by thefourpartland

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6

So it’s been a little while since I’ve updated this series, and for that I apologize. However, in the meantime I’ve been working on finalizing the contest that will run after this post is over, as well as being delayed by the real life monster. I am now back, and have enough free time that I’ll be able to resume posting fantasy writing tips each week.

With that said, lets get back to Ferrous Timber. For those who can’t remember the first post about the magic system, it’s here. So we’re half way through the Creating a Magic System posts, and we have Magical Interaction and Items and Artefacts to go, as well as Other Considerations. Lets get to it.

Choice #5: Magical Interaction – How does one half of Ferrous Timber affect the other half? There will be no direct counterspelling, no clear opposition from one side to another, but if spells from both halves of the magical system are cast on a single object, they malfunction, either through collapsing and having no effect, or ending up with a result that is entirely not the desired one for either side.

This does not mean that they cannot be used together at all, but that there are few occasions where that is possible. Because of the mental and stylistic differences between the two halves, very few people have had cause to learn both, and even they rarely try and combine both aspects of magic into one.

People have accepted that magic is a part of their daily lives, although they will always treat mages with a strong degree of wariness and dislike, because of the drain that is placed upon the lifeforce as spells are cast. Part of this is because anyone can utilize magic, and much of what the populace sees daily is farmers, iron apprentices, and others using magic poorly.

Because it is available to anyone, even a moderate degree of skill does not confer any considerable social status or respect from outsiders, any more than being a particularly dangerous warrior might do. However, those with extreme skill and fame are known in the same way that other rulers of legend might be, and are accorded treatment fitting their fame.

Choice #6: Items and Artefacts – Items that store magical energy exist in Ferrous Timber, but only with very low energy levels stored in them. Higher energy levels tend to bleed off into the surrounding environment unless the containment is designed exceedingly well. Most of these items are used as energy storage batteries, places that mages can gather energy and hold it, waiting to use it at a later date, rather than draw on the surrounding environment.

Because of that, the group that has the best quality and highest quantity of these items is the military, because otherwise they could be without magical support on the battlefield. For people working in a day to day environment where magic is needed, such as a farmer or a blacksmith, they have generally located their shops so as not to interfere too greatly with one another, or come up with an arrangement where local mages only use their powers at certain times of day or certain days of the week, insuring that there is enough energy to go around for the creation of magical items.

Tools and other objects that are made with magical energy are very common. Most of the better muskets, cannons, and other heavy machinery has been designed and built by someone with a Ferrous bent, using magic to strengthen and reinforce the metalwork being used, while someone with a more Timber leaning would use it to perhaps shape a tree into a particularly elegant piece of furniture, or craft an exquisite children’s toy out of wood.

As items made with magic are so commonplace, no one finds it out of the ordinary for even a poor person to have acquired one or two pieces, although usually only the quality that would be made by an apprentice, rather than the real goods made by a master of his craft. Most of these items have been blessed with durability, be it a knife that stays sharper longer, or a bowl that doesn’t break when dropped on the ground. Very little in the way of magical energy remains in these items after their creation, for it has been drained and shaped to a given purpose.

Great artefacts are thought to be possible, as people shape their skills into ever more elaborate foundations, but there is little in the way of truly powerful items. There is one exception to this, and that is Ferrous mages have discovered how to animate objects using magnetic fields. Because manipulating these fields is quite difficult, most of the items that utilize them are small, a toy, a clock, a microscope or similar. There are a few who have experimented further, and managed to scale up the magnetic fields to create true automatons, but as of now they are still clumsy and given to breaking under the stress. One day, perhaps soon, they will become much more, but for now they remain little more than curios.

Randomness – Magic in the setting is not random, but can certainly be misapplied. However, when the two sides interact, it is very likely to produce an unexpected outcome. Most people assume this is due to randomness, but these interactions do follow rules. It is simply that no one has ever learned what all of those rules are, and so cannot fathom what happens.

Sourcing – Magic is an external force, an energy that surrounds and comes from all things, but finds itself concentrated in iron, in other metals, and in wood and trees. These can be drawn on with the proper application of skill and ritual, but draw too much and the source in question will crumble, splintering apart and dying.

Range – What magic can be performed in Ferrous Timber tends to have line of sight qualities. If it cannot be seen, it cannot be effected. Certain supremely powerful mages can affect large areas, such as attempting to change the weather over a town, but that requires a stupendous amount of energy, and will usually kill off all the surrounding magical sources before the spell is complete. Most magic is performed on something that is actually being touched, as that gives the mage the most precise means of guiding the energy properly.

That wraps up the Ferrous Timber magic system, and I hope it gave you an insight into designing and building your own. Now, I’m sure some of you scrolled right down to the bottom to see what kind of contest I was talking about, so here goes. This is a two parter being run in conjunction with the brilliant L.M. Stull, and will be judged by myself and by Amy Davis.

Contest Part 1 – Create a magic system, using roughly the format outlined here. 2,000 words is the goal.
Contest Part 2 – Use that magic system to write a 5,000 to 10,000 word short story, and submit both it and the magic system to L.M. Stull. She’ll blind them and pass them on to the judges, and we’ll pick which ones are the winners.
Prizes – And the part I’m sure you’re all wondering about. We’ve got a $50 Amazon gift card for the first place winner, and a $25 card for second place.

The contest will start from today, and run until May 31st, which should give you plenty of time to plan and get your submissions in. That said, I hope you enjoyed this series, and best of luck to you in your writing going forward.



by thefourpartland

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6

So, I’ve spent the last four posts giving my thoughts on how to design a magic system, but I’m sure many of you are curious as to how all of this would work in practice, so I’m going to spend this post and the next on going through my process step by step. Usually, it isn’t quite as formal as this post will be, but I’m trying to make this as clear as possible.

You may have noticed at the end of the last post that I called the magic system I had in mind Ferrous Timber. The name will become clear as I go through the steps, but it’s an idea that has been bouncing around my head for a little, and I want to see how it looks on paper.

And now, on to the choices.

Choice #1: Strength – For those of you who’ve had a chance to pry back the covers of The Four Part Land or Splintered Lands, you’ll know that my primary choice as an author is fairly low powered magic, with strong effects being available only to a few, or in a limited aspect of the world. I will continue part of that trend here. The power available to Ferrous Timber mages will be limited, and there will be no collaboration between them.

Casters draw their power from the world about them, be it from the woods and the trees, or from the earth, and the iron that resides within the earth. Each area will, depending on its characteristics, only be able to support a given amount of magical draining. Too much, and the area will wither and crumble, dying as the lifeforce is siphoned away. Also, the more talented the user, the more efficiently the energy can be utilized, and the less damage is done to the environment.

This magic will exist in a gunpowder fantasy setting, and so there will be high quality ironmongery and effective gunpowder tools to balance out the magicians.

Choice #2: Prevalence – Moderately common. Magic will not require native talent, and so any inhabitant of the setting may choose to acquire some learning in the art, provided that he has the coin to pay for education. However, as each area only has a finite supply of energy, there are strong diminishing returns for having more than a few mages in a given area, and so even towns or armies often have but a small cadre, for more than that would be simply wasteful.

Mages are viewed as a undesirable but necessary part of everyday life. Undesirable because their talents require them to drain the land or the plants, necessary in that their talents help to insure the safety of living, and help produce much of the metal work that is rapidly changing urban life.

Choice #3: Style – Casters will find that they oft struggle to pull on the surrounding environment, for many of the users of the magical talents are little more than hedge wizards, taught a few useful spells by an apprentice in need of coin, but not given the proper grounding in how best to prepare mentally for casting a spell.

Proper ritual will be limited for most everyday use of spells, although any spell that will have a large effect will require longer preparations, as much to focus the caster as to ease the summoning of energy.

As the name Ferrous Timber alludes to, there will be two distinct schools of magic. Both will suffer from the same general restrictions, but the Ferrous half will have a very mechanistic, almost robotic sense to it. Actions performed repetitively, by rote, until such time as the final effect is desired. Each individual spell may not complete the task as desired, but that is no matter, for it is by the repeated and guided application of magic that the final objective might be achieved. The application of logic and of physical law will play into the casting of spells, and most users will have a background in ironmongery, architecture, engineering, or a related field.

By contrast, the Timber half of the magical system will be much more free flowing, with spells that often have no immediate impact, but ones that become stronger over time, growing into their full power as they pull on the energy from the world about them. Timber spells are less damaging to the world around them, but that does not mean they cause no harm, only that the harm, like the spells themselves, is spread out across time, rather than occurring at the resolution of the casting. Unlike Ferrous, Timber can usually accomplish the desired goal with a single casting.

Casters can use either side of the magic, but tend to specialize in one.

Choice #4: Powers – What does the magic do in the world of Ferrous Timber? As you might imagine, each of the two sides has a different range of abilities. Ferrous tends to focus around the shaping of metal, the creation of devices through which actions might then be accomplished. A common application is for a Ferrous user to be an armourer or a weaponsmith, using his talents to shape his output in a way that would not be possible without fine control of magic.

The application of magnetic properties is another area where Ferrous users find themselves at home, and through this, animation of metal creations through the application of tiny magnetic forces.

For their part, Timber users find themselves more at home amongst agrarian lifestyles, using their talents to promote the growth of plants, the diminution of wounds and sicknesses, or the subtle direction of aspects of nature. While many have tried, no mage has yet discovered a principle that allows them to control the mind or thoughts of another. Despite their ability to assist growth in nature, animals are often scared of mages, for at a visceral level creatures can sense the drain that is placed on the rest of the world in order to utilize the spells.

I realize that the powers enumerated here are fairly vague, but that’s because I do not want to list specifics. I find that as a writer having some latitude in what characters can do is of benefit to the creation of the story and the resolution of scenes. I cannot lock out all the inspiration that actually writing the tale gives, and so I leave room within magic to manoeuvre.

Next week, I shall finish up Ferrous Timber, and open up a contest. I look forward to seeing you all then.



by thefourpartland

So, a kindly soul called Rebecca took it upon herself to offer me the chance for an interview on my process of writing. The header to her post is below, and wander on over to her website and give the rest a read.

An Interview with James Tallett

Greetings, folks!

I hope you all are having a fantastic Monday. Today, I managed to wrangle a writer with some very interesting views on the relationships between reading and writing — and in some cases, the lack thereof. Please, sit down and grab a scone and a cup of tea. Relax and allow me to introduce you to James Tallett, creator of The Four Part Land.

Like many of my contacts, I met James on twitter. You can follow him via @thefourpartland.

Before we begin, I wanted to go a little more into the subject matter of this interview: Reading and writing. James has a very interesting view on the relationship of reading and writing. In addition, his motivations for having started genre writing is unique in comparison with many of the other writers I have had the privilege of talking to.




by thefourpartland

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6

Over the course of the series, I’ve looked at how Strength and Prevalence affect a magic system and a setting, how Style and Powers shape and define that magic system, and finally how Magical Interaction and Items and Artefacts impact the setting and system. Today is the last of the posts in this part of the series, and I’ll be looking at a few bits and pieces that have cropped up during the course of writing. I won’t be marking them as choices, because I don’t think they’re on the same level, but I do think they are rather important all the same.

Randomness – Is magic in the setting random? If so, how much? Randomness can be outstanding fun as an author, because it allows your mage to try killing the villain with a massive spell, only to have him turn in a small cuddly penguin instead. But it can also be a crutch, because it allows the writer to conjure wildly improbable effects to rescue the protagonists from trouble, rather than intelligently writing the scene.

The other way in which random magic can be used is in a grim manner, wherein the casting character is begging and pleading for things to work, but knows that they will not, that most of the time, the magic that he is calling upon will either do nothing or actively harm him in some way.

It is important to note the distinction between random spellcasting and random spell effects. Random spell effects are usually used in a humorous manner, although this isn’t always true. Random spellcasting often endangers the life of the character or those around him, and is generally the method of choice for grimmer outlooks on magic.

Sourcing – Where does the magic come from? I’ve spoken about this a little before, but it needs going into in further detail. Is the power a gift from the gods, dependant on that god still being ascendant, and upon that god’s whim? Is it from blood sacrifice, where only the death of a living creature will call the forces to the caster? Is it from infernal sources, a dark pact with a demon?

Each of these affects the way the magic is portrayed, and also the reliability of that magic. In general, sources that come from nature (the character, the elements, even blood sacrifice) tend to be stable in usage. Their strength and powers are repeatable. Whereas demonic or religious power often depends on the whim of a malevolent outside force, one who would be all too happy to see the character fail.

This often ties into randomness, for certain sources are more likely to be random than others. Likewise, it impacts how the character is portrayed. If the power is within him, it is entirely and exclusively his own. If the power is external, he is a conduit for a source greater than himself. If it is demonic or blood related, the character is usually, but not always, evil in nature. Or at least straddling that line. On the other hand, elemental and natural powers imply a close bond to the land, to the outdoors, and so on.

Range – How far can the magic reach? At first this sounds like a bit of an odd statement, but it’s a rather important one. If a magician can cast a spell hundreds or thousands of miles (say, through a looking glass), then the writer has created a character who has godlike powers to a greater or lesser degree. He can look in upon characters and curse them, slay them, or bless them as might be his wont for the day. This generally means that there has to be a way to avoid the omniscient gaze, and often much of the story revolves around hiding from sight.

The other aspect that comes into play frequently is teleporting. If it is that easy for a character to cover great distances, then it is disruptive to the world as a whole, because there is very little information lag, and there is no great need to journey through wilderness. It is an even faster method of transportation than aeroplane, and think of how international flight has changed the modern world. It’s certainly something to consider when designing a magic system and a setting.

That wraps up my advice on Creating a Magic System. The next two posts will be me exploring the choices raised herein as I design a new magic system as an example. Look for Ferrous Timber in about a week.



by thefourpartland

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6

So over the course of the series, I’ve looked at how Strength and Prevalence affect both a magic system and a setting, and how Style and Powers shape and define that magic system. Now I’m going to examine Magical Interaction and Items and Artefacts.

The second of these, Items and Artefacts, is something that as fantasy readers and writers we understand and is near and dear to our hearts. Magical Interaction is a little bit more of a nebulous concept, because there’s two distinct areas that qualify, and I’m going to try and cover both today.

Magical Interaction is either how magic interacts with itself, or how people interact with magic. Both of these are critical when designing a magic system, as one has a huge impact on what it can do, and the other on how it cane be used.

And now to the choices!

Choice #5: Magical Interaction – How does magic affect magic? Does the concept of counterspelling or disruptive magic exist? Are there chaotic effects or logical ones? Counterspelling, spell-breaking, etc. has a long history in fantasy stories, most commonly when dealing with enchantments or curses. In most cases, there has to be a way to undo the damage being caused, because without it the story cannot advance.

But what about combat spellcasting? Should a mage be able to cast a spell that negates those of the opposing side? Not negates in the sense of equal yet opposing powers, but simply cancelling out, stopping the spell from ever being cast? And then how easy or hard is it to do? If spell-breaking is easier than spellcasting, then magic is a very weak and feeble force. If it is too hard to spell-break a casting, then it will feel as if the opportunity does not exist, or isn’t the smart choice. After all, if it’s easier to hit the opposing wizard with a fireball than try and cancel his spell, why not just kill him?

A careful balance must be struck if using spell-breaking, for regardless of the difficulty of the approach, if it’s only used by the good forces (or the bad), it then starts to feel like a contrived plot device to force the story in a given direction, rather than another ability that lives within the world.

Now for the second part of Magical Interaction – how people interact with magic. Are they afraid of it? Accept it amongst their daily lives? View it as the province of the elite? This ties in heavily with Prevalence, but is not the same. If magic is common in the world, it could be that magic is another tool, and the cobblers use it to mend shoes better. Or it could be that those born with the magic are seen as shapeshifting demons who will eat their souls in the night, and that gifted children are slain at birth if caught.

Obviously many other parts of the setting factor into this decision, but it plays an important role in devising the setting. In both The Four Part Land and Splintered Lands, there are about the same number of mages to population (or at least it feels that way). In The Four Part Land, they serve as mining engineers, ship captains, factory workers, architects, using their talents to perform at fairly normal and mundane jobs. In Splintered Lands, they are hunted and killed whenever they are found, for they are seen as being responsible for the breaking of the lands.

Possessing magic could also be the instant ticket to the nobility that so many dream of, or it could see people relegated to the gutter as vile refuse. There are many different ways to choose, and it is up to the author to determine the best one for the style of story he wishes to write.

Choice #6: Items and Artefacts – Can magic be put into items? If so, how powerful is that magic? Common? Extremely rare? This in many ways determines how accessible magic is to the non-gifted characters in the story. If the only source of magic is from within a character or at a predetermined location, then it is quite rare, but if Backpacks of Spell Generation are going for five quid over at the local corner shop, then it’s quite a different place.

There is no right or wrong answer to these questions, but the more common magical items are, the higher the ambient level of magic usually is, and thus main character magicians tend to be even more powerful, so that they stand out above the general level of the background. Likewise, having magical items tends to mean that non-gifted characters have the ability to perform more and varied actions, through the use of the tools they acquire over the years.

Now, powerful magic items are very often used as quest hooks or pivotal plot points, so removing them entirely from the setting does reduce the author’s options in some ways. But it is also possible to have the items dominate the action, where it becomes about them and the new an interesting ways they can be used, rather than about the character or the story. If an author finds themselves writing so they can do something cool, rather than writing what fits the story, then they are using items as a crutch that pushes them away from the core plot.

In some ways, Magical Items have all of the same problems as a magic system. What Power and Prevalence are they, what Style and Strength, and how do people interact with them? If the author chooses to have Magical Items in their setting, I would recommend running through Choices #1-#5 again, only thinking about the Magical Items.

That wraps up the six main choices that I use when designing a magic system. Next, I’ll be talking about Other Considerations, a collection of ideas and suggestions that can dramatically change a magic system.



by thefourpartland

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6

Last time, I looked at how Strength and Prevalence affect both a magic system and a setting. This time around, I’m going to look at Style and Powers.

First off, a little background on each. Style is how the interactions with magic are portrayed to the reader, and how the characters in the story believe that magic acts. Powers is what can be done with that magic.

Here’s a quick example so that you understand what I’m trying to say.

Iudas pulled energy from his cells to excite the air molecules in front of him, creating a barrier of superheated air between him and the foes that chased him.

Iudas caught at the elemental fire within, forming it into a roaring, blazing wall between him and the foes that chased him.

The Power in question is more or less identical – a wall of superheated air/flame. Anyone attempting to pass through it will be burnt. But the Style is extremely different. The first is something I would associate with telekinetics or psionics, a much more modern, scientifically styled description of what is going on, while the second is much closer to how I see more traditional magic being described.

With that example out of the way, onto to the choices!

Choice #3: Style – How do you want to describe your magic, your world? Does it have Arabian influences? Eastern? Celtic? Each of these is a distinct culture in Earth’s history, and when authors choose a style to use, they are usually borrowing little bits and pieces of historical cultures and merging them together to create a unified whole.

Style is not the power itself, it is the trappings of power. This is most often seen when a wizard is casting a large, world-changing spell. Almost regardless of what is involved outside of that event, the particular casting will require long rituals, many complex agents and actors, and be capable of being spoiled in any number of ways. Yet if a god performs actions that have the same scale and scope, they are often described as taking mere moments and but a little thought.

This distinction is all about style. Style dictates how hard or easy casting a spell or accessing magic is for the user. Most often, this comes about from where the magic is sourced. Internal power tends to be easier to access, and most of the hold-ups and flaws are within the caster’s mind. This allows for moments of tension as the mage struggles to gain control of his emotions, and then unleashes a satisfy blast at the last moment to save the day. As a reader, we’ve probably all come across this scenario multiple times.

You can’t do that if the nature of magic requires that the wizard sit inside a magical rune and chant for one hour, at a minimum. If that is how magic is written in a given setting, then the author needs to plan out spaces and time for magic to be used. To create a similar feeling of duress, the caster would likely be under assault during the last few minutes of the casting process, with friends and allies attempting to stave off the incoming tide.

When creating the source of magic, it’s vitally important to think about how that choice of source, and the rules that affect accessing it, will have an impact on what situations you can and cannot devise in your writing. I highly recommend writing a short story or two about the use of magic before starting plotting and devising larger scopes, so that as an author you have a feel for how your system looks on paper.

Choice #4: Powers – What can magic do in your setting? Can it rewrite continents, or does it get used to fix a broken boot heel? Neither of these is any more valid than the other, and both can have significant impact on a story, but it is important to choose what a mage can and cannot do. If a caster can do everything that can be thought of, that is both a strain on the author and the world, and a temptation to allow magic to solve every problem that exists. That takes away from dramatic tension, if the author gets to a sticky part of the story and knows that the main character can wave his hand and create a solution.

Please note that Powers and Strength are not the same thing, but interact quite closely. Take a firemage. His powers are that he can summon and manipulate fire, and only fire, within a radius from his physical location. His strength, and the allowed strength of magic in the given setting, says whether that fire will be candle’s flame, or a ball of fire the size of a sun. If he can only produce a small flame, little more than a campfire, he is vastly more limited than if he can create a bonfire or an inferno. Yet his powers have not changed. It is the application of differing levels of strength to a singular power that dictates his effectiveness in a given situation.

Note that the choice of powers has a marked impact on how magic is viewed in the setting. If magic is primarily low in strength, and focused around fixing broken items, then in some ways a caster is the same as a modern day plumber or mechanic, and is probably treated similarly. Yet stay with me a moment as I layer style on top. Does it dictate that the magic can only be created in a sanctified temple? Or can the gifted mage come to a client’s house? In one situation, the client must go to the mage in his temple as a supplicant. In the other the mage goes to the client, as a man providing a service.

It is somewhat difficult to describe Powers, because the only limits are created by the imagination of the writer, but there are a few general choices.

All-encompassing occurs when each and every mage has the possibility to perform every spell or ritual allowed within a given world. They may not have the strength, or the required items, but at a fundamental level they could perform the spell.

Subset or discrete magic is when there are different powers of magic, and once a character is slotted into one, there is absolutely no possibility of ever casting from outside of that category. The most common of these is elemental magic, wherein a magician is attuned to either Air, Earth, Water, or Fire, and cannot, at even the most basic level, ever entertain the possibility of being able to use one of the other three aspects.

So, we have now gone through and picked out four aspects of our magic. Next week, we’ll wrap up this part of the series with the final two – Magical Interaction and Items and Artefacts.



by thefourpartland

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6

In my eyes, what sets fantasy apart from any other setting is magic. How it is handled, the strength, the interactions, but mostly its very existence. Magic is the glue that holds a fantasy setting together, because it reflects the characteristics of the setting and the people within it. Very often this includes the main character. Goodkind, Jordan, Brooks, Rowling, all of them have their primary character(s) wield magic.

Given magic’s importance to the setting, it is incumbent upon us as fantasy writers to make sure we get it right. This is not an easy challenge, because of the myriad roles that magic plays within fantasy stories, and the way that it provides a background that holds every other facet of the story together. In this series of blog posts, I will attempt to answer some of the questions surrounding designing, building, and using magic in a fantasy setting. This is by no means a final answer, for there are as many ways to do magic as there are stars in the sky. There is only the choice that fits your novel best.

That said, I’ll begin with a few choices that arise regarding the design process of magic.

Choice #1: Strength – How strong is the magic in your world? Think carefully before answering this, for it affects every other aspect of the creation. If the magic acts like it does in the Dungeons and Dragons world, it rapidly becomes the most powerful and overwhelming aspect of creation. Every fighter has a magic sword, every powerful wizard can change continents, every creature has some aspect of magic to them, and every item is a magical artefact.

At the other end are worlds where casting a single spell requires great preparation, and may kill the caster; where it is not the first resort, but the last, and that with great cost. Settings with this type of magic often tend to have a post-apocalyptic or dystopian tinge, for resources are scarce. That, or the world looks more like medieval times in Earth’s history, when we didn’t have magic for our activities.

There is one exception to the “magic dictates power” rule – when magic is balanced by technology. This is often called “gunpowder fantasy”, and can be seen in novels such as L.E. Modesitt’s Saga of Recluce. Steam and gunpowder have created forces nearly as powerful as magic, and often the two are in opposition, although not always.

Make this choice carefully, for it will dictate much of the believability of the setting. If mages are on every street corner and magic items are sold in pawn shops, the rest of the world must be altered to take that into account, otherwise there will be a disconnect that the discerning reader will discover.

Choice #2: Prevalence – How common is magic in your setting? This goes hand in hand with Choice #1, and plays an equally important role in determining the world. If everyone has magic, especially powerful magic, there would likely be no poverty, and wars would be especially devastating, for each soldier could wield power far greater than their arm. But if magic is restricted to a few gifted individuals, the situation is much like one where the power of magic is very low – only a tiny proportion has access, and for those lacking the gift, the cost of acquiring magical aid is likely extremely high.

Likewise, it can help determine the fate of a gifted main character. Are they sought after for having a unique talent, or are they one amongst many, to be tossed to the side if they fail to meet some goal? In a multi-character story, this is also something to consider, for if magic is extremely rare, yet four of the five main characters possess it, that seems at odds with the setting.

Now that we as authors have made these first two choices about the magic in our world, we can move on to other aspects that are equally important, but are guided in certain directions by the choices made above. I hope you enjoyed this, and will be back for the next instalment, wherein I will discuss Style and Powers.



by thefourpartland

You want a believable setting, don’t you? So steal it. No, not from some other author, from the world around you! Yes, the world outside the window. It’s a beautiful earth, and there’s lots of strange and fantastical places, and many of them haven’t been used as inspiration, even to this day.

Now, as a fantasy author, it’s always taken me a while to get the setting just right. For me, the first focus is usually magic and politics, because both will play an integral role in the plotting process, and because I’m a sucker for making magic systems. But the piece of the setting that always matters most to me is the physical geography. Where are the mountains, where are the rivers, the plains, the forest, the seas. They dictate the politics, and should reflect both that, and the character of the world.

In The Four Part Land, each of the kingdoms is tied to an element (Earth, Fire, Air, Water), and because of that, each one sits atop land that is the closest to their desired element (Mountains, Desert, Plains, Islands). But the geography that the characters walk through and live in is not just ‘mountains’. It has to leap off the page and exist in the reader’s mind.

Are they barren mountains of snow (Alps, Himalayas)? Dust and sand (Atacama Desert/Andes)? Green grasses but no trees (Lake District)? Wooded hills (Appalachians)? Each style of place that an author may use has an analogue here on Earth. Now, I’m not suggesting you simply copy, but rather use the real, physical terrain as a starting point for your writing.

As an example, the mountains around Tri-Hauwcerton in the TFPL look like the Lake District in England, except much larger and somewhat steeper, with far fewer passes between them, and a few more plateaus. They’re changed enough that people who have been to the Lake District don’t recognize the base, but do recognize that the world is plausible, that it feels real.

The way I do this (another technique might work better for you) is to build a top down map of the setting, with the kingdoms, the basic geography and features, and the most important trade routes. Once that’s sorted to your satisfaction, pick a terrain feature and jot down notes about it. Sandy desert or rocky desert? Storms or still air? Flood plains or not?

Once you have the basic idea of what you want the terrain to be, a little poking around on the internet can tell you what a similar place on Earth is. Do a little research, see if there’s techniques for living there that might spark ideas, or if that terrain suits what you want that area to do in the story. If it does, congratulations, you’ve just found the basis of your area.

Now you can play with the features. Is it a sandy desert with a massive stone ridge across it? Is the sand red because of iron in the silicate? At this point, it’s up to you to flesh everything out, but if you’re stuck, there’s always a place you can go research to try and spark ideas.

The next time you build a setting, even a small one, give this a try. It just might take the story in a new and exciting direction.



by thefourpartland

How did I get here? Well, if you’ve read the interview with LMStull, you’ll know that I didn’t come to writing in the traditional way. I never wanted to be a writer. The thought hadn’t ever occurred to me, until that one summer’s morning when my Mum said I should give it a shot. That was seven years ago, that day when the two of us first drew the map of The Four Part Land.

The first five years, I was writing without much in the way of plans, or even progress. There was a brief burst of background creation that summer, but I didn’t do much in the way of actual storytelling. Then over the next year or so I slowly fleshed out the idea that would become Tarranau, and started writing the story. I wrote several version of the opening chapter, each one getting longer, until I had the version that became the first draft of the current novel.

During this time, I was also playing around with the idea of the magic in The Four Part Land, and in order to ensure that I could write it, and that it fit, I jotted down a pair of short stories, the first about an airmage, the second about an stonemage. That second one has become rather important, and given me a large pile of writing to do, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Now, at the time I was working a rather boring job, and writing a couple hours a day because of it. But all I had on my plate was Tarranau, and at the speed I wrote (at the time, slowly), I got rather fed up with just having one character that kept trudging on and on (it didn’t help the chapter I was writing at the time was bloated, and needed a severe cutdown in edits), and so, at the prodding of one of my friends, I opened up another word document and jotted down this “Chloddio’s hammer crashed against the shield of his instructor…”.

You see, my friend liked the character Chloddio from Caer Chan Carega, that stonemage short story from earlier. Liked him a lot more than Tarranau, in fact, and was always nagging me to write more about him. So, when I was a little burnt out on Tarranau, I did. I had no plan, no plot, nothing. What I ended up with about three years later was Chloddio, the first draft of a 106k word novel. Not quite what I was expecting that summer’s day at the office.

Now, you’re probably noticing there’s a rather massive time gap between when I started writing and now, and I still don’t have anything published. Well, there’s a good reason for that – I’d end up taking large breaks, often months in length, between finished chapters. And I’d also distract myself with short stories and other bits and pieces. And at the time, I hadn’t really wrapped my head around this whole idea of being a ‘writer’, as opposed to jotting down a neat story idea on the page.

Let me tell you right away those two things aren’t the same. Jotting down stories can be fun. Writing them ends up being work. It’s all the stuff you do after that first draft is jotted down. In the case of Tarranau, it’s been three editing passes, multiple beta readers, layout, copy editing, getting a cover, etc., etc. It’s a lot of work, and all of it has occurred since August 2009.

That month, I sat down with a single chapter to write to finish the book. And over the course of about ten days, I managed to knock it out. (Brief sidenote: my chapters average about 22.5k words). I went straight into editing, because it had been so long since I saw the first chapter it felt like it was someone else’s writing. That first pass only took a week, which wasn’t too bad given the first draft was 165k words long. A good chuck of which was unnecessary bloat.

Editing lets you tell the story you actually want to tell, not the story you put to page. They aren’t the same thing, unless you’re a truly brilliant writer. I’m not, and so there’s all these rough spots that needed smoothing down, places where the text bogged the story and needed a good case of liposuction treatment. Am I happy with the story where it is now? Of course I am, otherwise I wouldn’t be most of the way through publishing it myself. Would I have published it before I’d done all the editing work? Of course not. It wouldn’t be a book I’d want to read, and if I don’t want to read it while being strongly invested in the story, why would someone off the street want to touch it?

So, that leads me more or less to where I am today. There were a few more editing passes after August, a bunch of beta readers, having outsiders edit the book as well, and then the slightly dreary work of self-publishing. Self-publishing is the least fun part of the writing process in my eyes, even less than editing, because it’s not a creation process, it’s not carving a story from a lump of words, it’s poking a great internet beast until it notices you enough to stick a small cover icon in one of its hundred thousand window displays.

Was the journey worth it? Oh yes. Very much so. I’ve met a lot of great people, many of them through Twitter, and I’ve had an absolute blast writing down worlds that existed only in my head. There’s a real sense of accomplishment to writing “The End” to a story. And an even bigger one when you write “The End” to all the edits. That’s when you know you’ve really gone and done something. The comments from others often uplifting, but make sure that you’re writing for yourself, not for someone else. Storytelling should come from within. Otherwise it’s too easy to lose the thread and lose the desire. But if you’re writing for yourself and you’ve got the bit between your teeth, keep pulling until you reach a destination. It won’t be where you thought you’d end up, but it will have been an exciting journey. The joy of the surprise ending.

And one final thing – if you’re ever at a party and need something to talk about, just say you’re a writer.



by thefourpartland

This is a repost from a prior blog, but my creative abilities have been in slacking mode, and rather than leave this blog entirely dead, I felt this was appropriate. I would surmise that not everyone who comes here has read Caer Chan Carega or the Tale of the Apprentice, but hopefully this will be worth the read all the same. As a little background, the Tale of the Apprentice is the first chapter in Tarranau’s story. The material below is perhaps a year or so old. Still, I hope you enjoy the reading.

Despite the horrible pun in the name of this post, this is going to be me talking about both my process of writing, as well as the background of the stories, and where they come from.

Prior to the beginning of this little adventure in writing and storytelling, the only writing I had done was that required for school, mostly research essays for class. I was good at that, at least according to the gradings of my teachers, but there is a certain style difference between the writing of a research essay on the comparison of concentration camps within the era of modern dictators, and writing about the use of earth magic as a rescue mechanic in a cave-in. One focuses almost entirely on presenting an argument in the best possible way, and the other on telling a story that involves and interests the reader. However, both do need to engage the reader to the point that they buy into what the writer is saying, otherwise the writer (namely, me) has failed in their goal.

When I write, there is little in the way of forethought or pre-planning. There’s usually the germ of an idea (for example, with Caer Chan Carega it was earth magic + “possibly a cave-in”), but not much more. No character names unless it is a continuation of a previous story, often not much in the way of a defined setting, just an idea that I sit down at a keyboard with, and a desire to write. There seem to be as many ways of writing as there are people who sit down to write. For example, yesterday in the candlelight and lightning glare of the thunderstorm that cut the power I was reading a book on writing from professional writers, among them Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. In back to back chapters, Bradbury advocates writing simply from an idea, finishing stories within a couple hours of the start, while another (J.N. Williamson) recommends plotting out the stories heavily beforehand using outlines to make sure the ebb and flow of the tale is fitting.

Despite my previously saying that I never outline things, there is one outline that exists for my writing, and it is for the overall novel-length work that is being slowly serialized here as the Tale of the Apprentice, the first Tale in about ten. It was designed, and stored into my memory banks on a long car-ride down from New England, and then typed up at the end of that ride. It came after the first three small sections in the Tales of were written, and once the Tale of the Apprentice is finished I’ll post the original edition of it, which is far shorter and less interesting of a read, although it was the first thing ever written for this setting (aside from background material). Having the outline means that I know where the story is going, and can work off of that. The only problem is the amount of work needed to take that outline and turn it into a story. Never let anyone fool you into thinking writing well is easy, when there are several hundred pages that need to be written, and then edited again and again to comprise a single book. However, a good short story can be written in a week or less, and despite the fact that book stores are stuffed full of novels, I find (and also recommend) that short stories are where to start and to find your feet as a writer. I think if I hadn’t written several segments and short stories before starting on the Tales of series (which is really a collection of short stories that happen to tie together, or at least its being written that way), I’d have a harder time of it. Do take all of this with a grain of salt. After all, I’m hardly a writer, just someone with a few unedited short stories and a couple ideas to their credit.

That hopefully gave a little bit of insight into how I write, and wasn’t a complete waste of time. The next section, and the reason for the Background Check in the title of the post, is just going to be me talking about the inspiration and where the posted short stories came from.

The first of all of these stories was the Tale of the Apprentice. At the time, it didn’t really have a name, or any sense that it was the lead-in to a great deal of writing for me. My family and I (yes, I’m not the only designer behind the Four Part Land. Mother and both Brothers have contributed quite a bit of material.) had been hashing out the setting, every morning sitting down in Cornwall to write background material for an hour or two. Beautiful place, beautiful setting to begin work on what became known as the Four Part Land, mostly due to the lack of a better name and this one sticking. The morning we were leaving, I sat down and wrote out the short story that was the original draft of the Tale of the Apprentice, and presented it to them on the drive back in the car. Nice reaction, story was too short (its only 2.5 pages typed up). From then on, it wasn’t touched until the end of Caer Chan Carega, when I decided that I would stop writing short stories based on the elements, and instead begin work on the first part of what had, by that time, become a novel length story idea with the addition of two other short pieces (one of them longer, the other shorter than the original Tale of the Apprentice) that took place well down the road of the story for Tarranau. From those three pieces came the outline mentioned above, and then the actual start of writing, the story being serialized currently on the blog (and yes, I know I need Friday’s and Monday’s post up). Slow progress at only a few pages a week, but enjoyable none the less. At some point (especially once I get an apartment that gives me three more hours in the day, as opposed to in the car), I might try changing the weekly posting format, either into a single longer block or simply more posts during the course of the week.

The second of the stories set within the Four Part Land, and the first one to see the digital post here, was Yathol’s Revenge. The Four Part Land has magic that is based on the four elements, as well as Spirit (no, this is not Captain Planet’s Heart), a very different style of magic. Nature is also floating around in there, but I may or may not actually implement it into the stories. How Yathol’s Revenge came about was that I had written the “abilities” for the various kinds of magic, and what is possible, and wanted to explore those in writing in order to portray to myself and to others how they would work. To that end I began writing a short story about a man in search of revenge, relying heavily on his magical talents in order to succeed. As much a vehicle for the magic as for the story, it still succeeded in being a story enough to satisfy me as a writer, and apparently at least one white dragon as a reader.

Caer Chan Carega was cut from the same mold, a simple alphabetic progression to the next element in the chain, Earth. It ended up being a little more though, as much a story about a person’s life and some of his desires as about the magic itself. It had never been intended that way, instead just a miner using his magical talent to blow through a cave-in in a glorious rescue. Instead it went the other way, opening with Chloddio talking about his love of high mountains, his dislike of being trapped underground, and instead of a quick, glorious rescue, it became a slow, magic and strength sapping slog to try and find their friends trapped on the far side of a fallen rock wall, and in the end all of their talent and effort was simply not enough for many of their fellow miners. There was a lesson learned in there, one that I hadn’t really paid attention to before: never let your original ideas straight-jacket a story. Instead, let the story go where it will. It’ll be written better, and read better as well. Case in point: during Caer Chan Carega, I have Chloddio and a few others go to the deepest exploratory part of the mine, looking to rescue those who had been down there. Originally, they would have been alive, unharmed, and not even noticed that there was a cave-in on the levels above them. It sucked as a story device. It wasn’t believable, it didn’t fit, and felt far too much like Deus Ex Machina rescue. I wrote this, read it back, deleted it instantly and had them crushed by another part of the cave-in, and let that play out through Chloddio’s emotions instead. Several times during the writing of it, I felt like I was near the end, and each time, it veered away from the end towards a continuation, adding a little more depth and interest to the story. At first it was to end when Chloddio came out through the cave-in, rescuing those within. Then he had to help the miners, and then set off in search of the exploration team, at which point the story was to end with him standing over the pile of stone that was their temporary grave. A sober ending, perhaps but I thought it fit. There was one addition after that: his change of occupation, fired by the mind but transferred to the city guard, an event that might have significance far, far into the Tales.