Saturday 13 March 2010

Oh, ho, ho, it's magic!

In a flurry of creative output, I wrote my response to the Fiction Friday prompt yesterday, and in so doing, I decided to re-enter the world of Emascula the Great (albeit just his household - for now). He's a Victorian stage magician with a healthy disdain for his public that I first dreamt up back in 2007, for a 60-word flash fiction challenge on the EditRed website. This is the story I came up with for the prompt, The Oldest Trick.

"Emascula the Great waved the wand above his assistant. The audience gasped and cooed with delight as she pulled the swords from her body, tossing them to the floor with a clatter. She posed, apparently unscathed. Emascula smiled cheerfully, but sighed inwardly. These cretins were so easily fooled. Parting them from their money was the oldest trick in the book."

Weirdly enough, Emascula decided to make an appearance in a short story I wrote a couple of years later, The Mirror Phase. This was originally published on the Fictionville website, but once that closed down, I added it to my own site, including a wonderful illustration by the very talented Jimmy Misanthrope.

Now it would appear that Emascula wants a little more attention, so watch this space for more tales of the enigmatic magician!

Friday 12 March 2010

Fiction Friday #4

Here's my attempt for this week's Fiction Friday challenge on the Write Anything blog. Today's challenge is;

The keys opened every door in the house, except the small wooden door at the end of the hall…

[NOTE] I've actually edited this, following comments from the lovely Kathryn Jankowski! 

Beth flipped through the heavy iron keys one last time, but as before, not one of them fitted the narrow lock. She slapped the rough wood in irritation. The small door rattled in a frame speckled with woodworm.


Dawes leaned against the wall behind her. Paint streaked his arms and peppered his thinning hair. He gnawed on a raw turnip.

"Yes, there's a problem. The master gave me these keys, and they're meant to open any door in the building," replied Beth. A shiver of disgust skated down her spine as he scraped at the vegetable with his few remaining teeth.

"But they don't open this one," said Dawes. He spoke as he ate, treating Beth to the sight of a mouthful of half-chewed turnip.

"No. Why not?"

"Maybe the master don't want you going in there."

"But I heard something in there. Like...scratching. And crying."

"Probably just the wind. It's an old house, it makes peculiar noises." Dawes picked at his gums with a ragged fingernail.

"All the same, I want to have a look and make sure." Beth shuddered. The noises beyond the door did not sound anything like the wind.
"Look, lovely. You're working for a magician. There are going to be things he's going to want to keep hidden. Secrets, stuff for his act. He'll probably give you the key when you've been working here long enough that he won't think you'll go straight to his competition," said Dawes.

Beth stared at Dawes for several moments, before concluding he had a point. After all, she only got the keys from Mrs Hooper yesterday, and she hadn't even met the elusive magician yet. She hauled herself to her feet, and brushed dust off her knees. She nodded at Dawes, walking as fast as she could away from the handyman without running.

Dawes watched her go. When he heard her hob-nailed boots on the stairs, he knelt beside the door.

"Are you there, my pretty? Don't worry, I'll be coming for you soon." He whispered through the narrow key hole, stroking the door.

The prisoner on the other side of the door whimpered.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Location, location, location.

Writers often spend a great deal of their time concentrating on developing authentic dialogue (spoken by fleshed out, 3D characters), and on creating a coherent plot, contained within a sensible structure. All well and good, but how often do we give setting, or location, only the most cursory of nods?

Setting is by far one of the most important parts of storytelling. Think how many stories begin with "In a faraway kingdom..." or "In a galaxy far, far away..." Location, or setting, not only helps define genre ('the Wild West' informs the Western, while noir is often set in grimy or shadowy urban landscapes), it also gives us a sense as to why things happen the way that they do - The Thing just wouldn't work outside of the Arctic, and nor would Twister be even remotely plausible if it was set in the Home Counties of England. Beyond that, the setting can almost become a character in itself - Mordor is a physical manifestation of the otherwise absent Sauron, while the island and its moods in Lord of the Flies reflects the transformation of the boys.

So how do you go about writing a good setting, or choosing a location?

If you're writing fantasy, you essentially have carte blanche to write whatever you want. Alice in Wonderland would be a perfect example! Science fiction in space is open to almost boundless possibilities, and even science fiction on Earth can be bent whichever way you want. Futuristic settings, or alternate realities, let you go crazy with the invention. I'd recommend Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books for a good example of alternate realities. Swords'n'sorcery-style fantasy requires the kind of geography associated with the likes of Lord of the Rings - think castles, forests, plains, etc. Fairly generic, but as you don't need to have visited, you get to decide what goes where.

Of course, if you're writing the kind of fantasy wherein weird stuff happens to ordinary people, then you'll want to ground your story in a more realistic setting. After all, the weird happening becomes all the more weird when set against a mundane background. In this case, you'll need more of a grasp of where your story is taking place. You can set it in your hometown and just change the names, or you can keep the setting intact. It helps to keep things believeable - one of my many problems with 28 Weeks Later was how wantonly they screwed with London geography. Two of the characters are supposed to get to Wembley from Westminster via the tube tunnels, despite the fact that they'd need to change lines on the way! Once you annoy someone in that way, it's difficult to persuade them to further invest in your story. You've broken the 'suspension of disbelief'. These issues equally apply to other genres outside of fantasy.

But what if you want to set your story somewhere that you've never visited? Joanna Penn deals with the idea of how to write about a real location if you haven't been there in more detail, and I highly recommend that you read her post (the suggestion about using Google Maps or Street View is a brilliant idea). I actually recommend that you subscribe to her blog anyway as her posts are fantastically useful (you can also follow her on Twitter). Of course, you could always go down the Neil Gaiman route, and give your location the Neverwhere treatment - translate place names into their literal meanings (if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it as a masterclass on location). It doesn't matter if you've never been as the places are given a whole new meaning by you.

Of course, you could always treat yourself to a holiday and visit that pretty Alpine town you want to use as a backdrop to a 1920s murder mystery...