Why I’m Writing Another Hero’s Journey

Hero’s Journey as Psychological Journey – Go Into The Story

If you’re reading this blog, you probably know who Roddy is. Or maybe you don’t really but I’ve mentioned him off and on enough times in your hearing, or here, for you to wish I’d stop assuming you do know him.

He’s just your average hero, created out of a mishmash of heroic archetypes and tropes. They’re all the same these heroes. Qvothe, Sir Percival Blakeney, Harry Potter, Han Solo, Aragorn, and even my old friend Enjolras. They’re made of some kind of blending of ordinary and extraordinary. They’re meant to remind us of ourselves and remind us of Christ at the same time. They’re meant to make us laugh, and shake our heads at how full of themselves they can be, quite without meaning to. Humble guys with hero complexes.

Roddy’s just my version of that elusive hero. The chosen one, the farm boy destined to save everyone. The diamond in the rough.

If there are a hundred of them why write another? I don’t know. I just sort of had to. And he became a real person to me. A friend. And my hope is that someday, when my book is ready to be read people won’t mind that there are a hundred like him because he’ll be real.

I like to think of character tropes as personality types. Not everyone who is a four on the enneagram is the same. You don’t say to yourself, “I already have one friend who likes to cook, do I really need another?”

Don’t be afraid of covering the same ground as another writer. And don’t apologize for your work fitting into a certain category. Sometimes when I feel as if I’m only doing what everyone else before me has done I remind myself to think about mainstream fiction.

I don’t read a lot of mainstream, or literary, fiction. I’m planning on changing that, but for now I haven’t read a lot of adult fiction that couldn’t be called “genre”. And to me, an outsider, reading the blurbs of mainstream books they all sound kind of the same. There are a lot of siblings returning to their family abode with hurting lives, trying to find pieces of themselves, there are lots of unexpected babies in one form or another, lots of family secrets.

But I know from the few mainstream books that I’ve read and enjoyed and from the enormous amount of praise for the depth of these novels, that once you get in there it doesn’t feel like the same old family secret, the same old house that is a metaphor for the pain and joy of family, the same old friends estranged by time and brought together by circumstance.

I am chosing to tread ground that has been tread before because I hope that by treading it with care and with so so much love I can walk a path that feels new. That those who follow me along it will not care that they have seen trees and brooks before but simply marvel at the ones I lead them past.

This post may be the first in a new blogging series called “Why I” where I just discuss my own writing decisions. I don’t feel qualified to really give writing advice, but as I was thinking about what I did want to make this blog about I just kept coming back to sharing my experience. I can’t tell you how to write a novel, but I can tell you how I’m writing mine.

Comp Titles

Hey All! Today I am taking a little break from NaNo because I have enough time to do so today and my brain needs to and I’m going to do a fun little exercise called Comp Titles.

This exercise comes from the Writing Excuses episode “It’s Like Car Talk Meets Night Vale” which you can find here. The basic idea is to list six sets of “this meets this”; three for stuff you are actually working on/ already planning to work on and three that are just off the cuff but you think would be cool to try some day. Try to find titles that really capture not only the set dressing but also the themes/ tone you’re working with.

I would love to see some other people try this too, so if you want make your own post and leave me a comment with the link!

Existing Works

  1. The School of Princes The Deathly Hallows meets the coming-of-age roadtrip feel of Avatar the Last Airbender and the shenanigans of National Treasure
  2. The Ever Climbing Rose Snow White meets Macbeth and Hamlet and together they all accidentally run into Sense and Sensibility
  3. The Princess and the Sage Lewis Carol meets Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norril

Maybe Someday

  1. Little Women meets Lord of the Rings
  2. Downton Abbey meets The Scarlet Pimpernel
  3. Cherry Ames with Dragons

Day Four

We are four days into the month of writing madness that is November. I’m about three hundred words behind but am giving myself grace and not getting upset about it. There is plenty of time to make up the work.

More important than keeping on target with wordcount I feel like I’m “in the groove”. I’m taking my time to make sure my characters have the right motivation and I’m pleased with how the story is shaping so far.

In the olden days I used to work from a list of bullet points of things I wanted to have happen in my story. Since then I have tried many many different methods, everything from complete pantsing to having a full paragraph outline for every single scene complete with major action beats. I’ve kind of returned to my roots this year a bit. I spent the better part of this year trying out different outlines for this book and taking copious notes on characters, plot points, character arcs, and acts. And I still have all of that material I’m just sort of… ignoring it and writing the story how it makes sense in the moment.

I’ve already done a ton of exploring, I kind of know what structural problems are likely to show up, but I’m not sticking to an outline. It’s like I spent a lot of time studying a map and then threw it away and started driving.

It feels good.

“…You can learn a lot about a person by letting them be in control of a situation.”
Roddy scowled, he did not want advice from this man.
Alistair laughed. “When you make that face you do look like you are the Wilhulse boy’s brother.”
Roddy frowned harder. “No one can scowl like Eric.”

When Roddy opened his eyes again they were riding over a blanket of white. Snow? No, it was dust. They were floating over a vast expanse of white dust that stretched out before and behind them and on either side as wide as anything Roddy had ever seen.
“It is like a river,” he whispered.
“What is?’
“The King’s road. Someone once told me it was as wide as a river.”
“Wait until morning,” said Alistair.
And morning came. It grew slowly and as it grew the road seemed to bloom with people so that by the time Roddy saw the first hill their river had two currents, one flowing either way, full of little eddies and pools as people turned aside to visit small booths and stalls that merchants were setting up; just planting them right on the side of the road, or sometimes in it.
Roddy had never seen so many people before. He had not known there could be so many in the whole world.
Everywhere there were faces, and faces, and faces, and they were not all the same olive tone that Roddy had known his whole life either. He stared and stared, trying to take in all their dizzying variety. There were women in plain linen dresses such as his mother wore, with trousers underneath and wide leather belts. There were women in long dresses made of bright colors that reach all the way to the ground and swished as they walked. There were men in soft trousers and soft leather boots and soft leather shirts with hoods. There were other men in jerkins and shirts and trousers as Roddy knew them, and still others in long robes, and a few wearing nothing but skirts made of bright red wool.

Dark is the Night

This post is a bit of an oddity. I am here to promote a book, but it is not a book I have read. It is not a book in a genre I like or even read. Nevertheless I think it is an important book. And so here I am, promoting it.

Skata only has one goal in life—to seek out the vampire who turned his wife and kill it. When he finally tracks the vampire to the small nowhere town of Salvation, South Carolina, he realizes he has stepped foot into something bigger than himself. He’s going to need help—and that help may come in many forms. Between the vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, and an unusual preacher, Skata may be in over his head.

I remember when Miriam was first posting stuff about this book on her blog. Back then I kind of shook my head sadly and thought, ‘well it sounds great but I’ll never read it’. Over the years though, Miriam has changed my mind. In her writings on her blog she has over and over again approached the idea of fear in fiction; ruminating over why we start back from certain genres, why we Christians avoid the supernatural, the scary, the hard hitting.

One of the things I have discovered in reading Miriam’s writings over the years is that I want to be less afraid. I want to learn all I can about something before labeling as good or bad, I want to constantly keep digging for truth in fiction, in reality, in all things. That’s what shines out of Miriam’s writing, an incredible love of and desire for truth. And that’s why I recommend her writing, even though this particular piece is one I haven’t gotten to read yet.

I want to read this book because I have been slowly awakening to the fact that a “good book” is one written in a good way, for a good reason, with good themes; not necessarily one in which only good things happen. I want to read this book because I have come to trust that anything this author has to say is something worth listening to. And I want to read this book because I passionately love stories about bands of misfits cobbling together a sort of family out of nothing. And from all I’ve read that is what this book promises.

I would highly recommend checking out Miriam Neal’s blog and buying her book. I can’t tell you what you will find in it, but I can tell you that whatever it is, it will be good.

You can buy the book here or in ebook form here. You can also find it on Goodreads here

MIRRIAM NEAL is an author frequently masquerading as an artist. When she’s not scrubbing paint off her hands, she’s thinking about writing (actually, if she’s being honest, she’s always thinking about writing). A discovery writer, she tends to start novels and figure them out as she goes along and likes to work on several books at the same time—while drinking black coffee.
She’s a sucker for monsters, unlikely friendships, redemption arcs, and underdog protagonists. When not painting fantasy art or writing genre-bending novels, she likes to argue the existence of Bigfoot, rave about Guillermo del Toro, and write passionate defenses of misunderstood
characters. To learn more about her fiction and art, visit her website: https://mirriamneal.com/, where you can find a full list of all her social medias, or join the Citadel Fiction newsletter: https://www.subscribepage.com/b1h5v9

Coming Back Around

regrettably I am not writing about dragons this november

Here we go again. The leaves are falling and Mr. Wilberforce is going to present his bill to parliament….

I’m sorry I mean we’re all taking another crack at NaNo. And I am preparing to remount the horse that has thrown me so many times.

Of course I’m working on Roddy. I have been for the past nine and a half months but I’ve also moved twice, planned a wedding, gotten married, and changed jobs in that time so I’m not exactly rounding third on this go-round. In fact I’ve barely finished winding up for the pitch.

It’s been good though. Nine months of ruminating and deciding how I want to write this story has made it better I believe. Though to be fair I’ve had almost seven and half years to ruminate and build.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever finish. I was almost done when I scrapped everything and started again the first time and since then every time the story has really begun to take shape under my fingers I’ve thrown it back into the fire and melted it down again.

On the other hand I was so young when I started and all I really knew was I had a character I loved and the Les Mis soundtrack in my head.

I’m still so young in writing terms. I keep telling myself that. Most writers don’t start their real work until they’re at least in their thirties. They write other things and then come back to their passion project when they’re mature enough for it.

I really did try to do that; I did really try to write other things but I always end up back here, presenting my bill to parliament once again.

So here are a few questions I am asking myself as I come back around for another go.

What is New About this version of the Story?

Well I’ve written about Roddy at school before and Roddy as the dashing highwayman and this is sort of the between bit but more than that its about growing up which is a theme that I have wanted to play with for a long time. It’s an origin story too, which none of my other drafts ever were. Roddy was always himself, rebel and captain, from square one. This time we get to watch him grow.

Did you manage to put any girls in it this time?

I have, in the past, been guilty of only writing girls as love interests in my books. I am a girl. I consider myself as more than a love interest in my husband’s story. And yet I keep doing this? I don’t know, the story is about a guy and all his friends just kind of ended up being guys by default the first couple times I wrote it.

So this time there is at least one central female character. She is one of the gang and while she is a love interest she’s a friend first and more importantly. Not that I’m trying to negate the importance of romance or its niceness in books, I just… I don’t know I’m bad at this for some reason. I AM planning a novel that takes place at the same time as this one and is about a pair of sisters who will become important to the main Roddy and Eric plot. So I guess that’s something?

Who is your favorite Character?

Get ready for a big surprise here….

No I can’t even try to pull that, you all know its Roddy. Why do I love himso much? Maybe its the over-the-top belief that he can save anyone, rescue any situation, right any wrong. Maybe its because when those beliefs are shaken he turns to books and art and history for comfort. This time around Roddy is evolving from a brash adventurous little ragamuffin into a brash adventurous big ragamuffin with a side of idealism; but along the way he has to pass through the neverland that all true heroes visit, the place that they don’t want to grow up and leave.

So describe this neverland then

Roddy’s cocoon is the school where he is dragged, kicking and screaming, as a ten year old who knows that he has to go save the world, not do his homework. But once he’s been made to sit and stay he finds himself seeping into the cracks of this place, or perhaps it is seeping into the cracks of him. He loves the learning and the discovery and the stories that are possible in this place. He is a leader here but nothing is life or death. And when you are ten and it has been, that can feel like paradise. The school is full of secrets and ancient possibilities and the world outside keeps trying to tear itself to pieces. and of course he finds himself sneaking out of school to help people with his friends and a couple of masks ( cause that’s how he rolls) but when rebellions come he finds himself staying out of them, retreating to the books and old murals and the secret passageways and only emerging when it is time to help everyone put their pieces back together.

Ok so the masks thing sounds like the old Roddy but aren’t you scared that you’ve made him too reluctant?

I am a little. But I think it’ll work. I’m going to try very hard to make sure that people can see a good chunk of his take charge adventurous self at the beginning and then even though it gets squished I will be working to make sure that you can always see it poking out, making itself felt. You can take the boy out of the rebellion but you can’t take the rebellion out of the boy.

What do you want people to come for/stay for?

Come for the post renaissance style fantasy stay for the friendship shipping. And the chariot racing.

Pinterest BOard?

You bettcha https://pin.it/vkl2fkolt2f3s6

Any theme songs/ soundtracks?

  1. “Deliver Us” – Prince of Egypt
  2. “A Window to the Past”- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  3. “Red and Black”- Les Miserables
  4. “Pompeii”- Bastille
  5. Neverland- Zendaya
  6. “There’s No Business Like Show Business”- Annie Get Your Gun
  7. “Main Theme”- Chariots of Fire
  8. “Falcon in the Dive”- The Scarlet Pimpernel
  9. “Do You Hear The People Sing”- Les Miserables

Synopsis or pitch?

Roddy and Eric were childhood friends and very nearly brothers. One the son of a man who should have been king, the other his favorite and protege. But when they are captured, separated and sent to school to train as servants of the empire that destroyed their lives they respond very differently. Roddy, natural born leader and charmer would do anything to leave rebellion behind him. Eric, taciturn and standoffish chooses an unconventional way of fighting back. As the conquered people of Selkin march ever closer to full out revolt it seems the rebellion is in need of a chosen one. After all, what good is a banner unless there is someone waving it? But one possibility rejected his people long ago to live in a castle with a silver spoon in his mouth and the other… well he seems more interested in proving the theory his favorite teacher went to the grave believing than taking up the cause. Teodore Bere believes he can make the boy see sense though. He wouldn’t go running around the city like some masked avenger if he didn’t care. Bere makes his plans and keeps his fingers crossed that his banner boy will show up.

Feel Free to answer these similar questions on your own blog and leave me the link in a comment

  1. What makes this book different from your previous works?
  2. What former flaws in your writing are you trying to overcome with this project?
  3. Who is your favorite character?
  4. Describe the most crucial setting
  5. What is your biggest concern with this novel and what are you going to do to fix it?
  6. What do you want people to come/stay for?
  7. Pinterest board?
  8. Any playlists or soundtracks?
  9. Synopsis or pitch?

The Missing Piece

So from now on I’ll be like every one else on the internet and reference John Truby with every other breath.

Seriously though it started to get funny, watching film and writing essays on youtube and all of them, every single one, at some point would say “In his book, The Anatomy of Story John Truby says….” Finally, like the princess in Second Hand Lions I said to myself “I must meet this man.”

And so I’m reading The Anatomy of Story and guys, guys, GUYS! It is ( as the kids say) everything.

And today I want to talk about premises.

I have always hated premise work. I have always been fairly certain that with enough work I could make my books good and enjoyable and not cliched. But my premise? Ugggggggggg. How do you say “Here is a story you’ve probably seen before but I think you should read it anyway because I wrote it this time and you’ve never read it the way I wrote it before, and anyway I think you’ll like it”? How?

And the bigger problem is this. The more I refine my process the more I discover that I work best in layers, slowly building out from a seed with ever more complexity and detail. And when you work that way the seed is kind of supposed to be your premise. I mean it doesn’t have to be but it just makes sense, you know? The core of your story should be the same thing that \you use to tell people what its about.

So I tried really hard to work on my premises. I really did. I had the gee whiz idea, I had the comparisons to othet works in my genre etc. etc. But I kept coming up with “i just can’t put into words what makes this my book, what makes this specific..


In his book, The Anatomy of Story, John Truby writes; ” the designing principle is the synthesizing idea, the shaping clause of the story; its what internally makes the story a single unit and what makes it different from all the other stories.”

And that’s when it hit me, the reason I couldn’t express what made my story mine was that I hadn’t figured out why it was. Of course it was mine because I had come up with it but now I understood that that was not enough.

Truby then goes on to explain that a designing principle may be one of many things. It could be a symbol or metaphor that pulls everything together. The Great Gatsby is not just a love story about a poor boy who made it and a rich trophy wife, it”s a love story told as a metaphor for the emptiness of the american dream. It can be a way of framing or structuring the story. The Princess Bride is not just a swashbuckling story of adventure, it’s a fairy tale parody that makes fun of itself while also telling the story of fathers and sons and grandsons all finding a way to connect through story.

Why is The Name of the Wind so different from other hero stories? It’s told as the memories of a man who failed. Premise, says Truby, is what happens in the story, designing principle is what makes all the pieces hang together organically so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Well this put me in a bit of a pickle because I wasn’t sure I had one of these. I knew what was going to happen in my book and in its various storylines but designing principle? I was drawing a blank.

Ummm…. It’s the story of a reluctant hero. True but not enough. It’s a story about revolution that grows until you start to see both sides. Oh come on. It’s the story of how a folk hero came to be . Ok but that doesn’t even begin to cover any of the themes and it’s a cliche. A hero’s journey story that doesn’t go dark! Sigh.

I didn’t want to pick something external and force it onto the story. I didn’t want it to be arbitrary or a gimmick. I wanted a core that rose organically from the story I was trying to tell around which I could wrap everything. And as I was thinking about it I came upon this; I don’t know my full and complete ending yet, but I do know that it revolves around Roddy and Eric’s relationship and their differing ways of seeing the world.

And THEN it hit me. I am telling the story of a revolution with two possible chosen ones. The story is about many things: growing up, responsibility, moral quandaries, dragons, bending and cool technology, identity, moving forward, Hufflepuff values vs. Gryffindor ones, camaraderie, purpose, elitism, love, compromise; but everything circles back to this: Eric or Roddy? The dark prince or the charming outlaw? Optimist or pessimist? The man who makes the hard call or the man who holds out stubbornly for another option?

And so there it was, my whole series can be summed up this way “After five hundred years of bondage, two possible chosen ones have risen to free their people. “

Premise: A revolution led by a reluctant hero filled with wrong choices and failure and changing alliances.

Designing Principle: Two possible chosen ones, two men who feel the burden of their nation on their shoulders and neither one is the bad guy.

It’s like if Batman v. Superman were, you know, good and about swashbuckling freedom fighters who can move things with their minds ( or at least one of them can and the other one WOULD REALLY LIKE TO, DARN IT)

Heh. Sorry buddy. To be fair he’s also a better swordsman then you are and taller.

Oh. I guess that doesn’t make you feel any better.

Here lie the mortal remains of Cara, she will not be missed -Roddy Umber

The Princess and the Sage: Chapter Two

What That Young Person Was Doing There

Once the awkward silence which followed this outburst had dissipated the ladies moved to leave the gentlemen to their port and cigars.The young boy who had declared he would teach the princess went with them and Mr. Borret, now moving like one in a dream fairly collared his host and brought him down to the end of the table, away from the decanter and clouds of smoke.

“Who,” said Br. Borret in sepulchral tones, “Was that young person and what is someone like him doing here?”

For Mr. Borret had finally thought of where he had seen odd clothing like that the young boy was wearing before. When Mr. Borret was a young man he had traveled to the small continent and seen wonders and old fashioned castles. At that time it had been very fashionable to go and see the old world where animals still occasionally spoke and everybody knew somebody who knew someone else who had almost seen a pixie.

Mr. Borret did not like the small continent. It was not modern, it was not scientific, it was not– to be frank– tidy. And the thing he had liked the least was the school of sages.

The school of sages was built on a small rocky island off the southern coast. It consisted of several large round towers, a lot of sea birds that screamed, and one or two hundred wise men and wise men in training. The school was very friendly to tourists but all the sages wandered about in their robes and said things like “ what is here today may have never been tomorrow” and “ the cat that is bit is the one that howls” even if the conversation hadn’t been about cats at all. Mr. Borret had found it extremely unsettling and had even written a little paper on his return home on the subject of proverbs being bad for the digestion. In truth what he had really disliked was being in the same place with so many people who knew more than himself. He was used to being the cleverest and most learned person in the room and at the age of twenty had already determined that there was nothing anyone in the old fashioned world of the small continent could teach him. So on the whole the experience was very uncomfortable.

To now be faced by a young person some forty years his junior, wearing the robes of the Sage School and declaring he intended to take Mr. Borret’s job! It was altogether too much. Mr. Borret was beside himself. If he had had any energy to do so he would have frothed.

“I don’t know his name,” said Mr. Fortesquar uncomfortably. “He introduced himself as ‘the sage’ and Mrs, Fortesquar and I were unsure how to ask for his true surname.”

“Well,” said Mr. Borret, “That hardly answers what such a person is doing here. Really! In this modern age, to be entertaining professional wisemen…” he trailed off in unpleasant grumblings.

Mr. Fortesquar fixed him with a very cold stare. “Why to be sure he is dining as a guest of myself and my wife,” he said. And with that the worthy gentleman of the house turned his back on Mr. Borret and returned to his other guests.

In truth the story of how the sage had come to Winkling Street was one he himself would dearly like to know. Earlier that day the butler had knocked on the door of the sitting room where the Fortesquars were enjoying a quiet moment. The children were all out with the governess and would be for the next hour at least.

“Quiet,” said Mr. Fortesquar, staring at the ceiling. “It is a blessed thing. A holy thing.”

His wife, who was a calm woman unruffled by her eight children and their noise, gave him a fond look. “As if you did not begin the worst of it, Peter,” she said. “By promising them all a trip to the seaside. No wonder they nearly shouted the house down with joy.”

Mr. Fortesquar smiled. The only thing he liked better than planning family outings was giving his wife little presents. At that presise moment there was a bit of frippery he had forgotten the name of the instant the shop girl had said it to him residing in his pocket and he was very much looking forward to presenting it to his lady. But for now it was enough to stare at the ceiling and listen to the quiet, punctuated only by the rustle of his wife’s sleeve as she drew her needle in and out of her embroidery.

At that precise moment Bellamy, the butler knocked on the door.

“Enter,” said the lady of the house.

Bellamy entered looking disapproving. But since Bellamy had been hired by Mr. Fortesquar’s father for his beautiful ability to look disapproving (it gave such a tone to the house) and since Bellamy seemed to consider it his duty to do so at least once an hour, Mrs. Fortesquar was not much perturbed. “Yes Bellamy? She said in her cool, pleasant voice.

“There is a young boy here to see you, sir. He did not give his name.”

The Fortesquars looked at each other. Both of them would have thought that in such a case Bellamy would have quickly closed the door in such a person’s face.

“Is he begging?” asked Mrs. Fortesquar at last, “If he is tell him to go round to the back and cook will give him some bread and butter.”

Bellamy looked not only disapproving now but offended. That the mistress should think he hadn’t enough sense to deal with a beggar! But Bellamy was devoted to both his master and mistress and only let a little of his offense show on his face. “He is not a beggar, ma’am. He is dressed like a sage from a history book.”

The Fortesquars looked at each other again. They considered themselves modern people and had been the first house in their street to install gas lighting. They had been to Lord Hastely’s speech ten years ago on “A celebration of the modern lawyer and his triumph over the unscientific methods of the past” and both had purchased the commorative booklet that had been printed for te occasion. As was the case with most of their friends and neighbors they did not hold with the backwards ways of the continent. But one did not simply turn away someone as revered in his own country as a sage.

Mrs. Forestquar gave her husband a tiny nod.

“Show him in Bellamy,” said Mr. Fortesquar, making an effort to sit up straight and look like a modern man full of purpose.

The butler ushered in a small boy in a long, oddly shaped robe. Mrs. Bellamy instantly made up her mind to like him and do for him whatever she could. He had freckles and there was an ink blot on his nose. “Hello,” said the boy, “I am The Young Sage”

“I am Horatio Fortesquar,” said that gentleman, “And this is my wife.”

“How charming you both are, “ said the Young Sage, “Have a pickle.”
And with that he pulled a large glass jar of pickles out of his pocket, unscrewed the lid and removed one. A long drop of pickle juice poised on the end of the proffered pickle and then, trembling, fell onto the very expensive carpet.

Mr. Fortesquar, unsure of what else to do stretched out his hand. The Young Sage put the pickle into it. It was damp and a little limp.

‘I never stand upon ceremony,” said the Young Sage crossing to the yellow silk divan and lowering himself onto it with a little bounce. “I sit upon it.”

Mr. Fortesquar giggled. “How clever!” He turned to his wife, “Did you hear that my dear, sit upon ceremony!”

Mrs. Fortesquar folded her hands gently in her lap. “How may we help you Master…”

She trailed off suggestively but the Young Sage only hopped off the divan and did a hand stand.

“Oh I don’t need any help,” said the Young Sage, “I can do a headstand too. Look!”

By the time the gymnastics had ended, the children had returned and catching sight of the sage they immediately pounced upon their mamma with loud supplications to be allowed to keep him. Jeremy seemed to get a bit confused and think they were speaking of a dog for he offered to walk it every day.

At last the Sage stood and held up his hands. “Of course I am staying,” he said, “I am staying for-” he took a large pocket watch out of his pocket, shook it and looked at it very hard for a moment. “I am staying for one thousand five hundred and seventy two minutes.’

And so he did. He taught the children how to play human chess, he wound Mrs. Forestquar’s thread for her, sat the little boys down and told them that every gentleman knows how to knit, asked with great politeness to see Mr. Fortesquar’s books and then balanced them for him—first so the numbers came out straight and then on his nose— and went up to the attic to remove the bats all the while telling the children that bats were really just sweet little mice with wings and there was absolutely no reason to be afraid of tem, but that they should not live in attics because all the memories kept in the things up there disturbed their dreams.

Mr. and Mrs. Fortesquar had a perfectly lovely day. The children all followed the young sage about and Miss Ham the governess was able to sit and rest with her employers in the sitting room where they all discovered, to their great happiness, that they were all very fond of the same serialized story in the Newspaper. It was called “The Perils of an Ordinary Girl” and was about an actress who was secretly an heiress and was hired by the king to be a spy and who had the unfortunate problem of everyone she met falling desperately in love with her or else wanting to blow her up with dynamite.

So as Mr. Fortesquar turned his back on Mr. Borret and returned to his guests he himself would dearly have liked to know what the Young Sage was doing therer, but that emotion was not as strong in his breast as the desire that the young sage would stay.

The villain as hero (and no, I’m not talking about Loki)

It has become a cliche in recent years to say that “Every good villain sees himself as the hero”, and of course I like a good sympathetic villain as much as the next guy; but I’m here to talk about a different way to apply the same writing tools that you use for heroes to villains.

Have you ever watched a TV show or a movie or read a book in which you spend the whole story waiting to find out the villains plan? And then you get there and you find out that it is the most complex plot to ever be created and requires the hero to make these seven specific choices. As in, their plan would have failed if the hero hadn’t managed to almost win in a very specific and complex way. Like, oh say, making it through a deadly competition and beating older and more experienced students in order to touch a very specific cup (don’t get me wrong, I love Harry Potter).

I used to struggle with this a lot as a writer. In an attempt to make my plots more interesting I would make my villain’s plots more and more complex and when a little voice in the back of my head asked “why don’t they just, you know, do literally anything else?” I decided to make my villain’s motivation sadistic manipulation of the hero for the sole purpose of making him miserable.

Now it can be compelling for a villain to really personally have it in for the hero and want to destroy their life, or to be an evil puppet master who just likes to pull the strings for the sake of pulling them; but I don’t know… It just kind of gets old after awhile?

In most really great stories the villains plan is simple. In LotR Gollum wants the ring that Frodo has to destroy. In AtLA Zuko wants to capture the avatar and regain his honor. In Up Charles Muntz wants to capture the bird and regain his honor. In The Avengers Loki wants to rule earth. Oh look, I am talking about Loki.

How do they go about achieving these goals? Gollum chases Frodo and Sam until he’s captured and then after struggling with himself he tries to feed them to a spider. Zuko chases the Gaang, occasionally switching sides and helping them so that no one else can capture them. Muntz tries to smoke Kevin out of her maze and then tries to kill those who try to help her. Loki steals a weapon to defeat earth with and then when earth assembles a team that might defeat him he lets himself get captured to try and break them apart.

In all of these plots, if you notice, nothing gets complex until some outside force makes the villain complicate their plan. Gollum didn’t try to insuinuate himself into the group in order to feed them to Shelob, if he’d been able to steal the ring or kill the hobbits without getting captured, he would have. The same goes for all the others. In The Blue Spirit Zuko only helps Aang because he wants the honor of capturing him for himself, not Admiral Zhou. Once Aang is safe from Zhou though he goes right back to trying to capture him himself. Even Loki, devious, trickster Loki has a fairly simple plan to begin with: steal the tesseract and use it to bring an army to earth. It doesn’t get complex until he sees that the avengers could be a threat to him in Germany.

So how do you plot something like this? How do you give your villain a simple plan and still keep the story interesting and the hero on his toes?

You plot both of them like they are the hero.

Both the protagonist and the antagonist have a goal, these goals will bring them in conflict. You decide which one of them will move first and then you have the other one counter- move. Heroes don’t usually try to save the world they love by the most complicated means possible, they just go out and try to gain enough advantage over the villain to make him stop ( or in edgier works, kill him). Suppose your villain wants someone dead. Have them kill him. Then your hero starts sniffing around. So your villain tries to kill him. But your hero cleverly gets away. So the villain lays a trap. But the hero figures it out and calls the police. So the villain tries to frame someone else. But the hero proves their innocence. So the villain captures htier friend. So the hero saves them. So the villain uses the time to plant evidence framing the hero… You see what I mean.

Now of course, you will notice that this plot is as well worn as the one where the villain’s plan is extremely complex, in fact probably more so. So why is it better? Because it’s real. In real life people do try the obvious thing first. If that doesn’t work they try something else. And here we come to one of my favorite things about stories. If you make people act like people everything else: the world, the circumstances, the laws of physics can be as crazy as you like.

Plus if the solution to the problem is really complicated because both your hero and your villain have been trying different things and the situation is ust really tangled up your audience will feel like the complications are real and be upset and nervous about them.

Another way to do this is to just make the adversary incredibly powerful and so the hero has to work unbelievably hard to defeat him. Or make the hero unsure of who their adversary is. Everyone loves a good mystery. And it’s a lot more believable to make the identity of the villain a secret, or even his motive, than to have his plan hinge on the hero trying to stop him in this specific way at this specific time.

Mr. Borret and Mr. Plimpsole

I will be posting my novel The Princess and the Sage here on my blog as I write it. I make no promises for how quickly or frequently I will be posting as this is a back-burner book and I spend most of my writing time on my heroic fantasy novel The School of Princes.

Chapter One: Mr Borret and Mr. Plimpsole

a party in honor…

In Winkling Street, behind the third door down (which is not marked three as you might guess, but rather seventeen) there lives a rather curious old gentleman by the name of Borret.

One might suppose since I have mentioned him that he is the sage referred to in the title of this piece but that would be incorrect. The eponymous sage might be better called The Young Sage and, though he had eaten enough pickles in his lifetime for someone with a much longer one, he was only eight at the time of this story. Or perhaps he was twelve. I’m quite sure it was a multiple of four. And it couldn’t have been sixteen.

Mr. Borret was considered curious by his neighbors because they were too polite to consider him something more unpleasant. He was very learned and very self important and very well thought of in academic circles but he was not, alas, well born. And, having risen as far as he might without that last and most necessary of keys to society he had come to rest on his laurels in such a grumpy sort of way that one might have thought they were thorns.
However in his fifty fourth year a piece of good fortune came Mr. Borret’s way and with it also came the beginning of our story.

The king had put it about among his various ministers, advisors, and members of court that he was very pleased with his daughter’s progress in the realm of academia but that she had quite gotten to the end of what her tutor felt he could teach her. The king wished his various ministers, advisors, and members of court to apply themselves to thinking of some plan by which his daughter (who was only sixteen) might gain more education. In short he wished them to put their thinking caps on.

The various ministers, advisors, and members of court talked about this charge from their monarch in their salons and rose gardens and over their cups of jasmine tea ( all the rage just now, imported directly from regions eastern) and came to a startling conclusion. The king must hire a Mr. Borret whom they had all heard about from one or another of their vast and weighty acquaintance.

The reason for this, it was explained to the king, was that times were becoming more modern and it was very modern to hire a commoner to teach the princess.

“Very modern?” inquired the king.

Very modern.” Repeated the ministers, advisers, and members of court quite firmly.

The real reason of course was that no one among the glittering and illustrious nobility wanted the job. Because if anyone were so presumptuous as to say they thought they might be able to teach the princess and then it was found that the princess knew more than they; well they would look most uncommonly stupid. And the various ministers, advisors; and members of court found, when they really thought about it, that they did not much like looking stupid.

No, no; much better to put the whole thing on the shoulders of someone completely foreign, someone who was not –in short– one of them. And Mr. Borret, whatever his personal failings, had one great virtue; he was most emphatically not one of them.

Now on the very day when the letter arrived at Mr. Borret’s house with the great wax seal on it; on that very day tidings arrived in the neighborhood that would so effectively delight the people of that neighborhood that they would have no attention whatsoever to pay to Mr. Borret and his good news. And the tidings were these: Mr. Plimpsole was to come into the region once more. Great jubilation at once broke forth in the whole of Winkling Street and its surrounding environs.

The noise of this general celebration was such that even the maiden aunts of the population put away their ear trumpets and declared that their relations had at last learned to speak up.

What was the reason for this joy; this cacophony; this din; this hubbub; this tumult; this uproar; this commotion or hullabaloo? To be brief, this noise?
It was nothing more than this; Mr. Plimpsole was a most charming and amiable man; who was always interested in whatever anyone had to say to him, behaved with grace no matter the occasion, flattered with complete sincerity, and truly was as shocked as his manner indicated him to be about the roads or weather. He also had the happy talent of being able to play “The Solemn March of a Monarch very very fast upon the pianoforte.

Despite this ability being both well known and noised abroad, Mr. Plimpsole never tired of performing it for his admiring and clamoring friends at a moment’s notice. Indeed, every time he was called upon to perform this service of entertainment he seemed more pleased and truly grateful for the opportunity than he had the last time.

Anyone talking to him immediately felt themselves to not only be at their best but to have every chance of going on and continuing to be so. To sum up all; Mr. Plimpsole was a thoroughly nice person.

And so, though Mr. Borret went about from house to house and called upon his neighbors and waited for them to ask him some question which might allow him to modestly bring up the subject of his late preferment; nobody talked of anything but Mr. Plimpsole’s return from his tour of the large continent.

Mr. Borret came home in a foul temper and was rude to his footmen. He then thought better of it and tried to drop a few hints about what sort of message had been in the great cream letter with the huge red seal upon it. He hoped in this way to get his own servants to gossip to the servants of the other houses along the street and so spread his news that way. But none of his servants seemed able to understand what he was hinting at and only asked him if he thought he would be going to the dinner Mrs. Fortesquar was giving to welcome Mr. Plimpsole back into the neighborhood.

Mr. Borret ground his teeth and sent back his dinner, saying it was too plain, in hopes of offending the cook. But the cook only served it up to the footmen and received many compliments on it from more honest mouths than Mr. Borret’s. And Mr. Borret went to bed hungry.

The dinner was held on Monday night and everyone was there. Even the youngest Miss Fortesquar who was not truly supposed to be out yet was allowed to stay up as far as supper. It must be confessed that she ate too many curried squibs and was ill all the next day but her pleasure in the evening was such that she did not mind and told her four little brothers all about it in between trips to the washroom to be indisposed.

Mr. Borret arrived a bit late and was displeased to see the number of carriages in the street still clogged waiting to get in. He had walked in order to deprive his carriage driver of the chance to go and have a good time in the servants hall and his feet were wet. He said a few rude things to the people who greeted him, but they did not notice; indeed the only person who did seem to take notice of him was a young boy who was sitting with his legs folded beneath him on a green silk covered chair. The boy was certainly dressed very oddly and Mr. Borret considered him much too young to be at a dinner party. He said “Hasn’t anyone ever told you not to stare boy?” In a sharp voice and turned his back on the corner all together.

The boy said, “They have. But they also tell me to pay attention. And I feel a positive command outweighs a negative command, don’t you?”

Mr. Borrett was quite put out by this. He considered it a most rude answering back and, feeling in must surely draw unpleasant attention if he were to box the young imp’s ears he walked away quickly, muttering things about the younger generation.

Mr. Borret did not see Mr. Plimpsole until they went into dinner because there was such a crush of people around him the whole time. He floated on the edges of the crowd and thought dark and self pitying thoughts. When they went into dinner he found himself very squished between two generously proportioned ladies and scarcely able to see past them towards the man near the head of the table whom he was beginning to think of as his enemy. Added to all this the boy from before was sitting directly across from him.

I will leave to the gentle reader to judge –knowing all he does of Mr. Borret’s situation– whether it was justifiable for that gentleman when he had tried to tell his right hand dinner partner of his summons from the king and she interrupted him to say that she hoped Mr. Plimpsole would play for them all after dinner; I will leave it to the gentle reader to judge if it was permissible in Mr. Borret to rise from his chair, spilling his plate of ragout and announce in loud and querulous tones that he was sick to death of Mr. Plimpsole and had no intention of ever hearing that gentleman’s name again, not when he was appointed to high office by the king himself and deserved to be treated with deference and preferment.

The entire room fell silent and at the end of this speech Mr. Borret, breathing hard, saw that every eye in the room was turned upon him in horror and disgust. Mr. Borret began to sweat.

Mr. Plimpsole, who was a little man with a bald pate and a quiet voice, rose from his seat too and, bowing to Mr. Borret, said that he was sorry he had given offense to Mr. Borret and he hoped Mr. Borret might tell him by what way he could go about making amends. “For indeed,” he said mildly, “I do not know what it is I have done to injure you, sir.”

At this Mr. Borret fairly frothed at the mouth and sat down again, his face turning purple with both shame and anger.

The boy who was sitting across the table from Mr. Borret broke the silence. “What sort of hight office?” he asked, “has the king appointed you to?”
Finally, here was the question that Mr. Borret had been waiting days to answer. But he found himself hardly able to speak. At last he managed to choke out. “I am to teach the princess, since no one among the nobility was found who might be intelligent enough to do so.”

The boy frowned. He had a small pointed face that seemed to always be laughing. A frown looked quite foreign on it. “Oh no!” he said. “That won’t do at all. You’re far too nasty. I shall teach her myself.”

The Curtain Walls

All along the walls that were hills not walls, but somehow still walls; men waited to light the fuses. So much money had been spent in order to procure the explosives that looking at the dark outlines of the barrels against the shadowed steeps, the governor almost expected a golden glow –like that off of newly minted money– to radiate from the walls.

The walls that couldn’t be climbed, couldn’t be gotten around, couldn’t even be walked through. Men went in among those hills and never came out.

It was time to blow them down.

“Ready!” The governor strode back toward his men and their earthworks. An equerry stood ready to help him up into the saddle. The saddle creaked and the dun colored courser shifted ever so slightly. Silence descended once again.


Men bent with torches and the fuses lit up, making little ribbons of fire. A pause.

The earth rumbled and bucked. The cliff-like hills exploded. Dirt rained down and rocks sailed. Men ducked and fell back behind the trenches. Horses screamed.

At last all was still. The governor nudged forward his mount. Through the settling dust he could see the gap left in the hillsides. So. After almost five hundred years…

But the earth groaned. The land beneath their feet shook.  The hills seemed to melt and run together, the rocks returned to their places as if pulled there by invisible hands. In moments the only evidence of the explosion was a scar of brown earth in the middle of the green growing hills. Their heights rose as steep and impenetrable as ever.

Pandemonium broke out. The Tolimen soldiers turned and fled. The sound of stampeding feet and hooves filled the night.

“Capulin,” The governor said into the cacophony. “Capulin.”

Though his voice was hoarse a young captain appeared at his elbow as quickly and silently as a good servant. “M’lord?”

“Do you see it?”

“Yes m’lord.”

“So it’s true then, Wilhulse is a magician.”

The young man at his side twitched slightly, almost as if irritated. “A bender, you mean? It would seem so m’lord.”
“I told the emperor that such rumors were nothing. I encouraged him to purchase this stuff,” he waved a hand at the whole hillside where the barrels of explosives had been set. His head began to wag from side to side. “I’m going to lose my position. I’m finished. I’m…”

The young captain cleared his throat. “Let’s not talk like that just yet m’lord,” he said bracingly.

But among the fleeing soldiers men were falling to their knees and praying. Grown men were screaming, though not a one of them had been hurt.  The governor passed a hand in front of his eyes, his face white and bloodless. Slowly he bent at the waist and slipped from off his horse.

The young captain lifted him up and slung him across the saddle. He did not leave with the others but stood staring at the still and silent walls for quite some time. Unmoving as they.