Story in the Round – PART 1

Today we are beginning a new segments of posts, a very creative journey together, namely: A Story in the Round. Today I start the story, the first 500 words  of the introduction, and then leave off for the next Scribe to pick up. We’ll each add to the story until it comes to its natural conclusion. We’re not discussing where we each want to see where the story will go or what characters should arrive or do or whatever, it will be as much of a surprise to us as it will be to you, dear reader. So! Enjoy!

Southern summers were sticky, hot, and fierce. They held the kind of wet heat that you could never really prepare for. Short hair and short shorts didn’t do much to help, but I tried anyway. Now, walking through the field, the grass tickled my dewy skin, scratching and tickling all at once.

I hefted my backpack higher up on one shoulder, as I trudged up the hill, skirting around the fireflies that drifted just above the ground. The bonfire was tonight, and the drum circle. People would dance and sing and light the fire to breathe in the healing smoke. A new level of heat would be added to the night. The last time I’d danced around the bonfire my mother had been alive. The magic poured from her as she danced to the rhythm of the drums, her scarves swirling around her like a kaleidoscope come to life. Her bare feet skimmed the grass and for a moment, my ten-year-old self believed she was flying.

She died six months later – right before Winter Solstice. It was like some cruel cosmic joke.

I lost my magic with the death of my mother. How could magic be real if someone as beautiful and wonderful as my mother could die? Especially if I couldn’t bring her back, no matter how many spells I tried.

My father said she didn’t want to come back – that she would have found peace and moved on. And so should I. So, I walked away from magic, since it had obviously abandoned me.

Ten years later, I stood on top of that hill, and looked down at the celebration already started. The ground vibrated with the beat of the drums. The breeze carried voices back to me. The song was in a language I didn’t know, but was somehow familiar. There was power in those words and that power touched me, made my blood rush in my ears and pulled at my body to run to it.

“You ready for this?” Danny asked as he came up alongside me. I turned to look at him, pulling my eyes away from the celebration at the bottom of the valley. His brown eyes were alive with excitement. The power of the gathering was already filling him. It wasn’t filling me, not yet, but when I looked into his eyes, saw them alight with life and power, I knew I wanted to feel that too.

“I think so,” I finally answered with a strained smile.

“Then let’s go.” Danny nudged me with an elbow before starting down the slope leading to the bottom of the hill. “Oh,” he said over his shoulder, “remember to watch out for fairies and wraiths.” He grinned at the look on my face. I stumbled for a moment and had to swallow against the lump that had formed in my throat. Danny laughed and shook his head at me before turning away and hurrying down the hill. I had no idea if he was serious or not.

Are Romance and Adventure Incompatible?

The short answer: no.

The last few weeks have seen a lot of talk about sexism in the sci-fi/fantasy world—and no, I’m not just talking about sexism in fictional SFF worlds. I’m talking about out-and-out hate against women who write science fiction and fantasy. Published, even best-selling women like Ann Aguirre and Foz Meadows have spoken out about the rampant sexism faced by female authors in SFF publishing.

But let’s stick a pin in the overall topic for now and look at one of its bastard children: the question of romance works with a sci-fi and fantasy setting. Female authors who write strong, female protagonists who have dangerous, intense adventures, coupled with some romance, have been maligned for writing “romance novels with a few new sets and ideas thrown in to keep them interesting” instead of innovative, boundary-pushing works of SFF.

As if innovative, boundary-pushing science fiction or fantasy cannot contain romance. As if true adventure never has a sprinkling of sex (or, heaven forbid, love!) in the mix.

Luckily for those of us who include some romance in our spellbound works—and I know that includes some of my fellow Scribes!—that’s just not true.

I would like to submit for reader consideration five works of high-adventure, innovative, genre-blasting works of SFF that contain elements of romance:

1. Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay: Admittedly, this is one of my all-time favorite works of fantasy, so I’m a little biased, but I will say also that Kay’s work is often considered some of the best fantasy currently being written. One of the plotlines in Tigana features a gut-wrenching “love” story that features a woman who integrated herself into a conqueror’s harem so that she could assassinate him—only to fall in love with him. He loves her, too, and the book explores the moral shadings of a tyrant who has a human side. Love, in this book, is just one way to explore the many facets of the human condition.

2. The Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson: When a young, male cousin comes to me asking for fantasy recommendations, I send him straight to Sanderson’s work. These are, to be a weird reverse-sexist, “boy books.” As one of Sanderson’s Writing Excuses co-hosts said of Sanderson’s earliest work, you can hear the dice rolling in the background. Fighting features prominently. And yet, these books explore the relationship between a former thief turned ninja girl called Vin, and a scholarly boy turned ninja turned emperor named Elend. It’s a sweet love story, and it’s wrapped up in a really cool (and kinda violent) magical system that works as a tool in a cataclysmic epic battle. And, oddly enough, my husband found these books via a Romantic Times book review.

3. The Kushiel’s Legacy (Phèdre) Trilogy, by Jacqueline Carey: Although as high-and-mighty of a writer as George R. R. Martin has described these books as “erotic fantasy,” that does not discount the high adventure held between the novels’ sexy covers. God-chosen Phèdre may be a high-priced prostitute, but she’s also a spy, ambassador, and all-around bad-ass who journeys to and from some of the worst places in her world. Threaded through her adventures is her love with formerly-chaste priest Jocelyn, and their story explores how love can change the people who experience it. These books are one part eroticism, one part political thriller, and two parts adventure. If ever there was an innovative fantasy, these books are it.

4. The Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan: I’m not a fan of these books, and I actually find their portrayal of women rather sexist. But let’s stick a pin in that, too, and consider the books as most people see them: modern classic fantasy. This is one of the best-loved, longest-running epic fantasy series out there, and it features no fewer than six romantic stories. There’s the Rand-Elayne-Min-Aviendha, erm, quadrangle, the Nynaeve-Lan romance, the Egwene-Gawyn semi-romance, and the Perrin-Faile-Berelain awkwardness. And those are just the love stories I remember. Clearly, for Wheel of Time fans, romance is not an impediment to high fantasy adventure.

5. The Fever Series, by Karen Moning. Here’s where I make a diversion from my list. *grin* These books actually sit on the romance shelf of your neighborhood bookstore. Moning is originally famous for her more typically “romance” Highlander novels, but her Fever series became a runaway hit. They feature a female protagonist who grows from a fluffy, ditzy-blonde Southern belle into a badass warrior and Fae-killer. Yes, there’s sex. Yes, some credit for her transformation goes to her male benefactor/lover. But over the five books of the series, Mac has one of the best character arcs I’ve had the pleasure of reading. These books are violent. They are epic—indeed, the world as we know it ends. They are one of the best contemporary fantasy series I’ve seen lately, but because they sit in the romance section, they will be largely overlooked by fantasy readers.

There you have it: of these five (series of!) books containing complex romance and, yes, sex, three of them were written by men. Now, I’m not much of a sci-fi reader, but I’d bet my first edition, British copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that epic sci-fi contains romance, too. Are women girlifying SFF with romance? Or is romance just another kind of epic adventure?

What say you, readers? What place does romance have in adventure? What other epic, romance-containing works of SFF can you think of?

Let’s Make Some Magic

English: Sparkler, violent reaction (guy fawke...

Harry Potter. The Lord of the Rings. The Belgariad. The Wheel of Time. The Hollows. All of these influential series have something major in common: they take place outside the realm of “normal” human life.

Magic. They’ve got it.

For all of us over here at Spellbound Scribes, magic is an integral part of writing fiction, whether it’s in small doses or large. Here’s how I go about making mine.

Chinese floating lotus lanterns on a pond.
Chinese floating lotus lanterns on a pond. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Make Some Rules

Magic could just run around willy-nilly, but it’s kind of hard to write a story when literally ANYTHING could happen with no rhyme or reason to it. What are the basics that form your magical system? Is it earth based? Spirit based? Blood based? How do the practitioners access it? Is it inborn or can it be taught? Does it necessitate ritual or does it come from within a person?

Once you have your groundwork laid, stick with it. Make sure that if your character has to perform a ritual to do something, you don’t just have them poof it into existence later without the chanty-chanty abracadabras.

Another thing to look at here are taboos. Do most practitioners use earth based magic but abhor blood magic? Or the other way around? Taboos and forbidden corners of magic are fun to play with, especially if you can force your protagonist into using something she doesn’t want to touch. A perfect example of this is Rachel Morgan in the Hollows series by Kim Harrison. She starts out a die hard earth witch, but after a couple books, she dabbles in ley lines and then into what is essentially blood magic. Her transition causes her character to seriously question her morality. This sort of thing can be a phenomenal character developer.

Fire Dancing Treasure Island
Fire Dancing Treasure Island (Photo credit: davidyuweb)

Set Some Limits — Then Push Them

Everything has limits. Your bank account. Your patience. Your ability to tolerate Jersey Shore. Your magical system should have them too.

In David Eddings‘ Belgariad, death is one of those boundaries. The sorcerers in the books can do pretty much anything with the Will and the Word, but they have some limits that draw back on that seemingly endless possibility. One of those is bringing someone back from the dead.

One point they make with that is that if someone’s dead, they’re probably dead for good reason. Like…a sword in their heart sort of reason. Bringing them back won’t heal the wound, and they’ll just die again anyway. What does Eddings do? He pushes Garion to fight this barrier to save the life of a newborn colt.

Eddings is a great example of magical limits, because not only is death a hard limit, but in this world, doing things with sorcery is almost as physically exhausting as doing them the normal way. Find limits for your magical system, then use them to create obstacles for your characters. Magic’s great and all, but it can’t be a cure-all.

As the time goes and our watches sway, the gre...
As the time goes and our watches sway, the great magic of the urban beauty and nature stays, it observes people and brings magic into our minds! Enjoy!:) (Photo credit: || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL ||)

Mix Together that Black and White

The most fun thing about getting to write magic is that it opens up a whole other level of allegorical possibility and chances for your characters to explore their morality. Sure, maybe they can get their annoying sister to stop talking just by waving a hand, but should they? Magic is something that can be clearly abused, but sometimes it’s at its most powerful when your character has to abuse it herself — and justify it.

While I’m not a huge fan of the “magic is addictive” trope (and I think fellow Scribe Kristin will agree with me), there are plenty of gray areas to explore with your characters in the magical world you’ve created for them. The best part is that you’re God of your own world, and you get to control what happens.

Kind of like a magical power, isn’t it?

What do you think about when you’re creating your magical systems? What limits do you like to set?