Fiddling about with writing, would appreciate feedback/help.

Discussion in 'Make It So' started by ChelG, Oct 16, 2017.

  1. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    So I'm determined to finally write the story I've been playing with since I was twelve. I think it's gonna end up a novella, but I'll see how it goes. Making this thread to work out bits which are giving me problems. Warnings for violence.

    Okay, so to start; our heroine is a 13-year-old member of a minority culture in a gaslamp fantasy setting. Her family (her, her dad, and her kid bro) are the only members of this group in their teeny rural village; he's a woodcutter/carpenter. Annoying microaggressions abound but generally no huge deal is made; everyone's happy to have extra hands to work, though they probably wouldn't let their kids marry into the family. It is noted to be weird that they're not living in the city with a bigger community. Heroine has one close friend, a farmer's son, and a strong rivalry with his twin sister. It's assumed that Heroine and Friend will want to marry later; his parents are hoping they won't, both the kids are actually indifferent but it's The Thing You Do so they figure it'll happen eventually.

    Don't know if I should make the setting a purely fictional place or an alternate version of Earth with magic and magical races but the same approximate country names - more freedom with the former but also a hell of a lot more work. Thoughts?

    On the day of the spring fair, various travellers arrive to join in; a caravan intending to trade at the fair, at least one guy who's hitching a ride with them to pass through, and some local elves, who in my version look sort of like Gelflings. Heroine is finally able to use her father's big heavy axe to chop wood cleanly; axes aren't that heavy in general but it takes skill to use them right and she's very proud. One of the travellers is a scribe, repairer of books, and seller of assorted pamphlets and penny-dreadfuls; in exchange for repairing some damage to his cart, he pays Heroine with a cheaply printed anthology of short stories about her favourite folk heroes, an elf and a werewolf. Friend's Sister is noticeably jealous.

    The fair goes on into the evening, and Kid Bro gets queasy. Heroine takes him for a walk by the stream, out of sight of the party, and when he's still ill she takes him home. The door has been forced, and she finds Friend's Sister on the floor, killed with the axe. She panics, fetches everyone, and hides in the bedroom as the adults rush around downstairs, finally managing to fall asleep. Next morning, she finds she's locked in; she has been accused of the murder.

    More to come! Input would be nice.
  2. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    Okay, so she's locked in her room. Her dad, meanwhile, is debating with the village council what to do. He does not think she did it, but everyone else does. As well as fear for her, he feels betrayed; he felt they'd settled in and been accepted, and now everyone's revealing they didn't really trust them as much as he thought. The closest official court of law is hours away in the city and would take months for a trial to go through; standard practice in small towns is for the council to judge the accused, but the village hasn't had a crime this serious in decades. If she's found guilty, she'll hang. He begs them not to do it, and they decide instead they'll let her "run away". The surrounding wilderness is extremely dangerous, but better than hanging. He runs home to find her in the process of breaking out of the room, tells her what's going on, packs her some food and weaponry and cash, and watches her flee into the woods.

    She successfully catches up with the travellers, and begs for sanctuary. For reasons I need to work out properly, they can't keep her for long, but they can take her to a nearby town with a train station; they suggest she go to the nearest city, but instead she decides to go to the capital, which is much bigger and much further away. She figures she'll have more opportunity to find work there, and has always wanted to see it.

    Meanwhile, the actual murderer is among the group. He is a messenger from the Big Bad, who lives in the capital and roped Heroine's Dad into his scheme years back. He broke into the house for reasons connected to that; I need to work out whether it was to destroy evidence, to steal back money, to send a threatening message as Dad is trying to break free of the scheme, or what. Destroying their possessions to send a threat might be a good move, as that way he'd already be holding the axe and could respond automatically in a panic. Friend's Sister intended to break in to steal the fancy book Heroine had just got, found the door already forced, went in to see what was going on, and got axed.

    Dad reads through the book in an attempt to feel close to Heroine again now she's gone, and finds some ideas about solving mysteries in it. Say, he dusts the axe for prints and finds handprints bigger than hers but smaller than his on it? Checks footprints on the floor? Basically, finds out someone else was in his house. He quizzes everyone in the village and figures out that everyone had an alibi or otherwise couldn't or wouldn't have done it, except for some of the travellers, so he decides to follow them. Heroine's Friend insists on coming with him to get justice for his sister and to get his friend back.
  3. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    Little stuck on her reasoning for going there; I'm trying to play her as smart and practical, and running hundreds of miles away to an unfamiliar city isn't all that practical.
  4. turtleDove

    turtleDove Well-Known Member

    It could be that the city's also the nearest enclave of their minority group? Which would mean she'd be running for a place that might reasonably be expected to shelter her and take her in permanently. She could also have some relatives who live there. Or she could be going for the capital because it's further away and no one she knows is likely to show up there - if you've been branded with a false murder charge and the penalty is capital punishment if you get caught by the authorities, it would be practical to try and get as far away from anyone who might reasonably identify you as "that girl who's suspected of murdering her best friend and then ran away before the trial could happen".
  5. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    Come to think of it, maybe the real murderer could be the one who suggests she go there? The Big Bad is running an orphanage as a front for what he's doing, so I'm wondering if the murderer would think "hey, here's another kid to do your horrible eldritch experiments on!" or not want her going there in case she finds out what really happened? Or the capital's a lot more dangerous than the smaller cities so he could be intending for her to get killed there...
  6. turtleDove

    turtleDove Well-Known Member

    Sending her there to tie up the loose end that is a kid who might get someone to actually look into the murder and prove her innocence would make sense for the murderer to do, yeah! Even if she successfully gets to the capital and manages to establish herself somewhere safe and doesn't get swept up in the Big Bad's orphanage front, she'd still be a long ways away from anyone who knows her and has reason to care what happens to her.

    As for why the travellers can't keep her for long - she's a suspected murderer and probably pretty obviously not one of their kids and not old enough to plausibly be off on her own yet either. So she's a pile of trouble, as far as they're concerned; travelling groups IRL were usually suspected of things like stealing kids, so the last thing this group would want is to have a kid who's pretty obviously Not Theirs and who might get recognized in the next village over. Plus, the whole suspected murderer thing - even if she's telling the truth and she didn't do it, she's still escaping before a trial can be held and they'd be considered to be aiding and abetting a fugitive. The group going "okay, we can help you get to the train station safely, but you're on your own after that" makes perfect sense, since she could be hidden in a cart or something for the length of that trip and then they're moving onwards and away from her.
  7. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    Yeah! Thanks, that helps make it clear. A Middle-Eastern-Jewish-analogue kid could probably pass just about for a Romany-analogue kid in general terms considering natural human variation, but she wouldn't necessarily look anything like the people in that specific caravan, so yeah.

    I need a name for the traveller group too since Romani is real-world specific and the g-word is not appropriate for gadje to use.

    When I originally came up with this idea aged fourteen, I vindictively based the girl who gets axed at the beginning on one of the girls who sexually harassed me at school. I really ought to change that and make her somewhat sympathetic so it matters that she gets killed.
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2017
  8. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    Okay, so she gets to the city. Her dad gave her an amount of money which is suspiciously large for a rural woodworker to have lying around, since the village generally still uses barter a lot - we find out later it's the metaphorical carrot to get him to keep going along with the Big Bad - but she spent a lot of it on the train ticket and in the city it has far less buying power, so it runs out within a day or two. As she's in the market square pondering what to do, she sees two street kids beating the hell out of a third, a boy about her own age who's crying and obviously unable to fight back. She grabs the nearest big stick and fends them off long enough for her and him to run away; she goes with him because he seems to know where he's going. He turns out to be a homeless kid who ran away from an abusive aunt, and he has autism but the people in the setting don't know what that is yet and think he's weird or stupid. He leads her back to his gang's hideout in the attic of an empty slum house. The other two members are the leader, a slightly older Artful Dodger figure who is kind of a bully to him but fiercely protective of him against other people, very street-smart and very happy to find a decent fighter for the gang; and a runaway rich girl who is heavily pregnant and is really nice but very sheltered and impulsive, hence why she ran off into the city hoping to lie low and come back after the birth as if nothing had happened but was robbed of all the money she brought and is now picking pockets to survive. Rich girl was originally going to be of noble birth, but I think it works better for the story if she's the daughter of a very wealthy businessman trying to break into high society (where tradesmen are considered low-class and not welcome however rich they are); there would be more pressure to not have even a hint of impropriety if their status is precarious, especially if the kid's father is of noble birth (the conception was, again, impulsive, not abusive, and the father's also a young teen), and she would have the knowledge of economics and living conditions to figure out that the Big Bad who runs the orphanage they end up in later is skimming from the budget.
  9. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    Okay, so the gang ramble about the city for a while. I really want to get across that this world is really super dangerous with creepypasta monsters and weird space-warping shit all over the place, but I don't really know how best to do that, so if anyone has any suggestions for shit to show up, tell me. I do know kids are trained in weaponry pretty much as soon as they can walk and are expected to fight off their own under-bed monsters. The city is riddled with magical traps and weird shit from back when it was last besieged centuries ago, and there is a branch of the police devoted to finding and disarming these traps, which, being magical, can duplicate themselves so they're not making a lot of headway.

    The kids pick some pockets/steal off market stalls; Heroine is shocked, but gets that they have to in order to survive. Jobs are hard to come by, especially for an underage kid on her own with a dark past. Close to the end of the day, Dodger takes her to a wig shop and pointedly suggests she sell her hair, as the other girl did a while back. This is upsetting to her because she wears a religious headscarf and is not supposed to let a stranger handle her hair, but she's persuaded that long hair will only tangle and get filthy and flea-ridden and fresh food is more important, especially for her pregnant friend. She goes into the shop and insists on shaving her own head, and hands over the hair for cash.

    Already upset from this encounter, she goes with the gang to a pawn shop to hand off their week's haul of non-cash items no questions asked. A man comes up from the basement flat to tell them to keep it down, followed by his very drunk partner; it's the two "heroes" from the very penny-dreadful anthology she received in chapter 1, albeit not as she expected. The half-elf is a dark elf, not a light elf, as he's presented by the stories (not Always Evil, but creepy, carnivorous, and much-maligned by humans) and is a bitter vicious drunkard with nightmarish scars and the tattoos of a worshipper of the goddess of suffering and revenge (worshipped as any other god by the dark elves but assumed the Satanic equivalent by the dominant human culture). Creepier, because the fae react to iron and salt, he's able to get high from drinking animal blood. The werewolf comes across as a slightly ineffectual mother hen; really, all his energy is taken up in making sure his partner doesn't do serious damage to himself or anyone else. Most of the stories about them were originally written by them; they did do some of the things they say they did, but, for example, the diamond necklace they returned to the famous noblewoman was actually stolen by them in the first place. Back at the hideout, Dodger tells Heroine what "really" happened in their first adventure. The stories say they barged into the hideout of the gang who gave the half-elf those scars, guns blazing, in a fair fight; according to him, they broke in silently and tortured the gang members to death one by one, drained their blood, and took their eyes so the police seers couldn't do the "reflection in a dead man's eye" trick. It's unclear how truthful either account is, but his scars are definitely the trademark of the gang in question - Chelsea grin and his wings hacked off, the latter allegedly cursed to bleed forever. That one is definitely not true, as, while the characters don't know this and I'd rather not state it outright in-book, savvy readers will realise his chest-wrap "bandages" are a binder. (The werewolf does know; he a) is sleeping with the half-elf and b) dropped out of medical school and has seen bandaged ribs before so he knew how to make a safe one.)
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2017
  10. Birdy

    Birdy so long

    I think you have a pretty good option set up: have them stumble into one of these traps, and make it suitably weird and fucked up; warping space, warping time, perhaps. It establishes the presence of these traps, establishes that the city is bizarre and dangerous, and adds a bit of peril to keep the reader enticed. Plus, it would give you a good way to introduce those new characters, if you like: have them show up and bail the protagonists out before the cops come.
  11. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    The autistic kid could lead his pursuers into one of the traps once the heroine gets them off him? Gives me a chance to show him as being competent at something and a good choice for her to follow - he knows his way around.
    • Like x 1
  12. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    I need ideas for how best people would work around the random magical traps and monsters in their daily lives. Kids carry weapons, almost everyone has a holy symbol (I have a character for a later book who can't have one because he's a nogitsune and is harmed by them, but he's tough enough to manage anyway). Some kind of magic-detection tricks get passed around? The traps and monsters evolve and get smart, so the latest methods are spread quickly by word-of-mouth and signs in bars - specifically not by the town crier in case the monsters overhear? Monsters are a thing in the tiny village too, but the traps aren't.
  13. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    The idea was heavily implied by Simon R Green and by Ursula Vernon's "Saints of San Axolotl", but I'm struggling to balance the danger with it being a place people can actually live.
  14. turtleDove

    turtleDove Well-Known Member

    Well, people live in the Arctic too, and have done for thousands of years. There's pretty much nowhere that humans won't live, especially if they're particularly desperate or determined, and if this is a world-wide thing then there's no option for "pack it up and move somewhere else"; people either find ways to survive, or they don't. If holy symbols help, there might well be a tradition in every culture of tattooing symbols onto your kids so that they've always got at least one symbol on them that can't be dropped or lost.

    Are the traps something that happened on their own, or are they something that someone created in an effort to try and catch the monsters?
  15. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    I was originally thinking the traps were originally made centuries ago during a war; the locals had an easy way to figure out where they were, but the invaders didn't. Then the traps kind of developed minds of their own and spread. People fiddling with them to make them more prone to catch monsters rather than taking them out completely might explain why there are still so many! Yep, that's good.

    The gods don't directly intervene in my 'verse, but the holy symbols work based on faith, a la the ones used in "Salem's Lot". I have some characters who are atheist/agnostic, and one as I said who IS technically a monster, and so the holy symbols don't work for them, or at least not as well. They need ways to get around that; better combat skills help, and maybe a different item symbolic of what they do have faith in. That might be another reason heroine's family aren't so popular in the village; fear that their symbols aren't the "right" ones and won't work, and thus will put others in danger too (kind of a herd immunity thing?)
  16. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    Also, I remembered a thing I need to put in; autistic kid has the ability to see through illusion magic and his deceased parents were clock-makers, so he'd be a great asset in trap-finding and disarming.
  17. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    Reading a bunch of those regional gothic memes to see if I can gather inspiration thence.
  18. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    Further working on this, now is the tricky bit which I'd appreciate help with.

    So the kids are in the city, some time passes - enough that heroine's father hasn't arrived in the city yet, so I need to mess about with journey times and how long it takes Dad to collect evidence. There's an elf kid who lives near the village who's able to provide a witness statement, and I need to figure out more evidence he could piece together. Call it a couple days.

    Gang is on the street, planning a fair-sized heist; going through the crowd at a public hanging, perhaps. Heroine's pretty upset by that, considering how closely she came to the same end, but they gotta eat. Other female gang member seems uncomfortable when they head out, but everything's going fine till her water breaks. She's small, young, and has been ill-nourished for a few months, so the birth is a difficult one; heroine holds her hand while the boys run to get help, and the autistic kid brings back a doctor. Not just any doctor, but the doctor who runs the town's biggest and most well-regarded orphanage/halfway house. Naturally, he brings them in, gets the pregnant girl settled and helps with the birth; the baby is as okay as can be expected, and the doc offers to let them stay. The girls are overjoyed to just have a roof over their head again, and it turns out the doctor is in fact studying autism (though he hasn't named the condition yet, just realised the symptoms are correlated and wants to find out what's going on) so he asks the boy with it to join his study. Leader is suspicious, but being suspicious of adults and too-good-to-be-true offers is how he's survived.

    The kids are told upfront they're expected to work to earn their keep, but this is standard in their society so they don't care. Pregnant girl is now working as a wet-nurse for the tinies, while the other kids are expected to stick to a strict chore schedule, cleaning the building, tending the food garden, and looking after the younger kids. One of said kids looks suspiciously like the half-elf thief, and they put it down to him being a man-whore; she's sequel bait. The building itself is designed, it turns out, the same way as the insane asylum; the rooms inside are pretty normal and the building surrounds a garden, taking up most of a city block, but the outside layer of rooms in the building are designed like a maze, littered with magical misdirection charms and odd passage placements, the end result being the kids can't get out into the city without supervision, but they don't need to, so at first they don't care.

    The other girl and the gang leader start to get suspicious; they observe the doctor soliciting and accepting large donations, but can't figure out where the money's going. The food is better than most of the orphanages get and the building is reasonably in-shape, but that's mostly down to the free labour from the kids, and the older kids are used as babysitters instead of hiring enough staff to care for the little ones. The doctor lives in the building and doesn't seem to be spending the money on himself; his rooms are quite plain and he rarely goes out. They start investigating, and I'm not sure what to do here. Maybe they break into his rooms and get in trouble? The messenger guy who went with the travellers needs to appear and have a meeting with him in order to make the heroine suspicious.

    Whatever happens, they decide to investigate the outer maze of the building, figuring the doc must want to keep them out of something. They're assuming he's got a secret drug den or Scrooge McDuck-style money pit or something in there. They get lost in the maze, but the autistic kid can see through illusions and is able to get them past the cantrips misdirecting them.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2017
  19. turtleDove

    turtleDove Well-Known Member

    Maybe they start poking around because they want to follow someone to see where the food that isn't coming from the garden's being sourced from? Because even if the food's a step up from what most of the orphanages offer, it's probably not nearly good enough to explain where the money's going. Stuff like a bit more meat than they'd expect, but still relatively cheap cuts, or discounted fresh fruit they can't grow themselves?

    Maybe they assume he's keeping the really good stuff for himself, and they're digging around in his rooms or where they think he'd reasonably hide stuff; his rooms are pretty plain, but that doesn't mean he couldn't be spending it on fancy cheese or candy. (Good-quality meat would be much harder to plausibly hide, you usually need a cold storage for that and fresh meat doesn't keep for very long. So I can't see them suspecting he's hiding a case of steaks or anything like that.) They might even initially be digging around because they wanted to find some particular thing that they needed for perfectly normal reasons - fabric for mending clothes, or some first aid supplies!
  20. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    Yeah, I had an idea for a bit where the country-bred heroine is grossed out by city-quality milk and can tell it's over a day old and has been watered down. The garden wouldn't be enough to feed a hundred growing kids throughout the whole year, they'd need to buy in bread and things, but it'd knock a noticeable amount off the costs and the rich man's daughter and the street-smart thief would know enough about money to wonder where the extra was going.

    That could work. They might need to find some kind of hints as to the creepy occult mad scientist goings-on that he's really doing before they start really digging in the maze.
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