Writing about castle wells, medieval poisons, and pain without cliches.
In the continuing adventures of authoring The Sovereign of Tel:
First I wrote about Vence, who had infiltrated the castle, starting his plan to weaken it from the inside. First he had Ali (the cook) add some poison to the food supplies going to the castle soldiers, then, after dark, he dumped a bunch of poison into the castle’s well.
When I’m writing about medieval life, I worry a lot about "getting things right." So when I put an indoor well into this castle, I wasn’t sure if actual castles had indoor wells, even though, to me, it seems like a pretty logical thing to do. If you’re building a castle to withstand sieges for months on end, you would need to have some supply of water inside the castle walls, right? So why not build it inside the keep so it would be super convenient? I couldn’t think of any reason this couldn’t be done with 14th century technology. I found a few references to castle wells in my primary research sources (Google), so I feel pretty good about that bit.
What I’m not confident about is the poison that Vence is using. I made up something for the text with a note to come back and review it later. He gave Ali one "bottle" to put in the food, and he dumped about a gallon of "stuff" into the well. Is that enough to make everyone sick? Is it too much? Is it even possible to make people sick without killing them? Would anyone in the 14th century know how to do that? I have no idea. Somehow I don’t think I’m going to find a lot of references to "how medieval poisons worked" on Google, either. (Boy, was I wrong.)
After that scene, I worked on a revision/continuation of a scene fragment that occurs at about the same time. Hayden Metherel (Elenora’s brother) is held prisoner in the castle. Mila Collato, in her continuing efforts to degrade, humiliate, and generally cause pain to Hayden, has him chained to a wall. Mila gets too close to him and he lashes out and tries to choke her to death. Mila has a bit of a meltdown (somewhat understandably under the circumstances) and ends up whipping him senseless.
Hayden and Mila are tough characters to write. They are both messed up in different ways. This scene was Hayden’s POV, but we get to see just how close to the brink of sanity Mila treads. It’s definitely one of the most emotionally turbulent scenes in the book so far. (It’s not clear to me why Mila is so close to the brink of sanity, or why she has such a grudge against Hayden, but I feel like that will come out soon.)
The biggest challenge writing this scene was avoiding clichés. I try to notice when I’m using a cliché phrase in my writing, and come up with alternate phrasing. For example, in describing the pain of being flogged, the cliché phrase would be something like: "Pain exploded in his back" or "the world erupted in pain" or something like that. I sooo wanted to write that, but I forced myself to think of something else. What I came up with was, "When the lashes of the whip landed on his back, pain overloaded all of his nerves." Not terribly dramatic, but at least it’s different.
The other cliché thing I tried to avoid was where the character thinks to himself, "I won’t scream," and then they do scream. (Usually in a paragraph by itself.) That’s been done way too much. So Hayden did in fact tell himself not to scream, but I left it sort of ambiguous as to whether he did or not. He thinks he didn’t scream, but things were pretty fuzzy. "Time became something he couldn’t perceive."
You can probably tell by now that I skip around a lot when I’m writing. It was a revolutionary moment for me as a creative writer when it sunk into my head that you don’t have to write everything in the exact order it happens. I highly recommend it.
I started my writing evening early, and I pushed myself until I passed 70,000 words total, so I ended up with 2,500 for the day, finishing about 9:15. So it was pretty good writing day. I only have to write a handful of words Friday to make my 8,000 word weekday goal.