14 Mar 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 20

Crime scene investigation, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 20.

Okay, CSI might be over the top for what the cast is doing, but between fire fighting and discovering the body, they're hitting a few procedurals that don't normally appear in a fantasy.  No one has written Emergency! in a fantasy setting and possibly only Terry Pratchett has written police procedurals.  Yet, here I am, adding those elements, though the decision wasn't conscious of the approach at the time.  'Twas NaNo and words needed to be written.

The Elf's Prisoner started as a D&D-esque story, but I wanted to bury the gaming portion deep, despite using dark elves.  What works in a game doesn't quite work in fiction, particularly the random encounter.  Tossing in a random fight will keep player interested and give them a small bit of treasure, it doesn't work as well for readers.  Well, it could, but who can afford to include a couple of silver coins or a +1 dagger in every printed novel, and how would that work with an ebook?  So, what was originally an action scene to keep reader and, admittedly, writer interest, had to become something more than that.

By this time, I finally worked out how magic worked.  Instead of Vancian magic, I went a different route and "borrowed" from Shadowrun.  I've gone into depth on how I created the magic system before; short form is that wizards need to learn every spell they know, but can cast them until they exhaust themselves.  If the wizard has a focus, like a wand or a rod, or uses gestures, then it makes it easier to cast a spell.  That just left figuring out what spells Jyslyn knows.  I don't have a list; that would've meant planning ahead on a story that was a last minute decision.  I did have an idea of the sort of spells Jyslyn would want to learn.  In a city where anyone who could cause her problems would have protection against direct magic, Jyslyn would learn spells that have an indirect effect.  Zapping someone with a ice bolt won't work; zapping a wall to turn it into mud and cover that same someone would.  Jyslyn has a spell to control large amounts of water; the protective magics won't do much against a mini-tsunami.

The corpse is, for me, what turned this from a random encounter into a plot-driven scene.  An abandoned farm, a burnt corpse, and a fire don't really answer questions but add them.  Here, though, I had the answers.  I kept trying to work out why the fire started, and the more I dug, the more I was able to connect the fire to the main plot.  The next chapter expands it more, but for now, it's enough to say that I knew who, roughly, and I knew why.  The cast, not so much.

The contributions to the investigation came from the cast's strengths.  Jyslyn put out the fire.  Kazimier, the healer, determined cause of death.  Wren picked up on the lack of animals, dead or alive.  Nyssa has her reasons for not leaving just yet.  The choice of who did what was important.  Jyslyn wouldn't know what a surface barn looks like and Kazi, wouldn't have picked up on the abandoned nature of the farm.  Jyslyn remarking on an abandoned farm would ring false.  Leo or Wren diagnosing the cause of death would throw readers.  The right character has to make these observations.

As of this chapter, I had a rough plan, one that would at least get me to the dwarven kingdom.  Once there, I could try figuring out where I was going next, but the journey now has a point to aim for.  It's something, especially when pantsing.

Friday, the dangers still lurk, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 21.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, One Day at a Time.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Carmen Sandiego.

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