#157: Versers Restart

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #157, on the subject of Versers Restart.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have begun publishing my third novel, For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first two, you can find the table of contents for the first at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and that for the second at Old Verses New.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed along with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as the third is posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

This covers the first eleven chapters of the book.


History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 1, Slade 43

I had already decided that Slade would return in the third novel, and that right from the beginning he would be on this quest on behalf of the Caliph of the West Wind.  It seemed the place to start, particularly as my immediate audience wanted Slade back, I was very uncertain what I was doing with Derek, and even less certain what I was going to do with Lauren.  I knew quite a bit about the end of this book already, including that Filp would die on this venture but Slade would marry Shella and take her with him henceforth (perhaps also inspired by Chris Jones, whose character in my game married one of the princesses from The Dancing Princess).  I knew that Derek, Lauren, Bethany, Slade, and Shella would all be fighting together against the vampire Tubrok.  I knew that Lauren would free Merlin (and I knew where he was, but not how she would free him) during a critical confrontation.  I knew that she would use the spell which killed Horta, and that it would again kill her but only weaken Tubrok, that Derek would be horrified at seeing this.  I thought probably Derek would deal the fatal blow, but did not know how.  What I did not know was how to transition Slade from the very peaceful Parakeet world to the beginning of this venture.  I made it up as I wrote.

When writing books in series, one of the initial problems is how to introduce characters that your series readers already know and your new readers have never previously encountered.  Here I reintroduce Bob by talking about his feelings about that previous rescue mission.  I also give Lauren a touch of introduction, which will make her appearance a bit easier in the third chapter.

This is one of the unusual universe transitions:  Bob does not die, but in essence gates into the supernatural realm (what we call the “border supernatural”, places where mortal and supernatural beings can meet with each other without entering the other’s true realm) and then is sent from it to another universe.

Bob does not yet realize where he is, only that it is incongruous with his expectations.

Chapter 2, Brown 56

Again with Derek I have to put together who he is and what last happened to him.

I had committed myself to The Zygote Experience, an idea that was included in Multiverser:  Referee’s Rules and formalized in Multiverser:  The First Book of Worlds.  But I was undecided whether Derek would be born a human or, for some reason that kept playing in the back of my mind, a sprite.  I thought that it would be interesting to make him a small flying person; and although I had no idea how I was going to get him back to being human or what I would do about the wings as he transformed through successive worlds, the idea kept coming back to me.

It is that world description that suggests the player should not be given sufficient information to know where he is.  I wanted to keep the reader uncertain as well.  Yet I needed to move the story forward apart from the birth experience, and the mind of the mother made sense.  Thus I had to commit, and I went with the sprite.

The world description gives a lot of information about what an unborn child experiences, beginning as a zygote.  By this point Derek is a blastocyst.  Although the game does not dictate the notion of spirits, too many things in fiction rely on them for them not to be real in the game world, and thus Derek, whose spirit is now twenty-two or twenty-three years old, is able to think and make observations while still a blastocyst—although the fact that his body is so new means he is always falling asleep.

The moment when he realizes he is hungry is part of that blastocyst growth prior to implantation:  the energy and matter that had been in the single-celled zygote has been spent and divided to create a multi-celled blastocyst, and at this point it is floating inside the fallopian tubes on the way to the uterus.  Until it gets there and becomes implanted in the uterine wall, there is no additional sustenance coming into the body, and it would feel depleted to some degree.

Chapter 3, Hastings 96

The odd thing about this world was that I had no idea what to do with Lauren at all.  In a sense, this was what I would in play have called a stall world–a place I could drop her where nothing would happen for a bit and she would spend time running around doing things that looked worthwhile until I could think of what to do with her.  I needed to move Slade’s story forward, and that meant I needed to write Lauren’s story; but I didn’t know what her story should be, so I just wrote something to see where it would go.  The volcano was there partly to give credibility to the island and partly to give me a potential danger to help get her out of here.  I quickly decided that she should be cut off from any contact with other land, as the reader would wonder why she did not attempt to reach it.

I had developed this world, or a world very like it, for demo games.  I had run a game at a Delaware game shop called Days of Knights, and discussed demos with the proprietor.  He said that whatever it was that made the game special, that had to happen within the first half hour of play.  I had previously had the problem that I would start all my players in a gather world and they would often stick there for a long time—which is great for campaign play, but terrible for showing what Multiverser can do.  I needed a world in which I could put all the player characters, give them a bit of an introduction to the game world, then kill them all, abruptly and with certainty, so they could all go to different worlds.  I decided on what I dubbed Tropical Island, a volcano that could go off whenever I decided it should.  I’ve used it fairly consistently since then as the starting world for new players in convention and demo games.  I didn’t change much here, although in game I tend to keep the psi and mag biases very low to limit their options.

Again the point is to introduce a character known to the readers who came from the previous book but new to those who are joining the story here.

The stick in the sand is a trick taught to scouts, although she doesn’t do it exactly right.  The trick is to align the stick with the direction of the sun so it casts no shadow, and as the sun moves west its shadow will appear pointing east.  That does not matter to Lauren; what she needs to know is whether the sun is moving, whether it’s morning or afternoon, and how long the day is likely to be.

Chapter 4, Slade 44

Having found this way of getting Slade out of the Parakeet world, and having realized that somehow he was bringing the humor back into his own story, I kept moving forward with my beginning.

It was at this point that I finally worked out what the quest was, and why Slade would have to do it.

The line “Welcome to my parlor” is the beginning of a quote that continues, “said the spider to the fly,” and so is about walking into a trap.  Slade uses it because he does not know what to anticipate, but if it’s a trap he’s unlikely to be able to escape it whatever he does.

The caliph corrects Slade’s grammar unobtrusively:  he looks well; he is good.

The caliph is explaining the concept we called the “border supernatural”, those places that are like the spirit world but also like the material world, where spirits and mortals can meet and interact as if in the spirit world but not actually in that incomprehensible place.

Majdi is the name of a close family friend who does not ever use his first name, spelled Magdi but pronounced with a soft g.  I needed an Arabic name, and my friend is Palestinian and of Muslim parents, so I figured it was close enough without sounding stock.  Acquivar and Phasius, and most of the names I used, I invented from whole cloth.

As mentioned, I knew before I finished the first book that Filp and Shella would be here in the third, and several of the major events that would happen in connection with them.

Chapter 5, Brown 57

The pattern of the sprite names is probably owed to E. R. Jones.  He created a sprite character for a fantasy game in which I played, named Lanethlelachtheana.  I heard it and recorded it as Laneth Lelach Theana.  When I started writing these characters, I thought Derek would make the same mistake as I; and I obviously copied elements of the other name into Theian Orlina Lelach and her husband Theian Alanda Morani.

I also began to debate whether, or when, to have Derek attempt telepathic contact with Lelach.  I didn’t want to do it, for a host of reasons, but I was beginning to think my story would die on the vine if I didn’t do something with it.

Continuing the follow the notes of The Zygote Experience, Derek has just experienced implantation—he is now attached to the uterine wall, and so feels his mother’s movement.  This also results in the influx of sustenance, as he is no longer relying on the initial food supply of the ovum for continued growth.  The heartbeat is also an early development following implantation, and he notices it but credits the notice to the fact that he is following an interesting story by mind reading.

Chapter 6, Hastings 97

I still didn’t know what she was going to do, so I was filling the space with things that might lead somewhere.

When I wrote this, I had a clear idea in my mind as to what that particular motion of the shadow signified; however, it may be easier to go from what shadow motion a specific path of the sun would produce than to go the other direction.

Chapter 7, Slade 45

I had not considered the idea of retelling the backstory of how Slade found the bottle; but the presence of Shella gave me the opportunity, so I attempted to do so as swiftly as I could.  I cut it where I did because I’d had enough dialogue about things the reader might already know, and didn’t want to compound it with dialogue about things they had just read.  In fact, at this moment I was not certain how I was going to repeat the information about the quest without seeming to repeat it.

It was easy to recall Filp’s suspicious nature; his character fell into place quite quickly.

Chapter 8, Brown 58

Again, I decided that what works well stretched out in a game has to be compacted in a book; so I moved forward to the end of the pregnancy.  I also recognized that it would be difficult to keep the reader in the dark much longer (if indeed he had not already worked out what Derek had not), even with my suggested interpretations.

The perspective that the tank seems to be shrinking is of course because he is growing rapidly and the tank is the same size.  However, he is unlikely to recognize that—we don’t really notice that we are growing until we realize that things around us seem smaller and we know they can’t be, and there is nothing around him he can easily use for a size reference.

Chapter 9, Hastings 98

Left or right was actually the title of a Game Ideas Unlimited article I had done and recently referenced in another article, so it was in my mind as I wrote the opening words of this chapter.  Oddly, the point of the article is that the referee can make such decisions not matter, and that was poignantly so in my mind here, as I still had no idea what she was going to do.

I was wondering whether the objects of Lauren’s quest should be buried.  I kept swithering between having the rod (for I had decided that was her first target) be in the water, on the beach, or buried.  I also began to think of the idea of a cave.  Actually, I had wondered about a cave as a potential place for adventure already, but had back-burnered this because I had the equipment quest to occupy my attention and I didn’t yet know what I would do in the cave.

The part about climbing being easier than descending is something they teach in Scouts.  I’m not quite sure why it is so, but the body does seem better built for ascending.

Chapter 10, Slade 46

I invented the breakfast on the spot.  I had not considered anything of the sort until I started writing this.  It was partly because I needed to get Slade up and partly because I recognized the need to show the hospitality of the Caliph.

The discussion of life and death was also unplanned; it just seemed to flow from the conversation.

Chapter 11, Brown 59

Nothing here was new except perhaps the “Wa maa” for “Where am I”.  I thought that seemed plausible, given the sounds I heard newborns make when I had them myself.

The wings should be a surprise even for anyone who had worked out that he was being reborn.  She does mention flying at one point, but it’s only a passing reference early when Derek is certain that he’s listening to crazy thoughts or fantasy dreams.

This has been the first behind the writings look at For Better or Verse.  Assuming that there is interest, I will continue preparing and posting them every eleven chapters, that is, every three weeks.

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