Musings

No Way Out: The Walking Dead Season 7 Episode 4

This post contains spoilers from the episode of The Walking Dead which aired November 13, 2016. If you haven’t seen the episode, you have been warned.

Today I want to talk about creating and holding tension in storytelling. It is both a difficult and necessary part of telling a good story, specifically in the horror and thriller genres, both of which The Walking Dead fit into. Creating and holding tension is something that this show struggles with. Either they do an amazing job or they do a horrible job. That’s because tension itself must either be amazing or horrible. There is no “middle ground” for tension, kind of like being pregnant. You either are pregnant or you’re not. Something is either intense or it isn’t.

Tension requires the perfect combination of acting, writing, and directing when it comes to television or movies. In writing, it falls fully on the writer. This episode was a television version of exposition. Exposition has its place, but a full ninety minutes of it is a bad thing. Once again the story was told in a weird order instead of linearly. Linear can be a good thing, and at this point of The Walking Dead, it could help to build tension.

You’re Early

Let’s start with the biggest problem first. We don’t get to see Rick and Company return to Alexandria. We don’t know how many days have passed. Michonne sneaks out to do some target practice so that she can become a sniper. Rosita and Spencer are headed out to scavenge. Eugene is “building them a radio,” although I bet his bullet building skills would be worth more to them if they knew.

Negan shows up right at the top of the show. They were supposed to have a week but now the Saviors are early, with Daryl in tow as a visual reminder of what is at stake.

This would all be great, except for one problem: The population of Alexandria seems totally clueless.

“Who is this guy? Why is Rick freaking out?”

Did Rick really not tell anyone anything? Is he trying to pull an Ezekiel, because that’s not going to work. Negan considered our crew of survivors as a threat, which is why he’s put on such a big display.

Remember – we don’t know how much time has passed. It’s been enough time that Daryl looks the same as he did at the end of last week’s episode, beaten up and broken down. That alone makes it feel like more than one night has passed.

Another reason it feels like he must have told someone is Father Gabriel. The idea of telling Negan that Maggie died, and her grave, means some planning has occurred.

By the time Rick gathers everyone together at the church, it feels like a reminder, not an explanation. The whole thing is convoluted and confusing.

What would have worked better is if the episode starts with us seeing Rick tell the Alexandrians about Negan, to see their grief or shock over what happened to Glenn and Abraham, to see Rick still raw. They then begin gathering supplies – setting aside half their food, lamenting that there isn’t enough and what are they going to do? Then, as we feel the dire reality that Alexandria doesn’t have much to offer by way of food and Rosita and Spencer are heading out to scavenge; knock knock, Negan is early!

 

knockknock
“When I say knock knock, you say who’s there.”

 

Why would this work better? Because it would give the people of Alexandria a chance to show us their emotional response in a more realistic manner; even if they think Rick is crazy and don’t think it’s that bad. Even if they want to fight back or are confused when Negan shows up and starts taking chairs and mattresses instead of food.

Sniper!

I had a lot of hope for Michonne. Smuggling the rifle out in the morning for target practice was a good idea, but ultimately, her story this episode was pointless. If she has left the rifle out in the wilderness it would have been a great opportunity. If Rick hadn’t seen her taking the rifle it would have been even better. Why? Michone the Sniper would be a fantastic secret to have not only from Negan, but also from Rick. Giving characters secrets only makes them stronger, it builds possibility right into the story.

Another problem with Michonne’s story is Negan’s reaction to her return. He just had Alexandria turned upside down to find two guns, then Michonne walks in with an undocumented gun and he gives Rick a verbal warning. This is completely out of character and also stupid. Even if there aren’t any more guns out there, the bold faced lie that Rick told him should have resulted in something terrible. Instead, he shows leniency.

As he said to Olivia, guns are life and death. Not flipping his lid over one undocumented gun makes no sense.

You Ain’t My Daddy!

Carl’s attack on Negan and his men was one of the worst scenes in the whole episode. I didn’t believe a minute of it. Sorry, Carl, but the tough guy attitude fell short.

It was also pointless.

As pointed out by Rosita, it was already pretty clear they were going to take the guns. Why else did Dwight take her gun, other than being a jerk? Guns were on the menu. Hilltop doesn’t have guns. The Kingdom has guns, but Ezekiel is better at diplomacy than Hilltop’s leader, as we saw last season. We didn’t need Carl to throw his teenage angst on the fire for Negan to take the guns away.

Uncomfortable

The most important part of the episode is understanding what Negan took away from Alexandria. He left their food out of “kindness,” but he took away their safety and comfort. Alexandria has been very comfortable for a long time. Even with the threats of last season, they still had fancy houses to live in and could pretend that everything was semi-normal. The addition of discomfort is a blow to their moral and is very manipulative.

Taking the guns leaves Alexandria is helpless, not only from Negan but from other threats, and he wants them to be helpless. He wants them to need his protection. He left their food because although they are upset about losing their mattresses, it could have been worse. He wants him to be grateful to him when he’s merciful; so that they constantly teeter between fear and relief.

This builds a strange type of loyalty, something similar to what you would see in an abusive relationship. Without the guns, Alexandria is helpless. Negan will protect them. Negan can also destroy them. Play by the rules and everything will be fine. Break the rules and someone gets hurt.

Other Thoughts

I really hope Rosita is finally going to get a storyline. She’s been a background character for a long time now and I would really like to see her develop. Of course, it’s also likely she’s just going to get killed.

I miss Carol, the Angel of Death. I’m starting to feel like her mental breakdown was a contrivance because this version of Carol didn’t exist in the comics and they had to eliminate her to make the Negan plot work. There are other ways Ezekiel and the Kingdom could have been introduced to the story.

I really hope Daryl is going to earn respect from some of the Saviors because I think one of the best ways to take Negan down is from the inside. Dwight may or may not be helpful in this, considering he’s on a power trip.

Do You Like this Feature on my Blog?

Thank you for reading. This may be the last episode that I’m able to address on a Monday. Watching the episodes live isn’t easy for me, and it may be that I will have to start watching them after they air. If you find this feature to my blog interesting, helpful, or otherwise enjoyable, please let me know in the comments.  I will move it to Tuesday if I’m unable to watch on Sunday. Otherwise, this may be the last time I share my two cents on the subject.

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Character Analysis, Musings, Uncategorized, Writing Tips

“Who are you?” – The Walking Dead Season 7 Episode 3

This post will contain spoilers for The Walking Dead which aired November 6th, 2016. If you haven’t seen the episode, turn back now!

Last night The Walking Dead took us along for the ride with Daryl and his adventures with Negan. These adventures include being locked in a dark closet and tortured with super happy music all day. Sometimes Dwight, (also known as Burned Face Guy,) would take Daryl for a stroll in the yard, which consists of a big cage full of zombies and prisoners. The Savior’s main compound is big and prison-like, but if Daryl is a good boy and decides to join Negan, he’ll get a studio apartment including a bed, chair, kitchen, and even a TV so that he can watch himself on The Walking Dead. (I know they probably have a DVD player or something, but it was funny to see the TV in that room.)

We did get to learn a little bit more about Negan. He’s just as crazy as he first appeared, a real tyrant ruling over his army of loyal ants. How loyal are those ants, exactly? We also learned what happened with Dwight and his wife Sherri after her sister Tina died in the woods and they betrayed Daryl. This came via tell instead of show, where the villain gets to share a customary evil bad-guy speech.

Tina was supposed to be Negan’s fiancé, but she didn’t want to marry him. He was just being a nice guy allowing her to marry him so that she wouldn’t have to work so hard for her insulin anymore. Of course, Tina didn’t like that idea and the three of them ran off. Tina was eaten by zombies; Dwight and Sherri stole Daryl’s crossbow and motorcycle and returned to Negan. In order to save her husband, Sherri married Negan and Dwight worked himself up to being a big dog in the Savior’s army. Of course, he still had to have his face ironed. That’s unfortunate.

If we base the timeline of The Walking Dead on the age of Judith, who is still a baby under a year old, all of this has happened in the span of maybe one or two months. Negan is way more forgiving than expected! It’s fine that they didn’t spend a whole episode hanging with Sherri and Dwight, because last season had a lot of other important things going on. This type of storytelling is lesser than if we’d seen it happen, do we really care about Dwight and Sherri when they are torturing Daryl, who we all know and care about already? I’m guessing we’ll get to spend more time with Sherri and Dwight before it’s all done, but at this point, it’s their fault for returning to Negan instead of going with Daryl to Alexandria.

Also, I’m not the only one thinking “There is only one Negan vs. many unhappy people.” No matter how many people claim to be Negan, there is only one. As the escaped guy told Dwight, if there was an uprising he would be screwed. Too bad Dwight doesn’t seem to be the leader they need, not yet, anyway.

The leader they do need is Daryl.

Last night’s episode was another great look at the characterization from a fan favorite. Daryl is a prime example of how strong characterization can not only shape a story, but uphold it through dark times.We watch him take his torture silently, with that same stoicism we’ve all come to know. Even in the midst of fear, he still takes the opportunity to try to escape, reminding us of his resilience and confidence in his skills. Sherri begs him to go back, but he won’t, because he believes he can get away. After being recaptured, and forced to listen to Elvis crooning about loss, he finally lets it all out. I think, however; that just helped him grow stronger. Sometimes you just need a good cry.

We watch him take his torture silently, with that same stoicism we’ve all come to know. Even in the midst of fear, he still takes the opportunity to try to escape, reminding us of his resilience and confidence in his skills. Sherri begs him to go back, but he won’t, because he believes he can get away. After being recaptured, and forced to listen to Elvis crooning about loss, he finally lets it all out. I think, however; that just helped him grow stronger. Sometimes you just need a good cry.

Daryl knows what is at stake, but he won’t give up, and this is something we’ve seen from him since the first season. He could have turned against the group after Meryl was lost, but he stuck by them and continued to survive. When Negan asks him “Who are you?” he answers “I’m Daryl,” because he knows who he is at the core; he doesn’t need a false identity to know what he’s capable of.

Daryl is a true survivor, which probably isn’t true for a lot of Negan’s followers.

 

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“Jokes on you, shit sandwich was always my favorite.”

 

Negan lets him live. Why? Negan is building his character for us as well. Yes, he’s a crazy man with a baseball bat, but he’s also smart. He was smart enough to see the weaknesses in people and build the Saviors around fear. He also knows that there is only one Negan, which is why he’s trained his soldiers to say “I’m Negan.” By giving them a new and shared identity, he’s making them feel part of something bigger, pushing back against possible rebellion.

Those who do not wish to live under the tyranny of the Saviors need someone like Daryl, but Negan also needs Daryl. Killing him would be easy, but breaking him would prove a point to those witnessing the process.

If Negan’s soldiers can see a man like Daryl break down and change, then any misgivings they have about Negan will be quelled. It’s a dangerous game, and one I don’t think Negan will win, at least not in the way he wants. Daryl is walking a very fine line. Either he needs to start gaining support from Dwight and Sherri and others, or he’s probably going to die. A crazy man only has so much patience.

At the very end, Daryl makes his first move with Dwight. He understands. Dwight had to think about someone else, so he gave up. Daryl says that’s why he can’t, and at first it may seem like he’s saying “I don’t have anyone else to think of,” but I actually think this means the opposite. He has a lot of people to think about, everyone at Alexandria, and he can’t become a Savior because he can’t turn on them, even if it costs him his life. Again, this is the same characterization we’ve seen from Daryl before. He had an opportunity before to join a villainous group, but he can’t and he won’t.

Other thoughts:

Poor zombie nerd guy might have been a good ally if he knew about Daryl.

Sherri is in a prime position to do bad things to Negan, like poison or a knife to the throat if she has the guts and opportunity. Andrea never did with the Governor, but we don’t know Sherry very well.

Speaking of Sherri, I bet she’s going to be one of the first to rebel and possibly die.

Thanks for reading! If you have anything to add, please leave a comment.

Writing Tips

NaNoWriMo Week One – Getting Started with Character Motivation & Relationships

This week I started up my National Novel Writing Month project on November first. That means spending time in a whole new world with a whole new cast of characters. These characters have been in my head since January, building up some basic background information for me to work with as I get started. Despite that, I’m just getting to know them and learning how they interact with each other.

One of the easiest ways to write a story is to know your characters. Stories consist of two key elements: an event and a character’s reaction to that event. A character’s motivation will dictate their reaction. By allowing your character’s motivations to drive the plot, the story moves forward organically. When stories move organically, they are more believable to the reader.

Motivations are discovered by character development. The character’s role in the story is only the first step of characterization. The antagonist’s role is to create a problem, and the sign-697220_960_720protagonist’s role is to solve that problem. But why? The answer comes from character background, personality, and current events; a complex combination that produces motivation. Side characters also have motivations, and they are created in the same way. They can either help or hinder the protagonist, but either way, those reactions need to make sense based on the narrative of their characterization.

I already knew who was playing which role before I began writing. I knew the backgrounds for my protagonist and antagonist. I knew the background of the primary side characters. I knew the activating events. Now that I’m putting the characters on paper, they begin to develop their personalities.

What I’ve learned in my first week is that my protagonist is not only intelligent and willing to ask questions, but is also playful and caring. It will be interesting to see her grow and change over the course of 50,000 words knowing what is happening around her. I’ve also learned that the antagonist is much colder than I expected, even when he’s attempting to hide his true nature.

Another type of motivation comes from character relationships. When two characters connect, it builds emotional investment for the reader. The more a character resembles a real person, the more a reader will connect with them. Real people have friends, family, or lovers that they connect with, and so should your characters.

It also gives the characters deeper levels of motivation; it may cause them to act when they would otherwise be still. Producing driving forces through the people they care about is another organic way to drive a story forward.

What I’ve discovered this week is that my protagonist is quite close to her younger sister. Not only does it give her motivation to act, it also adds to her personality. By allowing the reader to witness this relationship, they are given another reason to care about what happens in the first few chapters.

So remember:

  1. Organic motivations make it easier to move a story forward
  2. Motivations are created through personality, character background, and relationships with other characters

As of today, I have 4,950 words on my NaNoWriMo project, which puts me a little behind but I’m worried about it. I’ll catch up.

Thank you for reading. If you have anything to add please feel free to leave a comment.

Fun and Games, Musings

Welcome to The Kingdom: The Walking Dead season 7 episode 2

Spoiler Alert: If you have not seen The Walking Dead season 7 episode 2 on October 30th, turn back now! This is your only warning.

This isn’t a review, but more of a look at the successes and failures of storytelling through mass media. I think last night’s episode was a clear success based solely on the characterization, but the storytelling was well done, too.

Although last week’s episode was the big reveal, this episode was even more revealing. Morgan and Carol are back, rescued by people from The Kingdom.

Now, I love the renaissance festival, but at first glance, The Kingdom isn’t such a place. Until you meet King Ezekiel and Shiva.

 

thewalkingdead_s07e02_ezekiel_still
“Hast thou come to feast upon pomegranates?”

 

It’s a great form of characterization for this show. We’ve seen a deceptive character before in the Governor, and his attempt to make Woodberry seem like Main Street, but his deception was for a sinister purpose. Carol can also be deceptive, hiding her true  nature to give her the upper hand. Ezekiel is something new. He’s a character playing a character, not for deception but to keep his people’s minds at ease.

At first, it’s easy to think that maybe he’s unstable and perhaps has a mental illness. After the fall of civilization, a person with delusions of grandeur could be given the opportunity to live out their own reality. Carol is barely able to contain herself when she meets him, and I think her face said what those of us who haven’t read that far in the comics were all thinking.

looney

As we learn, however; Ezekiel has not fallen off his rocker. He knows he’s not the king. Showing up with a tiger made him legendary, and he just went along with it, using his time in Community Theater as a jumping off point. The people like having a king and painting his quotes all over the town in scrolling font. (Do they have a stencil or did a calligrapher survive?)

Okay, so maybe it still is a little nutty, but at least they aren’t carving up people and roasting them on an open fire. When you really think about it, running around in armor with swords, spears, cleavers, and bows and arrows really isn’t that much different than what our own group of survivors has been up to. Daryl with his crossbow, Michonne with her samurai sword, and even Rick with his axe are merely missing the fake accent and regal titles. Plus, most of the people in the kingdom are dressed as modern day people and they even have guns on hand for emergencies. It’s an interesting mix.

They’re also under contract with Negan’s army. One of the things I enjoyed most about last night’s episode was the subtle rebellion. Ezekiel doesn’t want to risk the lives of his people, but he also knows the Saviors are bad. So, they feed the pigs walkers. This is an interesting concept and brings up some questions.

First, do the pigs turn from eating the contaminated meat? We don’t know and they are soon butchered off camera1. Secondly, the fact that pigs are fine eating a still squirming walker is kind of terrifying. I know pigs can chew through bone, and eat rotten food, but this is a whole other level. Last, if you eat meat from an animal that has eaten a walker, can you be turned? This last question is interesting because it’s kind of like marinating the pig from the inside. Corn fed cows taste different than grass fed cows. Does bacon from a walker fed pig have a strange taste?

If it is the making the Saviors sick, they haven’t noticed it yet.

Also, Ezekiel hasn’t told his people about the Saviors. He’s done this on purpose to prevent them from wanting to fight. The situation wears heavily on those who know, as is evidenced by the knight who gets into a scuffle with a Savior. It’s clear that Ezekiel understands the danger where others do not, and makes me wonder what he’s seen or been through with Negan. Then again, he was a zookeeper tending to tigers, which gives him insight into dealing with unpredictable wild animals.

There was also great characterization this week for Morgan and Carol. They have both been shaken to the core. Morgan is hiding it a little better, trying to resolve who he was with what he became and what he needs to be. He’s a man in a crisis of faith. Carol, however; is on the opposite end. She’s seen her confidence in what she became crumble and hated what she saw: an angel of death. They are the same but different, and somehow they both need to find the middle.

I’m curious to see what Carol learns from her solitude, and what her actual plan turns out to be. With the Saviors running around it’s hard to believe she’ll be left alone living right off of the road in her little house.

Also, how will they respond when they find out what happened with Rick and Company?

Next week it looks like we’re going to meet up with Daryl and what tortures are in store. Will Burned Face Guy switch sides? Is the teaser trailer only teasing? Maybe we’ll find out, or we won’t.

Other thoughts:

Shiva eats as much as ten people. What are they feeding her? Walkers? She seems happy.

Carol moved into such a cute little house with its own gothic cemetery. There has to be a story there.

Could Ezekiel be the key to healing both Carol and Morgan… and maybe even Rick?

The Kingdom is a nice little town, too bad all I could think was “this place is going up in flames.”

Thank you for reading and if you have anything to add, please feel free to leave a comment.

Fun and Games, Musings, Writing Tips

Hanging On: The Walking Dead Season 7 Episode 1

This post will contain spoilers of not only the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead, but also the season six finale. If you haven’t watched these episodes, you’ve been warned.

First off, this isn’t a review. I like to analyze mass media as a means to understand the successes and failures of storytelling. What follows is my intellectual opinion.

Way back in April I discussed why the season six finale of The Walking Dead was such a disappointment. I had a lot to say at the time. Six months later, I do not feel any differently.

I’m going to come right out of the gate and say that the season seven premiere should have been the season six finale. It holds all of the key elements of storytelling that were missing and still ends with a cliffhanger, although a slightly different type. Instead of “The Lady or the Tiger” ending we are left more with “What are we going to do now? Everything is in ruins.”

I have nothing against cliffhangers. I actually use them in my own writing, but they need to be finely crafted and utilized correctly. There are three reasons to end a story on a cliffhanger.

1)      To compel the audience to return to a story after an unspecified break in the narrative.

2)      To open a dialogue about the story, either internally or with other audience members, that further drives emotional investment in the story.

3)      To assure the audience that there will be a continuation even when the current story has come to a close.

It can be argued that the season six finale accomplished these things, and it did. People were compelled to return to see who would take a bat to the head. There was a very vocal, and often angry, dialogue happening in the audience. There would definitely be more story, because how could it end like that without a resolution? (Although in the world of television there is no real guarantee that the show will return, although we all safely knew this one would.)

So what’s the problem?

The problem comes down to the underlying storytelling, which had been shaky for the duration of the season. The audience was annoyed already about the “close calls” that Glenn endured. Add to that the finale dragging out in a log repetitive sequence of events, and then coming to a close mid-action. If they had moved the story down the line to where the premiere ended, with a fitting sendoff for two major characters, and tie the season up in an emotional package brimming with questions about the future.

Consider the premiere of season six. It begins with a strange flashback episode. Everyone in Alexandria is working together to build a zombie funnel to lead the walkers in the quarry away from the town. We learn this in a patchwork of pieces.

Now consider the premiere of season seven. It utilizes a very similar device to drag out the truth of who took the bat, and had it been the finale, it would have been a balance to the premiere. Instead, it’s just a “filler” tactic, and that whole story with Negan and the axe could have been told after the death instead of before.

Rick’s character arc is another package that could have utilized in the finale. All season he was riding high on his ego, believing that he and his crew were the biggest of the bad and nothing could tear them down. To watch him break beneath Negan’s smiling face was incredibly important to the story, a piece of the puzzle that could have simmered in our minds for six months. Negan is a special kind of monster, and to have had a proper introduction last season would have given us time to build him up even bigger while we waited.

Next, we have Glenn’s “fake deaths” throughout season six, teasing the truth. Had the season seven opener been the finale, it would have tied those strings together. Of course, it’s emotional. Glenn is a beloved major character with a pregnant wife. No matter when he died it would have been a blow to the audience. However, from a storytelling point of view, it could have been handled better.

We also have the story arc with Abraham, Sasha, and Rosita in a very awkward love triangle. Abraham is more of a comic relief type character, and by putting six months between any emotional attachments the audience may have had about their situation, which makes it far less powerful than if it had happened when it was fresh.This is especially true because his relationship with Rosita was never really a focus of the show until that point. It also makes his relationship with Sasha feel contrived. What was the point of it? So that Sasha could lose another person she cared about?

This is especially true because his relationship with Rosita was never really a focus of the show until that point. It also makes his relationship with Sasha feel contrived. What was the point of it? So that Sasha could lose another person she cared about? It was merely added to give some sort of emotional attachment to Abraham. More development between him and Eugene would have served this purpose in a more organic way.

Lastly, we have the scene of the whole cast at the table enjoying a meal, with Glenn and Abraham at the head. A beautiful world destroyed by one crazy man with a bat. Having that as the last image of season six would have left the community in a much darker, much more immersive sendoff for the two major characters.

 

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“Hey, man, nice axe.”

 

Now that we’ve looked at why this should have been the finale, let’s look at the foreshadowing that was given to us multiple times to make sure we didn’t miss it.

“This is my axe.”

Rick may be broken now, but he is still the protagonist; the anti-hero. Negan is the antagonist. That means that the conflict will continue until it is resolved. Will we lose more of our favorite characters along the way? There’s a high probability that we will. However; I have a feeling we already know how Negan is going to die.

Rick has used the axe for a long time now. It has been nothing more than a prop, more noticeable than a kitchen knife but not as iconic as Michonne’s sword or Daryl’s crossbow. It’s not overly flashy or recognizable, just an axe that could be sold at your local hardware store.

This season the axe has taken  a prominent place in the story and becoming a focal point for the conflict. If Negan doesn’t meet his end by the axe being driven into his cocky smirk and I’m totally wrong here, it will be a missed opportunity. What a perfect way to tie up the story arc in a neat little package. Of course, we already know The Walking Dead doesn’t like neat packages, even the kind that strengthens their storytelling.

Other Thoughts

  • Are Negan’s people truly loyal or do they function solely on fear? Fear is a great manipulator but there are more minions than there are Negans, the right leader merely needs to appear to start the rebellion.
  • Negan took Daryl instead of killing him, and although having a hostage is a great ploy, it would have been stronger to take Carl or Michonne. There is likely more to Negan’s reasoning in taking him than he let on.
  • Will Maggie lose the baby? Perhaps she will lose her mind? Or maybe she will be the next angel of death seeking revenge in a world that is far too cruel.
  • Will Carol and Morgan find the reinforcements that are desperately needed in the fight against the Saviors? Or were those weird guys last season more bad guys?

Hopefully, we have answers to these questions throughout the season.

The Hunted

The Hunted – Part Six: Opportunity Knocks

image

PART SIX
Opportunity Knocks

Gray morning light cast long shadows of the heavy four-poster bed across the small chamber. The heavy furniture was too large for the space it occupied, leaving little room to move around. The dark wood bed, oversized wardrobe, and writing desk with matching chair were all that was needed, logically, but Lexanna did not enjoy being cramped and felt she would spend little time in her temporary home.

Sitting up in the bed, she noticed the wardrobe was left open. A selection of new garments in a rainbow of colors hung patiently waiting to be selected. It was difficult not to feel guilty when such generosity was being bestowed, while she was being unappreciative of having been taken in for no other reason than to be married to the best candidate.

“I’ll just have to make the best of it,” she whispered

Selecting a dark blue skirt and matching peplum fringed jacket, along with a crisp white high collared blouse, Lexanna dressed herself with some difficulty cinching and tying her corset alone. Thankfully, she also found an array of hats, one for each of the ensembles. Hopefully, what was on her head would draw attention away from her poorly secured waistline.

She stood before a mirror in an oversized gold frame that hung on the wall to brush and twist her black hair into a neat bun, then pinned hat and all in securely in place. Examining herself she decided that it felt strange to be dressed in a fashion she had been accustomed to after weeks of borrowed clothes. Although her life had been spent dressed in finery, her reflection appeared alien.

Upon exiting her bedchamber, she found the apartment empty and cold in its silence. The heels from her boots pounded loudly on the wooden floor as she crossed to the staircase, and she was relieved to descend the stone steps.

Her mission was to find the apprentice dining hall and breakfast. The Ossuary was a daunting labyrinth of corridors and she was dismayed to realize she did not remember the way back to the foyer. Good fortune was with her, however; as a group of young men and women dressed in pale blue robes were all walking together and conversing in jovial tones.

Lexanna followed behind them at a modest distance and was pleased to discover they had led her where she needed to go. The dining hall was located in the newer part of the Ossuary. The stark white walls towered above into the peak of a vaulted ceiling run through with dark wooden beams. Along the left side of the room, large windows overlooked the courtyard. Rows of heavy wooden tables and chairs ran in two columns down the length of the room, with the kitchen at the far end. The apprentices lined up along the wall to collect their breakfast. Lexanna joined them and was fully aware of the odd looks cast in her direction.

She did her best to smile and appear pleasant. Never had she imagined how many students were being trained at the Ossuary. She always believed the gift of magic was a rare one, but possibly one hundred men and women were in attendance.

“It’s not as frightening as you may think,” a male voice whispered from behind, and she jumped. “Magicians only bite when they aren’t well fed.”

A tall, slender young man stood in line behind her, smiling at his perceived cleverness.  Dressed in a pale blue robe like all the others, he must be an apprentice. For a brief moment, she wondered if he would be a contender for her hand, then disregarded it. Hilena wouldn’t marry a magicless girl to a real magician, apprentice or otherwise.

“I don’t find it frightening at all.”

“Your expression said otherwise.” He took a moment to look her over and cocked an eyebrow. “Are you new to the Ossuary? Or did your robes have a laundering accident?”

“I’m not a student. My name is Lexanna Nidkren and Hilena Grasen has taken me in as her ward.” She knew what dropping her last name would accomplish, and she was not disappointed.

“Nidkren? As in Grivwald and Morianne Nidkren?” His smile faded and the cracks in his charm became apparent.

“That’s right.” It was her turn to smile, although she tried to hide it.

“Perhaps you would allow me to show you around the city once my tasks for the day have been completed?” He spoke with such haste he stumbled over his own words.

She was surprised at the offer. “I’ve introduced myself yet you remain a stranger.”

It was fun to watch him become flustered by his misstep in etiquette. “I apologize. Gareth Orbern, at your service.” He bowed his head to her politely. She did her best to contain her amusement at his awkwardness.

The name Orbern was vaguely familiar, although she couldn’t recall any close acquaintances to her parents from that family. They arrived at the head of the line and she turned her attention away from him to an impressive array of fare stretched the length of a long buffet. She liberally filled her plate without concern of what the other students might think.

“It was a pleasure to meet you,” she said politely to Gareth before retreating to the empty end of a table near the dining hall door.

She turned to discover he had chosen to follow her and sat across from her. Didn’t he have any friends? Lexanna tried to smile.

“It must be a great honor to be Hilena’s ward,” Gareth said before taking a bite of his food.

“My parents are dead.”

Gareth choked and coughed around toast he had just put in his mouth. Lexanna waited patiently for him to compose himself.

“I apologize, I was unaware.”

“I assumed the news of the demon attack on Shirgrand would have made it this far north by now.”

“Yes, of course. I did not know your parents were among those…” he trailed off.

“Slaughtered?”

“I was going to say, slain.” He grimaced. “My offer still stands. You may need a friend right now. Everyone knows the Magician Major isn’t the warmest woman in Rathelas.”

“And what does my friendship earn you? I have no fame to offer. I was born without magic, making us an improper match. The Magician Major is not a friend of mine; she’s merely doing her duty. I couldn’t elevate you in any way.”

Gareth’s expression became sheepish as red crept into his cheeks. “To be honest, I’m not overly talented myself. I’ve been here a year and find it exceedingly difficult to make friends. All these others care about is position and status, and when you’re a bumbling buffoon, well, it puts a damper on your popularity. When I saw you in line dressed as you are, I was hoping you were new and that I’d have an opportunity to show I’m worthy of friendship before the others got their talon in you, so to speak.”

Lexanna was surprised at his self-depreciating comments. Upon reconsideration his fumbled introduction, it was a fitting tale. She ate in silence and observed him, noting his growing agitation under her gaze. His obvious desperation for companionship could be an annoyance, but in her current situation, he may be exactly the friend she required.

“Very well, Gareth Orbern, I’ll take you up on your offer to show me around town today.”

“You will?” His face lit up once more. “That is most fantastic. I should be finished with my tasks just before lunch. Shall we meet in the foyer? We could eat here? There is a spectacular café nearby and it would be my treat if you prefer.”

Lexanna hesitated for a moment then said, “That would be lovely, I’m sure.”

Escaping her fate meant escaping the city, and that would require knowledge of her surroundings. Who better to guide her than an unwitting young man with no friends?

____________________________

Thank you for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed The Hunted this far. If you have any feedback or comments please feel free to leave them in the comments.

I am also publishing The Hunted on Wattpad.

Writing Tips

World Building – Names and Places

This post will contain spoilers for parts one, two, and three of my serialized story The Hunted.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it at the following links.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

And now, on with the post!

To begin my world building process, I always start with an idea. Don’t we all? I’ve stated before that I’m not a plotter. I don’t write an outline. I’m also not actually a pantser. I’m a weird combination of the two. When I first come across an idea, I have more of a pantser type of writing style.My plottery ways come later. (Yes, plottery.) I write the scene in my head. I may skip over giving characters or places names. The idea is to recreate the vision into words before it is sucked into oblivion.

Sometimes, this is as far as a story will go. That’s fine. To get the idea out is the main point of this exercise. It’s not about perfection but about testing the waters. I can always tell if I can breathe more life into a story by this initial scene. Sometimes, this beginning won’t make it to the end and be cut. Other times, this part of the story may be moved. Most often; however, it is the beginning and will remain at the beginning.

For The Hunted, part one represents the opening of the world. When I wrote it, it was bare bones. The town and the maid didn’t have names. Lexanna had a slightly different name. The attack from the demons was an isolated event. It’s like a play where the stage is dark and the spotlight shines on one bright place, leaving the rest shrouded in mystery.

When I began part two, I moved Lexanna from her hometown to a new place. This meant that I had to differentiate the first town from the second. I knew the world was being born.

Place Names

The town names were the first thing to be added. Shirgrand – the name of Lexanna’s hometown, Orvigrand- the town where the refugees are taken, and Harbigrand – the King’s town.

I had a very specific thought process in creating these names. First of all, it is a fantasy world which means I wanted something a little bit unusual. I didn’t want it to be too fantastical. I also wanted to denote that both towns were larger in size. I had mentioned that Lexanna’s parents were the strongest magicians in the region. Putting them in a small town didn’t feel right. I also decided that Orvigrand is where the regional lord lives. This may seem counterintuitive to my placement of the most powerful magicians, but there are reasons for it that will be revealed later.

To denote the larger size of the towns, and by adding something familiar to readers new to the world, I used the word grand as a suffix. This then becomes a naming convention. Towns of larger size will all have the word grand at the end. To further denote this, one of the testimonies mentions another location – a village. Shishnils. This may seem like a nonsense word, but if you break it down you can see another naming convention. The first three letters are Shi – Shishnils and Shirgrand have this in common. This denotes a smaller village near Shirgrand. Nils is based on the world nil – or none- which puts it opposite to grand and gives it a smaller feeling overall.

Another reason for using the word nil as the suffix comes down to what is revealed about magicians. They are assigned to locations to live and work and they are fond of luxury. A smaller town would be less appealing, and that means there are no magicians there (none, zero, nil.) If you need magical help, never run to a town that ends in nils.

The next place names to be added was a very important place name – The Ossuary of Minds. In this story, I chose to use the word magician instead of mage, wizard, or sorceress. When you write a lot of fantasy it’s nice to change things up. Similarly, I wanted to use a slightly different name for where these magical people congregate. Ossuary is actually a very ominous name, (but The Hunted is meant to be a dark story.) It deals with the dead. It’s a tomb of dead minds. This is deliberate, and the truth of it will be part of the story. (Some of you may be able to guess.)

Finally, I added some regional names. Klimok – the region in which Lexanna lives, and Nexem – a forest through which they must travel. I also named two mountain ranges and a river. This is when I begin to draw the map.

rathelas

Normally I draw my maps by hand, but I made this one with my awesome paint skills.That makes it easier to share.

From this blank map, I can start to add new locations.

rethalas1

By creating a map, I give myself an idea of distance. It also gives the world a more tangible feel. I can keep my locations straight in my mind.

Characters

Lexanna’s name was originally Lexa. It’s a small change, but in lengthening the name it had a better flow with the character. From her name, and the idea of a fantasy setting that isn’t too fantastical, I derived my naming convention for characters.

Names which are similar to common names in Western civilization in the modern era, but changed slightly, is not an uncommon way to name fantasy characters. It’s a simple convention and especially good for people who are bad at making up names. Just look up a name, change a few letters, and ta-da, you have a fantasy name.

The name of Lexanna’s maid, Mircy, is again deliberate. It stems from the word Mercy, and if you thought that, then congratulations! You guess correctly.

For last names, I went with one or two syllable combinations picked randomly for sound. I’m going for a harder sound in the story. A lot of K, G, and X sounds give the language a certain flavor, even if the only words we ever learn are places and last names.

The one name that should stand out among the others is that of the mysterious stranger: Yogindar. His name is longer than two syllables and is not a recreated Western sounding name. It’s a harsh name, and heavy. The difference in his name is a clue to his character – one that will be revealed.

Putting it Together

As you start to put these pieces together, it’s like finding the pieces of a puzzle and snapping them into place. More of the world is revealed merely through the names and places you create. With solid naming conventions, it’s easier to tell the story overall. It also gives your readers a subtle guide to understanding a world that is otherwise alien. In all, good naming conventions just make the whole process better for everyone.

The main thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter if you are doing your world building in advance of writing or while you write. The only important thing is it happens. The more you write, the easier this process becomes until it feels automatic. That automatic feeling is actually just your confidence kicking in, and that’s a great place to be for writing.

Thank you for reading! If you have anything to add please feel free in the comments. Next week The Hunted will return with Part Four. Who or what was hiding in the shadows outside of Pilser Tower? Tune in next week to find out!