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Magic! (Some Restrictions Apply.) Also: Moving It!

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Jul. 27th, 2008 | 09:28 pm
mood: excitedexcited

My biggest writing revelation of this past week was a possible new factor to tie together my fantasy world's magic system. If I can get it sorted out right, it should give the magic system some limits that don't seem arbitrary as well as giving the world flavor - and a reason for not using gunpowder or electricity. The lack of those technologies is, I admit, one of the flimsy points in my fantasy world - one of the points where the true, out-of-story reason is simply "because I want my characters to use swords and candles."

I don't want to get specific about this new concept at the moment. This is partly for security reasons (I am somewhat paranoid about putting specific ideas on the Internet, especially as this journal will hopefully soon be embedded in a website that I will publicize to the utmost of my ability). The other reason is that I have not entirely figured this out yet - it will probably have implications for my magic system that will require changing otherwise-completed works. (Not a bad time for it, actually, as I meant to do some editing on those works as soon as I can get around to it. Never a dull moment!) It may raise more issues. I only hope there will be no problems too, well, problematic, to be solved in a way that works for my world.

Beyond that excited, if cryptic, explanation, I have also made some progress on The Dogwatchers. Specifically, I've blundered through what I think may be the toughest (read: least-interesting, most exposition-heavy) scenes in the story. It will need to be absolutely dismembered in editing. But it is done! And now I can move on in the story.

That part of The Dogwatchers also made me consider an element of many novels - the Big Move. This is when the protagonist spends most of the story in one physical location, or at least calling using one place as a home base, but that place is not where s/he started out. Obviously, this does not appear in all stories: most journey stories, such as the Lord of the Rings books, do not have a home base, while some (especially series) take place entirely in one spot. (Arguably, though, a journey story can begin with a Big Move from the starting location to the journey itself. For plot purposes, this can be similar to other, clearer Big Moves.) Sometimes, too, location is not very important to the story.

The Big Move is common to many stories. A Little Princess. Most of the Harry Potter books (though it is most pronounced in the first one). Moby Dick (even if the second location, the ship, is itself mobile.) (I read things that aren't British children's literature! Really!) And, of course, Howl's Moving Castle. Sometimes, the move is not permanent, but still seems to qualify as a Big Move for its significance to the story; I might argue that Jane Eyre has a Big Move when Jane goes to Mr. Rochester's house, though she does not stay there for the remainder of the book.

Often, the story cannot really begin until the protagonist is in place. Often, the place itself is special, but is made much more so by what came before and the transition: certainly the Harry Potter series wouldn't be much without Hogwarts, but neither would Hogwarts be so special if the reader didn't Harry's miserable life with the Dursleys, then his wonder and delight at the change. Sophie certainly could not have started out at Howl's castle - but she must go there, or there is no story. One could call some of these Big Moves metaphors for beginning a journey out of childhood, becoming free, and so on, depending on the story. Sometimes, too, it may be as simple as allowing the protagonist to explore a fantastic place with the same first-time curiosity as the reader. Along those same lines, it makes it easy for readers to get to know new characters as the protagonist meets them.

Regardless of purpose, the difficult scene I wrote this week dealt with the reasons behind the heroine's Big Move. I flipped through a lot of my favorite novels to reassure myself that my protagonist was not making her Big Move too late in the story. Some of what I found surprised me. It takes Harry a long time to get to Hogwarts in Book One! Some characters, on the other hand, start their stories already on the train (or car, flight, etc.) to their new location. Some may even fake out the reader - think of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. ("Oh, they're going to live in a big house with a wacky old professor. Or in Narnia!")

Identifying the Big Move, if your story has one, can be helpful to plot structuring. It is easy to organize events into what happens before and after, especially as some things may only be possible in one location or the other. One easy way to tell whether a location change is a Big Move: Does it figure in the short-short synopsis of your story? I.e. "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is about a boy who finds out he's a wizard, goes to a magical school, and fights a villain with the help of his friends." Notice that the phrase "goes to a magical school" really is key to the story - otherwise, you're left with a totally different impression of the book. If the shortest summary you can make of your story's plot includes a location change, then it may be helpful to think of this as your story's Big Move.

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Comments {2}

"Also, I can kill you with my brain."

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from: toastedcheese
date: Jul. 28th, 2008 03:22 am (UTC)
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I love isolating the concept of the Big Move... so much of classic storytelling is built around encountering new places. I'm reading David Copperfield right now, and it's really enjoyable to have him describe each new home in which he finds himself (and of course the book is all about a childhood without a stable sense of home).

I almost wonder if showing a Big Move would improve the novel I'm working on now, but I think the set-up time would not be justified. Still, a sense of this would help put my character's experiences into context, since she's only been living in her current home for a few months.

Glancing at my bookshelf and seeing which ones have a big move, I'm tempted to think about the rebellion of the elves in the Silmarillion as a Big Move (to Middle-earth)! :) It would be fun to write a Silmarillion coming-of-age novel....

Also, I am very intrigued by your news of a new magic system for your world, and would love to hear about it some time!

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Anica Lewis

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from: anicalewis
date: Jul. 29th, 2008 02:09 am (UTC)
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It can definitely be hard to justify the set-up time before the Big Move. I like how the Harry Potter series makes events that will be important to the story (and often even in the next book - Parseltongue in Book One, Sirius' eyes in Book Two . . .) happen before he leaves the Dursleys' in each book.

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