This post is my author’s notes to When Nightmares Wake where I describe my thought processes, decisions and mistakes in writing the story. Think of it like the Director’s commentary on a DVD; only better because it won’t be in monotone (unless you read it so).
When Nightmares Wake isn’t really a short story – it doesn’t come to a conclusion – and is essentially more like a prologue. Let’s call it a writing exercise. This isn’t because I didn’t know how to finish the story but always intended on the ending being open. I wanted it to end on a punch line. I also left it open for future extensions, just in case one day I am a starving artist and need a limb to climb out on.
Seriously, I had to leave it open, there were just too many good possibilities of what could happen next. How could a future hero possibly defeat an uber-powerful Tarius? What a challenge it would make for plotting… Though Tarius will be magically powerful on his return, what may the world look like in 200+ years? Who or what would have filled the power vacuum that his sudden absence might cause? (At this stage I’m not planning on writing more but I’ve already worked out part of it anyway).
Ideas and Themes
As I’ve previously said the initial inspiration for the writing exercise comes from sleeplessness, and the realization that sleep is so restorative to our bodies. This theme is made the core part of the magic system: the more a person with the “magic seed” sleeps, the stronger they become.
In crafting the story I’d also been considering the concept of the slippery nature of victory and defeat. Does a hero who saves the world, but loses the love of his life count it a victory? Does the evil genius who succeeds through dumb luck instead of brilliance rejoice? Winning and losing are rarely clear-cut issues. At first glance they may look clear, but that’s because the other proverbial shoe hasn’t dropped yet.
Another idea explored is how something good can actually be harmful. Tarius thinks himself invulnerable from magic, because of his Gifting (his born-with special gift) which protects him from magical harm.Lanor succeeds in delaying Tarius, derailing his plans for the present, but in doing so, sets Tarius up to be even harder (or impossible) to beat in the future.
I wanted the ending to involve a sense of dread: the enemies coming back, stronger than ever, and this time the great hero won’t be around to help. (I don’t think I actually hit that note of dread. A few sentences to unfold the likely ramifications may have been helpful. It ends so quickly that unless the reader thinks about it they might miss it).
The section I can’t think of how to name
But it’s good, so keep reading…
Every hero or villain needs a weakness. There’s a beauty in the fact that these powerful individuals are so vulnerable while “recharging”. Though magically strong they awaken physically weak and the fact that there is physical motion in using magic leaves them vulnerable. The weakness in sleep is of pivotal importance to the plot because it provides the reason why Tarius has to flee from the caves, instead of chasing down Elise himself.
The Gargoyn, the protective bodyguards who watch over the magic beings while they sleep is a play on gargoyles. If someone is capable of sleeping for extended periods then it makes sense those who protect them also need to have some kind of stasis. Although I don’t describe their sleep, I make a sneaky reference to gargoyles with the magical Stoneflesh pendants. Primarily, I wanted to create an association for the reader: when they see gargoyles I want them to remember my story. Are they architectural relics from the past or are they time-defying protectors? Could there be an ancient being with the magic seed hidden nearby? This kind of real world association is in a similar vein to the secret history idea. One day, I’d love to write a secret history story…
It was a little bit clunky with so many nameless Gargoyn, but given they would be short-lived and the length of the story, I didn’t want to name them. Like red shirts in Star Trek they shall all be mourned… until the next scene change.
Inclusion of magic-holding items, like the pendants, is a world-building idea. In addition to allowing regular humans to be more convincingly involved in the story, it also creates items that can be quested for or used to complicate the plot. Superman without krptonite would be a boring story.
I didn’t want to make Tarius likeable, but at the same time I didn’t want to make him despised instantly. Most of the story is through his viewpoint, so I don’t want to put the reader off… he can’t wake up and kill 50 puppies and cute cats. His character is shown in a slow burn: arrogant, rude, intimidatory, cruel.
In earlier drafts the brutality of Tarius was more evident. He explained to the young girl how he planned to torture her. It was only a sentence or two, but it was GRAPHIC. I removed it because it pushed the story to the edge of horror, changing the whole flavor; not where I wanted (or needed) to go.
Mistakes I Made (aka Lessons Learned, hopefully)
In no particular order:
- The word Gargoyn I intended to be used as both a singular sense and a plural sense. This was undoubtedly a mistake, adding confusion and no doubt mistakes in my own usage.
- Writing about the usage of magic was harder than I expected. Like a shabby painter I glossed over how the magic worked. I don’t think I did it particularly well…
- I should have shown Lanor spending her last magic as Tarius entered the room. He could assume it was to do with the falling rocks, only to discover it wasn’t. Nothing currently in the text shows this didn’t happen, but it could have been done better.
I also avoided using the word ‘spell’. This was because of the faith-based negative connotations the word has for me. I had no problem writing about magic and “casting” but I couldn’t bring myself to write of spells. An argument could be made that I allowed my distaste for a word interfere with the story, which could be construed as writing immaturity. A counter-argument would be that as the author (especially of a free piece) I may choose to write as I please. To me spell is something that is said, whereas my magic was done through physical actions.
If you have thoughts about the story, feel free to share them – I promise not to bite, but my Gargoyn might get you… 🙂