Posted in Stories

Short Story: Under Her Own Power

Inhaling brought cool air to her lungs as she stood outside the parliament chamber. Exhaling dispelled some of the internal heat, but did nothing to calm her anger.

“Are you ready, Your Majesty?”

Sola lifted her face. She didn’t have a choice. Either she stood out here all day or she walked into the parliament knowing full well they would want their demands met. If it was merely a waiting game, she had no end of patience.

Her people did not.

“Open the doors. Please.” She added the please perhaps a little hastily, remembering what she’d been told just that morning. She was queen, and though she’d spent seven years locked away, manners were just as important to people as they were to spirits.

The gilt doors swung open and Sola strode forward, letting the lace cape hanging from her shoulders flutter in the wind created by her passage.

“Queen Sola Diem. Hail the Queen!”

“Hail the Queen.”

The hundred voices of the parliament annoyed her, more than having her presence announced in every bloody room she entered. Sola took another slow breath as she stepped up into the empty, central pedestal, looking at the gathered faces of parliament.

Silence for a moment, and then the head of Parliament cleared his throat and shuffled his papers.

“Your Majesty—”

“You will speak only when spoken to.”

Her voice cut him off. Shock and surprise coated the room and Sola drew in another breathe, taking the air deep.

Roses, she realized. She could smell roses. A hateful, sickly smell that told her there were greater forces at place than one queen and one kingdom.

Smartly, one of the smaller members of parliament raised his fan. “Yes, Councilor?” She didn’t bother looking at the nameplate in front of him, didn’t bother acknowledging him beyond that. These men had plenty of acknowledgement from the people. No need to give them more. They needed a reminder of what their job was.

“In regards to today’s meeting, we’ve asked Your Majesty why you’ve refused to reclaim some of the private lands currently left abandoned or otherwise unused.”

“No, you’ve not. You’ve demanded my presence to try and cow me into submission. My answer remains as it has been. No. Those lands do not belong to the Crown.”

Several annoyed grumbles and once more the Head of Parliament cleared his throat. “Those lands—”

“Have I spoken to you?” Sola turned her gaze on him directly and he sank back.

“Ah…permission to address you, My Queen?”

“If you must.” Her temper won over her patience.

“The lands did originally belong to the Crown. It’s merely a matter of reclaiming the titles, which you do have the power to do as you are Queen of the First Kingdom.”

“They belonged to the Crown until they were purchased by their current owners. As they have not been sold back to the Crown or deemed forfeit by any competent official—”

“Several officials have deemed them forfeit.”

“Excuse you.” Sola’s attention moved to the unexcused speaker. The stench of roses grew, permeating the chamber. “I was not finished speaking, do not interrupt me. No competent official has declared those lands forfeit. Several incompetent and heavily bribed officials have and I will be rescinding those declarations effective immediately.”

Outcries. Rage. Several parliament members stood up.

What little remaining control over her temper snapped, not unlike a thread.

Silence!

Roses erupted out of the wood of the podium. Several bloomed on the tables in front of the parliament. Petals exploded into the air and drifted to the floor, leaving a crimson carpet all around.

The effect was immediate. The gathered members of parliament froze, recoiling from the roses in horror and fear.  Sola inhaled again.

“Let me remind you of something. Your jobs are to serve the people of the First Kingdom. You have been given your positions because you were educated enough to qualify for them. That does not mean I cannot find a replacement for all of you. Continue to harm the people of the First Kingdom and I will do exactly that.”

“We are—”

“Did I give you permission to speak?” Already formed, the rose thorns grew bigger. Sola glowered down at the petty men still cowering back from the flowers. Anger trembled in every limb.

“You are all the same men who allowed a weakling king to lock his daughter away for seven years. You are all the same men who left a princess to the care of spirits. Unfortunately for all of you, princesses have a habit of becoming queens. I am that queen now and my time away has reminded me of who I serve. I owe no loyalty to any of you. Your attitudes towards both me and my subjects are only adding black marks to the pages of loyalty you owe me.

“The lands do not belong to the Crown and that is final. Remember that there are rules to dealing with a spirit and remind yourselves that you’ve allowed your Queen to be raised by those same rules.”

She turned, steps kicking rose petals up into the air again. One or two clung to her as she exited. The doors closed behind her and Sola had to inhale, closing her eyes. The weight of the traditional diadem pressed on her.

“Your Majesty?”

“Yes, I’m sorry.” Sola shook her head to chase the thoughts away and looked at one of the doormen. “Kindly ask the housekeepers to leave the roses be. I’ll take care of them once the parliament chambers have been cleared.”

“I can have the gardeners brought in, my lady.”

Sola smiled. “That’s very sweet of you, but it will have to be me. As I said. I’ve been raised by the same rules as a spirit.”

The doorman smiled and bowed. “If I may?”

“May what?”

“Thank you,” he said and smiled. “My father owns some of the lands they’ve been trying to get you to reclaim. He’s too old to farm it anymore so it’s supposed to be my sister’s dowry. Without it, we’d have lost an entire orchard. So thank you for standing up to them, but if it’s all the same to you, you’ve done a good favor to us and it’s a small price to get you some help cleaning up those roses.”

For the first time that morning Sola laughed. The sound surprised her and she brought a hand up. “My thanks,” she said. “But it’s not a concern about having help. Rather, those roses are from a fairy’s blessing.”

“Then if it’s all the same to you, may I request we leave them? Can’t be messing with fairy’s magic now and might serve as a good reminder to the parliament about not crossing spirits of any sort.”

Sola considered it and looked back at the doors. She couldn’t hear anything and smiled. Perhaps parliament needed a reminder of several things.

“You know, I think you’re right. Perhaps just have the gardeners do a little trimming to keep them healthy, if you don’t mind?”

“My pleasure.”

“My thanks.”

After all, there were rules to dealing with spirits and people alike.

_________

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Posted in writing

Story Bibles

If you’re a writer and you’re in the midst of editing, or even writing a series, you probably want a place to keep track of all the details of your story. It’s incredibly useful, especially if you want to write a series. Bonus points: if you do a lot of roleplaying and need or want to write your own campaign, having a story bible set up for your in-world conflicts, NPCs and lore makes it easier to keep your campaign more or less on track (sorry, but I can’t promise the same of your players).

A story bible is essentially a document or several documents that keeps the details of your story or stories together. This prevents things like character details changing unexpectedly halfway through the story. It also helps keep worldbuilding and relevant setting details in one place so you don’t have to go hunting for particular details.

There’s several ways you can keep a story bible. If you’d prefer a hardcopy, a binder or multi-subject notebook is a good option. This way you can section your bible off as necessary. Digital options include things like Microsoft OneNote or Evernote, or even something like World Anvil or Notebook.ai to keep your bible sorted and on track. Depending on your preference and how you work best, you may find one option better than the other. I personally prefer to keep a digital copy of my notes in OneNote because of the search function.

Although your story bible should work for you, there’s a few sections you may find helpful to keep in it.

Character Notes. This is a good place to keep things like detailed descriptions, character sketches, backstories and family trees. I usually create a small section for each character so I can keep track of their character arc during edits.

Setting Notes. Depending on the genre you’re working in, this can easily become a massive portion of your story bible. Everything from notes on legal systems to lore can be placed in your setting notes. For speculative writers, this spreads to include bestiaries, cultural analysis, maps and even engineering schematics as necessary.

Story Notes. Editing and writing in general tends to create a multitude of different notes—outlines, and even thematic notations. Having a story-specific section makes it easier to keep all your editing tools in one place. A lot of my plotting notes end up here, but I also try to keep a list of any flash pieces relevant to the story, world or characters here.  This way if I need to reference something for a flashback or thematic reason, I can easily reference back to the original piece.

What are some of the things you keep in your story bibles? How do you prefer to keep them?

Posted in writing

Finding the Story Start

It’s no secret that the start of the story is one of the hardest to master. The opening scene is your best chance to catch your reader and to hook them into reading your story the rest of the way through. As the author, you already have a love and admiration for your characters. Your reader however, does not, and you may only have a few paragraphs to capture their attention long enough to get them to care.

The key part is to figure out where your story really starts.

Stories are all driven by conflict. Frequently your conflict will force the character to make a change into a new normal.  Although it might be tempting to start with a look at what their ‘old’ normal looks like, keep in mind that this is oftentimes largely unnecessary. You can usually rely on your audience to fill in some of the details—we all wake up in the morning and generally have a morning routine that involves getting dressed, eating breakfast and preparing for the day ahead.

Instead of starting with the old normal, ask yourself what moment is when the conflict first touches your character? At what point in their otherwise ordinary day does the conflict become personal?

Most people have goals. Characters should be no different. By looking at the point where their personal goals are threatened by the story’s conflict, you get closest to the start of the story. Not only do you give your character a reason to react to the conflict, you’re also giving your readers something to care about: The character’s goal is jeopardized. How will they still achieve their goals despite this threat?

It’s not uncommon to find stories that have started too far back. We’ve all heard the advice against starting with the character waking up and looking in the mirror and so on and so forth. There is a reason for this: It happens a lot. Often enough that it’s practically a trope. Although it’s more common in YA, there’s examples of it across all genres. Your story’s start should be strong enough to skip a boring introduction to your characters. Make us care first.

As an exercise: Take a look at your current manuscript and its opening scene. Typically you only have between 5-20 pages to catch a reader’s attention, so look at the first 10 pages (roughly the first 2000 words).  Read these and ask yourself where in those first ten pages the main conflict becomes personal? Where is your character threatened? If it’s not within the first 10 pages, remove them from your manuscript (I recommend putting those extra pages into another document or folder, in case you find a use for them later). Then look at the next 10 pages. Keep doing this until you find the point where the conflict affects your character.

Posted in Stories

Short Story: Gingerbread

“The end.”

“Momma,” her daughter said. “There’s not really a house made of candy in the woods, is there?” Concern made her eyes wide.

A laugh escaped. “It wouldn’t last very long if there was, now would it?”

“No.” Her son cut in matter-of-factly. “All the animals would come and eat it.”

“Indeed they would. There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s only a story meant to pass a little bit of time between supper and bed. Which is where the both of you need to be.”

“Already?” Her son’s smile faded into a pout.

“Already,” she said and stood up. “Kisses and then into bed. I’ll tuck you both in shortly.”

They sighed but accepted a hug and a kiss. Already she could tell her son was sleepy, his steps shuffling over the floor. He might protest bedtime the most, but he rarely stayed awake more than a few minutes passed it.

She tucked him in first and wasn’t surprised when he was almost immediately asleep. “Good night my gingerbread boy,” she murmured and then crept over to his sister’s bed.

Her daughter lay awake, staring at the ceiling. “You’re sure there’s no house made of candy?” her daughter asked and she chuckled as she sat on the bed.

“I’m sure. Did the story scare you too much?”

“I’m not scared. Not much.”

She laughed and bent down, pressing a kiss to her daughter’s soft hair. “I promise. No houses made of candy and no greedy bakers looking to gobble up sweet children, either. Besides. You know I’m a baker. Do you think I could make a house out of candy?”

Her daughter smiled and relaxed a little. “Maybe,” she said and rolled over. “Your baking is always so tasty.”

“And that’s why it never lasts long around here. Good night my gingerbread girl.”

She slipped out, looking at them for a few minutes before she closed the door.

A sigh escaped as she moved to the kitchen. All too soon it would be time to get up and start the morning’s baking.

For now however, she moved to the ancient brick oven and looked in at the ball of dough she’d left rising.

“Perfect,” she said as she pulled it out. “You don’t need to be all that sweet, but just a little bit of cinnamon and some sugar.”

She worked with care, her hands folding and pulling the dough into the perfect shape. Skill and practice made it possible to form ears and a tail

Finished, she smiled as she opened her cabinet for one last tiny bottle. It was nearly empty, and to anyone else it looked like plain sugar. There would be just enough left to sprinkle over a single baked good.

Just enough for a cinnamon roll.

The last few sparkling grains tipped out onto the cinnamon roll before she eased the sheet into the ancient oven to bake.

Her boy had wanted a pet for so long and her daughter had loved seeing the butcher’s cat.

The problem was, she had to be careful what she allowed them to be exposed to. As her son had pointed out, some animals would happily gobble down candy and sweets. She knew more than a few people would.

A faint meow from the oven and she looked in seeing the cat as it began rising properly and turning golden brown. It would still be a while, but in the morning she would have a perfect cat for her sweet children.

“A cinnamon roll cat for a gingerbread boy and a gingerbread girl.”

___________

If you enjoyed this short story check out my short stories page. You can also support me and get exclusive short stories over on my Patreon.

Posted in General

Music as Inspiration

Music is a universal force. No matter where you go in the world, part of the culture includes songs, instruments and the like. Which is why it should come as no surprise that music can also provide a lot of inspiration.

Music, like literature, breaks down into genres. Folk, R&B, country, classical—genres in music as extensive as genres in literature. Each one is earmarked by content and style differences. Sometimes they can bleed together in unexpected ways—again, something literature does as well. Consider your style and genre. What sort of music fits the way you write?

In many cases, lyrics can also tell a story. Whether it’s rock’n’roll or jazz, the words often tell of a situation, event or even a full-blown story. Try it with some of your favorite songs. What stories do they tell?

One way to help use music to inspire your storytelling and worldbuilding is by creating a playlist for a given story or set of stories.

Character Playlists. Think about what your characters might listen to themselves? What are their favorite songs to sing? Which ones make them dance around when they think no one is watching? Also consider which songs reflect their internal conflicts and personal feelings about a situation. What sort of lullabies would they have heard as children?

Scene Playlists. If you’re having trouble getting a scene to work properly, think about what sort of music you’d want playing in the background during the movie version. For action scenes, it can also help you by giving you something to choreograph the scene too. Listening to those songs as you’re writing can help you set the mood and tone by matching the mood you want for the scene.

Inspiration Playlists. When all else fails, think about what you’d want as the theme song for your characters, the TV-adaptation, or even what sort of music video your characters would make for the song in question.

I’m curious. What songs are on your playlists? Let me know in the comments!