major gods are:

  • God of Passion (Love and War) – worshiped by warriors and the current monarchy; also presides over weddings
  • God of the Sea – the most changeable god – worshiped by sailors, fishers
  • God of the Hearth – most popular among the common folk, especially anyone dealing with food
  • God of the Arts – many of the major guilds
  • God of Wisdom – the rest of the major guilds
  • The Traveler God – popular amongst misfits and outcasts
  • The Veiled God – followed by dark enchanters

Writing Wednesday: Masks Upon Masks

I’ve been balancing revising the Phantom and plotting for NaNoWriMo lately.  I’m almost done putting together background for major characters for my NaNo novel, and I’ve gotten through the (I hope?) most difficult section of my third Phantom novel.  I got past the opening, very rushed section (now very expanded) and am into a good stretch that’s already pretty solid.  So it should be clearer sailing…at least until the last couple chapters, which I’m pretty sure are rushed again!

For now, here’s a bit that I wrote forever ago that didn’t call for hardly any revising…and which is something of a fun nod if you’ve seen enough versions of the Phantom!

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My attention lit on the narrow table at the far side of the room.  It was a dark wood that matched the bed, and a row of masks lay lined up along its length.  I went that way.

There was Red Death’s skull mask and the metal half-mask I first saw the night Buquet died.  Next to it was the cream-colored one he had worn the day we first spoke in the auditorium, and for Easter at Notre Dame; it matched in style the black mask Erik was wearing now, cut to hide everything but his mouth and chin, but the different color made it so much less ominous.  A similarly shaped one I didn’t recognize lay beside it, pale gray, cut in more gentle curves at its bottom and suggesting a hint of curved eyebrows above the narrower eye holes, a similar hint of cheekbones below.  That one actually wasn’t too bad, having a serene aspect.  Still, I reached instead for the last one, the familiar white half mask he wore most often, covering from forehead to jaw.

“Here.”  I held it out to him.  “It’s by far the least forbidding.”

Writing Wednesday: Plotting Conundrums

Lately I’ve been trying to do some pre-planning for this year’s NaNoWriMo.  Mostly, I want to work out at least some concept of a plot arc, in contrast to my usual method of “pick a direction and go.”  That’s worked out sometimes, not so much others.  And I’m very excited about the characters I want to write about this November, so I want them to have a really great plot to play in.

I’ve been working with some tools to lay out the major sections and key turning points of the story, with tightly integrated plot and character developments.  The character arc really drives the shape of it…so I’m creating plot points to drive the character growth, although in a funny way it’s who the character is that drives how they react to the plot points, so…it’s a very confused cause and effect.

And even in semi-outlining, characters can rebel!  I have a pretty good handle on Rose, and worked out some plot twists that work very well with who she is and who she ends up becoming.  Terrence, on the other hand (you met him as a child last week), has not been cooperating.  He didn’t want to react to my plot points the way I expected, and seemed to be pursuing a goal completely different than the one I thought he wanted–which sent me back to the drawing board to see if I actually understood his character after all.

Part of the challenge, I realized, was that the motivations driving Terrence’s effect on the plot are not the same ones driving his character growth.  On a plot level, he’s deeply conflicted about his relationship with his father.  On a character growth level, he’s dealing with a lack of worthiness.  Are those related?  Absolutely.  Are they the same thing?  Mm, not quite.

People think writers just make things up.  Some days, even I think that.  And then on other days, with gratitude to Robin McKinley for the metaphor, it’s much, much more like trying to part the veil to look in on the Land of Story and see how it all happened.  Though I have to say–those are the most exciting stories to write in the end!

No excerpt today, because all I’d have to give you is a plot outline, and that would be giving rather a lot away, wouldn’t it? 😉

Writing Wednesday: Character Trauma

I stepped away from revising for the last few days, to work on building and exploring characters for the novel I plan to write for NaNoWriMo come November.  I plan to expand on the two short stories I wrote earlier in the year, about the Princess Behind the Thorns.

I’ve been delving into the backstories, and particularly the terrible childhoods, of my two protagonists, Princess Rose Amelia and Prince Terrence.  As I explored Terrence’s past, I was inspired for a prequel short story to illuminate some of the ideas I was having.

I ended up writing a 4,000 word short story Sunday afternoon, a darker and grimmer story than I usually write.  And it strikes me that probably only writers understand the particular thrill of thinking, ooh, here’s a really terrible thing I can do to this character I love!

I’ll spare you the grimmest moments, and give you an excerpt from the comparatively positive aftermath.

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His mother still looked pale, after it was all done, and he was stretched on his stomach on the couch in her room.  The cool cloth she pressed to his bared back helped with the pain, but not the guilt.

“I’m sorry, Mother,” he said, scrubbing at his damp eyes with one hand.  “I’ll be stronger next time.”

That was what his father wanted.  To make him stronger, to make him a proper prince who could be a proper leader some day.  It was his own fault he kept failing.

His mother sighed, and ran her fingers lightly through his rumpled hair.  “You are perfect, my Terrence.  You are kind and sweet and good, and don’t ever, ever change.”

It was nice his mother thought that.  But of course he knew there were lots of things wrong with him.

His mother’s door banged open and Elena rushed in like a windstorm.  “I brought the turmeric for the tea, Aunt Lillian,” she announced, dropped her bundle on the table and came over to inspect Terrence.  “How bad is it this time?  Ow—pretty awful.”

“It’s not that bad,” Terrence said, though he didn’t expect Elena to be sad about it like his mother was.

Elena was his cousin, his mother’s niece, and two years older than him.  She had lived at the castle most of her life, since her parents’ deaths, and at fifteen she considered herself quite the adult.  She was far more likely to get angry than to cry about anything.

Sure enough, she launched straight into a sort of combined scolding and consoling.  “It is too that bad, and it never should have happened at all.”

“I shouldn’t have—”

Your father shouldn’t have beaten you for losing a footrace against the servants!  Of all the ridiculous—I’d like to get a belt and—”

Elena,” Queen Lillian said sharply.  “Do not speak ill of the king.”

“I know, I know,” Elena said, plopping down in a puff of skirts to sit on the ground next to the couch.  “I didn’t say I would.  I’d just like to do…something.”

Despite the pain in his back, Terrence smiled into the couch cushion.  It was very Elena.  And he liked when he could be with his two favorite people, even if this was a bad reason for it.  He liked looking at them together, both small, both with perfectly straight brown hair and the same blue eyes.  He wished he looked more like his mother but, like all three of his brothers, he took after his father, with curly hair and dark eyes.

Writing Wednesday: Trust and Arguments

I did heavy revisions on another scene for my Phantom novel today.  Like some I revised a few weeks ago, I wrote this one early in the process of writing the trilogy, although I’ve been able to keep most of it as it was.

Even after years of working with these characters, they still surprise me sometimes.  In this scene, Erik and Meg have the kind of argument that starts about one thing and turns into something else, and probably is really about a third thing entirely.  The funny part is, I don’t think I properly realized until I revised it this week that it’s actually about trust.  At least, that’s a bigger part of it than I realized–along with two or three other things!

As I reworked the scene, some of the original lines of dialogue just didn’t ring right anymore…and pretty soon Meg was coming out with new things I hadn’t quite known frustrated her.

Erik, obviously, was even more unaware than I was.

Here’s an excerpt. 🙂

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“Did you trust Christine?”  I demanded, a question I had never dared even think let alone ask, but that I had always, always wanted to know.  “More than you trust me?  Because you obviously don’t trust me.  Not enough to tell me your plan when the mob was coming, or to tell me you were still alive, or to believe the best of me when you overheard something that sounded bad.  You’ve never even told me what happened when Christine left, and I trust you enough to ignore all the stories saying you killed her!”

“Stop saying her name!”

That was the important part in what I had said?  That was the only part he heard?  Anger that had started red hot had turned into a cold fury that was even harder to control.  “I am not Christine,” I said, my voice seeming to come from outside of myself, even and steady.  “I don’t sing like Christine, and I’m not as beautiful as Christine, and I would never betray you like Christine.”

Writing Wednesday: Expanding the Story

After some short story work recently, I’ve gone back to expanding the opening of my third Guardian of the Opera book.  Things have been cut up and moved around and I set the opening of the book a week earlier than I originally planned, putting four new chapters in at the beginning.

Revisions.  They’re unpredictable!  I actually thought Book II would need far more structural revisions than it ended up needing; apparently Book III is balancing that out.

Adding more to the beginning gives me space to reintroduce a lot of characters and concepts, plus both Meg and the reader have to wallow in the Book II cliffhanger a little bit longer.  I also started Meg counting days, something we’ve more often seen from Erik!

Here’s a piece opening my new Chapter Two.

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I began counting the days since the day of the mob, since I had last seen Erik, since he might have died.  I counted even though I had no idea when it would be time to give up hope.  I had found the daffodil on the second day.  The Phantom’s body—supposedly—had been found on the third, and I had gone to Erik’s rooms that same afternoon.

On the fourth day I was sitting with several other ballet girls on the Opera’s front steps, dallying before it was time to go in for the morning rehearsal, when I saw Commissaire Mifroid crossing the plaza, walking towards the Opera.

A chill went over me as I looked at the policeman, in his dark coat, with the shiny buttons down the front.  It had been him, all along.  He had kept pushing, kept trying to find Erik, for months and months.  If it hadn’t been for him, Jammes never would have gone looking for information, for whatever favor she thought she could curry with the managers or Carlotta, the lead soprano, or with Mifroid himself.  Without Mifroid, my stupid mistake leaving the directions in reach wouldn’t have mattered.

With Mifroid, Erik might be dead.

And Mifroid might be the only one who really knew.

 

Writing Wednesday: Icebound

I took a break from revising my Phantom story this week to revise a short story instead.  One of my stories from my 7 Stories in 7 Days project, I brought the initial draft in to my writing group, and made some edits based on feedback.  A story of a woman in love with a dryad, they wanted to know a little more about her life apart from him.  I added a short flashback, which also gave me the chance to explore the dreams she might have had, before she fell in love with a tree spirit.  Here’s a bit of an excerpt from “Icebound.”

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Without intending it, a memory surfaces of a recent trip into the village.  I went to do my usual grocery shopping, and treated myself to a stop in the bookstore.  It was supposed to be a treat.  The grocery store, a big chain that replaced the local one that was there when I was a child, is an easy place to stay anonymous in.  The bookstore, though, is the same one that’s been there forever, run by the same woman who seemed old—but probably wasn’t—when I was first learning to read.

I used to think I might like a job like that someday, surrounded by books and people who loved them.  Not in my village, which seemed hopelessly dull, but somewhere else—in a big city, maybe, or perhaps I could be a traveling bookseller, like the mobile library buses, visiting a new place every day.

I always forget until I arrive that going into the bookstore will inevitably remind me of those dreams.  The ones I don’t usually think about anymore, because I have him, and I don’t need old dreams.  But it always puts me out of sorts, to be reminded.