Just in time for the holiday season, we’re pleased to bring you nearly 600 pages, packed with 32 winter stories by veteran writers and up-and-coming talent. CLICK HERE to grab a copy for yourself or that special someone on your list!
Good news for those of you who are so close to finishing up that story, but haven’t quite managed to do so yet – we’re extending our submission window! In order to open up the submission opportunity for Fear the Boot listeners, Dan will be making an announcement soon on the podcast. Because of that, our new closing date will be August 31, 2015. All other information remains the same, so be certain to check out Submission Information!
Sojourn: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction is now accepting submissions for Volume 3. Please remember to submit a pitch to the editors prior to submitting your story. For information on our style guide and theme, visit our “Submission Information” page.
We will be accepting stories at the end of the submission window, so you won’t hear back from us until early June regarding your story, unless we make extensive edits. We’ll definitely edit your story if you get it sent in, but that does not guarantee you a place in Volume 3. We learned a lot about book size in creating Volume 2, and we will be limiting Volume 3 to 25 stories.
We’re excited to read your stories, so get them sent in!
On Saturday, December 20th, the authors of Sojourn Volume Two will be hosting a book release party on Facebook. You can find the details here! We’ll be talking about the stories, answering your questions, and giving away prizes. At the end of the event, we’ll also do a drawing for the grand prize of a Fire HD 7 or $150 in Amazon gift certificates (winner’s choice). We hope to see you there!
So now that I got the basics down I decided to start figuring out what was going to happen in the story. I pulled out the set of action dice. Each set comes with nine dice so I divided them into three: beginning, middle, end. For the beginning I got this:
To me this is interpreted as: the humans have realized through research, or maybe by communicating with the Star Guides, that their is a race of beings out there that are able to bend reality by doing certain rituals. So they send an expedition out to the planet, lets call it Eloyet (the human’s nickname it “Brimstone”), and it is a complete disaster. The diplomats and researchers have lost contact with Earth and are presumed dead or in danger. The humans send another expedition that is more military in nature. The objective is to retrieve the first expedition as well as attempt to accomplish the mission of the first expedition. Next I rolled the middle chapter of the story:
This screamed “MacGuffin” to me. All these stickmen are dealing with what appears to be a ball. So the middle of the story is driven by the search of this MacGuffin. What if the MacGuffin is the “heart” of one of these alien trees? The competing factions of the story all believe that this item is the key to the alien’s power over reality. But a question arises: what makes this object special? Why don’t one of the factions go and chop down one of these trees and get one for their own? So I then had to come up with the concept that the planet Brimstone is a sick planet and some catastrophe befell it in the past. These trees are almost extinct and they can only grow in small patches in a limited number of areas on the planet. All of these groves of trees are fiercely guarded by tribes of Onz-Etin, the aliens of the planet. So the MacGuffin is a rare tree that grows out in the wild outside of the protection of the natives. The images of the dice suggest the progression of events: Faction A retrieves the MacGuffin, Faction B and C fight with A over control of the MacGuffin. One of the Factions (or if I want to be really crazy Faction D) obtains the MacGuffin is gets it into an air/spacecraft presumably gets away. A missile shrieks from the planet’s surface and strikes the craft. The craft, and the MacGuffin within it, crash near the protagonist’s base and he gets himself entangled into the fight.
The last group of dice were as difficult as the first two were easy. Suffice it to say that I was scratching my head at these:
Uh…someone knocking on a door, a butterfly and a net, and a someone lifting weights. I got nothing. I don’t really know what to do with these. It was then that I realized that the Story Cubes are probably not the best at finding the conclusion of a story. Without anything capturing my imagination I just chucked out the last three and decided to simplify the ending. So what I did was take a generic die and an action die.
To me this translates to that the main character is struggling to get home and back to his family. He does not want to be involved with the bullshit for this MacGuffin. But of course as the story would continue events would either keep dragging him back in or the character would have to say “now its personal.”
The final roll that I made was for another character. I decided that I should probably make some roll for a villain. A major antagonist. Here was my roll. This one was difficult but it did give me a great result. I took the die to mean that he is a character that does not believe in a morality. He believes that chance and probability really rule things. Sort of like the depiction of Two-Face from Batman fiction: he determines your life with a flip of a coin. Also with the tower I turned that into viewpoint on warfare, military conduct, and treatment of civilians that is reminiscent of the Dark Ages.The character might even say that he admires the Dark Ages because back then there were no rules (now the historian part of my brain is objecting to that but whatever). To this character there is no such thing as any rule of engagement. The only rule is to win, by any means possible. But there is another side to his character and that is the bridge. I struggled with this one but I decided that he was very persuasive with his viewpoint and actually had a infectious personality. The same way that I find the Joker in The Dark Knight hilarious as well as despicable. You might say that he is very good at building bridges and gaining allies.
If you like any of the idea presented here please feel free to take it and run with it. Consider it a writing prompt. Because there are still a lot of holes that need to be filled in. So there you have it, a story brainstormed entirely with Rory Story Cubes. I hope you enjoyed the journey with me.
On a recent episode of Fear the Boot they talked about Rory Story Cubes. These are nine six sided dice with pictograms on the sides. The idea of the product is that you roll the dice to generate a story. I so loved the idea that while I was listening to the episode I bought the three sets of Rory Story Cubes. I knew that there was an app but I wanted the tactile feel of the dice. I just got them today and I glad that I ordered them. They are really well made and I am sure that they will definitely come in handy in the future.
So I decided that it would be fun to brainstorm a story completely with the Rory Story Cubes. The first thing I did was pick a genre. I live and breathe fantasy so I decided to pick good old fashioned science fiction, specifically space opera. So without really thinking about it I rolled three of the generic cubes. This is what I got.
A tipi, a phone, and a turtle. Oh boy. Well I interpreted the images as: advanced humans contacting a primitive alien race. I think the tipi and the phone analogies are obvious but you may be wondering about the turtle. Did I just forget about it? For some reason I saw the turtle as a human space ship. Maybe it is a turtle class of space ship that is very good at defense or something? Alright, I thought, let’s move on. So I rolled three more dice on impulse. This is what I got.
As I looked at it I realized that this is “The Mystery.” These aliens, let me call them the Onz-Etin, might revere the trees on their planet and they take some sort of mysterious power from them (the arrow). These trees are so important to their mythology and culture that they form the alien’s identity (the hand). Next I decided that I needed a main character. So I rolled again.
I interpret this as skyscraper, fish, and building. This one was actually pretty easy. I immediately thought “this is a cosmopolitan (skyscraper) family man (building) who has the personality of Pisces (fish).” I myself am a Pisces so that will be easy to understand. Maybe his role in this is to be the consol or representative of Earth’s interests.
Now I decided to do some worldbuilding. The most important question in space opera is “how does the magical FTL work?” So I rolled for it.
Unlike the character roll, this one was a bitch to figure out. I got a crescent, a sheep, and a symbol of a lock. I finally came up with the idea with what if the FTL machine was an organic creature rather than a machine? Let’s call them Star Guides for now. And what if that alien was able to do the hyperspace magic that allowed the spaceships to go travel across the galaxy? And what if the alien formed sort of a symbiotic relationship with humans? So I took that idea and applied it to the the dice. The moon to me became cycles. This FTL creature might have the equivalent of hormonal cycles and it can only used at certain times of the year. I took the sheep and translated that to purity. Enacting this creature’s FTL capabilities might produce a lot of toxins in the alien’s body. The humans must make sure to purify the creature of toxins in order to travel. This could be a variation of the “SPICE.” And the key hole…uh, er….I got nothin’. I already got a good thing going so I just ignored it. Call me a quitter if ye wish, but I’m moving on.
Now another part of any sci-fi is that you got to have the cool tech. So this time I rolled a generic die(black) and an action die (blue).
This actually took me several tries before I got anything usable. You have what looks like a globe and you got a guy lugging around a box. I have no idea why but I got the image of the characters having to carry around these power back packs to use their tech. Imagine heavy, awkward, proton backs from Ghostbusters. These power packs store and refine the sci-fi fairy dust that allows the humans to interact with the world. I guess I would describe it as this tech gives you a world of possibilities but it a real pain in the neck to lug around and it has tons of mechanical difficulties.
It is a truism that a wise person is someone who seeks out the advice of others. This holds true for many areas but particularly in writing. Writing is a complicated venture and for the most part each writer has to undertake the journey alone. I have identified three layers of writing advice, each with its own focus and each with its own objectives.
- Drafting Advice. This is the nitty gritty of writing. The grindstone upon which the writer has to submit. In my mind this is the lowest, but most crucial, area of writing. It is the wide foundation that is based mostly in the world of simply conveying the ideas through words. A lot of this type of advice is accomplished in a composition course. The Elements of Style, and pretty much any grammar book, will teach you the rules and rhythms of the English language. But reading a lot of fiction will subconsciously teach you the subtle and interwoven tricks of writing effectively and evocatively. Whether it is in corporate memos or urban fantasy novellas, having a grasp on the rhythm of language goes into every form of writing.
- Craft of Storytelling Advice. As we enter the second layer of writing advice, the pyramid narrows and the advice becomes more cerebral. Say goodbye to your muggle friends, this is only the place for creative writers. As the muggles leave the self proclaimed “artists” arrive. That is the first advice I have to give, there is a lot of writing advice that is more pseudo-philosophical than really any practical help. I would be the last to deny that writing is an art form, but to mystify the process of writing is not the way to help a struggling writer get better at their craft. Telling a writer that what they do is equivalent to Homer and Virgil is not very practical or helpful in any way. So my advice is to be to be picky when it comes to books on writing advice. If a book does not immediately speak to you and your concerns in a practical and substantive way then drop it and move on. Some great books that I have read on the craft of writing are The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder (although it is directed at screenwriting the advice is applicable to prose writing), and Plot by Ansen Dibell,.
- Motivation Advice. The third layer of advice, and the one that to me forms the peak of the pyramid, is about motivation and lifestyle. Creative writing is a very arduous undertaking. The only people that think writing is easy or fluff work are people that don’t write. When people do “serious work” they do not consistently bleed their emotions onto a blank slate. That is only where the fluff work begins, because the next step is to beat the living hell out of your own creation as you revise your work. Writing actually takes a lot more courage than most people would believe. Also this is the layer of advice that is most susceptible to the armchair guru. We have entered into true self-help territory so keep your wits about you. But two great books that motivate me to write (when I could be doing a lot of easier things) are Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (this book covers all layers respectively and is a must read for all creative writers).
Eureka! I just got it.
So my base concept for Western magic was that it was formulaic, predictable, and scientific. That makes sense right? Because it is a direct opposite of Eastern magic, diacritology, that is more creative and a impulsive magic system. Well the problem is that I found that answer to be really boring. A lot of magic systems are about memorization and formulas and all that junk. I didn’t want that. I wanted a magic system that said something interesting about the theme of virtue. It is kind of pointless to a have a thematic structure to your world if it never comes into play. I believe that a magic system based on creativity is perfect for the theme of passion, since that is where the source of art derives from. But a formulaic magic system (to put it in a reductive phrasing) does not really meet the mark of the theme of virtue. While having virtue does set boundaries and limitations upon actions it is by no means a straight jacket for life.
But just before I sat down to write this post I got the idea. I needed a metaphor that would work well with virtue. And suddenly the idea of farming came into my mind. What if you had a magic system that was akin to the actions of a farmer, where over a long period of time the wizard nurtures and cares for a spell and then at the appropriate time “harvests” the spell and casts it. Drawing upon one of my earlier ideas, I can have the magic system be more based on enchanting items and talismans than the Eastern magic system.
I have not worked on the languages of the West so I don’t have name for it yet.I keep on going back to Allomancy, but I can’t name it that because it’s already taken. Curses.
The first thought that came into my mind about the magic is that the virtuous magic system should be more permanent, long lasting, and more concerned with items and talismans (basically enchanting). The passion magic is more bombastic with magic missiles, fireballs, and lightning bolts (think of the bending in Avatar: the Last Airbender). Now these were my kneejerk reactions to the problem (literally I came up with that concept within minutes), and I have kept to those concepts for weeks as I went about my daily routine for the last few weeks. But as I sat down to write this post I found that concept a little stale and uninteresting. I liked the general idea but it needed some twist, some fun in order to make it work.
I decided to match the passion magic with a metaphor about creativity. So the passion magic cannot do all the crazy stuff as mentioned (I’ll get to that below) but they can create in a manner of seconds anything that they imagine. Now that is pretty crazy, so let me as I create boundaries (i.e. the laws or rules) of the system.
- Cannot create living organisms, only inanimate objects
- Cannot “Impose”: that is you cannot create an item exactly in the place of another; things must be created in the open
- Cannot create massive things (the largest even the best wizards can construct a building)
- the system is built upon a complexity tier pyramid: the more complex something is the more energy, expertise, and time is needed to perform. So, for instance, building a complete house is a lot harder than building the separate materials of a house.
- Also objects that are cast must react to the laws of physics. So lets say you create a javelin above your head right above your thrown arm while you are riding a horse at a full gallop. The created javelin will be launched forward at the speed of the horse.
I’m sure more rules and laws will appear to me in the future but that is it for now. But I want to comment now on how the magic system works for the Easterners. I guess I should give it a name. I first thought of calling it Conjuring but that is not as versatile a word as I wanted, since you can’t conjugate it that well (e.g. chemistry, chemist, chemical). So instead I turned to a conlang. I have actually developed at least four hundred root words for an ancient Eastern language (it is basically Italian put through a meat blender). I will have a post on conlanging but for now just build an ancient or proto language and then build up from there, it is both more interesting and complex and a lot more fun than going backwords. So anyway I came up with diacrita which means to “dream craft” or in another translation to “play with dreams.” The actual terminology would be diacritology, the study and practice; diacrition(s) (dye-uh-CREE-shuns) the practitioners of diacrita, and diacritic being the adjective form of the word.
So Conjuring requires two phases, drafting (which is done in the mind) and casting (where the imagination is created). Drafting is where the diacritions is piecing together in his mind what he wants to create. Let’s say that he wants to draft a coffee table. He can’t just zap it into existence, he has to think about and go over every single detail as if he had made the coffee table by hand. “Has a wooden surface and four wooden legs,” he says. Well he wouldn’t be able to cast the spell because he would be trying to cast something of infinite size and dimension.
This leads into another interesting aspect. When diacritions are at a young age they can virtually create anything of their hearts desire very easily (now these things are very simple and crude but are very impressive). What happens is that as they reach into maturity their wide breath of magic lessens and even disappears. The diacrition’s ability is limited to a certain field and within that field they can only craft a limited list of items within a few seconds. So the categories that they are limited to are determined by what they did a lot as novices. And the categories are as varied and as diverse as people’s interests from sculpture, to architecture, to warfare.
That is where I am going to leave diacritology for now but let me just mention one thing: did you think about the problem of counterfeiting? So did I. That is an interesting question: how does a civilization adapt to the problem of a ton of people being able to make counterfeits.
Sorry for the hiatus. I was graduating from high school and I have been busy writing and then completely rewriting my submission for Sojourn V2 (yeah, that is two 9000+ word stories). So now onto magic systems.
I am at a complete loss when it comes to developing magic systems. They are something that do not come easily to me. I do not know why. I love magic systems in video games, books and such but it is never something that I devote much time to. The fate of my magic systems are usually vague and nebulous (and not in a good way). So when it comes to not knowing what the hell to do, turn to the experts. And the expert in my opinion is Brandon Sanderson. I absolutely love his books and the magic systems that he creates in his works.
First off, if you haven’t already get yourself antiquated with Sanderson’s Laws of Magic. I agree completely with his interpretation and his rules. Since I have never truly developed a magic system before (neither one that is scientific or wondrous) I will go on the side of a “hard magic system.”
It makes sense that since my world is divided between the ideas of passion and virtue that I would give each “world” its own magic system. Well let me flip the table over by including three! Boom! The third system will be blood magic and it will be the “evil magic.” I want this magic system to be softer than the more standard types since it is so evil and mysterious (of course in the future I can always go and develop this more).