Story from the Start: 1 – Getting an Idea.

One of the requests was for a “class” on writing a story from the idea phase to publishing. I’m going to try, with two sides, so to speak. One a story in a known world, one a brand new world. I have no idea how long this will take.

1. Known World. I needed some stories for a Familiars* story set, to be called G——- Familiar. I already had three based on previous characters, maybe four, so I needed someone and something new. Hmm, what to do, what to do? Ah, a reader asked if I ever did Familiars that are domestic cats or dogs. Sure, why not. So I decided on a dog, because cat Familiars are just strange.

So, I have a mage with a Familiar. Where will it be set? Hungary, so I started looking at Hungarian dogs. I needed something large, but not so energetic that it would be a problem. How about a Kuvazs? After I did some research, I decided that would fit my needs. Oh, and I decided that the character would not be another shadow mage, but an ordinary person who does ordinary things. Except he’s blind, and his Familiar is also his seeing-eye dog. What would a blind person do for a living in Hungary? Piano tuner, so I can play with music-magic (pun intended.)

Next, I had to sort out names. I wanted a common Hungarian male name for the mage, so I went with Imre. The Familiar needed something else, and it took a while of trying out names to settle on Csilla. It needed to be Hungarian, and not a borrowing, but not inappropriate. Csilla is a female Kuvazs, white coat, sheds, very protective.

Here’s the start of the story:

“Car,” Csilla warned.

Imre waited until the sound of tires faded, then stepped off the curb. Csilla stayed at his right hand, nudging him a little as they got to the opposite side. Imre’s cane touched the lip of the sidewalk, and he lifted his feet, stepping carefully. “I do not care for the new, super-quiet vehicles,” he informed his Familiar.

“My ears like them. The rest of me does not. And that one smelled smug.” Csilla sniffed. She had strong opinions about many things, as befitted a Hungarian Kuvasz Familiar. “The door is closed and locked.”

“Good.” Imre removed his ring of keys from his jacket pocket and counted to three keys from the knob. The rough texture confirmed his count, and he ran his other hand over the door frame, feeling for delivery notices. Nothing. He unlocked the door and allowed Csilla to go in first, then followed.

End Excerpt

So we have characters, an urban setting, and hints in the descriptions that the point-of-view character doesn’t see. What about an antagonist? Nothing yet. That needs a little more time and writing to find out. (Recall that I am a seat-of-the-pants writer, so my story-brain needs space to work.)

2. New World** Three years ago, I began doing some research on the spread of Indo-European peoples and their language, for an academic paper.ย  I read around here and there, including a few “only vaguely related” monographs. This led down a couple of rabbit-holes, and into the valley of the Sarasvati River. Which no longer exists. Neither does the Indus Valley culture that flourished in the Sarasvati and Indus watersheds (and probably elsewhere, but that’s for a different time). Hmm. What happened to the river and the people? And why?

One of the themes in fiction, and writing about the Indo-Europeans, is that the horse nomads were aggressive, patriarchal tribes who oppressed and finally eradicated the peaceful urban matriarchies of Old Europe and the Indus Valley (maybe). But what if they had a very good reason to eliminate the Indus Valley culture? What if there was a magical reason the river went away, and the two were connected?

Enter another book, this one entitled The Civilized Demons. It theorizes that the demons described in the Rg Veda and other vedas were actually the Indus Valley (Harappan) peoples. Ah ha! And why were they destroyed? Violations of the laws of hospitality, perhaps? Ooh, here are some possibilities. I started a draft, considered it, and scrapped all 8 thousand words. Too complicated, too derivative, and the story wanted to start in the middle of events. *Sigh*

So, off to the library for more research on the Indo-European (or Indo-Aryan*** if you are using sources from India and Pakistan), then on to the page.

Next came names. There is no way I am going to use the actual names of Hindu deities for characters. First, this is going to wander away from the Vedic material, I know from experience, and second I do not care to have Hindu nationalists or other religious people attacking this blog (and me) for insulting a religion. So I played with sounds and language rules, and developed some possibilities, then assigned them to the three main characters of the People (the nomads.) I also have some names for the Hard Ones (city residents and supporters), but those will come into use later.

So, I’ve got a basic idea, names, and a story that insists it is going to begin in the middle. Time to call up a new blank document and start work.

Please bear in mind, what you read is a very rough draft.

Here’s the opening of the book, which begins in the last third of the story:

“That’s it,” Endria breathed, pointing to the elaborate wall with his spear. The grey and black, storm-colored wall filled the valley, hiding the waters behind it. The wall loomed, taller than many hills, far taller than a man, too smooth to be true stone. “Behind it is the river’s beginning.”

Foy squinted, odd-colored eyes disappearing behind pale skin. The magic-seer extended one white hand. “Same as the city walls. Same strength, same weakness,” he whispered. “Weaker.” Wonder filled his voice. “Only one god watches this place, and the Hard Ones have not tended him or fed him in generations.” His eyes opened and he rolled onto his right side so he could see his half-brother. “I need to see the river’s home, but I do not think the god of the wall can hold many more moons.”

Vashlo, Endria’s camp-brother, narrowed his eyes and looked to the side, as if trying to recall something. He stroked his red beard with one hand. “You say that the river will take a new way if the wall were not here?”

“Aye.” Endria the hunter nodded to the valley below their hillside. “The land slopes down from there, to the south, then west. As if the gods made that,” he nodded again to the lush, grass-covered valley and the rocky slope beyond, “to be the river’s proper home, and the Hard Ones used magic to force it into their lands.”

Foy started to speak, closed his mouth, and pointed to the sky with one finger. An eater-of-the-dead soared above them, black wings and naked pink head dark against the brilliant blue sky and rising hills of cloud. The three men lay still, hunting still, trusting their brown and green leather and wool clothes and the tall grasses and brush to hide them. The eater-of-the-dead circled, as if curious, then continued on to the east, toward the land of the cities. Was that a sign? Endira looked to Vashlo. Vashlo jerked his head down, a quick confirmation. The gods wanted the wall gone. The Hard Ones had violated the Laws once too often. No manโ€”or clanโ€”who was wise denied the desires of the gods, no matter how strange they might seem. In this case, Endira agreed with the gods of the land and the People.

Once the bird had circled higher and flown east, the three men eased backwards, under the bushes and grasses, until they had descended the edge of the hill and no longer saw the dark wall. “Dravanae will know more,” Foy said as they walked down the slope to where their horses waited. “What magic made, god-power and magic can break. The river . . .” He let his words fade away as they clung to the edge of some trees, watching the horses and looking for trouble at the edge of the meadow. “The river is not pleased with the wall, is less pleased by the day. And something stirs in the mountains, but I dare not look to it.”

The camp-brothers both reached for their knives and touched the metal studs on the hilts. Iron to break evil, and to ward away the interest of things that favored evil. The wind up the slope brought no smells of man, only horse sweat, the spicy sweetness of incense grass, and sour water. Endira listened. Horse sounds, birds of the hills, and the wind rushing through the branches of the trees above him reached his ears, but no calls of men. “We are un-observed,” he told the others.

‘You are surprised?” Vashlo smiled as he asked.

“Pleased, not surprised. The Hard Ones have grown foolish.”

As they mounted their sturdy, long-haired horses, the three clan-sibs shared tooth-bare, cold smiles. The gods forgave much, but not foolishness or ignoring the Laws.

Please note: I am only going to post applicable excerpts of this book, because otherwise I will have to go through at a later date and strip everything out of the blog so I do not trip Amazon’s alerts. Please do not lecture me about “Just go wide and you won’t have that problem.”

*I am assuming that you have some, ahem, familiarity with this urban fantasy series.

**I always have to have some historical or other real-world concept to start from. This might not be true for you, but I’m showing how I work. There may be some overlap if you get hit with ideas ex nihilo.

***Aryan does not have the negative connotations for Indian and Pakistani scholars that it does for the rest of us. Since I’m not from the Subcontinent, I will use Indo-European unless I am quoting a source.

“Fifth River” and “Magic in Darkness” (C) 2020 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved.


31 thoughts on “Story from the Start: 1 – Getting an Idea.

  1. I think there’s enough overlap. I rarely know where the stories that come knocking come from *exactly* (looking at you, cannibals), but once I get enough hints it’s time to research. Mongols were a good source for once of my only slightly alien peoples.

    And it led me to discover Mongol Metal music, which was a bit of a trip. Goes well with Sabaton if that’s your earworm. *grin*

    1. Eh, you can make things jump about. My “Fever and Snow” combines medieval European and Japanese stuff.

  2. You probably already know this, but… I once visited a friend (surburban, not a farmer) who had a Kuvasz. It kept trying, very politely, to herd me.

    1. I’ve heard of a time where a border collie was foolish left alone with the kids in the kindergarten. Adults returned to the crying children all herded into the corner.

  3. More Familiars! More I say!! ๐Ÿ˜†

    Now that I got that out of my systems, I think the world of The Civilized Demons sounds very interesting. ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Oh, I got the strangest idea that the gods mentioned in your snippet are related to Kipling’s “gods of the copybook headings”. ๐Ÿ˜ˆ

      1. Nomads tend to live a bit too close to the bone for there to be much room for wishful foolishness.
        So there’s room for overlap.
        But a powerful sky god is a major hallmark of Indo-European religions. Birds keeping the gods informed of what’s going on in the wider world is likewise a significant theme (but may be more general than just Indo-European).
        It’s too early to say for sure, but it looks more like she’s playing it straight than using an extended metaphor.

    2. Are there lippy robot spiders? And if not, why not? ~:D

      Kidding aside, this sounds interesting. I wish I could follow as much guideline as you have here. Being able to decide if the familiar is a dog or a cat, I’m jealous. Animals and people show up un-looked-for in the middle of trying to figure out what the Bad Guy of the moment is doing.

      Your way is much better.

  4. I’m fascinated by the way you describe your process. First, because it showed me right away that in my head places come first, along with some action that could happen in that place. Then I think of people. You did it once each way. Also, this is an interesting lesson on continuing a series. Hmmm. Do new stories always start with a place and continue with people? (Actually I’m pretty sure the answer is no because in Merchant and Magic books part of what sets off a story seems to be different occupations….)

    1. It depends on the story. The Familiars started with a little of both. The very first story began with Dolores and Morgana (people). Likewise the second. The third short-story was inspired by a place (the breakfast buffet at a Kurhotel in Bad Pyrmont). The novels are people-driven. The Cat novels are people first, then places.

      The Merchant books were about 50/50. I wanted to write about a person who lacked magic in a world with it, and at the same time was starting to sketch out a trip to Northern Europe that centered on the Hansa with a few Roman bits. So Tycho and his world grew together. The most recent book was people and occupation first, then setting.

  5. Ideas tend to be everywhere if you’re looking for them. Picked up one this morning from the sermon at church: the pastor mentioned the aphorism, “Anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die,” and I thought of someone who was essentially the opposite of an empathic healer who could do some moderate harm to himself and kill someone else…

    Of the things I’ve written in the past two years, two ideas came from Sarah Hoyt’s blog posts, one came from a line in a song, one came from a line in a novel, one came from research for a different novel, one came from a trip I took, and one started life as a video game fan-fic that grew out of control.

    There’s only one where I don’t know where the idea came from. I can tell you where and when it arrived (a Thursday morning in mid-October 2017 as I was walking along Elizabeth Street in Ft. Collins, just east of the campus), but not from whence it came.

    1. Feral ideas are some of the most dangerous kind. You’re just standing there, minding your own business, when wham! Ambushed.

      1. And then the proceed to take over your life for a time. Somehow, when Jordan Peterson said “ideas have people” I don’t think this was exactly what he meant…

      2. AND they are perfectly capable of starting a story, wandering off so they aren’t in the final version, and coming back.

      3. I get most of mine from scenery and historical sites. I should stop hiking and ‘collecting’ those castle ruins. *grin*

        Sometimes it’s more a vague idea, like the one I caught on the battlefield of Kalkriese / Teutoburg Forest. In the end, Arminius stole that story and turned it into a big historical fiction novel (which is in the drawer right now, because it’s the story that really matters to me and I want to get it right, so I’ll do some more practising before rewriting that one). A semi-sequel started with me standing at the Rhine one evening and basically *hearing* the drums of the Germanic tribes on the other side, and a sentence, “Marcus, I fear for my son.”

        The Fantasy Monster, which started out as historical fiction until the history kept getting in the way of the story one time too many, and I pulled a Guy Gavriel Kay and decided to make it Fantasy, started with the memory of a place I’d visited and the fight of a Scottish knight and a Norse warrior north of Inverness. I set it in the 12th century at first. It grew nicely, but as I said, it took the reins and galloped out of the history books.

        The Fantasy background was triggered some time later when I visited Wales and heard the legends of the sunken realm of Cantrer Gwaelod in the bay of Ceredigion (I visted Criccieth Castle there). There’s more than one such legend, after all (Ker Ys, Vineta, Avalon, Kitesh, Buyan …). Some scenes came from the same background, like the one I caught during my visit to Mull where I more or less *saw* that war galley sailing in. The Fantasy Monster is a good sponge for a lot of such scenes that for other writers may trigger short stories or novelettes.

        Some come while writing, often based on a memory of a place, like the Order of the Sun Swords and their castle which is based on Malbork in Poland. Other ideas crawl out of the history books I read to research my blogposts.

        No idea where that rusalka came from, though. *grin*

        1. I don’t think I could write Kalkreise. The emotional resonance was too strong for me to put onto the page. That place . . . the land remembers. That’s all I’ll say.

          1. Visiting the site was deeply moving.

            I think I can write the battle of the Teutoburg Forest (and the story of Arminius, Varus and Germanicus), but to do it justice, I need to do some more writing first. I got some scenes – I’m an out of order pantser – that aren’t so bad, but I know they’re not the best I might be able to do with more experience. Though I’ll keep some bits that came out great.

            It’s also about more than one battle. I want to tell the entire story from Arminius’ return to Germania under Varus’ government to the moment Germanicus is called back to Rome and the Rhine declared to be the eastern border of the Roman empire, making the Germans victorious indeed, though at a high price.

  6. The weekly prompts that Cedar’s running are giving me all kinds of ideas. I didn’t know those things were lurking in my brain. Could explain a lot (said the staid academic…)

    1. How many “staid academics” write pot boilers or thrillers to vent (or make money), as opposed to, oh, quietly offing fellow academics?

      1. *froths at the mouth*

        Any academic that feels constrained to kill people quietly probably picked the wrong field, and should’ve gone with something with more high energy physics.

        *falls downs twitching violently*

  7. I finished reading “Familiar Roads” this week (KULL). Enjoyed it and said so. More, please, ma’am? Your excerpt is tantalizing. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. Lots of different processes, my mind is currently out of order enough that right now mine only produces notes devoid of any utility for creative writing.

    My process relies on a lot of thinking things over.

    Current most productive project was inspired a bit over a year ago when people were throwing around ideas. I tried various configurations, and then a series of mad intuitions stacked up, and I had something I couldn’t let go of.

    I have cool ideas I haven’t figured out how to make work in it. I’ve managed to convince myself to drop all too few other cool ideas. Plus a bunch of ‘how does that work’, ‘how could that even work’, and ‘that would be awesome if it happened like that, and has a crazy logic’.

    My process has given me a lot of neat stuff over the years. Still, I think I kinda hate it. It is not systemic and regular, so it offends my artistic sensibilities. I also don’t see a concrete process for going forward, and getting this project finished. Of course, I have not been well rested recently, and a lot of things in my life do not seem to have an obvious path to fruition now.

  9. It’s funny you bring up Hungarian dogs. The dog in my pictures is half Vizsla which a type of Hungarian dog.

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