Yesterday, I reorganised the page with the already published Avarthrel stories. It kind of inspired me to look at some of the past work I’ve done, and it seems… quite curious so far, indeed.
These stories are the first thing that I’ve written as any kind of a serious writing. As such, they are a bit rough, but each story shows some signs of new things I’ve learned. So, I think it’s good time to analyse what I’ve learned so far, and, in turn, look at what I’m doing right in the new stories. Read on for the full story!
The problem of Avarthrel’s early development was that I adopted the “let’s just wing it and canon-sanctioned fact appear out of nowhere” development process. It was great to get the ball rolling, but it led to a few facts that I had hard time justifying later. I later adopted “just wing it, hammer it until it fits the rest of the facts, and then declare it canon” kind of method.
In Summer 2005, I somehow got this weird idea to write some good old-fashioned Fantasy Stuff. Basically, it was summer, I was sitting by my sister’s PowerBook, and I started writing a book about an upcoming revolution, as witnessed by a certain guardsman…
ooogenerator: NeoOffice/J 1.1 (Unix)
Jenyr’s boredom knew no bounds. The night was quiet, the air still; it was as if everyone in the whole city had somehow decided to sneak in, lock the door, and pretend not to be there.
Jenyr, who was known as the “armored guy who sometimes paces around the corner”, the very definition of a person who knows how to “pace” in the most evoking way the word suggested, paced down the quiet main street. He was a guard, and he was paid to do that, but paid or not, his pacing was getting legendary. He thought it was, indeed, a little odd that nothing was going on; it was only a week after the summer’s most anticipated festival. Usually, celebration was still going on weeks and weeks afterwards.
And what turgid typoed prose it was, even if you know it was also meant as linguistic tomfoolery! =) Nowadays I try to remember not to unleash jokes too soon: Good humour is built from ground up, and sarcasm and satire and other s-words are usually the cherry-topping on the otherwise serious cake.
The whole horrible tale, in short, is that Captain of the Guard, Jenyr Adatel, verily paceth forth and ponders this weird boredom that everyone seems to suffer from — no doubt it was inspired by my own boredom at the time — and then, coffeeheadedly figures out that Faira Ativel, this “woman with a long black hair, in a tight-fitting black outfit, daggers on her belt”, who just stopped him, is probably not a honest person — but listens to her warning that nothing he’ll do will probably stop the King from being murdered that night.
Since writing a book seemed like an awfully hard task, I never quite got fleshed out farther than this. Instead, I decided to do what I do best: Short stories, just to get myself more aquaintated with the characters.
I will, one day, write a novel about the Great Revolution of Varmhjelm and the following war, but the details have already changed considerably and I certainly don’t recognise the characters from the Very First Chapter I Wrote. Jenyr is basically coming across to me as a carbon copy of certain mr. Samuel Vimes, and I’ve tried to make him less grumpy, more jolly and certainly less philosophical in the later stories — which isn’t much, since he doesn’t appear in many of them. Faira comes across as a cold person; nowadays, she’s far more cheerful, as I originally intended.
What is fascinating is that the excerpt introduces names that I used later in story development: King Adelev IV (and I had to hastily explain how in Varmhjelm, kings use family names rather than first names, per old Imperial tradition; He’s the “Fourth King of Adelev Family”), Queen Trelia, even a mention of Minister of Defence “Ali” and Mayor “Fantenn”; I actually fluffed these up, and current canon seems to suggest Ali Threrista was a former Mayor of Anchorfall who became the first Seneschal of Varmhjelm. Oh well, tiny details no one remembers… I also later expanded the concept of “spreading boredom”: Not to go to the details here, but the war that follows the Great Revolution is also alternatively called the “War Against Apathy”, for a good reason. =)
Okay — enough with unpublished garbage. How about the published garbage? The first Avarthrel story that was actually published was not, as such, a story at all; it was “Faira’s history”; an account of this heroine’s rise to fame. Or something. Written in the glorious Emacs text editor.
Over the following weeks, then months and the following years, the northern seas witnessed the rise of a new hero: Raven-haired, black-clad, cat-like young lady who almost single-handedly made the seas safe to sail. […] But problems in the land grew, trade died, and ultimately, Faira found herself on a dry land again […] She was promptly contacted by Shadowhawks, a group of vigilantes who were dedicated to keeping peace. […] Little was known what caused Shadowhawks to finally disperse, as details are quite sketchy. Most likely, that was not Faira’s doing. The group disbanded just before the Varmhjelm’s great Revolution of 627.
I made a conscious choice NOT to fudge the details later. However, even so, I managed to change this story many times; small details, I know, but interesting and substantial nevertheless. The very original version that was published named the world or region as “Plenicia”, if I remember correctly. The name was completely pulled out of the hat, and had absolutely no connection to any place, yet it turned out to be a googleable term; I later changed the story just to say “northern seas” instead, pending for a name that produced zero Google hits. Later that year, I called the world… Avarthrel. I also used the adjective “catty” instead of “cat-like”; I later changed that, because in addition to the animal comparison, the dictionary suggested more negative shades to the word. World is an annoying place for a non-native English speaker…
What is interesting about this story is that I describe Shadowhawks as “a group of vigilantes dedicated to keeping peace”, yet I’ve always imagined Shadowhawks as an archetypical Robinhoodian thieves’ guild! Sometimes, I write down unbelieveable garbage when the left hand doesn’t know what the right brain lobe is thinking, or something like that.
What is also interesting that I’ve still not decided what exactly caused Shadowhawks to fall. I’m suggesting severe mismanagement and backstabbing — figurative backstabbing, knowing they’re a civilised group of people.
Together with some legends of the Revolution, such as Facyr the Brave, Gnedrnygr the Unpronouncable, and Jenyr the Just, as they were later honored as, she had countless adventures which, indeed, have to be chronicled elsewhere.
The most fateful part of “Faira’s history” was this part of the text. I Came Up with Names. The next day — okay, a moment afterward — I realised I had to actually use the names later on! Hmm — a fakir, a bad clone of Grignr the Barbarian from The Eye of Argon, and… that guard guy from the earlier bit of work? Of course, I didn’t have anything like that in mind. Facyr Tann, the mercenary and warrior, has turned into a credible character in my books; curious as it may be, it didn’t take that long to learn how to type “Gnedrnygr Adithebadoggr, Evoker from Colemia” without any typos. =)
However, the lesson here is simple: Keep the character names as simple as needed; these people use the names a lot themselves in the fictional world, so if I can’t do that in real world, we’re in trouble. Another lesson is that jokes might get a life of their own, so be very careful!
The first real Avarthrel story was “Hidden Horrors of Megyntia”.
The three adventurers had come to the end of a long, yet exciting trek to the far eastern reaches of Varmhjelm. The three were Facyr Tann, Faira Ativel and Gnedrnygr Adithebadoggr, and they had met in the eve of the revolution of Varmhjelm, got famous, then conveniently forgotten, which helped them a great deal, because this was a time for adventures, not perpetual celebration and being celebrity.
In retrospect, the story had a great deal too much telling-and-not-showing, and most certainly I made a questionable decision to get, uh, stylistically creative when writing this story.
“I hate it when you call me Greg. I told you, you should pronounce it correctly”, Gnedrnygr said with some sadness in his voice.
“I don’t think I can ever learn how to pronounce your name, even if I can say a lot of the fancy words you taught, like zee-gvrag-tsiletalihp-yretsym…”
“Well, well! You finally mastered Bovinier’s Beam! Good work, good work! Looks like the goblins need to collect their dead comrades with spoon and bury them in a tinderbox…”
“…well, let’s not argue about that right now, I’m kind of busy,” Faira said. “Oopsy-daisy!”
“Killing two goblins with one move? Unfair!” Facyr protested. “Maybe I should carry daggers too.”
I never, ever, ever did this again. Specifically, I vow I will never ever chain myself down with weird rules like “in this story, all combat action must be expressed through implications in dialogue.” And incidentally, it’s a bit silly that Faira can’t remember how to pronounce Gnedrnygr’s name when they have known each other for years… among other things. Oh well, tiny problems like this could be solved if I only get more of the common sense — and I can’t expect a lot from continuity, considering this was such an early story and nothing made a whole lot of sense yet. I really need to work on the continuity.
Then came my low point: “Pirates in the Morning Mist”. Holy hell, was this ever awful. I refuse to even quote the story here. Instead, I just quote what I wrote to the Avarthrel home page yesterday: “Pirates come! Something completely not what anyone had in mind happens! I can’t remember how this story went! Please don’t remind me!” This story might have certain elements in it that are important considering the bigger picture, but I’m having hard time thinking this could be otherwise a hard part of the canon. It’s almost like that Holiday Special of the famous film series: potentially watchable, but if you ask the makers about it, remember to duck.
After this, I was working on some other stories. One of which tells about Lex Egrain and Faira in the time before the Revolution; specifically, how Faira and Lex helped a theatre to stay afloat - the working title is “Requiem for the Smashed Legs”. Regrettably, the story has been in the limbo for a while.
“Let’s see, four silver candlesticks, not in bad condition, say, 5 ducats each…” [Lex said.]
“Candlesticks are so, I don’t know…” Faira gritted her teeth. “…Why do we always get the candlesticks? We go in and the first thing you grab are the candlesticks!”
“I don’t know. Never thought about that. Maybe because no one ordinary has any candlesticks worth stealing, anyway?”
“Precisely. Look at these.” Faira showed him the steel forks she had grabbed. “These fetch 4 ducats each, not much less than your candlesticks. That’s because you can sell these to the common man. But silver candlesticks?”
“Oh, I see. Nobody but the rich wants silver candlesticks?”
Faira slumped back and chuckled. “And they won’t buy them from crummy fences, and they wouldn’t need anyway because they have an inexhaustible supply of them hidden away in some wardrobe somewhere. They see the candlesticks are gone, shrug, and get a new set from the hidden cache.” She laughed. “Can’t you see they’re playing on our predictability!”
…hey, this doesn’t look half bad, it just needs severe, severe improvement in the plot side.
One of the big problems I had with the early stories was that the stories were handled too much in “Deus Ex Machina” fashion; this story was probably what taught me that. The characters had big wins and didn’t really break sweat: They just went in the rich guy’s house, robbed him blind, and lo, they had money to feed the poor — after dramatically running away from the legitimate owner, who had no chance of catching them anyway, so that doesn’t really count. The characters had great losses, but didn’t really break sweat: A shady characters appears out of nowhere, and collects away the amount of money he’s due for some previously unexplained reason, and now the characters are penniless again, which is basically what the story dictated.
To sum up this story in its current form: “So you can’t really keep the show going in the theater, eh? Well, we’ll just go rob some rich guy or something to get money and pay for everyone’s tickets. Or something.” It got boring. I’m in a dead end. I hope the story emerges out of this dead end one day, with a little bit more Logic and Genuinely Thrilling Sides in it.
Next, I think, came the big one: “Shadows over Nothross”.
Then, as he was already passing out, [Facyr] found himself lying on top of [Faira], with his head on her bosom.
By the seven elders of the Blades, Facyr thought, my head’s actually touching her—-
Then it was time for him to panic. But he contained it well under the circumstances.
“Shadows over Nothross” was a story that grew and grew and grew and grew. Ye gods, did it ever grow. It started from a relatively easy story: The three adventurers and two elven lords go and whack orcs in the castle that rightfully belongs to these elven lords. And then I got the bright idea to write a story about how they were contracted to do the job — hey, if there was one thing to remember from “Pirates in the Morning Mist”, it’s that the protagonists bought a house, and now it’s time to establish them as a full-fledged mercenary and adventuring company. Right? And then the journey: A bit of time for Facyr to develop some character. And there’s an end of sorts…
All in all, in retrospect, I don’t think it’s a horrible story, considering how big it became, but it could have used some additional editing, additional meat, and some additional internal consistency. Now, the story was written from behind to beginning and back again, and as such, some of the retrospective patching is a bit unsatisfactory; as if the story had scars where the bits were joined. Some of the characters don’t give the right impression, for example: the elven lord is a down-to-planet-surface guy, but I sort of explained it away as a necessary evil instead of turning him into a refined gentleman. While it’s an acceptable thing to do, it didn’t improve my skills… But the most annoying thing is the end, where the whole pointless journey comes to yet another Deus-ex-machina ending. “The guys talk, and then the bad guy inexplicably dies as the confusion builds up. The end.”
Shortly afterward, I completed the first short story that I originally wrote in Finnish, “Bidding for a Good Day” (original title is “Huutoja kaupan takia”, which literally translates as “Screams due to a trade”, which is a pun on “huutokauppa”, which means “auction” and literally translates roughly as “trade-by-shouting”). The story was fun to write again, but I think I went a little bit too descriptive with the story, and yet again a bit too told-not-shown. Some of the reactions of the characters are a little bit, uh, blasé.
“This is not even a real painting.” Vryn looked at the painting carefully, thinking it might have some sort of artistic idea, but even after careful examination, he couldn’t think of anything. He had to stick to the facts. “This has been painted with house paints.”
“Yes! See how this has flaked when it dried on the canvas.” Vryn wondered. “And no one uses this distasteful shade of green in artwork.”
“Well, that’s true”, Faira laughed. “Not really on the walls, either!”
Nowadays, when I read that, I always think “God damn it, HOUSE PAINTS?” While Faira is puzzled, she’s clearly nowhere near puzzled enough! She’s a woman who’s not afraid to comment on curious things in her own way; she’s way, way above Solidsnakean “House paints?”…
Some reactions of the characters are just inexplicable; even afterwards, I’m a bit worried that I made Lex explode like he did in this story…
Lex grabbed Stefan from his collar and dragged him to the wall with one swift move. “In the name of the itches of the warts of the demons in the deepest reaches of Nine Hells, don’t you go annoying me…” Lex screeched, with a fearsome grunt, right on the face of the very worried art dealer. “Thanks to this painting thing, I didn’t have any money left for coffee. I won’t go home before Faira goes, and the longer you stall this, the longer it takes before I get home and get coffee. And the longer I stay without coffee the more annoyed I am. GET IT?”
…as he, in general doesn’t seem like a person who goes dangerously cranky on a moment’s notice over something as ridiculous as lack of coffee. Even if he would be just BSing about the whole thing, he doesn’t come across as intimidating: “I’m mighty peeved because I didn’t get my coffee, and now YOU die?” Arrrrgh.
Another problem with this story is that I, once again, had no idea where I was going. However, this time I came into a sort of a tolerable end; while it was still a letdown, it was at least somewhat… stretching the term here… logical.
Then came “Carnival Wolves”. It was one of those weird ideas: I just thought of the expression “carnival wolves”. I didn’t write it down at first, but the idea stayed in my head. I felt it had to be written down. “Carnival wolves”. So I wrote it down, and began working on a story about new characters, far away from the hustle and bustle of Anchorfall, looking for mysteriously behaving animals… and the mysterious magical valley turns out to be quite interesting. I primarily wrote the story just due to an inner fire of some sort; I just felt I had to record this idea somehow. I wrote about carnival wolves. I wrote of…
“Good morning”, Thelivna said to the wolf.
“Good morning! Welcome to our carnival, elves”, the wolf said.
“Who are you?” Thelivna asked.
The wolf tilted his head and did not seem to understand. “Why! We are wolves.”
Thelivna thought for a while. “Who are you?”
“I am a wolf. Other wolves know me.”
Thelivna pondered. Apparently, no elf had given the pack leader a name. These wolves clearly did not wander close to their lands.
“What is going on in here?” Frevelthan asked in turn.
“We are celebrating”, the wolf said.
“Why?” Frevelthan asked.
“We do not know why. But we celebrate.” The wolf wagged its tail and tilted its head another way. “We are having fun.”
…I wrote of surprised and cutely confused wolves, who know they are wolves and that other wolves know them, and that they are not really thinking of all these difficult questions and they are just having fun. It mattered to me, it was cute, it was fun. Well, in retrospect, the parts that did not deal with wolfy celebration were not that well written — the beginning is just too long, in retrospect. But I suppose it is justifiable if there will be other stories set in the region…
There was also a Flash-Fiction-a-Day. The First Flash-a-Day was just a series of 7 stories as a writing exercise. I basically wanted to write something with one of those fun arbitrary constraints, though nothing as crazy as the dialogue constraint earlier; Just one page of text per story. Some of the ideas were uninspired: Faira works hard to open a box with a fork (not even an original storyline, considering some cartoon character delivered, in a life-threatening manner, a stapler); an orc gets fried by a lightning bolt, Jenyr thinks of an answer to the question and can’t figure it out… and a stupid poem. Some stories were more interesting: The first introductions of Tailoids in Avarthrel, a hopelessly ridiculously over-dramatic telling of a Tailoid causing cute confusion (I’ve discovered I find the concept of cute things causing cute confusion and ruining the bad guy’s plans a very cute idea indeed =), and most importantly, meeting between Cassandra and Facyr.
“Friends in the Rain” was a story that I wrote to introduce Cassandra Arthailia de Tai — or, rather, expand the story that came out of the Flash-a-Day 1. I really liked writing the story, because it helped me to figure out the answer to an age-old question: “We have two characters engaging in a dialogue; am I making this too info-dumpy? How to make it interesting?” I hope this story is a step in the right direction. I also primarily wrote it to pour in some of the amazing feelings and hopes and dreams I had last summer.
So, how about the stories still in development? Gee, I don’t even have a comprehensive list of them. But in no particular order, going by working titles…
- “The Wolf Horn”: Faira and Lex go stealing stuff, and there’s a reasonable chance that they will get caught! Not everything goes according to the plan! Wow!
- “Old Love”: Wrapping up loose ends from the history, part n+8. Some facts are more interesting if I knew how they originally came to the existence.
- “The Stiff Tailoid”: An attempt to take more Flash-a-Day 1 stuff and turn it into a credible story. I really need to work on my “turn this rubbish small idea into a real plausible story” kind of ideas.
- “Tower of Ehlarhii”: I started writing an uninteresting tale about yet another expedition to a ruin. I hope I can turn this interesting one way or another.
- “Requiem for the Smashed Legs”: Really, now. Inject actual story. When I get around to it.
Regrettably, I’m out of time to ponder today; Hopefully, the next pondering session will be more interesting…