Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wednesday Worldbuilding Workshop: Metaphors and Magic in a Blended World

Welcome to week eight of the Wednesday Worldbuilding Workshop! This week's entry comes from Harry Markov. Harry's piece is different from those which I've seen previously, because these are not the first 500 words of his work in progress, but taken from further in. He told me, "I wanted to include more magic, so it's not the opening." In my comments, I'll try to take that into account. Below, I'll start by highlighting in blue the words that give me worldbuilding information, because we should expect (and we find) that this information is available throughout the work.

***
“You talking to the night again, Lord Sith?” Hank sputtered and laughed, while Tina provided a giggling soundtrack to the drunken pun.

“Yes,” I replied; heat like cotton in my mouth. “And it tells me oh so wondrous things. Tina is a slut and Hank would lick his balls, if he could bend that low.” I hummed in my mysterious voice, face in deep concentration and index fingers circling my temples.

The humming subsided, a pause followed and then we all burst out laughing, two sets of self-conscious laughter and one hollow chuckle. After that Hank and Tina fondled each other and I wished I did speak to the night. Then my lungs wouldn’t contract as much and my skin sweat.

The night knew all. Unlike the day, the night collected secrets, spied and gossiped, if provided with a bribe. My fingers twitched, thinking about the night as invaluable resource. But only spoke to Abyssus, truly. Bastard.

I huffed and scratched my scalp, enflaming my skin. It was a slow acidic sear, which inched over my whole head. A cringe worthy sensation, which scattered my thoughts. I tugged and pulled on my hair, hoping to catch a misled breeze from the river. But the air didn’t shift and the silence, as if forced at gun point, remained intact.

It didn’t weigh down, but it was strained, holding off a scream, a secret the silence wanted to bellow. My skin prickled, hair after hair on my arms spearing in a slow crawl and I knew that tonight was the night. There was undeniable expectancy in the quiet and it never lied to me. I could read into it. Nothing supernatural, but with its uses.

My mind unclotted from the tequila and I was aware of the countdown, punctuated by each jet of blood to my brain. Fever rose and broke through the layers of makeup, now sliding down my face. Aristomache had instructed me well, provided me with the tools and the strategies. I had little to do.

Tonight, I’d get blood on my hands for the first time. And sure enough, my mind picked it up. It was a small speck, which grew to a dot, then a circle and the circle malformed into a hungry pond. All red and bright like traffic light in my mind’s eye. Blood, fresh at that, had been spilt and marked the spot, where we had parked a few blocks away from the museum.

As we traced our way to the parking lot the blood hummed to my senses and my blood vessels throbbed in response. The lot came in view and so did the wet smell of iron. I glanced at Hank and Tina, who staggered on in convenient ignorance.

I looked beyond them, spotting a blotch of thicker shadow under the tree next to the lot. It shifted and gained shape with each foot behind my back, bobbing in an unbothered rhythm.
***

Our first piece of information is the phrase talking to the night, which at this point we have no reason to interpret in any literal way. It obviously leaves a lot of possibilities open but suggests that we can expect normal things like nights. The next word, Lord Sith, says to me immediately, "Star Wars" (was that what you intended?). However, any possibility that we might be in a Star Wars universe is immediately negated by the next word, Hank, and its accompanying name, Tina. These say clearly that we're in our own world, a conclusion supported by the laughing and giggling, and by the pun. The word soundtrack references technology that fits with a post-Star Wars real world.

Once readers establish they're in the real world they may become more relaxed and somewhat less attentive to possible conflicting information. Most information that follows serves as confirmation of the ongoing reality, like the comparison of heat to cotton, the presence of human physiology (mouth/balls/temples), and the use of modern slang (slut, and later, cringe worthy).

Things change, though, as we go into the next paragraph and reach I wished I did speak to the night. Because it's a wish, we can't unequivocally conclude from it that literal speaking to the night is going on, but we have returned to the idea, and the fact that it has consequences for the protagonist (lungs contract/skin sweat) puts a seed of doubt in my mind. The real departure happens thereafter, when night is portrayed as an entity: The night knew all... the night collected secrets, spied and gossiped, if provided with a bribe. The idea of night knowing all or collecting secrets might be merely metaphorical, but when we get to spied and gossiped, and especially the idea of negotiating bribes, I reach the conclusion that we've entered the realm of fantasy. The presence of fantasy is confirmed by night as invaluable resource, and by the name Abyssus.

When such distinct elements of modern real world and fantasy are juxtaposed, you can be pretty sure you're looking at a blended world. This one looks like an urban fantasy - urban because of the parking lot, if nothing else.

At this point I'm going to go back through the excerpt with my thoughts marked in brown. These comments are mostly a think-aloud for me, and are not intended to be corrections - however, I will point out the few minor points of confusion I had.

***
“You talking to the night again, Lord Sith?” [I instantly think Star Wars. Was that what you intended? Without the earlier context it's hard to tell.] Hank sputtered and laughed, while Tina provided a giggling soundtrack to the drunken pun.[Oh, okay, we're in the modern real world with movies and soundtracks. I wonder what the pun is a pun on; that may be outside the excerpt we're looking at.]

“Yes,” I replied; heat like cotton in my mouth. [what an unpleasant sensation! Interesting simile.] “And it tells me oh so wondrous things. Tina is a slut and Hank would lick his balls, if he could bend that low.” I hummed in my mysterious voice, face in deep concentration and index fingers circling my temples. [Now I see a contrast between the slang insults to Hank and Tina and the deliberately mysterious behavior of the protagonist. I wonder if this is just a randomly assumed mysterious pose, or whether it has some specific significance. Perhaps the latter, if there is a real magic system at work (as it appears further into this excerpt).]

The humming subsided, a pause followed and then we all burst out laughing, two sets of self-conscious laughter and one hollow chuckle.[Is this hollow chuckle the protagonist? I'd be curious to get a sense of the feeling behind that chuckle.] After that Hank and Tina fondled each other and I wished I did speak to the night. [Here I'm getting more curious about what this means.] Then my lungs wouldn’t contract as much and my skin sweat. [I'm wondering a lot about the relationship between the protagonist and Hank and Tina here. This may be information that is established in parts of the text previous to this excerpt, but it would help me if the protagonist's response to them had a clearer judgmental label. The protagonist's physical response is ambiguous and might suggest more than a single possible emotion. There's a good opportunity here to show social structure/age.]

The night knew all. [This is the third time we've returned to the idea of the night, so I've decided it has a distinctly unusual significance.] Unlike the day, the night collected secrets,[this would be possible in a metaphorical sense] spied and gossiped, if provided with a bribe.[these last activities, though, require distinct agency on the part of the night, so it looks like night is either an entity or a force at the basis of a magic system.] My fingers twitched, thinking about the night as invaluable resource. [this might support the force model] But [it?] only spoke to Abyssus, truly.[I'm assuming this means that the night only truly speaks to someone named Abyssus, possibly introduced earlier (or to be introduced soon). This could support an entity model.] Bastard.[I'm assuming the bastard is Abyssus, since you've already called night a "resource."]

I huffed and scratched my scalp, enflaming my skin. It was a slow acidic sear,[is this an injury on the protagonist's head, or a description of the sensation? The reason I'm not sure is that the sensation seems extreme for a mere scratching of the scalp.] which inched over my whole head. A cringe worthy [more definitely modern slang] sensation, which scattered my thoughts. I tugged and pulled on my hair,[this appears to be a response to the sensation, possibly also indicative of anxiety but we're not told explicitly] hoping to catch a misled breeze from the river. But the air didn’t shift and the silence, as if forced at gun point, remained intact. [here silence joins night as an anthropomorphised entity, and I become curious again as to how literally I can take the description. If it's more literal, then who is forcing the silence to behave? Is it the night? Is there more than one driving force in this magic system?]

It [the silence?] didn’t weigh down, but it was strained, holding off a scream,[is the silence struggling to keep itself quiet? Interesting.] a secret the silence wanted to bellow. My skin prickled, hair after hair on my arms spearing in a slow crawl and I knew that tonight was the night. There was undeniable expectancy in the quiet and it never lied to me. [At this point I'm placing silence->protagonist alongside night ->Abyssus, as though each has their own force they can access for foreknowledge.] I could read into it. Nothing supernatural, [I'm surprised by this. It seems quite supernatural, even if silence is less powerful than night.] but with its uses.

My mind unclotted from the tequila[an additional hint of context; I didn't know they were drinking tequila. I'm not sure what "unclotted from" means in this context.] and I was aware of the countdown,[is this a countdown you've referenced before? or a new one? It's not clear what this is a countdown to.] punctuated by each jet of blood to my brain. Fever rose and broke through the layers of makeup[makeup makes me suspect the protagonist is female; not much evidence either way to this point], now sliding down my face. Aristomache [another fantasy name; I assume this person is officially introduced before this excerpt] had instructed me well, provided me with the tools and the strategies. I had little to do. [I wonder about this. So the protagonist has tools and strategies, but that suggests she does have something to do. Or does this mean she feels trapped by the circumstances? Her anxiety would make sense.]

Tonight, I’d get blood on my hands for the first time.[wow, she'll kills someone?] And sure enough, my mind picked it up.[the idea?] It [blood?] was a small speck, which grew to a dot, then a circle and the circle malformed into a hungry pond. All red and bright like traffic light [this is fun and fits well with the world as it has been created.] in my mind’s eye. Blood, fresh at that, had been spilt and marked the spot, where we had parked a few blocks away from the museum.[I'm curious about this but assuming it refers to something outside the excerpt.]

As we traced our way to the parking lot [this is very urban!] the blood hummed to my senses and my blood vessels throbbed in response.[dramatic metaphors] The lot came in view and so did the wet smell of iron.[into view?] I glanced [back?]at Hank and Tina, who staggered on in convenient ignorance.[I do wonder why she's not trying to get away from them. I start suspecting maybe she intends to use them somehow...]

I looked beyond them, [so this is further behind]spotting a blotch of thicker shadow under the tree next to the lot. It shifted and gained shape with each foot behind my back, bobbing [is the blotch bobbing? Or is this H & T's footsteps?] in an unbothered rhythm.
***

First, I'd like to thank Harry for submitting this piece. I found it dramatic and interesting. I think that the blending of the worlds, i.e. modern/gritty real world and fantasy magic system, is well done. The two seem not to struggle against one another; I can accept that a night-based magic system exists in this world.

One thing I'd like to know more about, and more clearly, is the magic system. A lot can be implied with just a few words, and because of the vividness of the metaphors in this piece, I do find myself wondering just what is metaphor and what is an actual description of features of the magic system. One thing that might make this clearer is if we readers could have a better idea of who Abyssus and Aristomache are - even just a word or two to establish if they are enemies, or his teachers, etc. It would also be good to know just which sensations felt by the protagonist are magical ones, and which mundane (provided of course that she herself knows the difference).

A better sense of the protagonist's social judgment could not only help the magic, but also help to disambiguate the larger situation. I would be interested to understand better her relationship with Hank and Tina and her opinion of them, as well as how she perceives her role in the events which are soon to take place (relative to the possible involvement of others).

Thanks again for submitting. I hope you find my comments helpful.

Any constructive discussion is welcome.

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