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.
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. 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 man—or clan—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.