Ray Bradbury’s Gabriel’s Horn and the other side of Sci-Fi

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It’s common in the ol’ realm of science fiction to have spaceships. To have lasers and stars and monstrous alien creatures battling hordes of space marines in galaxy-spanning wars. Technology is often at the core, and devices that would seem like magic to us are used like we use our phones now. The story starts well past the point of familiarity with these wondrous things, and is more about the characters and setting than it is with the technical wizardry on offer. In Star Wars, the idea of jumping to lightspeed or death by a thousand lasers is treated with as much surprise as waking up to a refrigerator in your kitchen. In Ready Player One, the idea of the Oasis is already cemented in the minds of the characters when we meet them – its purpose is clear, and the knowledge of how to use it is well-ingrained in society.

Gabriel’s Horn, a Bradybury short story, illustrates the other side of sci-fi, where new technology and ideas are introduced to a society with strange, unusual effects. In this case, the “technology” isn’t even all that wondrous – a tribesman finds a trumpet, something he believes is a great weapon, albeit one he cannot understand. It fails, after all, to kill deer on a hunt. Fails to protect him and his tribe when blown. We, the audience, know that a trumpet isn’t going to ever kill anything, but if you saw a rounded metal object that looked similar to the guns your enemies used to hunt your friends, you too might believe a trumpet capable of grievous harm.

It would be easy to turn the story into a comedy – a play on how dumb these people must be if they can’t figure out the purpose of a trumpet. Instead, Bradbury takes pains to show that his characters are as clever as they are desperate. Willing to try anything to save themselves from mysterious invaders, who come periodically to hunt their defenseless prey. Gab, the primary protagonist, observes the invaders, puts together plans to outwit them, and demonstrates more than enough intelligence to get the gist of what a trumpet might be used for… which is when you grasp the real sci-fi element of the story: a civilization exposed to something of which they have no conception.

Gad does not understand the concept of music, so he cannot know the trumpet’s true purpose.

And so we see, instead, what other uses might be made of something so far away from its intended place. It’s fun, it’s clever, and Gabriel’s Horn is a reminder that sci-fi can work just as well with the characters learning about their world, rather than already enmeshed within it.

A couple things:

1. March in Wisconsin is a strange time when you rediscover your lawn is a half-frozen mess of yellowed, dead grass. As if to spare you the horror, nature will hide it with snow from time to time throughout the month, giving you time to adjust to the ugly view outside your windows until, in April, rains come to turn it into a muddy soup. Knowing that you’ll be disheartened by these events, the temps play around the 40-50 degree mark during the day, tempting you to step outside without a heavy jacket, breath fresh air for a few moments, and remember that there is, in fact, a world outside your own house.

2. I remain convinced that Peanut Butter Patties are the optimal Girl Scout cookie. I also remain confident in, and nauseated by, my ability to eat a box of them in a day.


The Power and Problems of On-The-Fly Storytelling

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The heroes have burst into a bar looking to slake their thirst with a flagon of the good stuff. Alas, before the sweet golden nectar can be theirs, a gruff ogre of a man demands entertainment as the slovenly town has little more than dusty dandelions to enoy these days. As such, the heroes are challenged to a contest – one that involves imbibing one’s beer and slamming one’s mug against the table so hard that it shatters.

Confused eyes cast across the table – which of the heroes, and there ought to at least be two, are up to this challenge? Who dares brave the boozehounds of the only inn in town?

This wasn’t a planned moment. I hadn’t etched this into the adventure for the day. However, when my friends marched their motley cast through a town that eyed them with suspicion, getting to the only inn and the first real haven they would encounter on their journey seemed like it should be marked by something special. “You sit down at the table and drink your fill.” doesn’t sound all that exciting. Not a whole lot of accomplishment in that. But besting a pair of the town’s biggest louts in a game of their own choosing? That’s pretty entertaining.

Most people who create things (and I’d venture to say most people in general) have those spontaneous moments throughout the day – those times when you sit up and say “this is a great idea!” or “That sounds awesome” or “I really need to get more sleep if I’m seeing these things during the day.” In a creative context, these sorts of moments are the tantalizing forbidden fruit. Beautiful, succulent ideas that promise everything if only you pursue them to the ends.

And the worst part is that they deliver. Sometimes.

The above drinking game played out well. Everyone had fun. The heroes smashed some bottles and earned the grudging respect of the bar’s patrons (if not the inn’s owner, unhappy at her broken glasses). It also fit well into the overarching story without disrupting much. A moment’s fun and then back to the main event. No harm done.

But what happens when the idea fundamentally alters what you’re trying to do?

In my current novel that I’m typing away on, I wrote an entire outline targeted around a particular storyline. I liked it. Plenty of adventure, action, and interesting characters. Problem was, and I knew this even as I put the finishing bits on the outline, is that some of the character moments wouldn’t resonate because we wouldn’t know those characters well enough to care. If you’ve just met Joe and Sally at a malt shop, and Joe gets hit by a truck five seconds later, you’re probably not going to break down in tears. You’re not going to wonder about what might have been between Joe and Sally because, uh, who cares? You just met them. You may, in fact, be wondering whether malt shops still exist.

So after playing with this for a bit, I restructured it. Changed the outline and moved events around.

What does this have to do with on-the-fly storytelling?

Namely that I made the decision after I actually wrote the passages that had problems. Thousands of words into the story, it became clear that the characters weren’t achieving the effects that I wanted. So I played around more with Joe and Sally. Where my initial outline, for the purposes of this metaphor, had a lot to do with Sally’s growth post-Joe, the ideas that came to mind fleshed out the period of time for both Joe and Sally. Their pasts grew more compelling, and their actions changed, to the point where neither of them wind up going to that malt shop anymore. The truck doesn’t show up either.

I didn’t finish that first version. There’s no telling whether it would have worked out in the end. Instead, I scrapped days of work and went back to it, and it was hard doing so. If I hadn’t come up with a better idea there in the moment, writing the truck scene, I might never have done so. Might have just pushed through, warts and all.

The final version, I think, will be better than the first. But it’s going to take me longer, and it’s going to be more work. That’s the problem with these impulses – following them is always a risk. How big a risk depends on the project, the impulse idea, and the time you have to implement it.

If I’d come up on the world-changing idea three-quarters of the way through instead of when I did? Joe would probably still get hit by the truck and I’d find a different way to address character concerns. It would be too much of a sacrifice to trash the whole story at that point.

But when it came to a few minutes in a bar? Absolutely. Going to take ride that spark all the way.

Rakers 6 – The Open Ending

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There’s a certain advantage to setting out when you want a story to conclude – namely, you know the space you have to tell it. The number of side plots you can include. The number of characters and where they’re going to go. So on and so forth.

There are, of course, disadvantages. Maybe your characters don’t want to go where you need them to be, and suddenly you’re finding convoluted reasons to get them around so your trilogy doesn’t become a seven book saga. Or you’re realizing the universe you’ve created is so much more than you thought it was, and your five-book series ought to be an endless march through your sandbox.

One of the things that I don’t see mentioned as often is writer exhaustion – namely, you’re going to get tired of writing in the same setting all the time. Meaning it’s going to take you longer between books, and it’ll be harder to work up the energy to start the next one. People like new, shiny things and writers are no different.

Rakers is a loose way of playing with the series type – the setting is constructed as such to produce side stories. It’s a world teeming with possibilities and narratives ripe for construction. I have a planned central arc, sure, but there could be plenty of other stories alongside that one. That being said, if I get distracted by something new, the core events are ready to be described with a three-book set. It should still be a lot of fun, and have a definitive ending, without closing off the door to future stories.

As for how I’m putting that together, what I’m doing is putting a lot of effort into a setting that generates story ideas. What does that entail? It means creating organizations or societies, parts of your world that naturally drive plots. Take, for example, James Bond. The setting that produces all of these movies and stories is, essentially, “a British secret agent with a license to kill and a limitless budget”. It doesn’t take a lot of abstract thought to come up with a scenario that falls in that setting and that would be engaging to see through to a conclusion. Same thing with Star Wars, which operates under something like “Good and evil manifest as a power harnessed by warring factions in a future society”. Not too hard to think up new tales in that kind of universe.

I don’t want to spoil Rakers, but it’s designed with something similar in mind. A base from which any number of entertaining tales can spawn.

Is there a downside to this sort of thing? Potentially. As we can see with the litany of sequels pestering book shelves and movie theaters these days, there’s always a chance that the setting will become stale. If nothing ever seems to change, then readers will eventually get bored, prompting either a reset (like the comic book companies periodically do, or what’s happened with Star Trek) or a sideways shift, where the setting adjusts slightly but the players are different (like when Bond changes actors, or horror movies that keep the same plot idea but with new casts).

But the best thing about being a creative is that you’re not stuck. When you want to play in another world, you’re free to go do it.

It’s a pretty nice perk.

Rakers Week 5 – Taking Leaps

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One of the crazy beautiful things about writing fiction is that you can literally go anywhere with your words. It’s something movies, paintings, and most other forms of art can’t do. There’s nothing stopping you from writing a novel about a talking plant, or a series of mysteries as solved through the eyes of a particularly swarthy squirrel. You can take your characters to the Moon or Dimension Z. Flip gravity on its head or remove it entirely.

The challenge, of course, is taking the bizarre ideas that come to mind and placing a plausible story around them. Characters that still resemble, to some degree, humanity. Or, at least, have a system of values that allows us as readers to go with them to wherever the author chooses to take us. Rakers, at a certain point, takes a leap. It’s a challenging moment that twists the novel around and changes the stakes for the characters by turning the world and reality they know and understand into something else entirely. As the writer, my task is to build up a cast deserving enough of your attention that you’re willing to follow the story through those moments that, taken apart from themselves, would have you wondering… what?

Take a look at Men In Black. Assuming you haven’t seen any trailers and walked into the movie cold without any idea of what was coming (a far-fetched setup, but stick with me) – there’s a scene with Will Smith’s character chasing down a fleeing man who starts doing some physically impossible stunts. Still, they’re not so implausible that you couldn’t imagine, somehow, someone being able to pull them off. Yet, that niggling bit of “this isn’t entirely real” plays about in the back of our minds, so when the man’s alien origins are revealed, we’re not so shocked. Many other parts of Men in Black, from the font choices, soundtrack, and other things, convey the information that this isn’t a normal cop movie and all of those set us up to play along with the shift when it happens. We’re willing to leave the world of ordinary police work behind and jump in with the aliens and their coffee obsessions.

Point being, getting readers to follow you along into the most feverish of your fever dreams takes real effort. It does, of course, come with a side benefit – odds are, if you put in the work, if you add the flourishes and asides to add subtle expectations to make your readers believe in your setting, your characters will too. And when you have a career cop buying into the idea of a body-stealing cockroach menacing his home planet, then you’ve got a fun story on your hands.

Rakers Week 3 – The Evolution of an Idea

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There is a question at the heart of Rakers that I won’t spoil here and that, frankly, doesn’t get explicitly answered in the novel. I’m not sure I want to definitively answer it in the series as a whole either, because some queries don’t have clearcut choices.

When I started thinking about the book, this question did not exist in my mind. It did not emerge fully-formed after my morning coffee as something that needed a story to build around. Rather, as I began tinkering with the parts that would become Rakers, the question solidified and became the defining backbone for the story as a whole.

This morphing causes as many problems as it solves.

I think it’s easier to write with a guiding idea, with some central theory that the story is seeking to explore. A question you’re trying to answer or at least poke at with the story. The action provides a bit of narrative focus and allows you to corral characters that might otherwise turn into caricatures or, perhaps worse, become flat because there doesn’t appear to be a reason for them to keep doing what they’re doing outside of “plot”. However, when an idea comes to inform a story organically, you can find yourself scrambling to fix parts that no longer jive with the “vision” for the tale.

Take, for example, this villain: Jerry Fireball. He’s a manic wizard with a penchant for lighting things aflame when he’s bored or frustrated just because he can. As an antagonist, playing a set of heroes against this pyromaniac might be fun, but let’s look at Jerry’s motivations. If he’s simply set on burning the world down, then I think we can all agree that Jerry deserves to be quenched. If the guiding idea for your story is that, say, fire is bad, then writing a tale in which the burning punk gets his due comeuppance would be satisfying. I would hazard a guess, though, that Jerry wouldn’t go down as a particularly memorable villain.

Now, though, what happens if your idea isn’t just “kill the bad guy” but, instead, that fire and/or destruction breed the way for new life? Now, in your story where Jerry runs around wreaking havoc, you might feel compelled to introduce some other dimensions. Like, say, maybe Jerry’s fire is actually a way of bringing things back into another world that’s in serious jeopardy for one reason or another. That Jerry is the sole person able to, by burning objects in our world, bring support to the people trapped in this other place? Suddenly Jerry isn’t just a mindless monster, he’s deliberately choosing targets (bringing a mystery element to our heroes) and, when we find out the real reason these things are happening, Jerry has some potential to be sympathetic. The heroes may even find themselves trying to work with him in some way.

Of course, if you decide on this change of idea later in the writing process, adjusting plot beats and scenes to account for Jerry’s newfound motivations takes work. You’ve gotta massage that character. However, I think the end result is worth it. You’ll have a more memorable narrative, and (hopefully) you’ll have more fun writing it too. Which is what really matters, right?

Rakers Week 1 – A Modern Setting

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You might think that there’s something easy about choosing a “current day” setting. After all, it’s the world in which we live, right? If you, the writer, are in it every day, then naturally you know it, don’t you?

Rakers takes place right around now. Maybe a little bit in the future, but not far enough to have drastic changes (the vague date serves a story purpose – which is to remove real-life current events from the scope of the books). This gives the characters a lot of toys to place with – things like modern smartphones, cars and weapons. All sorts of fun. These, of course, are also things the reader will know about and have expectations for.

Ever watch a horror movie and laugh about how a cell phone would ruin the plot (or watch modern ones and shake your head at how they convolute things to make ever-present connections to the outside world go away – isolated cabins are so popular these days)? It’s the same thing with Rakers – these are “real” people who would react and communicate in real-time with one another. Every bit of information, including the locations of friends and family, is readily available and in their hands. Rather than run away from the complications this could introduce, in Rakers, those kinds of elements play a part in the story.

Take, for example, Jaycee. As Fade’s daughter and a sophomore in high school, she’s the sort of character that could get sidelined by other settings. Either not old enough to fight dragons or trained enough to pilot a starfighter, it’s a gray area reserved for stories where the kids are often exceptional (Hunger Games, Divergent, Harry Potter, etc.). In Rakers, though, Jaycee is able to both be herself and be effective simply because our current world gives a wealth of possibilities to people at almost any age. That Jaycee is able to have an impact is almost as surprising to her as it was to me when I was writing it up.

And that, I think, is one of the better gifts a setting can provide: agency for characters that might otherwise have none. Jaycee’s arc is driven, to a large degree, by the setting and the natural skills a person like her would have in our current environment.

So, while it can be easy to choose a fantastical setting for the benefits it offers (spells, light speed travel), I found that by putting Rakers right around today that there was so much to do, so many neat twists and turns that could come about thanks to the magic we live with every day. And even without lasers or giant swords, Rakers was still a blast to write.

Donkey Kong Country – Where Setting Makes All the Difference

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As a child of the 90s, the Super Nintendo played a distinct part in my elementary school life. There was Mario, sure, jumping along on mushrooms and pipes in worlds full of fireballs, turtles, and Bowser. But, when compared with the lush jungles, dark caves, and haunting seas of Donkey Kong, I couldn’t help but change favorites.

Donkey Kong also offered a true competitive mode, wherein each player progresses through their own game, trading off with the other, which made it a natural for a house full of brothers attempting to prove our button-mashing skills to one another.

Anyway, here you are. The player. Controlling a pair of apes (Donkey and Diddy, the younger, baseball-cap wearing one) in a quest to retrieve their stash of bananas on an island that somehow contains every climate zone and massive amounts of barrels (some of which, inexplicably, contain your allies when they’ve been lost).

The setting, taken at face value, offers no sense. You’ve got talking crocodiles, beavers that roll giant stone wheels, and clay creatures that stop and go according to mysterious barrels. Mine carts rocket through crumbling caverns. The monkeys can, apparently, hold their breath for great lengths of time to capture what would surely be rotting bananas at the bottom of various oceans.

However, and this is a lesson worth taking away – the ridiculousness of everything here is easily ignored because the gameplay, the core of the Donkey Kong experience, is so good. In fact, because you’re enjoying playing the game so much, you might find yourself lost in wonder at the world your charges inhabit.

This gets back to a core teaching of story-telling – that if you get the most important part right, people will forgive and enjoy other things, even if they make no sense. Back in the 90s, when we were looking for Saturdays to drown in digital fun, Donkey Kong aced it. Jumping on a swordfish and dodging murderous octopi while grabbing life-giving balloons felt good because the gameplay felt right.

Stories like Harry PotterLord of the Rings, and plenty of others have gaping plot holes, leaps in logic, and events that would seem, if explored in isolation, ridiculous. But they don’t matter because the part we care about, the central tale, is executed so well. That idea extends beyond books to movies, games, and just about any sort of creative expression.

Get your central feature straight, and then you can do almost anything you want.

Sidenote: This post was prompted by a pick-up of the SNES Classic, a little version of the Super Nintendo that’s made its way into stores and is well worth a pick-up if you’re at all interested in a nostalgic tour of early 90s adventure.

Adding the Magic

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Sometimes, when I’m writing something and getting close to the end, I’ll hit a sense of malaise. A dissatisfaction with the story that, until mere moments ago, seemed fun and energetic. A real romp from beginning to end.

Now, though, it’s dead. A floundering thing that has lost its spark.

In the past, I’d hit this moment earlier. Page ten – after the initial surge of creativity melts into the sludge of one-word-after-another. Or even the third paragraph, when a short story suddenly reveals that it’s going to be far too long for the required length, or far too straightforward.

With experience and better outlines, I’ve been keeping the inspiration going longer. I have more confidence in the ability to work through tough scenes, to inject personality and conflict into small moments necessary to keep the story going forward. As such, by the time I run out of gas, I’m now 40,000 words in rather than 500.

This, of course, presents a problem. If a story idea doesn’t pan out, you don’t want to have invested weeks or months of work to find that out. If you’re doing this for a living, you simply may not have the option of sacrificing that time and declaring the story a failed experiment.

Which leaves you (me) with two choices:

  1. Grind out the story anyway and finish it. This may not be the most enjoyable thing, but you may pick up the threads you lost. Fall back in love with a character you were bored of. You might find working on another project for a few days or a week to be a good way to come back to this – step away from the story so that it feels fresh. Perhaps most important is that you’ll end up with a completed work, which can either be published or, if you really feel it’s not good enough, set aside for later polish.
  2. Go troubleshooting. Find the boring parts, and by these I mean the parts that are boring to you, and obliterate them. Tear them apart. Examine them for problems if you want, but I’ve increasingly found it better to just rip out the scenes and start again. And add magic.

What does that mean – to “add magic”? I’m not talking about wizards here, though those are certainly fine if you prefer. Rather I’m talking about spicing the words. Taking what might otherwise be a dull or by-the-numbers affair and turning it into something truly memorable.

Take, for example, a scene from Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys. We’re introduced to the protagonist’s quirky father and brother in-law at their farmhouse. In a shed in the back, to be precise. The discussion that occurs is interesting enough, though mostly serves to illustrate the interactions between the three people, but the fact that they have it around the cage of a giant boa constrictor makes it memorable. We’re paying attention to the dialogue, in part, because we’ve just been told there’s a ridiculous snake nearby. A snake that, Chabon notes, has a habit of escaping.

Is the snake a crucial plot element? No. Does the boa constrictor have a major part to play in the scene? Nope.

But its presence makes Chabon’s world a little more surreal. A little more fun to be in.

So when I’m going back to find where I lost myself, I find those dead scenes and try to add that spice. Tear out the dull settings and inject some fun. Some strange. Some weird.

Some magic.

A Monster Calls – How to have children handle adult issues without losing childhood

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There’s a perception, particularly with books like Harry Potter or Pixar films, that they effectively treat their young characters the same as adults. In other words, the children aren’t shielded from complicated and difficult problems just because they’re not eighteen years or older. This, of course, is a closer mirror to reality, in which random circumstance doesn’t particularly care what age you are. Of course, the risk you run when you put children in adult situations is that it’s too easy to have them react not as a child would, but instead as an adult. A person with plenty of coping mechanisms, with decades of experience and, for better or for worse, a world-view.

A Monster’s Call is a movie (based on a novel) that attempts to cover this treacherous territory with a young boy – I didn’t get the age, but 12-14 years old? – whose dealing with his mother’s illness. The story, and the reason for the monster’s existence, revolve around the boy eventually coming to terms with that situation, among others, through a child’s methods. Namely, imagination. Connor doesn’t have experience with this. He doesn’t have solutions, and he doesn’t have the sort of vices that adults might use to cope with things beyond their control (drugs, alcohol, spur-of-the-moment month-long trips to island jungles to ‘reflect’).

The neat twist in this story is that the monster doesn’t indulge Connor. There is no escape here. The monster has no interest in helping Connor run from his problems, but rather attempts to help the boy find, if not answers, then at least an understanding of the situation. By the end, we don’t receive a magical fairy tale. We don’t get problems wrapped up in a box and presented with a bow. Connor hasn’t turned into a model human. What he has learned, however, is to live in his life rather than run from it.

It would be easy for the lessons here to come across heavy-handed. No, Connor, you can’t run. Be a man and deal with your issues. Fight the bullies. Stop whining. The sort of stuff we’ve seen plenty of times before and that would seem to rely on a character transformation un-earned by the kid we see at the start of such a story. A Monster Calls doesn’t presume to argue that Connor has some mighty valor hidden deep inside. He’s not a super hero at the beginning, and he’s not at the end. Not every change he makes is positive.

Now, what I’m taking from this as a writer is twofold:

  1. Child characters can handle adult scenarios, yes, but they should do so in a way that is in their worldview. They shouldn’t be mature, they shouldn’t be reasonable (for the most part), and they should respond with the naivety that makes childhood such an appealing topic in the first place. Whether that’s through imaginary friends, constant questioning of situations adults would take as normal, or other options, a child sees the world through a different lens as an adult, and the story should use that perspective.
  2. Don’t be afraid of putting your childhood characters in tough emotional situations. See how they handle it, and explore those opportunities. The way an 8 year-old handles the loss (or gain) of someone meaningful is going to be very different from a 45 year-old, or a teenager. As these situations occur, don’t run towards the easiest possible explanation. We’ve seen countless stories of kids lashing out when in strange scenarios – all too few really get in that child’s head to ask why, to attempt to discover just what is tales are being told in their minds to deal with the world they’re living in.

Of course, I’d recommend watching the movie as well, though you may want to have some tissues handy. A Monster Calls is streaming now on HBO.

And if you need another reason – Liam Neeson voices a giant tree creature who says more than “I am Groot”. It’s excellent.

Choosing the Weapons – Five bits to keep in mind when deciding how your hero will vanquish their enemies

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Take just about any action-based property and you’ll find, somewhere within it, an iconic weapon. A lightsaber in Star Wars. Frodo’s glowing dagger in The Lord of the Rings. Harry’s wand in Harry Potter. Ash’s ‘boomstick’ in the Evil Dead series. So on and so forth.

Because of the outsized place a weapon holds as a hero’s instrument of justice or a villain’s deliverer of pain, settling on what your characters are going to wield is worth taking a bit of thought. Below are a few things I’ve found to be useful when deciding what someone’s going to use when they need to smash some skulls.

  1. The setting must support it – This is big, and the most important (in my opinion). If your hero, wandering the galaxy as a star-hopping space pilot, wields a broadsword, you’ve got to have a really, really good explanation for why. Star Wars pulled together the Jedi and some sort of noble honor in order to make lightsabers a viable thing in a universe full of laser-spewing rifles. Similarly, if your bar brawler in the old west carries a machine gun or, again, a sword, you’ll have to jump through hoops to make it viable to your readers. In Wild Nines, everyone uses some variation on a gun for their primary weapon. It simply makes the most sense for the setting. In Riven, Carver wields a knife and a lash (essentially a whip with a piercing bit at the end), which, given the time period of the book and the lack of ammunition in the world, makes sense.
  2. Give the weapon a backstory – Let’s look at Harry Potter for a moment. In a world full of wands, there doesn’t appear to be a reason why Harry’s wand should be unique. There’s thousands, so why would his be special? However, his wand, his specifically, has a backstory as described by Ollivander when Harry first gets the wand. The make-up of Harry’s wand is unique, and it has specific ties that aren’t shared with any other. Therefore, Harry’s wand now has its own identity, rather than being one of many. In Lord of the Rings, many swords and daggers have their own names, complete with histories as they’re passed down from one person to the next. Many fantasy novels do this, and it lends a weapon character – a personality of sorts. Your character isn’t just drawing a sword to face the dragon, they’re unleashing WyldFyre, Blade of the Everlasting Blaze to strike down their foe. If nothing else, it sounds cooler.
  3. Determine the Enemy first – This isn’t always necessary, but if you’re truly at a blank when considering what you want your characters to wield, look at what they’ll be going up against. It’s not so fun to put a bunch of energy and time into developing weapons that won’t have any play in the major conflicts. For example, if you give your guy a mystical club but then have her constantly waging naval battles, it’s kind of pointless. Better to give her a nifty pistol that she can actually use. Similarly, if the weapon simply wouldn’t make sense, short swords on horseback, say, then you may want to tweak your weapons so they’d be ones your characters would actually use in the situations at hand. Take a look at Evil Dead – here, Ash faces off against a wild menagerie of horror creatures, but he’ll often resort to blasting them in the face with the shotgun. Would a sword make for more “intense” combat? Sure, but the shotgun’s more fun. And more effective than the sword. So when Ash has the option, he’s going to go for the shotgun, and we agree with the choice.
  4. Be careful with ammo – I”m going to caution against choosing weapons with hard ammo counts. Things that blur the lines, like power packs, are easier to get away with than a rough-and-tumble cowboy with a six-shooter. You don’t want to be counting bullets in every scene, because your more attentive readers will. In the Riven trilogy, Carver uses a crossbow sometimes. Keeping track of the number of bolts he’s got at any moment is, honestly, a pain. Better to use an enchanted quiver that refills itself, or a gun that takes clips with so many bullets that counting it’s an option. Or, you know, get up close and personal where ammo isn’t something to worry about.
  5. What’s going to be fun? – Really. Ask yourself, because you’re probably already picturing your characters running around with something in their hands. What’s going to be entertaining? What do you really want to spend paragraph after paragraph describing your characters wielding? Because you will do that, and if you choose a boring weapon, you’re going to get bored writing about it and your readers won’t want to read it. Love karate? Maybe describing the many ways a fist can make contact with something else will give your novel a spark. Spend a lot of time at the range? Perhaps assault rifles are the thing for you because you can go on and on about the sound a shell casing makes when it hits the floor. Hit a lot of things with sticks? You get the idea.

In the end, the weapons you give your characters will, to some degree, define how your readers come to see them. How you see them. You never know – someday, you might see fake versions for sale in stores, or swung around in YouTube videos, which, truly, is the dream.

Sidenote: Spirit’s End is sprinting towards its conclusion. Should make it out within the next two weeks. Can’t wait to talk about what’s next!