#183: Verser Transitions

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #183, on the subject of Verser Transitions.

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);
  3. #170:  Versers Explore (which covered chapters 23 through 33);
  4. #174:  Versers Achieve (chapters 34 through 44);
  5. #180:  Versers Focus (chapters 45 through 55).

This picks up from there, with chapters 56 through 66.

Green Jungle Vegetation Tropical Forest
Green Jungle Vegetation Tropical Forest

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 56, Hastings 111

I slept on a lot of the issues for this material.  There was something in me that wanted to delay the next step; but already Lauren was on a slow pace, and I did not know how to slow it further.  I didn’t have anything else for her to do in this time.  The next thing was going to have to be trying to fix the rod, and I was just going to have to make it feel like it had been a long time in the process.  I also knew that the first time she tried, she was going to fail–but not botch; it just wouldn’t fix the rod.  Then I would come back and have her succeed.  These are the things I was thinking as I went to bed.  I had other things on my mind; there was a passage in Chesterton’s Secret of Flambeau which I wished to send to the Christian Gamers Guild mailing list to reconsider the matter of playing evil characters.  I needed to remember to post on the web site that people could now order Verse Three, Chapter One, which had gone to press (although the price tag worried us, at least).  But I knew when I came back to writing Lauren’s part, these things would have to happen.  As I awoke, I retrieved the Father Brown stories from the drawer where I kept them, and headed to my office to boot up the computer.  My mind returned to Lauren, and I considered a line to the effect of she had to understand that her momentary lack of success was not failure (something which I, too, had to understand), prelude to the next section in which she would succeed.  But then it occurred to me that there was another way to do this entirely.  I wasn’t certain of the bias–it would probably be very high–but rather than have her psionically repair the rod, she was in a world in which she could magically repair it.  This opened the idea of praying for it and having God fix it, the thing she could not do done by Him.  I liked the idea, and immediately jotted it down lest I forgot.

It had also passed through my head that she might fix it less than perfectly, such that it was no longer so potent a weapon as it had been but was still very powerful.  This had some appeal in terms of using it against Tubrok; but when I decided on a magical repair, that idea was abandoned.

The magnetism analogy was something I’d devised years before when working on the Multiverser rules; I knew that magnetism worked by a sort of alignment of molecules, and thought that something similar could work for psionics, making it possible for any sort of material to be psionic.


Chapter 57, Slade 67

This chapter actually covered a lot more ground than I had expected.  I’d thought of the idea of Shella watching them as I was writing the previous section.  I’d had an idea of Phasius being able to see that Slade and Shella were in love and mistaking them for married; but there wasn’t really enough time before Filp was going to die for all of that to happen unless he saw it immediately, even in the dark.  The embarrassment and shock then became the catalyst for Slade to recognize that this was what he wanted.

His question, asked first the normal way and then restated to seem more hypothetical, also seemed like him, brave and bold in anything requiring action but hesitant about his own feelings.  Her answer seemed to me the perfect response, providing exactly the same level of hypothetical as he, but making the answer perfectly clear.

By rushing this, I could now have the wedding in Cornel’s place, let Filp give away the bride and be the best man (an idea that is shadowy in my thought at this point, but fits with some old tales about what a best man was originally), let them ride to the barn, and have Filp fall in battle after that.  It was fitting together.


Chapter 58, Brown 72

I was trying to develop Derek’s abilities independently from Lauren’s; that is, not to follow the same points of growth.  But the pyrogenesis seemed obvious–it was just a matter of working out how to do it.

It also seemed that the attachment between Derek and his mother was quite strong; I’m not certain yet where that will go.


Chapter 59, Hastings 112

I had decided at this point that I wanted to bring Lauren back up; thus it would be Hastings-Slade-Hastings-Brown-Slade-Hastings-Slade-Brown.

All of this started to come together as I wrote it; but it took three tries to finish it, as I was trying to keep it all credible.


Chapter 60, Slade 68

The wedding of Slade and Shella had been long anticipated, and I needed it to look good.  I did consult my son’s girlfriend Kellie on the wedding dress; she suggested green, and boots, and a few other ideas that got altered and included.  The feeling of battle seemed appropriate to me; but whether they were to fight with or against each other was sort of floating in the air a bit throughout.

I actually wrote fragments of the next Slade section immediately, inserting placeholders for Lauren and Derek


Chapter 61, Hastings 113

It was time to move Lauren to another world.  I had decided how, by gating her through the border supernatural.  There would be an encounter with St. Peter, probably.  But this suggested that she was bound for the endgame scenario, about to land back in the vampire world in the distant future to finally face Tubrok–and I had no idea what she would do there while awaiting the others.  Derek had to go through some intervening world, partly so that he could adventure and partly so that he could start the transformation back from sprite to human (although I had by now decided that he would stop at some midpoint, from which he could shape change to sprite or to human).  I didn’t know what Lauren would do, but she was going to go.

But I didn’t want it to seem like she had fixed the rod, and now went; so I started talking about ways in which she could combine her skills.  This I knew could be amplified later when they came up in combat, and I’d decide exactly how they worked then.


Chapter 62, Brown 73

I want to credit Kyler with the sprite fire starting idea.  It wasn’t that he suggested it, exactly, but rather that he commented that he was interested in the Brown segments because he loved all things to do with sprites and pixies, so that encouraged me to make them interesting.  I decided that sprites might start fires from their own body heat, given the right materials and a bit of focus.  It stemmed naturally from that glow they had.  I hesitated, wondering whether it would be credible.  After all, at no point had I associated the light with heat (I was quite specifically dissociating it).  I did not want it to wind up being magical.  But I remembered that Multiverser recognized a technological skill of creating fire from body heat, in which it was suggested that the right materials would ignite if heated in the hand.  It also struck me that sprite metabolism, and thus body temperature, would almost certainly be higher than human, so materials that would not ignite at 98.6 Fahrenheit might well do so at whatever temperature a spritish body was maintained.

The fire starting actually came up because I wanted to introduce the ideas of weakening and softening objects.  I am thinking that Tubrok (or his assistants) will use some sort of physical object as a weapon, and Derek will cause it to break (and probably act surprised when he does).  I’ve also thought about whether Tubrok might bury one of his attackers in ice for Derek to rescue with his pyrogenesis, but that’s a lot less clear at this point.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what Derek would make from the clay.  The intention was only that he make something that he would be able to harden.  I thought of a toy soldier.  Since Derek would most likely make a human soldier, that had potential; but I couldn’t imagine he could make a believable replica of a human.  My eldest, Ryan, suggested a flute or pan pipes; these had the same problem as the trumpet I included (I chose trumpet because Derek had played it before).  Then the idea of a toy gun came to mind.  Guns and swords are things kids make; but guns only in worlds that have them.  If my human oppressors had guns, that would give a new level to the deliverer story.


Chapter 63, Slade 69

I hadn’t actually forgotten the book; what had happened was that I’d packed so much into the stay in Charton that I couldn’t include the book in that.  Thus I dropped it into this part on the road.

I’d considered having Slade give the book and horses to the unnamed peasant when he got up; but then, the last day of this venture was going to be a wild ride, with at least a couple of fights.  I was thinking that they would begin by burning down the barn in the morning, but I hadn’t thought it through yet.  Whatever I did, I couldn’t have him wandering around looking to give the book to someone then, so I disposed of it now.

I was going to call the loft the penthouse; but I knew Filp wouldn’t know that word.  The tower was the nearest equivalent, so I used that.


Chapter 64, Hastings 114

I spent a day or so thinking about what it was Lauren had attempted that had botched.  When I finally described it to Kyler, he said, “It’s a shame she didn’t succeed,” and I’d have to agree–but she wouldn’t have been very good at it for some time yet, anyway.

I had previously done the border heaven bit for Chris Jones (who is Roman Catholic), but it had a lot more detail here.

The creature was inspired in part by my recent readings in Daniel and Ezekiel, and in part by an image of a Hollyphant in one of TSR’s old Dungeons & Dragons™ books.  But I also wanted to bring through a notion I’ve had for a long time, expressed in one of my early Game Ideas Unlimited articles (but predating it by many years).  Hume had suggested that imaginary creatures always sounded like they were invented from scraps of other creatures because we were incapable of imagining something outside our experience.  I disagreed; I maintain that it is the inability of language to convey the unfamiliar, since for us to have a word describing something all who know the word must already share the image it describes or it is essentially meaningless.  Thus my creature looked like an elephant, and yet distinctly unlike an elephant.  It perhaps owed something to the Sesame Street character Snufflupagus as well.  In all, if one is attempting to describe something truly alien, one must do so in words that represent the familiar, and then modify them away from their own meaning; and that is what I attempted to do here.

The color idea was part of making the realm feel supernatural; it was, to me, a new idea, although it had precursors in my reading.  Voyage to Arcturus had suggested the idea of six primary colors due to two suns; I had recognized then (about 1974) that this was implausible, as color was a function of the eye and the brain.  But here, it made sense that color would be more than that, something whose reality went beyond eye and brain, something which existed even if it were not perceived.  I couldn’t pick a color to describe the beast that would convey something special, so I created the notion that the color existed beyond Lauren’s perception but within her ability to notice.

The spatial relationships were an attempt to express an idea I’d had related to Dungeons & Dragons™ in the mid eighties.  They had described supernatural realms which were seemingly unbounded, and yet at the same time bordered on each other as if they had edges.  As a solution to this, I created the notion of six dimensions, and the idea that the human brain would automatically resolve these to three by combining them in similar pairs.  Thus a human would not be able to distinguish going up from going out, as it were.  In this brief moment of the novel, I tried to imagine how that would appear.  It also occurred to me that with more dimensions, you could be closer to more people without being crowded.  That is, in our world, you might have someone two feet to the left, to the right, in front, in back, and theoretically above and below–six people within two feet.  By doubling the dimensions you would double the number of positions that would be within two feet of you without having them be any closer to each other.  Thus in one sense, the people would seem crowded, yet in another they would not.

I didn’t have a good reason for Peter not to be waiting for her; I decided he didn’t have one, either.  That is, I did not want Peter to be there when she arrived, because it would eliminate my creature, my view of the world, my reference to all being saints–but it made sense that he would be expecting her.

My effort to describe Peter owes much to C. S. Lewis.  He had expressed glorified humans as somehow ageless yet of every age; and he had written of the Apostle Paul.  Lewis had an uncle who once spoke of discussing theology with Paul like two elderly gentlemen at the same club; this struck Lewis as a failure to apprehend the immense glory of someone like Paul.  I wanted to combine that eternal weight of glory with the easy-going down-home sort of peasant that was still Peter.

Lewis is cited in reference to The Great Divorce; but it struck me that Peter would not cite chapter and verse (as it were), and would speak of the man in familiar terms–“Jack”, as he preferred to be called by friends.

Peter’s refusal to answer theological questions beyond the immediate experience is not merely a dodge to avoid taking sides on such things.  I believe that God wants us to do as he suggests, to work out these matters to the best of our abilities.  I’m playing in a world as I write this in which the saints on earth can at any moment ask the saints in heaven to settle a disagreement.  God doesn’t give us that option; it must be because He doesn’t want us to have it, and thus I conclude that Peter isn’t going to answer Lauren’s curiosities.

As to asking about others, again I get that from Lewis:  God doesn’t tell us what happens to people who never hear the gospel; Lewis said we cannot know with certainty what becomes of those who honestly and from good heart and motive disbelieve it.  Nor can we know who (if anyone) does this.  He deals with us as individuals, and expects us to see to our own responsibilities.  That means to tell others what we know, but not to condemn them.

“That exceeded smiling by so much as smiling is happier than….”  I had much trouble coming to a word for this.  I thought of many facial expressions.  Frowning was too trite; grimacing not opposite; crying contained the possibility of joy.  In the end, “death” was the word I chose.

At the moment that Peter handed her three things, I only knew what one of them was.  But I must take a step back.  When Chris did this, he received two things–a silver crucifix and a scroll with words of healing written on it.  I first knew that Lauren had to receive something from Peter, so the visit would make more sense.  Then I realized (perhaps with a laugh) that the first would be a perfect item, as it would give Lauren the skill she needed for a major moment in the story ahead.  The problem was that giving her that would so obviously be what it was, as the reader would then understand what it was for long before Lauren did, and would wonder that she didn’t use it sooner.  Neither the simple type nor the elegant decorative types would do, as they would immediately be seen, even by Lauren, as “X”, and so described in the text.  Fortunately I remembered a type I’d only seen one or twice in my life, a screw-driven sort, and felt I could describe that in a fashion that would obscure what it actually was from the reader.  But there was also the lesson I had applied to the coin in the first book:  one significant object cannot be given alone, or it calls attention to itself.  I decided that three was the right number.  I did not yet know what the other two were, but (as with the bag) figured I could invent something soon enough.

The free-standing door I’ve seen and used many times before.  Part of my problem at this moment was that I didn’t really know where she was going.  That is, I had the broadest outline of the idea:  she was going back to the vampire world, in or around 2300 (which seemed far enough in the future to be futuristic, but not so far that my predictions would be complete fantasy), where she would face Tubrok in their final confrontation.  What I didn’t know was what 2300 actually looked like; and that was going to take a lot of thought.  So I blacked out the gate.  Usually I don’t show things through a gate–they shimmer, or show only what is behind, or something like that.  But this time I wanted a better reason; and the idea of looking from light to darkness not only answered the question, it also made a statement.


Chapter 65, Slade 70

I had decided that they would be attacked in the barn, and that the barn would be burned down to drive them out.  I realized that they had to move fast (barns don’t take long to spread fire through them).  They didn’t have time to pack; but I couldn’t let them leave things behind.  Thus Shella packed by magic while dressing, and Slade was the last ready.

Slade has improved significantly; he’s faster with his blaster even than he was fighting the snake–one targeted shot every four seconds.  I counted all of the first volley as hits, with four fatal shots.  This was a bit on the lucky side, but not an incredible outcome for his skill.

I couldn’t decide what Shella would be able to do that wouldn’t be (at least in Multiverser terms) more powerful than the bias would allow.  Changing the shape of the ground was the best I could find, so I tried to think of ways to use it effectively.

I didn’t have to decide whether the arrows were blocked by the spell; it was sufficient that no one on Slade’s side was injured by them.

In my mind, Filp cut to the right and was going to sweep in from the end of the line; but this wasn’t something Slade would know, so I didn’t describe it.

I’d always thought Slade should get Filp’s grapple system when Filp died; I have no idea when or how it will be used.

I’m not certain when I decided that Shella had told Torence she was leaving to marry Slade; but I laughed at that myself, so I had to include it.

I recognized the inconsistency in consecrating the fire, which was allied with their enemies, to take the body; but then I decided this was the logical way, and perhaps death itself overcomes such problems.


Chapter 66, Brown 74

Having brought Lauren to the final world, I needed Derek to grow up faster.  I also needed his story to pick up pace.  Thus I focused on building up Derek’s body skills, and used the clairvoyance to introduce the fact that humans were the conquerors.

The size of the man was difficult, and I’m not certain the description is credible.  I figure that a tall sprite is typically twelve inches, one foot tall; Derek will be fifteen inches, because I need him to be very tall for a sprite, but Lelach is probably only ten inches.  If I make my man five feet tall, that’s five times as big as a typical sprite, and if we then take that as the baseline for a normal human, we have by comparison a twenty-five foot tall giant.  That’s bigger than any giant in the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™ Monster Manual.  The man would seem huge.

The other side of the problem, though, is whether Derek would have a sprite’s perspective on the size when viewing it clairvoyantly.  He is not in the frame, as it were, and he is seeing it as if he were flying so he’s not looking up at it from the ground.  It was not so long ago that he was himself a human (albeit shorter, still an adolescent), and so the size of the man relative to the trees would perhaps not be so shocking.  I was aware of this, but felt that I needed to convey the impression that the human was monstrously big, and so I ignored the perception problem.  I can suppose that there were sprites within Derek’s view, but I did not say so, and I did not want to have him see the man shoot a sprite.

I had the experience of shooting flintlock and cap-and-ball guns, both rifles and pistols, in the late 1970s.  My uncle had a pair of each, and we were invited to his cabin in the mountains where target and skeet shooting was the primary form of entertainment (there were also shotguns, a very nice crossbow on which I modeled Joe Kondor’s, and a few other weapons that do not come back to my mind presently).  The experience is known to me personally.


This has been the sixth 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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