I like writing those words, ‘Dear Reader’. It brings home with a smack the reality of what you’re actually doing as a writer. Gives form to the omnipresent audience that you are, in fact, writing for. I can actually visualize a person sitting and reading in some way, the words that I have scribed. You, yes you, are the one that I am targeting.
Unlike, and this a supposition, visual artists like say, a painter, who, although presupposing an audience, definitely works within their process on their own. The spoken word, or written, is directed at somebody specific. At least, this is my belief.
So, the inter-personal relationship between writer and reader is closer than any other of the arts that is not ‘live’. (i.e. singers or actors). It is because of this dynamic that I am closing out this writing exercise with an explanation as to why the story has suddenly ground to a halt.
Well, it hasn’t. The story will keep going, but not in this way. Just so we’re clear, this writing exercise that I took on twenty-nine days ago, was to write a fifty thousand-word novel in thirty days. Without giving it too much thought, I decided upon penning some sort of humorous fantasy novel. I didn’t really have a plot in mind, something generic I guess, but I did know that within the humorous aspect of the writing it would be primarily satirical. That was the goal, at least.
Soon after beginning the first few days of the exercise, I realized how epic the job would be. Not only because of the epic nature of the fantasy genre itself, but also the challenge of somehow hiding within the words, satirical comment that could, with a bit of deduction, be applied to our everyday lives and the tumultuous times in which we live.
Within a week I had already created such a panoply of characters that to bring them into some sort of order and conclusion within the mandated fifty thousand words, would be impossible. I considered the possibility of applying the tried and true ‘they all got hit by a truck’ method in which the story just comes to an instant and unsatisfactory conclusion, but came to discount that potential.
Whether or not I continue with this tale is up for debate, and I am jumping to a huge conclusion here, but if anyone has indeed been following along with the path of this novel, then you deserve some reconciliation. Thusly, I am going to attempt to write a sort of synopsis of where the trail is headed and what might become of some of the characters.
In the beginning, I introduced the character of Sethbard who would later become known as Sethbard the Unready. As you can see from the blurb that accompanies this work, the tale was meant to involve his quest for a solution to the Dark Shadow, that had overcome the world. Well, a couple of things about that.
One, this Dark Shadow thing. As you probably know if you have read any amount of fantasy, there are a few common elements, one being an ominous threat that must be overcome or defeated. Lord of the Rings for instance and the quest to destroy the ring in the fires from which it was created before tangible evil overtakes the world. Many a fantasy tale or role-playing electronic game has started out with a premise such as this. In my case the Dark Shadow was pretty nebulous a problem. It was based vaguely on what I perceive as the general malaise that we seem to be embroiled in these days. The effect of the disheartening events of the world for the last few years, the inability of the world to grasp and deal with basic problems that should no longer trouble us; famine, poverty etc., and instead bring to importance pathetic religious squabbles and political malfeasance. Not to mention, in the West anyway, recent sexual scandals and the overall treatment of the environment and indigenous peoples… well, the list goes on and on.
In the case of our story, my intent was to deal with some of these things in the confines of a satirical fantasy. Good idea, but tough to suss out in a relatively short amount of words. I realized this to be the case early on and decided that it was more important to just belly-up and do the exercise. So, I began a daily task of finding something for my characters to do as they emerged.
Normally my writing process involves taking a previously thought-out story and bringing flesh to the bones as it were. I have always had a strong sense of story and preconceiving a beginning, middle and end has been the least of my worries. So, writing a book like this under these terms was going against the grain to a certain extent. But that’s what the exercise was for, as I took it. When I commit to a story I generally see it through, so continuity of effort wasn’t an issue. The pure exercise of writing fifteen hundred words or so a day, every day for a month was more akin to a force of will, like running a marathon for instance. When I look back now I realize that out of the thirty days, I didn’t write on about six of them. Were I to do the exercise again, I probably would be more diligent about it because the resulting larger amount of daily required words can be daunting. I offer, by way of an excuse, the fact that I had double arthroscopic knee surgery a few days prior to beginning the exercise. However, once engaged, I found the exercise to be very compelling and somewhat distracting, pain-wise.
Okay, enough about the processes. On with the story itself. Here are some thoughts about the characters and where they are headed and the overall arch of the story.
My first thought upon commencing the tale was that I should have some intermediary acting independently of the human element that could be coerced into helping the ‘party’ in their quest to end the blight. Dragons having been done to death, so to speak, I decided upon giants. I realize that giants show up now and then in various formats, Game of Thrones for instance. But I was more interested in the type of giant that appears in tales like Jack and the Beanstalk. Ridiculously huge, impossible beings that, although resembling humans, were of a totally different race. Mythical, like dragons but with relatively human attributes. Thus, the title of the story, Wundrus. I enjoyed writing about him and the other giants even though, so far, they haven’t had a meaningful impact on the story. But they will.
The heroes, of course, are possibly the most important elements in a story such as this. I have always enjoyed the concept of young, inexperienced people being forced to maturity quickly by force of circumstance. But as this was to be a humorous tale, they had to fit into a pattern of either innocent naivete or intuitive self-deprecation.
Magic was necessary for many reasons. To satisfy the popularity of the arcane in books such as this but also as a means of bringing in what I like to call a ‘wonky’ dimension. Magic gone wrong is not a particularly new concept, for instance the Magician's Apprentice, but I wanted to integrate it with the sensibility of the modern satire. This proved more difficult than I had thought.
Of course, in a tale like this, eventually it must come down to a group of hardy adventurers on a quest and eventually to the journey of discovery of one specific hero. At first, I thought that this person was going to be Sethbard, but now I am thinking that it will be Wundrus that undergoes the transformation. At the moment he is positioned as the main giant and although terrifying in his size and strength still has a love for more benign things such as the animal kingdom. Still, he is that way already and until he gets to the main part of the story, doesn’t have much room to grow. Perhaps.
So, at the moment, I have seven main heroes that, so far, haven’t even met. Such is the nature of an epic like tale like this. At this point in the word count, they are all on route to the country of Rill to take part in or associate themselves with the Grand Council, a group of enlightened folks dedicated to righting the bad taste in the mouth of the world.
We have Sethbard the Unready who has discovered that on top of his youthful enthusiasm, he has some sort of ability to channel certain magical forces. Although still a teenager, together with his friend Gormat, a magician-in-training, he is becoming a determined if yet unfocused character with great potential. Whether or not Gormat remains in his company is undecided.
Everso Lovely, the musician slash poet that has run afoul of the local royalty is what might be termed an irreverent representative of the arts in this tale. She is clever, outgoing and talented. She is also now a kind of historian as she has been hired to keep a journal of the upcoming quest. (I have a thought that this might become the way the story is laid out, as an historical recollection). She also has as company Roofus the crow. An intelligent animal that can be used as a sort of Deus ex machina is probably not a bad device to have along as the story progresses. The fact that he can speak is helpful even if it is in German. Not sure this can endure throughout the book. As you, dear reader, have already seen, I have excused the translation of his speech in a rather absurd fashion. Absurdity though is sort of what I am looking for in this book.
(Side note about the humor: Right now, I am satisfied with the overall tone of the book, humor-wise. But as a professional comedy writer, I realize that it is somewhat scant in this way. Later, when I have more time to pay attention to this sort of thing, I will up the amount and quality of this. In the industry we refer to this as ‘punching up’ the script.)
Aurelius, our main purveyor of magic, is an old wizardy type of guy and right now I’m finding him too Gandalf-like. I have attempted to make him more obstreperous than Gandalf, although that wizard could get pretty cranky too. I am hoping that by pairing him up with an equally smart-assed, younger, female magician, that they will service as two aspects of essentially the same character. The apprentice, Tim, may become unnecessary, although I am starting to like his presence more and more.
Emile Vestabarian, the thief or rogue of our story, is probably my favourite character to write so far. As a neophyte thief, it is easy to construct situations for him that are fertile grounds for humor and exciting activity. He is not incapable of chicanery although he obviously isn’t a bad sort. The fact that he has found it difficult to grow up with his small size lends him a fairly sympathetic air.
Croakow Blinth, the sort of dwarf warrior type, didn’t really start out as a hero, but as time goes by I am starting to think that the story will require somebody good with a sword and as he is Rundergrippian and speaks a sort of bastardized Celtic language that I am having a good time coming up with, I suspect he may fill that role on the eventual quest.
So there you have the main ingredients of the eventual questing party. So far, as I say, they have yet to meet each other so there is a lot to happen before that comes to pass. Also, there are many other sub-characters and villains that have to be dealt with. The prospect if daunting and there was no way that I could find a way of summing this up in what is proving to be a scant fifty thousand words.
As the threat against the land was relatively amorphous, I had to find a way to get a physical evil element involved. Much like the Orcs of the Tolkien tales. Looking around my own world, I realized that corporate greed is accountable for a lot of the problems that we face, so I decided on a shadowy group of wealthy businessmen that I have called The Hand of Night. These men and women, having made a lot of money on the backs of the troubles in the land and not wanting to see an end to it, have banded together to make sure that nothing is done to change the status quo. Sound familiar?
They are led by the always frustrated character that I have named The Fist. I am thinking that I will continue to have him be stereo-typically evil, but because he thinks and speaks with a more modern flair, he can act as a conduit between their world and ours back here in reality. Treating his followers as a tyrannical CEO would treat the under echelons of his staff and workers. Again, a reasonable way of introducing modern tropes and sensitivities.
Okay, that’s a lot of stuff to take in and debate and may not be of any interest at all if you’re just reading along and presumably enjoying the ride thus far. But, as I say, except for having the situation resolved with no logic or story whatsoever, that’s the way it goes with a writing exercise. Therefore, take heart and read on and I will try to briefly show you where this is going.
Spoiler Alert!! What I write next may bring you full-tilt to a series of conclusions that might be better left to the future when you go downtown and shell out twenty-five bucks for the first edition, hard-cover version. So be forewarned.
Okay, here’s what the problem really is that has become known as the Dark Shadow. The world that this whole story takes place in, is sick. Sick at its heart. You could find parallel in our own world perhaps with the physical damage to the planet, pollution and such, although in our story it isn’t being caused by the greater population, it is being caused by an evil or misguided few.
The world is divided into several parts. The main land area is divided by The Spine of The World. Towards the northern end of this spine is a cave known as The Mouth of The World and deep within the mountains at the end of a series of tunnels and passages, there lies The Heart of the World. It is this heart that is sick, and that sickness is spreading throughout the surface lands and causing much grief and hardship. The quest then, for our group of adventurers is to travel to that Heart and somehow fix it.
There are several difficulties presented by this, not the least of which is that the valley that contains The Mouth of the world is completely inaccessible to the outside world, and the cave itself is guarded by the most taciturn and uncommunicative of the Giants, Stoopinduss.
The Grand Council, that has been convened by the leadership of the country of Rill, has put out word to the other countries that it intends to investigate the nature of the world problem, discover what to do about it and see that it gets done. To this end, each country is sending a delegation of its most talented folks to help with this procedure.
Eventually, what will happen is that, having arrived at the citadel assigned to this task, the story will evolve, and our heroes will find themselves thrust together into one of many groups that have been assigned to tackle the issues. Our particular heroes, and specifically Sethbard, will be charged with finding a way to gain access to the Long Valley, as it might contain some answers, although at this point this is just conjecture. The task has been handed to Sethbard and our other heroes as they are perceived as being the least experienced and important of all the questers and so are the most expendable. The Council doesn’t really have any expectation that the investigations into the Long Valley will get anywhere, let alone solve the issue. It’s more to get rid of the nagging possibility of it and to cover all the bases.
However, Sethbard learns of the existence of an ancient book of maps and history and sets out to get a hold of it. This he does, after a series of dangerous sub-adventures and returns to Rill to get it translated properly. It turns out that the map book does show a way into the area of the Long Valley, but it can only be accessed from the sea. It also mentions the Heart of the World and as this seems to be an appropriate place to begin they start their journey with this as their objective. This leads him and the others to the island of Bloomdim. You will recall that Bloomdim was actually a town that Aurelius accidentally transported to the middle of the ocean and which subsequently became the base of the most notorious sea-farers the world had ever known.
After somehow convincing the Bloomdim leadership to undertake the journey to the most dangerous part of the ocean (from which nobody has ever returned, of course) the party sets sail and eventually, after more harrowing adventures, find themselves at last in the most northern tip of the Long Valley.
They journey along the valley, arriving at the Mouth only to be confronted by Stoopinduss whom they have no way of overpowering or evading, so they are forced to continue on to see if there is another point of access to the Heart. Along the way they meet the other Giants whom they discover are much more amenable to engagement.
Merviloos provides them with their first insight into the relative benign quality of the strange beings. They get their first lessons in that world and although he can’t help them directly, he does inform them of the presence of the rest of the Giants and gives them hope that perhaps one of them can be of assistance.
Meanwhile, having obtained information about the existence of the book of maps and the quest of our heroes, the Hand of Night, and its leader The Fist, has dispatched a despicable underling known as The Henchman to follow them and stop them from completing their quest. The Henchman and his band follow the trail left by our heroes and eventually come to the hut of Merviloos. Using powers of darkness given to them by The Fist, they overcome the simple giant and force him to give information. They find about the Heart of the World and divide their party in to two. One group to attempt to intercept and destroy our heroes, the other to travel to the Mouth of the world and either get to the Heart and finish it off or, barring that, set a trap for the heroes in the eventuality that they somehow evade the interceptors.
So, the heroes arrive at the home of the Giant sisters, Formeedabluh and Enncroyabluh. There they receive a warm welcome and hear, via their song skills, all about the world of the Giants and how they might be able to overcome the barrier that Stoopinduss seems to impose on their plans. It is determined that only the Giant, Wundrus, possesses the possibility of helping them past Stoopinduss. Of course, the main goal now of the heroes is convince Wundrus of the worthiness of their quest and gain his confidence sufficiently to convince him to help them. This, of course, they do, but not before being attacked by the Hand’s group of assassins.
They eventually defeat this group but not before Sethbard, their steadfast leader is wounded irretrievably by a certain magical weapon.
Having observed the bravery and unwavering optimism of the group of heroes, Wundrus agrees to help them. At least in as much as helping to heal the wounded Sethbard. Together they travel to the remote southern end of the Valley where the cure for the magical poison resides and over a course of several difficult encounters succeed in healing our dying hero.
Upon returning to the area where Wundrus abides they are made aware of the fact that the other party of the Hand is even now advancing on the Mouth of the World and will soon be attempting to gain access to the Heart. They are told all of this by the ever-adventurous Roofus who is communicating with other birds including the two Giant Eagles that have managed to somehow fly over the mountain range and are working in tandem with the party even though the party itself is unaware of it. Wundrus hears about how the assassins have brought about the death of Merviloos and now agrees to help the party, initially at least, by convincing Stoopinduss to let them pass.
The party, now grown much larger in mass by the accompaniment of Wundrus, makes its way back to the sisters who are in mourning for the death of Merviloos. (Remember there were only five of them left and now there are but four.) The party brings up that very subject and tells the sisters the story of the blight of the outside world and suggest that perhaps it is that very blight that is causing the inability of the Giants to reproduce.
The sisters respond and although they will have no part in actual physical confrontation with Stoopinduss, they contribute to the quest by creating a song that they feel will have an effect on the cave-guarding Giant. They teach it to Everso Lovely so that she might mesmerize the giant guardian with it.
The party bids them farewell and makes for the north, taking time along the way to deal with the mortal remains of Merviloos. (Not quite sure how that’s going to work.) Arriving at the Mouth cave, Wundrus attempts to convince Stoopinduss to let them pass, to no avail. Wundrus attempts to force the scenario but is beaten back by Stoopinduss who is being helped, unwittingly, by The Henchman.
Having forced the giant, Wundrus, to withdraw, the Henchman and his band use the distraction of the conflict to sneak past the guardian giant and begin the descent into the subterranean world containing the Heart, which it is their intention to destroy.
Stoopinduss, glowering, angry and more determined than ever that ‘none shall pass’ takes up a position directly in front of the party. However, Everso Lovely sings the song the sisters gave her, and he is subdued by it. While he sleeps, Wundrus binds him with ropes and the party is allowed to continue. Wundrus waits behind to ensure that when they return they can escape the cave and continue.
Later, after a dangerous climb down, the party engages with the Hand and after a great conflict emerge with the upper hand, but not before having lost one or two of our beloved heroes. (This will come as quite a great shock to the reader and will undoubtedly be as painful to read as it will be to write about it. I wrote a novel once and at one point had to kill off one of my favourite characters. I was really bothered by it for several days and I’m not one to be phased by that sort of thing generally. So I don’t envy you, gentle reader, the time when you arrive at this part.)
After grieving for their lost friend and or friends, the party journeys on and comes to their ultimate destination, the Heart of the World. The Heart, as it turns out, is not the anatomical body part metaphor that they had thought it was from the interpretation provided for them back in Rill, but is, in fact, a Hart. A great golden stag that inhabits this nether world. It is huge, almost as giant-like in its stature as Wundrus but has been brought to the edge of death by the waters that it drinks from the streams that flow through the mountains from the outside world. Water that contains, in its essence, the sins of that world and have poisoned the soul of the planet. Gaia is sick, in other words.
The others are not sure at this point what they can do to bring the creature back to health. It starts to look as though their mission will fail and all their sacrifices come to naught. But then Wundrus appears, having decided to follow them down thinking that if they failed against The Hand, he might be able to fix things himself.
Wundrus speaks to the Hart for a while and then takes the deer into his arms and carries him up to the surface. It turns out that the Hart had been driven to the dark depths long ago and, rather than being guarded by Stoopinduss as was thought, was being imprisoned by him.
Wundrus brings the Hart up into the sunlight and carries him to the forest of the Sisters where, as they have been informed by Roofus of the approach of the sick creature, they have prepared a bier for it and he is laid there where he immediately starts to recover. The effect of the rescue of the Hart is immediate and the whole world takes on a rosier aspect.
The party bids farewell to the Giants and returns to the outer world to find that things have changed there. All is different as people no longer exist under the cloud that once was. The Hand still exists but much of its power has been diminished. Now they're just a bunch of irritable misers.The Fist has been thrown from office and there is a palpable feeling of optimism among the people.
Expecting to be greeted as returning heroes, the party is surprised to find that nobody will believe the tale of how they saved the world. The party breaks up but not before Sethbard swears to return to the Land of the Giants and one day return with Wundrus.
But that’s Book 2. Thanks.
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