#170: Versers Explore

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #170, on the subject of Versers Explore.

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.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #157:  Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters);
  2. #164:  Versers Proceed (which covered chapters 12 through 22).

This picks up from there, with chapters 23 through 33.


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 23, Brown 63

The writing became very trying at this point.  I was not at all certain how much childhood development could be interesting, and was torn between four poles.  One was to keep things as short as I could so that it would get back to the more exciting Slade story quickly; the second was to avoid making the segments too short, lest they seem too much like filler.  The third was to move the development material along quickly now that I had something of a story for him in the divine deliverer model.  Finally, I wanted the development material itself to be interesting; it seemed there could be a lot of fun in that, if I could highlight the places where it got fun.

These developmental details are all drawn from The Zygote Experience in The First Book of Worlds.  I had used my wife’s obstetric and pediatric nursing texts for source material when I wrote that, but it is a much simpler and well-organized work for this particular application.

Chapter 24, Hastings 103

The mix of science and theology here was rather spur of the moment.  I was faced with the problem of finding food that she could eat, and had been tightening the strangle hold on the possibilities.  I knew that somehow she was going to have to get past that.  I knew that there was no intelligent life here, and that she could eat just about everything that looks like food with no ill effect (although I was still working on how to get her out of this world when the time came–torn between poisoning, volcanic eruption, drowning in an effort to reach another island, spelunking accident, and being attacked by some deep sea carnivore).  But now I needed to move her toward that somehow, and the conclusion that there must be food here somewhere was an important first step.

Chapter 25, Slade 51

It had been bothering me that Slade had fewer chapters than anyone else.  He had the fewest chapters, marginally, in the first book; and the second book was considerably longer.  Since his story was moving, I at this point decided to let him catch up a bit by alternating him against the other two.

This was the moment when I realized who Shella really was.  That is, up to now she was the cute young girl who could steal Slade’s heart, the young student who waved good-bye as he went up in flames, the clever sorceress chosen to accompany him on this quest, and the girl he was going to marry, but at this moment I saw her as the practical half to Slade’s boldness.

In this, she owes something to another character I created, Olivia, the youngest of the three princesses in The Dancing Princess (First Book of Worlds).  Although in the book Olivia is just the fun-loving outdoors type, in play with Chris Jones she became his foil, laughing at his pretensions, focusing on the serious when he was missing it.  I knew Shella had to be that kind of foil for Slade, but I hadn’t thought of it in concrete terms.  It was here that I saw that she needed to have this practical streak.  Oddly, it was after she had already made the comment about the three needs, and before I’d written her thoughts about discovering the resources before knowing how to use them.  It was because of this recognition that I determined that to be her line.

This chapter took most of a week to write.  Some of it was interruptions, but some was an effort at trying to work out what the problems and solutions actually might be.

It was about this time that I started trying to think of a way to create a story in the fourth novel that connected the two Kondor vorgo stories together into an arc, so tying the fourth book into the first two.  It also occurred to me that there might be another opportunity to bring the djinni alliance into play for Slade, but I was not at all sure how or when.

Chapter 26, Brown 64

I was still following my developmental materials as Derek started walking, and trying to rough this against the change of seasons.  I had always known that he would ultimately learn to fly–it was part of being a sprite, and it had been mentioned before–but I had not considered at what point in his development that would happen.  I still wasn’t sure, but I guessed that he should be airborne by spring.

There was a gap of a couple weeks between writing chapter 25 and chapter 26.  I was mostly wondering what was going to happen next, but I was also working on other projects–including the editing of the second novel, and a reading of the first novel to my youngest two, along with entries in a history from which this is partially reconstructed recalling what I could remember of the creation of that one.

People make the mistake of thinking that “knowing how” is the secret to body skills–acrobatics, martial arts, even walking and swimming.  It is rather the muscle memory, that the body itself “knows how” to do these things.  If you had the memories of Mary Lou Retton implanted in your brain, you would “know how” to do a lot of acrobatics, but you couldn’t do them, not just because you’re not strong enough but because your body is not trained to do them.  That’s also true about simple things like standing and walking–our bodies learn to compensate for balance, move the right distance at the right time, and dozens of other minutiae that make it possible for us to do without thinking tasks we do without thinking every day.

Chapter 27, Slade 52

I recognized both that nobles traveling without servants or horses would seem strange and that there would be few places in a castle where there were people but not fire at night, and so this chapter hedges a lot.  It was also because I knew that Cornel was going to provide help for them and point them to the next contact, but I did not know how or why he was going to do that, or who the next contact was.

Chapter 28, Hastings 104

I’ve been taught (more years ago than I should remember) how to identify edible plants in the field; but I did not give that knowledge to Lauren (I gave it to Kondor, actually).  Thus her experiment is crude and a bit dangerous.  I realized that it was yet possible that she had eaten something that could kill her next week, but knew that I needed to keep her alive for the present.

Chapter 29, Slade 53

It was time for Slade to trust someone; but he was a bit hesitant to do so.  Again, Shella shows the practical side.  They might not know whether they can trust this man, but they have to trust someone and he’s the best bet they’ve got.  He’s more likely to help them if he knows the whole story.

It was a leap to suggest that Cornel also knew the name Majdi, but not an impossible one.

The ring was the last thought I had about this part of the plan.  Having Filp carry it so that he could by his honesty convince someone that he stole it was something I thought I could pull off; it was reminiscent in my mind of Philippe “The Mouse” Gaston of Ladyhawke, telling the soldiers which way Etienne de Navarre actually went in the firm expectation that they would assume he was lying.

I invented the cousin at this moment.  It seemed a good choice for a contact in the city, as the cousin could be a nobleman and would respond favorably to an appeal from family.  I had not yet decided anything more about the cousin.

I did something here that I dislike when authors do it:  I spelled a name in a way that makes the pronunciation ambiguous.  I believe that I intended the name “Arnot” to be pronounced “are no”, but even in my own mind I can’t remember whether “Cammelmyre” was to be “camel mere” or “camel mire”.  I think it was the latter.

Chapter 30, Brown 65

The glowing bodies were created partly to give me something to write about, but partly to make them more magical.  When I started writing about what Derek could do that he hadn’t realized, I was actually thinking more in terms of seeing in the dark; this was to my mind too much like the infravision of Dungeons & Dragons™, and I wanted to avoid that in part because I didn’t want to seem to be following their pattern and in part because it didn’t seem real.  The idea that they glowed, more like Peter Pan‘s Tinker Bell, was good.  But how they glowed had to seem both magical and natural, and that was where I took it.

I was having trouble with the size of the sprites.  I did not at this point realize that I was going to want Derek to have the ability to double in height twice and be the size of a normal teenager, but still be quite small as a sprite.  Ultimately I decided that I could get away with him being five feet tall as a human, and fifteen inches tall as a sprite, and if I made that very tall for a sprite I could make the typical sprites about a foot tall.  Yet I had been envisioning them considerably smaller than that, and had to make some adjustments.  This was a good example:  the interior of the home was originally described as two feet across, which was much two small for several one foot tall humanoids to winter and be able to walk around.  I doubled it on a late edit.

I decided to push the winter through to spring so I could get on with the story.  I did not yet have the details complete, beyond what’s been said, but I felt a bit like Slade was carrying the book at this point, and I needed to get one of my other two heroes active, particularly as I was going to run the Slade story into a different mode soon.  This also was why I brought back the flight problem.

Chapter 31, Slade 54

The walled city was a last-minute decision.  One reason I did it was that the whole thing was getting too easy in my mind.  I had a pretty good idea of how Slade was going to get Phasius out of the dungeon and out of the castle, and then of the ride to Charton.  I needed something to complicate matters.  A walled city with gates closed at night was not only a major complication, it was in a sense the most natural thing in the world.  I explored options in the text, and let it drop for later.

Arnot was being invented on the fly at this point.  I decided quickly that he was not a dynamic or brave person, and wanted to give him the air of an accountant.  I needed then to make it clear that he participated against his wishes, if not his will.  At first I thought Slade’s simple silliness about Arnot not being involved would suffice, but I couldn’t really get Arnot to agree to it so easily.  It thus became a moment when I had to give Slade something of his nobility and force of will, something which is seen in flashes but needs to grow more even in the midst of his humor.

Chapter 32, Hastings 105

I was, to some degree, playing on both sides of the screen here.  As Lauren, I was exploring the world, trying to solve the problems and build the shelter; as referee, I was trying to create the world in which the answers would be found.  The complication as yet not addressed, that of determining which things might be intelligent, still loomed over everything; I couldn’t avoid that.

I was getting the notion of something bamboo-like, which would be consistent with the other plants, which would be used for building.  I had not yet placed it.

When I was in my early teens, we visited an uncle.  There was a tray of round chocolates on a counter, and I pointed and asked, “What are these?”  My cousin Ron responded so quickly with, “Try one” that I knew there was a reason why I might not want to, but he then assured me that they were safe, so I ate one.  How did I like it?  It was all right.  It was mostly a large lump of chocolate with a small crunchy something inside.  That’s when he told me it was a chocolate covered ant.  I shrugged.  I’d heard of them, of course, and now I’d tried one, and found them entirely edible.  That was the experience I here gave to Lauren.

Chapter 33, Slade 55

I developed this plan between the last Slade chapter and this one, and only as a sketch.  The detail came as I wrote it.

I’m making Shella the smart one, the idea person here.  For one thing, I want her to impress Bob, to be someone the reader likes and thinks he should like.  For another, I want to make the reader think she’s bright–she is, after all, a sorceress, and she should come across as intelligent.

This has been the third 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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