Burning Grain, New Characters, and Names

Yesterday’s writing: Vence rescued the Metherel cousins from the castle prison. Of course, as planned, he was caught in the process. Then I started a new chapter from Mila’s POV, where Lord Garret receives the news that someone has poisoned his troops, burned up his food stores, and freed his prisoners. He goes to have a chat with Vence, now a prisoner.

There’s another “getting things right” issue I worry about here. Does flour burn? :) I have no idea. I’m just assuming that if you dump lamp oil on a bunch of sacks of flour and grain and then set them on fire, they would actually burn. I seem to recall stories of grain silos exploding, and I think they did something like that in Mythbusters. I’m also making the possibly bold assumption that a fire would actually burn for a while inside a closed stone room inside a castle.

A new character popped up in these scenes: Cedrec the steward. I don’t know if “steward” is the historically correct job title for him, but he’s the guy who handles all the mundane bits of running a castle and reports to the lord. (In GoT terms, he might be the “Hand of the King.”) Basically I needed someone to wake up Lord Garret and tell him something bad happened, and it didn’t seem like something a lowly guard or servant would do.

It’s kind of annoying when a new character appears like this, because now I have to start thinking things like: Where did he come from? What does he look like? What’s he sound like? What does he wear? Did he work for the Andalorans before, or did he come with the castle? Is he like that guy in the White House who’s there through all the different administrations to manage the staff? But if he is, wouldn’t that be kind of awkward to work for the guy who just violently overthrew the previous castle owner? And it just goes on and on. And I’ll have to go back and insert him into some previous scenes, too.

You might be wondering where I get these names. (You probably aren’t, but that’s what I’m going to write about anyway). For this book, I use this supposedly census-based Random Name Generator with the obscurity factor set to 99 until I find something I like. Many of the names I use unchanged, which tells me there are a lot of people in the world with fantasy-sounding names. Here’s one that just came up: Indira Dilgard. That could be a character in this book. And another: Margit. A good first name for a woman. And here’s two more: Coretta and Gayle. I try to use somewhat modern-sounding names and surnames for the Elahi in Tel. The Buhites, on the other hand, typically get one or two syllable, simple names (Ril, Ali, Swen, etc.). (Like one might give to a pet.)

Meta Writing

So I thought I would start writing a bit about what I’m writing. Get it? Meta-writing! It occurred to me that somebody out there might actually be curious about the process of writing, or the process of becoming a writer, and since I happen to be in the position of "aspiring writer," perhaps somebody else could benefit from my experiences. I know I would want to read something like that from another aspiring writer.

Also, I don’t know any other writers (especially genre fiction writers), so I don’t have anyone to "talk shop" with. So you’ll just have to suffer, because you can’t stop me!

The Story So Far

In these posts I thought I would just sort of write down my thoughts about what I wrote the previous day. But I guess I need to catch you up on what’s going on in the book first. So let’s see if I can summarize 60,000 words of story in a couple of paragraphs.

So my current WIP (work-in-progress for you non-authors) is a low fantasy story (no magic) basically about the aftermath of the death of a powerful ruler in a medieval-ish city called Tel. There is very little difference between the city of Tel and any other city from around the 14th century. The setting and really even the time period has little bearing on the story, as it turned out. (There are some cultural differences with the people living there, though, which will come up later.)

The story revolves around two families of powerful nobles in Tel: The Metherels and their rivals the Andalorans. Until recently, Ordicus Metherel was the Sovereign of Tel (like a king/mayor). Then the leadership fell to his son Hayden Metherel. Hayden was incompetent, so the leadership then passed to his sister Elenora Metherel. But then Garret Andaloran executed a coup and declared himself sovereign by force. So right now Elenora, after narrowly escaping with her life, is fighting to regain control of the sovereignty from Garret, who is holed up in the castle.

That’s the super-high-level view of the story so far. A large number of personal stories are mixed into that backdrop as well, which I won’t get into yet because I wasn’t writing about them last night.

The New Scene

The day after Garret took the castle, Elenora went to Commander Fers Hockley, the commander of the Tel Guard (basically the city’s police force), and asked him to surround the castle and not let anyone in or out. (Elenora lost most of her small mercenary force and doesn’t have enough men left to do so.) Hockley is a rather fickle, greedy commander who is known to follow whoever pays him the most gold. Elenora had to promise great sums of coins from her personal fortune to get Hockley to intervene and lay siege to the castle.

A few days later, it will be discovered that Hockley isn’t enforcing the siege and has been bribed by Garret to let the Andalorans in and out at will.

So the new scene I needed was a brief explanation of how that came about. In other words, Garret’s reaction to the castle being surrounded, which was to bribe Hockley.

The Andaloran perspective of events is told from the point-of-view of Mila Collato, who was once the fiance of Hayden Metherel, but left him to marry Garret Andaloran. (She is a rather ambitious, cold-hearted person.) As the scene begins, she walks into the audience hall (coincidentally) just as a guard captain arrives to tell Garret that the castle is being surrounded. Garret, knowing that Hockley is easily persuadable, calls for him and bribes him to ensure Garret can still send men in and out of the castle for supplies, thus effectively breaking the siege before it even starts. Then he bribes Hockley again to turn the Tel Guard against Elenora if she ever decides to attack.

A secondary component of the scene was some conversation between Garret and his council about making plans for war with Morland*, which is a side plot. The scene came out to 1,700 words of dialog mainly from Garret and Hockley.

Commentary

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I’ll admit that last night I was not in the mood to write, and this scene did not fill me with enthusiasm for writing. It was pure exposition, with no real conflict. It took me about two hours to get down those 1,700 words. Maybe two and a half hours. Which, for me, is somewhere slightly below average. It was one of those times that I kept counting up the words hoping I’d made it to my goal so I could quit already.

There is a rule of thumb in writing that scenes that are dull to write will also be dull to read, so that was in my mind the whole time. But I do think this scene will serve a greater purpose of building tension because the reader might worry more about Elenora’s chances of regaining the sovereignty, knowing that her siege isn’t going to work. (Elenora is the good guy in this scenario, by the way, if it wasn’t clear above.)

* Garret believes that neighboring country Morland will soon invade Balir. He believes it so strongly that he usurped the Metherels in order to get the country on a war footing. (Elenora, however, believes that putting Balir on a war footing may cause Morland to attack.)