Two-Thirds of the Way Through: National Novel Writing Month
So, as you can see here, I’m doing well with the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) task. I’ve managed to keep on pace and even though this screenshot doesn’t include what I will have written today, I’ll likely finish before the end of the month deadline. I don’t know if it will be a complete draft of the story but it will be nearly so. I’ve been writing scenes and weaving them together with only a broad idea of how they would dovetail. I know have a better idea of where I want my characters to go, how they’re going to get there, and why they need to be there.
I still need to sit down and write a proper synopsis but I don’t think I’ll be able to do that until I have a complete first draft done. I’m kinda feeling like I’m doing things backwards or, at the very least, kinda scattershot. So the purpose of this post today is to provide a sampling and try to drum up some constructive criticism.
Here is my brief summary for the story, it’s kinda like what you’d read on a back flap or inside the dust jacket of a book:
Avery Roth is a wandering tinker getting by in the hinterlands of the world trying to avoid the religious zealots of The Cathedral and the imperial ambitions of The Seven Spires. Yet when a young girl and her paladin guardian literally run into him in the wild as they are fleeing bandits, he is inadvertently entangled into a political web that only worsens the more he struggles to free himself and others. Roth aids the duo on their way but in so doing is drawn into the grand schemes of the corrupt leaders of rival states.
And my current working cover:
The book is still untitled, which is annoying me. Here are three scenes, each one is fairly complete which means I don’t think I’ll need to do that much more editing with them in the future (they’ll still be revised come next month but for the most part they’re done). I tried to pick some passages that I thought gave a good impression of some of my main characters.
This first is about Wynne Landis, an important leader in the city of Rikonen which is enduring a Siege of Leningrad-like conflict. The second takes place in the city of Ardavass which is know as The Seven Spires throughout this world and is one of several debate scenes I’m hoping to have between the leaders of that nation, Silvincia, which is responsible for ‘The Blockade’ of Rikonen. The Kyrios, or lords, are arguing whether or not to lift the siege, destroy the city, or annex the whole nation (Essia). The dominate religion of this world comes out of The Cathedral, a Vatican-like city, and it wants the Essian territory for its own. The Seven Spires and The Cathedral are allies but have very little trust of each other. The third scene features Avery Roth, who is a character that maybe very well be the hero/antihero of the book, and Reg Bene as they are making their way through the mountains to Rikonen.
I don’t know if I’m going to make my complete first draft available to be read once it’s done. I’m leaning towards yes but we’ll see. I would gladly welcome any criticism of what’s here. I’m not at all confident in my fictive prose writing skill. I think I’m terrible at dialogue, awful at physical description, and too much a ‘tell, don’t show’ guy.
So, here you are, a sampling of my shitty fantasy novel…
He ate slowly, chewing each bite thoroughly, but his appetite wasn’t sated. The two Civic guardsmen watched him not with awe, contempt, or concern but with a juvenile curiosity.
“If I was you, I’d be devouring that,” one laughed good-naturedly, “wolfing it down, ya know?”
“Yeah, I didn’t realize how thin you were up in that lighthouse.” The other spoke plainly, “but when I saw you come out of that door, you looked like a walking skeleton.”
He nodded, scooped up another dollop of red lentil and lamb with his bread, raised it to his mouth and let out a weary sigh. It seemed to the guardsmen that he was eating out of obligation, as though the food had defeated him.
“All you had was rice and rock leeches?”
“For what? Nearly two years?”
He nodded, “Thereabouts.”
“I couldn’t have done it.” One shook his head, a look on his face of refusal as though he was saying no to a bet. Wynne smirked, nodded again, swallowed, and paused a moment.
“Why aren’t you eating more?”
“He is eating more,” the other laughed, “he hasn’t stopped eating since we met him.”And, it was true, to a certain degree. They had given him some amber ale as they left the lighthouse behind, and on the road, he was eating jerky and green nuts nearly the whole time.
Staring into the fire, he spoke to the guardsmen and they listened intently, “It wasn’t a choice, it was what was available. It was either eat the sea snails or not eat. Cooking rice in seawater, so you don’t waste your clean water. Shooting down, unfeathering, and eating gulls. It was what was available.”
“That why you had a spear gun? For hunting birds?” one said confused.
He shook his head, “No. The spear gun was more for salvage.” Wynne paused, “Grabbing bodies, pulling them ashore to be buried.”
“You harpooned corpses?”
“Those that tried to break the blockade. They deserved a burial.”
“I’ve never even see a weapon like that.”
“Not meant to be a weapon. It’s used by whalers out of Paraonen. They use to throw the harpoons, use to have to drive them into the whales with their bare hands.” The two guardsmen were attentive, “I guess having to stare a whale in its eye finally got to them. So they made this, merging a crossbow with their smaller harpoons.”
“And you would fish out bodies with it?”
He pointed to a small metal loop at the tip of one of the spears, “You tie a rope here and then to the spear gun hilt, so when it shoots the rope follows with it.”
“Then you’d pull the people in.”
“The bodies, yes.”
“Don’t suppose too many folks would be comfortable with the idea of their loved ones being harpooned like whales.” A guardsman shook his head.
Wynne shrugged, “Comfort tends to leave consideration once a body has been burnt to meat and bone by flame tar, bloated three times its normal size and being feed on by crabs and sea worms, and when limbs and heads drift to shore along with the shards of the ships cannoned.”
Neither guardsman responded, they stared into the fire or off into the darkness.
“Behind the keepers’ den, I buried them. I buried probably…” he paused and looked off doing what appeared to be a casual mental arithmetic, “…forty to fifty.”
He wipe his bread around his plate getting the last of the lentils, then stared hard directly at the two guardsmen, “Less than half of that were whole or had a recognizable face.”
“You would have us in open war.” Kyrio Landico’s voice was harsh and piercing. The other lords of the council were unsettled, grumbling and calling out in both dissent and accord.
“I would have no such thing…” Kyrio Matias tried to dismiss the charge.
“You would! You would have us march across Novosy—no doubt bullying them into your manic cause along with the bitter Cassubians—and into Essia. Do you have any idea the train of blood you would stain the ground with?”
“Kyrio Landico, I do not want war. I do not want unnecessary bloodshed.”
“All bloodshed is unnecessary. Don’t hedge your speech with me boy. You know nothing of war.”
“I know enough. I know I am not afraid to do what needs be done.”
“Fear? Fear, you fool, that’s what you throw at me? At me!”
“I apologize, Kyrio Landico; we all know your history. We have been told of it for ages.” A combination of snickers, scoffs, and snorts of contempt came from the council.
“But now we need action, not tales of action, not empty words.”
“You, boy, are the one whose words ring hollow. You’ve only know luxury, you and your whole cohort. The luxury won by our fathers and at great cost, it makes no sense to put that at risk. To put that at risk for no real gain.”
“Your scales confuse me Kyrio Landico. You don’t believe we have anything to gain from protecting our world? You don’t believe we have anything to gain from securing our resources? You don’t believe we have anything to gain from sharing our glory with the oppressed of Essia? I say again, your scales confuse me. Perhaps I and my cohort give greater weight to security and freedom and our future prosperity.”
“Again with your false rhetoric. I have grown weary of your sophistry and paralogy, you’ve corrupted the word.”
“And certainly good lord, if you are weary perhaps you should retire.”
“I will stand against your arrogance, your egotism and greed until all life leaves my bones, child. You stand here amongst this council as a gift, undeserved and unearned. You are the legacy of your grandfather, a man I, and many of us, knew and respected. His line was granted the seat you hold through accident of birth, boy. Those of us who have earned our seat, those of us who worked to forge this kingdom and those of us who strove to maintain it are under no delusion of vanity. You and yours want Essia destroyed for your own sport, you want their coin and treasure for your own, you want to prove in some misguided way that you are worthy by striking down that which has never harmed you and which is in no way your equal. You are a boy throwing a tantrum.”
“It seems that you are the one that is red-faced and wild, Kyr…”
“I am the man who is telling you ‘ENOUGH.’”
The council was blanketed in silence. Kyrio Landico‘s eyes beat down upon Kyrio Matias with a hard admonishment, but he met it with his own contempt for punition
“We have gotten away from our original point, good lords.” The steady voice of Kyrio Tamas broke the tension as he stepped forward. Nodding slightly and tapping Kyrio Matias’s elbow, “If I may have the floor, Kyrio Matias.”
Kyrio Tamas’s tone and demeanor was deferential and not looking to keep pressing the argument with Landico, Matias B bowed slightly as he receded to his seat.
“Good lords, the question before us isn’t war. It isn’t whether or not we are strong, it is not whether or not we are free, it is not whether or not we are secure, it is not whether or not we honor our ancestors, and it is not a debate between action and inaction.” Several Kyrios listened intently, many nodded in agreement although one suspected that they were merely glad that the temperature of the room was now cooling. Landico leaned back slightly to taken in what Tamas was saying.
“The question before us, should we accept the conclusion of The Cathedral. If we do, what shall we do next? If we don’t, what does that mean? Are questions to be taken up after we have addressed this—do we accept that Essia is in dire straits near implosion and that if it does collapse that will send shockwaves throughout our world disrupting not just our lives but the lives of all nations. Do we accept that? And will we take on the mantle The Cathedral has set down before us?”
“That mantle is that of a conqueror.” A voice from the council rang out.
“Yes, good lords, it most certainly could be…in the wrong hands. Yet The Cathedral didn’t put this charge before Novosy or Adrenia or the Merchant Fleet or the lone cities. The Cathedral knew we, the Seven Spires of Ardavass, would take up this up without giving in to the poison of conquest.”
There were mumblings and grumbling in the council but all were well flattered by Tamas’s words, the patriotism of Silvincia and the lords of its capital could always be relied upon to smooth over divisions. Although Tamas knew this, his expression and tone betrayed no affectation. Landico could sense a sea change in the council but it wasn’t clear to him where it was going, he knew that the lords themselves hardly knew where they were being lead. These leaders of men had more akin to the sheep they presumed to rule than they knew. But Landico knew that Tamas was no warmonger or glory seeker like the hotheaded young bloods lead by Matias.
“Ours is grand moment. One that will define our great nation, not just to ourselves as our ancestors have so successfully done, but to the world. We have the opportunity to be a beacon, the ideal that all other strive for, that all others covet. We merely need to decide.”
“I am unaware of our kingdom being unknown to the world, Kyrio Tamas.” Snickers went up among not just the youthful lords but also among the mature councilors, smirks and self-satisfied nods. Of course, the boy had to throw in some snide comment, thought Landico.
Tamas was un-phased, “Certainly so, good friend,” his verecund smile seemed to win over the younger lords, “But I know you get my meaning, we could be not just great but glorious without doubt, without hesitancy, without embellishment.”
The councilors nodded in agreement, “We would be divine by right.”
Assent spread out in varying degrees as the tone of the chamber changed; there was a confident energy to most of the room now. Landico saw the danger here, he rose slowly, “I would wonder what The Cathedral would think of such a claim.”
The effect was immediate, though not as strong as he had hoped as about a third of the chamber hushed appropriately reprimanded while the rest turned up into an agitated hum.
“Kyrio Tamas is certainly correct and I do not mean to suggest he is coaxing us to some gasconade, but we have to consider just what The Cathedral want, what they expect, and what they will do. Even if we grant their claim and take on this mantle.” Landico couldn’t see a way out of the debate now, too many were either hotheaded like Matias or had generated some grandiose scheme of their own thanks to Tamas.
“Perhaps we should adjourn for now. Perhaps we all need ruminate on what has been said today and perhaps we need to consult with our constituents.” Kyrio Parmentier announced, less a question than a decision made for all. The councilors all tacitly agreed. He nodded to the master-at-arms who stepped forward, “Shall the council adjourn?” he called out in a stern voice. Calls of “yay’ came from all quarters, “The council is adjourned. It shall reconvene in two weeks.”
With that, the lords stood up and began to leave the chamber; they clustered in their factions almost immediately obviously rehashing the day’s debate. Landico stayed seated, he planned to get up to leave once the others had cleared the aisles and were well on their way back to their individual spires. He stroked his beard with the back of his hand staring down blankly at the council speech floor. His own lieutenants patted him on the shoulder and gave him praise for his speech; he nodded absentmindedly hardly listening to any of them.
“He’s stronger than you think.” Landico tilted his head up to the side to see Tamas standing beside him.
“The boy thinks this is a game.”
“Kyrio Matias does love trophies.”
“What trophy will come from slaughtering Essians?”
“It doesn’t need to happen like that, you know that. You’re being purposefully negative.”
“I’ve come to realize that the worst-case scenario is always the best to imagine.”
“I disagree, though I respect and understand your caution and reasoning. It’s just pessimistic for me.”
“A pessimist can never be disappointed, only surprised.”
Tamas chuckled, “Someday we’ll collect your wisdom into a proper tome.”
“I’m not that old yet.” Landico smirked, rose, and laid a hand on Tamas’s shoulder, “Besides I have no disciples to spread the word.”
“Oh, you know you have adherents. I would say more than you suspect.”
“But not you.”
“But not me.”
“I know you don’t want war…”
“No, I do not.”
“…but I don’t know what you do want.”
The two lords turned to walk up the stairs out of the chamber, Landico kept his hand on Tamas’s shoulder, he pointed with his other hand at the younger man’s chest, “You are no zealot either, no heathener to be sure, but definitely no true believer.”
Tamas shook his head, “No, I have no love or hate for The Cathedral. But one can hardly forge a path on such a premise.”
“True. You say what you must, giving the appropriate praise. And I’ve always been amazed by your ability to avoid hypocrisy…though often barely so.”
“I know you detest false speech, but I was taught well by a master of all tongues and reasoning.” Tamas winked and Landico smiled despite himself.
“But how will this angle of serving The Cathedral avoid war? The Cathedral might not want obliteration like Matias’s faction does, but they do want Essia annexed.”
“Brought into the fold, as it were.”
“Yes, The Cathedral adores supplicants whether they come willingly or via attrition. But how does this not merely make us their champion—at best—or puppet—more likely?”
“I am certain we can use this to not merely curry favor with The Cathedral, but check their ambitions. If we take on the Cathedral’s charge but make it our own, take it from them, we can neuter their desire for a proxy state in Essia.”
“I see very little chance of the Essians seeing us as saviors given that we caused their hardship. The Blockade will be our greatest sin, Tamas.”
“Maybe. But things change, memories fade, and reason…”
“Can be manipulated.” Landico stopped and looked at his protégé with a grave countenance, “We cannot allow the blockade to continue, we cannot leave those people to die, we cannot murder those people, and we cannot allow the Cathedral to dominate them.”
“Certainly so,” Tamas put his hand on either shoulder of Landico, “We can change course, we can save everyone we just need to be patient.”
Landico smiled, “Beware the wrath of the patient man.”
The Siracene Highlands
At first, all Roth knew was they were moving. He would wake and see only gleaming white sky, he’d black out again or, at least, the brightness of the light would consume his whole vision. Coming back again, his vision caught sky and tree line before he faded. The sleep must have been what his body needed, there were times when he woke with his eyes still closed. He would feel the heat of day upon his face and see a strange flutter of red and black behind his eyes. By now, he felt himself laying on something uneven, he felt himself shuffle around, and he heard the mouse-like squeak of wheels as well as innominate chatter. Still he let his body dictate his consciousness, but it wasn’t long before he woke properly. It was dust for he could see reddened sky and still feel the heat of the day in the world around him. He tried to rise but failed. What was he on? Stones? No, not stones…turnips, rutabagas, potatoes? Was he lying in a potato cart?
Figures passed, grey and brown, the texture of rough spun cloth, the stench of sweat and twill. No one seemed to notice him or at least no one seemed to care. It took him a few moments before he realized that he was sore all over, he let out a slight moan, “Don’t start with that.”
He tried to roll to onto his side but his ache and stiffness made this almost laughingly impossible—twisted, upon a cab of dirty tubers, craning his neck back towards the voice that had spoken so calmly to him. He stared upside-down at a man sitting the length of the cart’s seat with one of his legs thrown carelessly over the backboard. He wasn’t looking at A, but he was definitely talking to him. And eating an apple. No. A potato?
In a hoarse whisper, “I’ll try to keep it under control.”
“Hmpf. See to it.” Reg took a bite of the apple/potato in his hand, then pushed the brim of his hat up to brighten his face, and pointed at Roth, “You were the perfect passenger for nearly three days. Don’t go ruining it now.”
He tried to stand, but only ended up arching his back enough to start to roll out of the back of the cart. He couldn’t catch or right himself, so he rode a landslide of vegetables out of the cart’s bed and onto the ground below.
“You’ll need to pick those up before you sleep tonight.”
Roth had managed to raise himself onto all fours, he nodded and slowly rose with the greatest effort he had yet put into such a simple task, “Apologies. This is a new mode of travel for me.”
“I don’t doubt.”
“Where are we?”
“The Siracene Highlands, maybe forty leagues north of Arderra.”
“So I’ve been out for three days?”
“The body doesn’t tend to do well having seawater in its lungs.”
“Well, I’ll have to make sure I don’t eat any blue mushrooms so I don’t look a complete idiot.”
“If only that was what had happened.”
“Why the vegetable cart?”
“Who’s going to pester a peasant farmer burdened with a drunkard in his potato wagon?”
“Hardly. And it worked just fine. You’re not dead and we’re not in any danger of being harassed.”
“You know the path we’re taking? You know where we’re going?”
Reg shrugged, “Well enough.”
“This caravan is moving through a merchant and pilgrim path. I figured once we got into the mountains proper we could simply wander off and make our own way.”
“Why not stay with the procession.”
“Well, at some point someone is going to catch on. Each of us alone and quiet can make our way unmolested but together…”
“Yes, well, I see what you mean.”
“And besides, the Cathedral isn’t stupid. At some point they’ll send detachments along most trade routes.”