Piece One – The Curious Trinket

Curian hurried along the stone streets of Rivenbrook, hands stuffed firmly in her pockets and her eyes focused on a point in the distance. She was, after all, on a mission of great importance. The ring she had acquired–no, liberated–from a gang of Dunbrough Goblins had to be worth at least enough to put dinner on the table for the next month if not longer, she reasoned. Ahead, not but a few blocks in the distance, stood Alistair’s Awe-Inspiring Antiquities and Curiosities, its doors illuminated by lanterns that contained never held a flame.

The door swung open for Curian, as it had every time she arrived there to do business. On previous trips this might have made her flinch or jump a little, but the trickery was familiar now. Perhaps even a little underwhelming on days like this, when Curian’s mind was sharply focused. A labyrinth of uneven, catawampus shelves stood just beyond the doorway, their contents only fully visible when looked at directly and a blur of color and shape when not.

“You’re very nearly late, you know,” echoed the imperious, insufferable tones of Alistair’s nasal voice. He was a wood elf, displaced by tragedy but not removed from his haughty demeanor, and his sense of his place in the world was never more apparent than when he spoke to someone he saw as beneath him. Someone like Curian.

Curian cursed under her breath. She scanned the shelves, following one path to the next. A left at the intersection of stacked umbrella stands containing old and forgotten swords, followed by a sharp right at the colossal aquarium occupied by tropical fish far from their natural home, and then one long straightaway until she reached the great gilded desk.

Alistair peered over his glasses, down his long, gently sloping nose, to Curian. His eyes drifted about her, and Curian could see the mental notes forming. The grime on her face from having fled the remaining Goblins through the Untermire. The thick mud caked on her boots, and the scratching vines still clinging to her aged and battered olive-colored tunic. Sands blown from the dunes just north of Rivenbrook, blown southwards by the ever-more-violent storms that had blown in recently clung to the sweat on her terracotta skin.

“Childling, you look simply dreadful,” Curian said, her words emphasized by her exaggerated scowl.

Alistair wagged a finger. “There will be no business, childling, with you behaving as such,” he shot back. Curian pursed her lips, but did nothing more. Alistair’s curiosity as to where his acquisitions came from only went so far, but the rules of decorum in his shop were immutable. He stared at Curian for a moment longer before holding out an immaculate palm. Long, pointed, recently manicured nails stabbed at the air between her and his hand like daggers.

“I think you’ll be please with this,” Curian said as she retrieved the object from her pocket. She placed it in Alistair’s hand gently and quickly, making sure not to not allow her hand to touch his. It had happened once, and that was enough for him to bar her entry to the shop for well over a month. Though he would not admit to it, Alistair’s disdain for Mountain Dwarves came into play with Curian whenever he saw her even though she had explained she was only half Dwarven, and that there was no reason to be such an asshole about it. Such remarks, naturally, had earned her a week of no entry to the shop.

Alistair’s fingers snapped shut and he pulled his hand close to his face. He opened his perfect, pristine fist and eyed the ring in his palm with much curiosity. It was a simple, silver band, inlaid with subtle runes that only showed when the light struck them just right. A small piece of unpolished jasper glittered in its setting on one side of the ring.

Curian leaned closer, but not too close to the desk, eagerly waiting.

“A trinket like this is a copper a dozen,” Alistair said at last, an eyebrow raised. “What is it you expect me to pay you for this?”

Anger bit at the back of Curian’s neck and around her ears. The heat of her rage crept towards her cheeks and up around her eyes. She took a deep breath, held it a moment, and exhaled.

“That’s no shoddy workmanship and you know that just as well as I do,” Curian replied, her tone as even-keel as a ship approaching stormy waters. “Runes for protection on one side, but when worn inverted they become runes of devastation. Whosoever wears this ring could raze cities or raise cities.”

Alistair nodded along, a hint of approval flashing across his face for less than the blink of an eye. “Well observed, childling, but wisdom like that does nothing to pad my pockets,” he replied. “I’ll give you ten silver and three copper, and not a coin more.”

Curian opened her mouth, fists clenched tightly at her sides, but snapped her teeth shut to keep the words she’d wanted to say locked up tight in their current cage. She would have to release them later, perhaps in the smoky, dark familiarity of the Backwater Bog Inn.

“Fine,” she said at last, holding her hand out.

Alistair retrieved a coin purse from among the heaps of things on his desk and slowly, deliberately began to count out the payment. It wasn’t nearly enough, Curian thought, but it had to do. She couldn’t bring herself to watch him count out such a pitiful sum, and so her eyes began to wander.

Something round and glittering caught her attention. She’d stood in that exact spot a million or so times, she knew, and she had not once ever noticed such a thing. She turned without fully meaning to, and there it was. A perfect sphere, copper in color with accents of silver and veins of ruby. Small dials and buttons jutted out at odd intervals. The longer Curian looked at the object, the more certain she felt it was calling to her. Only when her hand closed around it did she even realize she had reached for the curious trinket.

“Hm? Oh, that old thing,” Alistair said, clearly unable to hide his amusement. “Take it. I’ll keep the copper pieces and one silver from your payment as compensation.”

“Keep it all,” Curian muttered as she turned the trinket over in her hands, her eyes dancing along its surface as she did.

Alistair arched his slim, perfectly trimmed wisps of eyebrows. “Excuse me?”

“Keep your silvers,” Curian repeated. She pocketed the trinket. “Until next time,” she added, turning on her heels. She walked at first, moving out of Alistair’s sight as quickly as she could. Once he could no longer see her, she broke into a run.

There was something about this thing worth investigating, Curian decided, and so she exited the shop and ran down the hillside, weaving through the small crowds of people moving about the streets with little to no interest in her. She continued to run as the streets gave way to the fields beyond Rivenbrook, and before long she stood outside of her humble cottage just at the edge of the shaded copse. She threw the door open and leapt to the only seat at her table.

“All right, then,” Curian said. She removed the trinket from her pocket and placed it on the table, curiosity bordering onto madness in her eyes. “What are you? Tell me your secrets.”

One Hundred Days of Blogging – Day Thirty-Five

I’m tired, my stomach hurts, and I have a thirteen-hour day ahead of me. Let’s get started (an appropriate statement).

Day Thirty-Five – The best (and worst) beginningsĀ 

Update on 8/13/14 – This failed to post yesterday, despite WordPress saying it had been posted. Suffice it to say I am royally pissed off. Technically it was written yesterday, so I’m not restarting. God damn it.

Tonight has been a dark and stormy night, which makes for an exciting summer evening of wondering where all the flashlights and candles are. It also makes for a terribly cliched, overdone opening scene. Why not start with a bright, sunny day? Or maybe a slightly cloudy afternoon? There are very obvious answers to those questions, of course, and a lot of them point to “the weather is a framing device for some bad event, stupid”.

I have a hell of a time coming up with solid beginning scenes in my work, and far more often than I care to admit. Here are my biggest fears, and how I work to avoid them.

What if this turns into an info-dump?

Exposition happens. Sometimes it’s necessary, but more often than not it can be avoided with better descriptions, stronger characters, and a host of other tricks. When I’m in the moment, working to get that first scene set up, my focus is more on getting words on the page than it is what words are happening. Probably not the best approach, but it certainly helps get writing done. I avoid really thinking about the scene itself, and if it’s an info-dump set-up versus a beginning with merit, until I go back for the first rereading. Or one of my lovely beta-readers catches it. So long as the first page doesn’t read like the rolling opening credits in Star Wars, things are off to an okay start.

Once upon a time? No, wait…

What’s in a first line? A whole lot of hoping to hook readers. A first line, and this is some powerful stating of the obvious here, can make or break if a reader even bothers to continue with a story. While it’s silly, it’s the reason why “Once upon a time” and “It was a dark and stormy night” have become such endearing beginnings. I wouldn’t exactly recommend using them in a work unless you’re going for a very specific tone, though. Getting that perfect first line is something that just happens, I think. All the planning in the world can’t quite prepare for the eureka moment of when the perfect opening sentence happens in your brain.

Let me tell you all about the main character

This falls back into the info-dump, sort of, but it’s its own special sort of pitfall. It’s really tempting to provide an immediate image of the main character. That way the story can move along to the important bits, like the hero saving the day and the villain dying a horrible death. Those sorts of things. But It feels forced. It always feels forced. It’s much more organic, I’ve found, to gradually introduce traits. I’m actually somewhat guilty of giving minimal character descriptions and letting readers fill in details for themselves. It just happens that way.

Start here! No, here! What about here?

In longer stories, novels, and the first book in a series (god help me, I don’t think I could tackle the last one there), it’s hard to choose exactly where to start laying things out for readers. Especially in novels, and probably far more than I can fathom when embarking on the start of a series. I still haven’t figured out exactly how to approach this, as I’ve deleted far too many first pages for my own tastes. Whatever feels most organic isn’t always the best, and so it’s good to depend on outside perspectives here. The best choice will set the stage for the story’s events, providing a logical flow from Point A to Point Z, without jumbling Points B through Y too badly.

 

These are all pretty simplified, but it should give 1) some insight into how I handle starting a new story, 2) a few of the many issues I have starting new projects, and 3) how I can take complex topics and ruin them by cutting them down to minimal detail.

In any event, I need to drag my sorry ass to bed and hope I survive tomorrow.

Sixty-five days remaining.

A Remarkable Victory

This is an exciting moment for me, though I suspect that goes without saying. All of my typical thought processes are trying to cheapen this victory, and so I’m trying my damnedest to shut them up.

I submitted two short stories–“Death at Teatime” and “Rebooting Everything”–to Remarkable Doorways. And then I waited. I sent a story off to another publication, and then focused on other things so as to not go mad.

And then I got an e-mail containing words I wasn’t familiar with from my previous misadventures in attempted publishing – that one of my stories had been accepted (spoilers: it wasn’t “Death at Teatime”). I reread it a couple times, just to make sure I hadn’t confused a couple words. Or had been hallucinating.

“Rebooting Everything” can be found here, as part of their very first issue.

More importantly, Remarkable Doorways is always looking for submissions. Their submission page spells out the important details better than I can, so meander on over there, and then send something remarkable.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be lost in a state of excited disbelief for the next week or so.

PS: Let it be known I didn’t fail to realize this and my last post were my 150th and 151st posts, respectively, and that I should’ve posted something about Pokemon. I’m going to honor that with a belated something or other. Unless I forget, which is entirely plausible.