Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: The Spinning Wheel Trade

The worst chore for Crystal was undoubtedly spinning yarn. It always made her fingers hurt and more than once, she’d found a spontaneous knot in already carded wool which proved to be a seed or stone or some other item which shouldn’t have been there.

She wasn’t sure which was worse, the way her hands itched and burned, or the fact that there was always something that shouldn’t have been in the wool. Her brothers could card it, comb it and sort it three and four times and Crystal would still have small items to pull out of it.

They’d tried cotton one year. It had been worse. She still had a scar on her palm from the broken knife blade that had somehow been hidden in it.

For the what felt like the hundredth time since starting, Crystal had to pause and reach for the comb to help pluck out whatever she’d discovered. A leaf, she realized. At the least, it looked like a leaf.

Yes, it was a leaf. A little crushed, but a leaf. Hoping no one was around to see, she sniffed it. Mint.

She dropped the leaf in the small basket next to her where it joined the other odds and ends she’d found. By the time she finished her spinning and had enough wool to take down to the old woman, she’d have half-filled the basket.

“Excuse me?”

Timid and soft, the voice drew Crystal’s attention from her yarn. The timidity in the voice matched its owner well. Juniper. The old woman’s apprentice.

She stood there, eyes wide and fearful as she studied Crystal, a basket over her arm. “Yes?” Crystal asked. As always, it seemed her ribbon was falling out.

“I…I brought you some tarts. As a thank you for the blackberries.” A faint smile curled on Juniper’s lips as she spoke and Crystal paused.

Few people thanked her for the things she gave them. All too often she found them whether she wanted to or not. People were used to her handing them odd little things, only for them to be missing items or things they needed for supper, for work, for other endeavors.

“A thank you?” It almost felt foreign to Crystal. People didn’t thank her for the items she gave them.

“It only seemed right,” Juniper said and bent her head. Crystal hated how small she sounded. “You didn’t have to give me the blackberries, so I thought I’d bring you something.”

Slowly, Crystal stood, leaving her spinning as it was and came down the porch steps. She was a little taller than Juniper, she realized and smiled a little as Juniper hesitantly uncovered the basket to reveal the tarts.

Blackberry tarts.

“Thank you,” Crystal said, and Juniper smiled as she lifted the plate out to hand them over.

“I…well, you’re welcome.”

“Do you want to come in?” The words came out of Crystal’s mouth before she could fully think them through. She knew what the house looked like—there were dozens of things on shelves wherever she’d left them, probably dust in the corner because there always seemed to be something. Laundry on the line. There would be at least one rabbit escaped from the hutch.

“Oh, I…I don’t want to impose.”

It was too late to rescind the invitation and Crystal had been taught sharing gifts was polite.

Even if she didn’t usually get a thank-you for the gifts she gave others.

“It’s not. I’m inviting you in. At least have a tart with me.”

Juniper hesitated and then nodded. “All—Alright.”

It was such a tiny smile, but on Juniper’s face, it made almost everything brighter. Crystal held the door for her, but as they walked in, she almost wanted to exclaim some emergency and run away. Shelves full of the odds and ends Crystal had found covered the one wall, trinkets, broken pieces of pottery and other random items.

It wasn’t the pieces themselves that mattered, most of the time they were only little things. Rather, Crystal knew they were still holding into something else. A little magic, which she herself couldn’t do anything with.

She could hold magic, but not use it.

Juniper’s gaze however, traveled up and down the shelf and Crystal found her tongue once again moving.

“They’re just interesting finds. Things from the field.” Or from the yarn she spun, from the bushes she helped trim, from the basket she brought home from market, from who knew where.

“They’re very interesting,” Juniper agreed and reached up to fix her hair, sighing when the ribbon slipped out again. “Sorry.”

“Nothing to apologize for.”

“I did interrupt your spinning,” Juniper said and Crystal smiled.

“That’s always interrupted,” she said. “It takes a while to get anything spun for me.”

“Oh. I—mhmm.” She dropped her head a little and Crystal set the plate down.

“You were going to say something.”

“Oh, it’s just, I’ve always enjoyed spinning. I’d be happy to help or show you some things if you’d like.”

“It’s not that, it’s just the wool and…” she trailed off, not wanting to have to explain she was fairy-blessed, gifted to always find something she could use.

“It’s your blessing, isn’t it?”

The outright question startled Crystal and Juniper dropped her head again. “I’m sorry, that was rude.”

“It just surprised me. Not that many people know about it.”

Juniper smiled. “The old woman, she told me.”

Crystal knew exactly who Juniper meant. And if she’d told Juniper, there had to be a reason behind it.

“Then, would you mind helping with the spinning? I can bring more blackberries, or something else if you need it.”

Juniper’s gaze moved to the shelf. “Actually,” she said and reached out gently to pick up a tiny brass ring. “I need a ring for something I’m working on. I’ll trade you for this.”

Impossibly, Crystal’s heart skipped a beat. “Absolutely,” she said.

“Then let’s have that tart, and then I’ll get the spinning done,” Juniper said and slid the ring into her basket.

The tarts were sweet, and Crystal made tea. The conversation grew easier and she learned more about Juniper. She’d been an apprentice for three years. She had a younger sister, now off to university.

Their tart finished and Juniper began the spinning. Several times as Crystal moved near the door while she worked around the rest of the house, she thought she heard Juniper humming as she worked.

It was evening fall by the time her brothers came in from the fields and both she and Juniper belatedly realized the time.

“Thank you, again,” Juniper said as she tried and failed to tie the ribbon back into her hair. “If you want help with the spinning again just let me know. I’ll—oh, I’m sorry, I’ve got to go!”

“Of course. And thank you for the tarts.”

Juniper waved as she scurried away and Crystal leaned against the doorframe, lips pulled into a smile.

A hand landed on her shoulder and she looked up to see Jasper, grinning at her like a fool. “Help with the spinning?”

Her cheeks tingled a little and she scrunched her nose as she tried to shrug his hand off. “She asked if I wanted any, and it made it easier to get some other things done.”

Jasper barked out a laugh. “Somehow I have a feeling you’re going to need a lot of help with all that spinning.”

Cheeks burning, Crystal turned into the house. Supper needed to be seen to. Although, she had to wonder if this was what Godmother Dawn had been intending when she’d told Juniper about Crystal’s blessing. It almost felt rude to steal a Godmother’s apprentice for a little help with spinning yarn.  


By A.J. Helms

If you enjoyed this short piece, consider checking out my short stories or my books! This piece also connects directly with my short Season of Preparing and is in the same universe as Crimson and Gold.

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Where Fate Ends

The horses snorted a little as the cart drew to a stop and Briom glanced at the boy next to him. There was still a chance to change his mind, he realized.

Reminded of why he was doing this, Briom’s resolve hardened. “We’re here,” he said.

His face serious for being only eight, Davise slid out of the seat easily. Briom waited a moment longer before he joined the boy on the ground. There were only three steps up to the door, but he was careful, waiting for Davise to go up them first. He knocked, the fine material of his thick cloak opening to reveal the heavily embroidered belt he wore and the thick chain around his neck.

It took a moment for the door to open, though the face behind it didn’t look even remotely surprised. Her dark brown hair had been pulled over one shoulder, and one brow quirked up.

“Hello,” Briom said.

“Well come in then,” Liria said and stepped back.

He motioned Davise in first, and then followed. Liria shut the door behind them. “Mind the glass,” she called and lead the way to the back. “I just put the kettle on.”

Most of the front room was taken over with shelves dedicated to books, but the central shelves were full of detailed glass sculptures. He marveled at these for a moment before stepping through the short door and into the kitchen. “Go, sit,” Briom said and patted Davise’s back gently to encourage him to do so.

Liria smiled. “There’s a cushion on the one in the middle,” she said.

“Thank you,” Davise said politely, and moved to that one, climbing into it and smiling as he settled into it.

Briom couldn’t but smile at that and inclined his head at Liria. “You look good,” he said.

“You mean I look better than the last time you saw me,” she said.

“That’s—well. It’s been a few years.”

“Briom, you haven’t seen me since I was a teen,” she said.

A rare laugh escaped him. She was right and he had to shake his head. “Yes,” he agreed.

“Who is she, Papa?”

He looked over and smiled a little. “This is your Aunt Liria,” he said. “She’s got magic, just like yours.”

Davise’s eyes widened. “You mean with the ice?”

“Indeed!” Liria said. “Specifically, it’s called cyclical magic, and our particular kind deals with the magic of winter. More—ah, forgive me. I’m rambling.”

The kettle whistled and Liria turned, moving to pull it off. “Let me make it,” Briom said and Liria looked at him and he smiled. “It’d be an honor.”

Her gaze narrowed slightly but she nodded. “Very well,” she said.

He smiled a little as he made the tea. He kept careful track of the cups as he added the sugar, he knew his son would like, and a dose of something extra. “Do you take sugar, Liria?”

“Oh, no, I can’t stand the stuff,” Liria said. “Some rather unpleasant memories associated with sugar.”

His son frowned a little as the tea was set in front of him. “What do you here?”

“Oh, for Reverie? Not too much. Mostly just teach.”

“Mostly?”

“Yes, mostly. Occasionally I’m a little bit of a merchant, storyteller, mediator.” Liria considered it. “That list of titles really has come down. Disappointing.”

“What do you mean it’s come down?” the boy asked.

“Oh I used to have dozens of titles. Let’s see, there was being a scholar, and a professor, tiny bit of a thief but really that one I’m not terribly proud of, adept, messenger, traveling merchant, adventurer in generally.”

“You’ve gone on adventures?”

“Oh plenty,” Liria said and sipped her tea. “Let me see, where to start?”

Briom was silent, letting Liria entertain his son with a story. As she told it, Davise began to nod, tired from the travel and from the additive in his tea.

It was only when his head nearly hit the table and he jerked awake that Briom chuckled. “Bed, I think.”

“Are we sleeping in the carriage?”

Briom didn’t answer right away, only glancing at Liria, who inclined her head slightly. “No,” he said. “We’ll stay here the night.”

Liria smiled as Briom stood, coming over to guide the boy over to the small room off the kitchen. The bed was made, he saw and Liria pulled the covers down. “Sleep well,” he murmured as Davise tumbled into bed.

He stepped out again, closing the door softly and resting against it for a moment.

Liria’s hand was gentle on his elbow. “You know by leaving him here, he won’t be able to leave. He will be Reverie’s next protector.”

“I know,” Briom said and turned away. “But our father is sickening, and I can feel it sinking in. You said you never found a way to break the curse on the home.”

“No,” Liria said and turned away, going to the kitchen table. “It’s worse. There is no curse on the home.”

“What do you mean?” Briom said.

“It’s not a curse, it’s the price of magic,” Liria said. There was a tiredness in her voice as she said it. “Magic extends its price until fully paid. Someone who owned the home before our father used a spell at which point likely killed the original spell caster. Since the spell was cast, the price needed to be paid, if there was no familial or emotional connection to carry out the cost then it would have settled into the area.”

“Then if we moved the family home it would no longer affect us?” Briom asked.

“That’s where things get tricky,” Liria said. “The Baron made it our family home, and when he did so, it could very much mean that the price of that magic will follow our family no matter where they go.”

Briom sighed and had to sink into a seat. “Can you—you’re an expert in magic. Isn’t there something you can do?”

“Unfortunately, not. The price for magic can’t be changed. It’s nonnegotiable, and situations like this are exactly why any magic user needs to be so careful with their spells,” Liria said.

He put his head in his hands with a groan. The silence fell around them for several moments before he exhaled and looked up at her.

Liria was right, he hadn’t seen her in years, though he was grateful she hadn’t mentioned exactly when he’d seen her last. Though watching as she fought their father and a powerful binding spell was something that still haunted his nightmares.

“I can feel it,” Briom said finally and looked up at her. “Father’s gotten sick, so a lot of his responsibilities are mine and I can feel it. Like some lurking beast around every corner. It’s…it’s not like Father yet, but it’s there.”

Liria nodded slightly. “Well,” she said. “If this is truly what you wish, then I’ll look after him, but I do hope you know what you’re dooming him to. He will be Reverie’s next protector.”

“I’d rather doom him to a long life at the edge of this miserable forest than a short one as the next Baron of Storms,” Briom said.

She smiled slightly. “I suppose that’s that then,” she said. “Well, the other bed isn’t much, but I suppose I can at least offer it to you for the night.”

“No, I need to be going. He should sleep until about midmorning.”

“Then I’ll wake you with the dawn,” Liria said.

Briom looked at her. “You can’t be serious,” he said.

“I’m really not much of one for jokes. Outside the realm of my talents, really. Lies, half-truths, stories, those I can all tell. Jokes really do escape me.”

He was silent for a long moment before he nodded. “Very well,” he said. “But I won’t rob you of your bed.”

“Oh hardly,” Liria said. “I’ve known you’d bring your son to me for years. I have two guest beds and I have mine. You’re just going to have to make do with the second guest bed, that’s all.”

“How long have you known?” Briom asked.

“Oh, let me see, I think…twenty six years now?”

“He’s only eight,” Briom said.

“Fate has a funny way of working out like that,” Liria said.

Briom frowned. “You’ve had your fate read?”

“Multiple times, actually. This was just one certainty that never changed. There are others.”

“Like what?”

Liria smiled, a little sadly. “I’ve already told you,” she said. “He can’t be Reverie’s protector if he’s the Baron of Storms, and he can’t be the Baron if he’s Reverie’s protector.”

The realization of what she was saying punched his gut. “He’ll become protector when you die,” he said.

“Yes,” Liria said. “That’s years from now. I have a few adventures left in me and you have your fate to live out still.”

“Do you know my fate?”

“I’m many things, but a Fate Reader I am not. If you want to know where your fate ends, that’s something you’d have to ask someone with a different kind of magic than what I or your son possess. Neither of us can tell you.”


by A.J. Helms

If you enjoyed this and would like more to read, you can find more on the Books page and the Short Stories page.

Posted in Exercises, worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Fauna

Earth itself has an amazing diversity of life. This isn’t just limited to people either. There’s over a million known species of animals on the planet. Estimates place the total number, both known and unknown, closer to eight million. The reason for such a wide margin has to do both with the sheer number of animals that currently exist and are known, and the fact that getting an accurate number even on humans is difficult.

That can also carry over to fictional worlds. Whether you’re working on an extraterrestrial pet or figuring out how dragons work exactly, fictional works have plenty of their own animals.

When handling a fictional animal species, it’s a good idea to consider the basics first, and then get into adding any additional features. Start with:

  • What does it eat?
  • What sort of climate does it live in?
  • What kind of threats does it have to watch out for?
  • How does it defend itself?
  • How does it make a shelter, if it needs one at all?
  • Are they lone animals or do they live in groups?

Also consider things like how they reproduce and how much care is given to babies and which parents might be responsible for that care. For aquatic animals, also consider how they get the air they need. Some animals have gills while others will come to the surface briefly.

These basics can give you a good idea of additional features that would work. A deer that hunts prey will need teeth capable of cutting, instead of just teeth useful for crushing leaves. Likewise, remember that even prey animals will need some means of defense. This could be in armor-like hides, or with claws and horns.

Once you know what the animal needs for its basics, you can start playing with an adding features. Consider how adding wings to a rabbit might make it better able to escape from predators, and how it might affect its ability to navigate dense undergrowth. When adding in something like magic or psionic abilities keep in mind how these additional abilities would help them in their natural environment. Obviously when giving magic powers, you have a lot more room to work with, so long as you’re not breaking the established rules of both magic and physics in your world. Remember fire underwater sounds cool, but doesn’t work unless that fire has some way of getting oxygen to continue burning.

It’s also possible you won’t need any additional features for your fictional creatures. You might know what a dog or a cat is on sight, but consider describing them as if you’re seeing it for the first time. You might end up describing an animal like this:

Four long legs held up a lithe, muscular body. Each paw ended in sharp, hollow claws. Aside from the obnoxious hissing, it was also capable of two different growling sounds, one of which indicated it was happy if you believed the stories. If the slitted eyes weren’t unnerving enough, both triangular ears swiveled to catch sounds from all directions, and the tail flipped, curled and twisted as the creature pleased for it to.

Any guesses which creature that is? It’s the common house cat. Play with your words and descriptions, see what you can do to an ordinary animal.

As an exercise: pick an animal you’re familiar with and describe it as if it was the first time you were encountering it and didn’t have a name for it. Think about how it looks, moves and sounds.

Additionally take a common animal you’re familiar with and give it an extra feature–this might be a physical feature like horns, or wings, or it might be a non-physical ability such as telepathy or conjuring. Write about how it navigates its world with these extra features.

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Potion

The café saw a steady stream of people throughout the day. Seeing one particular girl come up to the counter though, Oceania had to smile.

“Hey, Allison. Your mom know you’re drinking coffee?”

Allison shook her head. At twelve she’d started into that awkward and somewhat disproportionate stage of gangliness that might eventually give way to grace.

“I’m not looking for coffee. I kind of had a potion-related question for you.”

That was surprising. Her older brother worked on a magic protection team, as did her father. And Allison’s mother wasn’t exactly without her own magic. Potion-related questions coming from her directly were unusual.

“Alright,” Oceania said and leaned on the counter so she was level with Allison’s face. “What’s the question?”

“Is there a potion that could reveal magic?” Allison asked.

Oceania knew dangerous and stupid ideas when she saw them. There was a whole record and at least a couple of police officers that knew her and her bad ideas quite well.

“Depending on what exactly you need, maybe,” Oceania said. “What’s the situation?”

Allison considered it. “Uhm,” she said. “I…have a friend,” she said. “And she has magic. She thinks she does at least. She should. But, she’s not seeing it yet.”

Dangerous and stupid flashed all over that idea, but Oceania could see the possibilities.

Either she lied and told Allison there was no potion. Allison then had the chance to go looking for something else—a spell or a charm or who knew what else she might find. Alternately, Allison might accept it, and the disheartening realization that she would just have to wait until her magic decided to reveal itself.

Or, she told her the truth and had to fend off any attempts Allison made to get a hold of that potion.

A sigh escaped and she turned. “Carlyn!”

It took her older brother a moment to come out. “What’s up Alley-Cat?” he offered a high-five to Allison, who grinned as she accepted it.

“She’s got a question she needs answering. I’m taking a break.”

“Alright,” Carlyn said. His gaze narrowed slightly. “I’ll cover the front for you.”

“Thanks. Come on you. I know I got a yogurt in the back with your name on it.”

Allison followed into the tiny office they referred to laughably as their ‘break room’. It connected to the back patio, but Oceania stayed inside, pulling a yogurt from the fridge and putting it in front of Allison with a spoon.

“So, this friend of yours. Is she good at sports? Maybe kind of outgoing?”

A nod was Allison’s answered. “She’s on the same softball team I am.”

“I’ll bet she also wears number thirty-six too. I’d be surprised if her jersey doesn’t say Jacobs on it the same way yours does.”

Eyes widened and she ducked her head. “How’d you know?”

Oceania laughed as she sat down. “You aren’t the first kid in the world to wonder if they’ve got magic or why it’s taking so long to show up. And you’re most certainly not the first one to think there’s a spell or potion or something else magic to solve your problem. My main question is what set you to fussing about your magic.”

“If I have any,” Allison muttered and stuck the spoon in her yogurt with a scowl.

“Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Not what I’m looking for just yet. What happened?”

A hefty sigh escaped, pulling Allison’s shoulders even further down.

“One of my friends found out she had magic,” Allison said. “But—no one else in her family does. She just thought she was lucky up until Ricky Thames kept picking on her and she sort of accidentally cursed him.”

“She cursed him?”

“Not like a big one—and the teacher called out the protection team to fix it. She just made his zits spell out mean words.”

“And that got you to thinking?”

“She’s got to go to practices and do extra lessons for it now,” Allison said and pushed her yogurt away to lay her head on her table. “She’s months younger than I am and no one around her mas magic. I’m almost thirteen and everyone in my family has magic and I don’t.”

Therein lay the problem. Oceania already knew Allison was one of the tallest in her class. Not always easy, but understandable when your father was a werewolf.

Less understandable was how she couldn’t seem to work visions how her mother could, and never sported fang or fur in place of her hair and bright smile.

“Hate to break it to you, but there could be a lot of reasons why you don’t see your magic yet.”

“Like something wrong with me?” More of the core fear revealed itself and Oceania laughed.

“Honey, unless you’re out there hurting people for fun or to make yourself feel better, there’s nothing wrong with you,” Oceania said. “And that comes from a whole lot of experience in that department.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s called being a late bloomer,” Oceania said. “It just happens sometimes. Hell—er, heck.” Allison giggled at Oceania’s slip-up. “Heck,” she repeated. “Carlyn and my Dad didn’t even think the weird stuff I was doing was magic for the longest time. They kept brushing it off as ‘Oceania’s weird luck.’ It literally took me bringing a dead plant back to life right in front of them before they clued in. Sometimes magic is small.”

“How small?”

“Small in all the best ways. Maybe you’re just extra good at helping a friend feel better. Maybe you bake really well, or you never lose things. Magic ain’t always some big to-do.”

“Then how am I supposed to know if I have it or not?” Allison protested. “Isn’t there something you can do to at least show me that much?”

Oceania tipped her chin up a little. She did have a nice little magic revealing potion—mostly something she used to make sure money hadn’t been altered, and occasionally when she thought someone was poking around where they shouldn’t be.

“Before you dive off that end, do you really think that’s the best idea?”

“Of course it is! How could it be a bad idea?”

“I do believe your mother is a prophet.”

“Yeah,” Allison said.

“I’d be surprised if she hasn’t explained the limitations of what she can and can’t see.”

“Well, she can only see what might be. It’s hard to see things that will be because they’re flexible about when they happen,” Allison said. “And she can see what’s already happened.”

Oceania nodded. “That’s all stuff she can do. What about what she can’t?”

Allison was silent. “She can’t see her own fate,” she said finally.

“Why do you think that is?”

“I guess…I don’t know.”

“Because magic or not, somethings are better off not being messed with. Let’s say you could see your own fate. So you’d know in the next few minutes what would happen to you—good and bad. That includes stuff like getting hurt or losing something you value.”

“That doesn’t seem too bad,” Allison said.

“Not right away, but look at the bigger picture. Let’s say you know you’re supposed to argue with a friend on a particular day. So you just avoid them that day.”

“They’d understand once you explain, right?”

“Which means then everyone knows you can see the future in detail,” Oceania said. “And that means your friends get curious and they start asking you questions. Now, maybe you’re lucky and those questions have mostly good answers, but what happens when you see things like car accidents, or someone getting ill, getting hurt, all the bad stuff in life?”

“You could stop it.”

“Could you?”

“Well…you’d know when it’s going to happen,” Allison said but frowned. “But…if you tell someone something bad is going to happen, they won’t like it.”

“No, which means that argument you so cleverly avoided happens anyways—but now you’ve got a bigger problem on your hands because trying to stop something else bad from happening means you’ll only make that original argument bigger. Or, let’s say you stop a friend from getting in a car, and they avoid being hit by a drunk driver. That other driver is still drunk and he’s still a danger to others.”

“Someone else would get hurt.”

“Someone who you might not know. More than that, by letting that driver stay out on the road longer, the accident could be worse. Rather than injuries, it could mean killing someone else.” Oceania said. “Your mom calls it What May Be for a reason.”

“Because every choice we make affects what happens next,” Allison muttered. “What’s that go to do with knowing if I have magic or not?”

“What happens when you find out you do have magic?”

“Then I wait for it to finally show itself.”

“Kind of like you’re supposed to be waiting for it to show itself anyways?”

Allison paused. “Well…I guess.”

Oceania nodded. “And of course, since you know you have magic, you wouldn’t want to know what kind of magic it is?”

“Well…okay, that’d be nice to know too.”

“But see, you know you have it and maybe you know what kind you’re supposed to have. What’s stopping you from trying to use that magic before you’re ready?”

A long pause stretched before them, heavy and uncomfortable. “I could really hurt myself,” Allison said finally.

“More than that, buttercup. Magic appears when you’re ready for it.”

“But what if I’m never ready for it? What if I just don’t have it?”

“Then obviously you never needed it to start with. You’ve got a phone.”

“A phone isn’t magic.”

“No, but it lets you call your friends, and your family, doesn’t it? It lets you store photos of memories you want to keep, and share those same photos with the people you care about the most. You don’t need magic for the important stuff, and magic comes with its own downsides. Your friend, you said she had extra practices now?”

Allison nodded. “She’s taking them on Saturday and Sunday.”

“So I’m guessing she doesn’t have a lot of time to hang out on those days,” Oceania said.

This time, the widening of Allison’s eyes came with a slight pursing of her lips, as if she’d just realized something.

“She couldn’t come to the movies with us on Saturday because she had practice,” Allison said.

“Do you think she enjoyed knowing all her friends were watching movies and laughing with each other while she was stuck learning about something she has no choice in?”

A headshake.

“So while you’re fretting about maybe you do, maybe you don’t, she’s probably got some worries of her own about how all this magic is going to affect her life now.”

Squirming in her seat, it took a moment before Allison hung her head. “I guess I didn’t really think about it. I’m used to having magic in my life. It feels weird to try and think of it as anything but normal.”

“Oh it’s plenty normal. Sometimes it’s just so small it gets lost in all the other stuff out there. Rainbows are magic. So are kisses from pretty girls and laughing with your best friends. And sometimes, finding a penny on the street is all the magic you ever need.”

Allison nodded. “I…I still want to know, but I guess I’ll have to wait.”

“Sounds like a smart idea to me,” Oceania said and reached over to grab a lip balm tube from the side of the office desk. “You’ve been picking at your lips again. Put some of that on and go eat your yogurt.”

Smiling, Allison took it and dutifully applied it to her lips. As she did, the balm shimmered, almost a little like crystals.

“Thanks,” Allison said as she stood, picking up her yogurt and the spoon.

“Of course. I’d say you’ll probably get your answer here soon—but you’ve got to be patient. No more poking at it. It’ll show when it shows.”

“No more poking, I promise,” Allison said and waved as she headed back towards the main dining area.

Oceania sighed a little as she stood, heading to grab the bussing cart.

Instead, Carlyn stopped her. “What exactly did you give her?” he asked.

“Strawberry yogurt,” Oceania said and looked over at where Allison had apparently joined a friend from school and was now chatting and laughing. “And some Chapstick.”

Carlyn looked over. “Just Chapstick?”

Oceania held up the fresh tube of magic-detection potion. “Looked enough like it to me.”

Posted in worldbuilding, writing

Worldbuilding Introduction

Originally posted Jun 10, 2019. Updated as of Feb 21, 2020. 

I realized when I was going back through my posts and organizing for my next worldbuilding post that one of the things I hadn’t done was include a list of covered topics. You can now find that below the original post.


Worldbuilding is a huge part of writing genres like fantasy and science fiction. It’s also a large part of games, both tabletop and video. Whether it’s a sprawling other-worldly planet like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, or something as simple as a hidden layer of magic in a real city, worldbuilding is the key to your fictional setting.

If you ask ‘what is worldbuilding’ the answer is pretty simple and straightforward. Worldbuilding is building any fictional setting regardless of size. That makes it a core component of fantasy and sci-fi. It pops up plenty in other genres too, usually in smaller doses.

Depending on how deep you go, worldbuilding can be expansive and large enough to cover entire tomes on its own. How much you need can be dependent on both how much you want to explore your world, and the requirements of your story. Aside from what the world looks like physically, there are also cultural aspects to consider and cover. Daily life is another aspect that can be affected–your characters won’t have to run an errand specifically to get gas if they’re traveling around by horse, but they will have a lot more daily chore requirements.

Because of the amount that can go into worldbuilding, I’m kicking off an ongoing series. Today I’m starting by looking at the different ways of building a world.

There are a lot of ways of building a world. Random Generation is one way and can be useful to provide a basic structure. Generators can be found for everything from city layouts to political maps. Although this takes out a lot of the work of coming up with names and the picky details, it is random so it can and will contradict itself in some places, which is something to be on the lookout for. If continuity isn’t a concern but time is, random generation is extremely useful.

Questionnaires are another method. The internet is full of question lists to help you figure out what your world is doing and give you an idea of things you may have overlooked. These can get extremely detailed and are really thought provoking in some cases (have you ever thought about what happens to the waste your fictional people produce?), but answering those questions can also be time consuming, both on writing the answers down and on researching examples to see how it works in the real-world. If you need fully-customized answers and have the time to make sure everything works nicely together, this is a fantastic method for building a detailed world.

Expansion is my favorite method, and sort of a middle-ground between generation and questionnaires. By starting with one level (be that a kingdom or a tiny shop somewhere) and building on the general idea, you end up ‘nesting’ locations. The tiny shop is located in this little town, which is located in this region, which is part of this kingdom and so on and so forth. Name each level as you go through it (Sam’s Shop of Contraband Sales for example), and work out the general idea of what it’s for and what it does before moving up or down the level as needed. This gives you a general overview of the world as a whole. It’s less time-consuming than questionnaires while maintaining continuity, but it’s not as detailed.

Of course, there’s also nothing to stop you from blending all three methods together. If you need an idea to start, a randomly generated town or city can give you a good base for expansion. If you have a general overview of the world but need more details, filling out a questionnaire or two is a good way to go.

Worldbuilding Topics