This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #180, on the subject of Versers Focus.
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:
- #157: Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters);
- #164: Versers Proceed (which covered chapters 12 through 22);
- #170: Versers Explore (which covered chapters 23 through 33);
- #174: Versers Achieve (chapters 34 through 44).
This picks up from there, with chapters 45 through 55.
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.
Quick links to discussions in this page:
Chapter 45, Slade 61
Chapter 46, Brown 69
Chapter 47, Slade 62
Chapter 48, Hastings 109
Chapter 49, Slade 63
Chapter 50, Brown 70
Chapter 51, Slade 64
Chapter 52, Hastings 110
Chapter 53, Slade 65
Chapter 54, Brown 71
Chapter 55, Slade 66
Yes, I am aware that the djinn are a factor in middle eastern/Arabian mythology, and not Norse religion. Yet if I begin with the premise that djinn exist in a spirit realm that connects to all physical realms, it is perfectly reasonable for such spirits to interact in different ways in different worlds.
Back in the 1980s I was running an Original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™ game, and in creating various encounters I created a table that would include a “hitherto unknown spell” in a spell book. That required that I create such spells, and I had quite a few. One of them was called “Record” (the verb, accent on the second syllable), and allowed the spellcaster to make a three-dimensional visual record of a scene or event as it happened, preserved in a piece of chalk, and then replay it somewhere else. This was definitely inspired by that, although it is different in a lot of critical details.
The size of the butterfly was a bit problematic. I had not really worked out how big sprites were; I was probably thinking about twelve inches tall, although I had to stretch that for Derek, making him fifteen inches tall when full grown. Still, he is probably only about five inches tall at this point, and a large butterfly probably would seem like a hawk.
I don’t recall Derek yet using the abilities to summon and control creatures for anything significant, other than as a stepping stone toward learning more skills.
I suppose that one thing I seem to do is give myself problems and then try to find ways to solve them. In that way, writing the story is like playing the game. As referee, I create problems; as player, I solve them. When I wrote that Phasius was weakened, I did not know how I was going to solve that problem. I had had some notion that he would know a way out of the castle–but I abandoned that almost immediately in favor of the idea that he knew a way out of the city. This had merit; but it didn’t solve my problem.
I added motion on the battlements for two reasons. One was because things were going too smoothly; that is, it didn’t feel like a story for Slade and Filp, now having released Phasius, to cake-walk out of the building with him. The other was that giving myself a new problem meant I had more time to consider the solution to the old one.
I hit a snag here. I realized that I had not kept up my lists of what Lauren was able to do, psionically, magically, or even physically. During the second book, she picked up a lot of skills, and built up a lot of the ones she knew. I had let a lot of it go by, because it was being done a bit behind the scenes–Merlin was teaching her many things, but little that was specific. She was expanding her psionic abilities, but always in a general sense. She taught Bethany, but I never really said what. I realized that I was going to have to go back through the entire second novel and find all the things Lauren had learned, so they could go on the character information sheet I was using. And I was going to have to do it before I could go much further with Lauren’s story.
What I wound up doing, as I went back to start combing through the second novel draft, was making a general statement of what she was able to do and then changing the subject. The main thing I wanted her to do in this world was fix the disintegrator staff; I wanted it to be part of the combat against Tubrok at the end, if only to show how very powerful he was as an opponent. I also wanted her to practice, to spend time improving her abilities. This gave me the background for that.
The problem was simple to resolve; and it gave me a solution to the other problem. The use of darkness had been in my mind to help them get away from the town watch when they were trying to scale the walls; but it came up quite effectively here. The idea of a secret garden with a door to the city didn’t seem entirely out of character (particularly given that it’s a walled city) and resolved a lot of things.
The idea of eyes in the back of Mom’s head was the catalyst for this chapter. I realized I could get to that by having him interested in an unseen animal, and that just saying it would give a new idea for a psionic skill which would be plausible to learn from what he already knew. I also formed the idea of having Derek learn an entirely different set of psionic skills from those Lauren knew. This would be difficult, because Lauren mostly knew the skills I’d devised when I was playing. I would have to think about the skills within the framework of increasing bias but with very different applications. The heightened awareness and specialized clairvoyance functions made good sense immediately. I’m still working on the next step, which will be some form of telekinetic, but I don’t know what.
I took a break before Filp asks his question; I wasn’t sure even yet what I was doing. But I got the ideas first that Phasius knew one of the guards, and second that he wasn’t really certain where he was or how to find him, and third that he had to take several breaks to catch his breath. With this I started writing. I named the guard Saiman because I didn’t want to call him Simon, which was the first name that came to mind. It was a rather abrupt decision to make him an officer, and then again to have him on duty in the late night.
I decided that the lone guard was Saiman, but wanted to hang it there. Besides, I knew that Slade was going to play some role, either of a servant or a nobleman seeking Saimon, but hadn’t worked out exactly what he would do or say yet.
I have lived several places in New Jersey over the course of my life–in five different counties. I’ve also been quite a few places in Delaware and eastern Pennsylvania, and have visited other states in the northeast corridor over the years. I joke when someone names a particularly town, “I’ve been lost there.” Here I was turning it around on Bob, that he couldn’t possibly know where he was because he had never even been lost in this city before, so there was no chance he would recognize anything.
I wanted to pick up the pace on Lauren and Derek, to move toward some action, even though I didn’t know what they were going to do before the end.
I broke this in the middle, too.
Repairing the rod had long been in my mind; I wanted it to happen here. But I didn’t want it to happen too soon–it seemed incredible for her to do it immediately. I actually considered tossing it into the sea, or the volcano, having her give it up completely; but by the time I thought of it I had set it up as a major obstacle for her, and she could not do that.
There is a denigrating comment to the effect of “he puts his pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else,” which of course means that the referenced individual is merely human. I was watching video from Skylab in which one of the astronauts picked up a pair of pants, grinned broadly, and proceeded to lift both legs off the ground and insert them in the pants. It was awkward, as he was kicking and spinning backwards, but he succeeded–and as he did so, I thought not only had he not adequately thought through the process, it was not something that required zero gravity to accomplish. I proceeded to teach myself how to put my pants on both legs at once (no, you can ask me the secret if you see me at a convention or something) and did so several times a week for many years, just because I could and I could say that I did. Lauren doesn’t do it the way I do–she cheats, using her psionic levitation to hold herself aloft while lifting her feet and pushing them into the pant legs–but she gets the idea from me.
I had pondered just how Saiman would get Phasius out of the city. Another secret door was too much to ask. I fell on a bold plan, to have them ride out the gate in search of themselves.
I also started inventing fragments of Norse religion; I hope no one takes them too seriously. I needed to give something to Slade in all this, and couldn’t just say that he learned a lot about it without putting something to it that made sense, that fit with what I knew of Norse beliefs. At this point it’s just a couple of aphorisms; but they’re probably the best way to include a religion in a story without overly detailing it, particularly if they capture the core of the faith, which I think perhaps these do.
I feel I owe an apology to a Finnish colleague, Eero Tuovinen. At some point he read Verse Three, Chapter One, and in commenting said he hoped that in the future I would bring some real bits of Norse religion into Slade’s stories. I obviously have not done that. In my defense, by the time he had written those comments to me this book (and at least most of the next) had been completed, and the fragments of Slade’s religion that appear within it were to some degree integral to the story; and I confess to having only a sketchy knowledge of actual Norse religion in our world; and after all it is already established that Slade is learning about Odin in other worlds, worlds in which Odin is known to work with the djinn of Arabian mythology. It’s not going to be the same myth even though it attempts to hold to the same core truths.
In my search to give Derek psionic skills that would make sense coming from his experience and wouldn’t sound like Lauren all over again, I struck upon the idea of telekinetically playing with the steam. Lauren doesn’t do gaseous telekinesis, or liquid telekinesis for that matter, so I could give these to Derek and so create a unique package for him. I might come back later and fill in the gaps with things she knows, but I am enjoying the challenge of building a unique yet logical skills set.
The pain resistance and pain reduction skills also struck me as things I didn’t see Lauren doing; and the teeth gave me a good excuse to do them.
I will probably have him do some sort of pyrogenesis inside the tree next; it will be a cold winter, and his ability to warm them will be important. But it will probably be the air he warms–she only did that once, as I recall, and it wasn’t the first thing she tried.
I’m trying to recall whether I’ve ever actually seen a video game in which you had to control objects on opposite sides of the screen simultaneously, but my video game experience is much more limited than Derek’s.
I created this as I went, apart from having already decided about riding out the gate. I also decided at this point that Shella had been watching them by scrying, so she would find them quickly once they approached her.
This has been the fifth 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.