I enjoyed writing the short story I posted in my last blog entry. It took quite a while, and I spent a fair bit of time editing it, and I’m pretty happy with it. It’s the first piece of fiction I’ve written since high school [which was a surprisingly long time ago].
Lately I’ve been listening to Writing Excuses, a podcast hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells. It came up when I searched for podcasts about writing, and I listened to it first because of Brandon Sanderson. For one thing, he has a great first name. For another, he wrote the Mistborn series, which I found frustratingly fantastic (I’ll probably explain that sometime, but not today). I also just listened to Legion on Audible, which is a compelling novella of his that I got for free a little while ago. (On a side note, the narration was good too.)
So I gave the podcast a listen. And although I was sort of looking for writing “advice”, I realized from their light-hearted conversation about the craft that I really didn’t know very much (and in spite of their disclaimer at the beginning, they know a ton). And it’s only been a few days, so I still don’t know much. Fortunately, I’m not trying to monetize anything here, so I can make any mistakes I want to in my stories without worrying about whether someone will buy them.
I listened to an episode (Season 1, Episode 23) about viewpoint, and I thought it would be fun to write a scene in the first-person perspective. So I took the initial few paragraphs from my story, changed some motivations and details, and wrote a two-page scene. It was fun, fast, and about 1000 words. No one has given me feedback or edited it for me, so no promises on quality. I haven’t even carefully read it through yet myself, to be perfectly honest. Here it is; I called it “Whip’s Attempt”.
He was going to watch me lose control of the magic. I knew it, and I’m sure he expected it, but he looked at me hopefully anyway. Uncle Winston sat across from me and looked hopefully into my eyes, urging me silently to try. Aunt Sarah sat in her chair in the far corner of the room, pretending to read and trying to look disinterested. Both of them cared far too much, and it hurt knowing I would fail.
I clenched my teeth and looked down at the tiny objects. My right hand held a steel cube, about a centimetre on each side. It was a bit dull, and the corners were slightly worn. I squeezed it between my thumb and forefinger, hard, but there was no give. In my left hand was a gem, so small that someone might mistake it for a bit of sand if they didn’t look closely. In the light of the candle on the table beside me, the stone sometimes looked black, sometimes blue. It didn’t much matter, since the spell wouldn’t work for me. I might as well have been holding a blueberry.
Uncle Winston was trying to teach me the magic. He was an Infuser, as were both my parents, and he was trying to make me an Infuser too. I was ten years old, and it was time. Maybe a little past time, I had to admit to myself. I believed that I had the talent for it, but I could never make it work. Something in me was… wrong… or missing, or something. I couldn’t figure it out.
Uncle Winston tried hard. He didn’t understand either. He’d tell me I was close, or “next time”, or a dozen other encouraging phrases that couldn’t help, and sometimes made me feel worse. I was disappointing him, and I would be a disappointment to my parents. When they returned from the Capital City to find their son hadn’t cast a spell in spite of six months of training… well, I didn’t want to consider that too closely. I had about three weeks left to make sure that didn’t come to pass.
Aunt Sarah wanted to help too. She wasn’t an Infuser. She didn’t work at all, as far as I could see. That was rare anywhere in Sentrane, but unheard of in a small village like Lower Nist. She mostly sat and read, sometimes tidied up the small home or went to a friend’s place to visit. She did cook most meals for their cobbled-together family, although Uncle Winston made breakfast each morning. Aunt Sarah didn’t talk much, but her words were always encouraging, comforting, and understanding.
But the magic was something I had to do myself, and as much as my family wished I was successful, I wasn’t. In fact, I think that the harder I tried, the worse it got. The last attempt had been a brutal failure; my left arm still hurt from the sting of the magic from my wrist to my elbow.
I breathed in deep, letting the wind whistle through my teeth before exhaling quickly and completely. Then I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the shape of the magic as I moulded the spell.
The tiny, insignificant gem had about a dozen facets. I focused my thoughts on it, on pouring my will and intention into the stone. I wanted my magic to Soften the steel cube, to make it malleable in my hands. I gathered up that idea and sent it hurtling into the rock.
My eyes were closed, but I could feel the magic rocketing around inside the tiny gem, facet to facet, sending a vibration into my palm. The stone started to whine and hum, and I sensed the magic was nearly harnessed. Tentatively, I directed my thoughts to pushing the energies across the gap between my palms, from the gem to the cube.
At first the magic obeyed me. Tendrils began to leak from the facets, waving about as though in a strong wind, the wind of my will. I couldn’t see them, but I knew where they were. I pushed them towards the cube aggressively, bending them to my will. They struggled, but were swept up in the power of my command. Some began to wrap the steel, and I could feel its structure responding with a vibration of its own. It was working.
But then I felt the first sting. A tendril had escaped my harness or my notice, I didn’t know which, and was flapping free of the bundle I held with my mind. It lashed at my forearm, hot and sharp, leaving magical welts I knew I wouldn’t be able to see. The burning was intense, and I instantly felt the tears in my eyes. The panic I knew too well started to overtake my thoughts, and I quickly lost control of the threads of magic that had crossed the divide. They whipped back and slapped at me, ravaging my right arm again. Anger and disappointment warred with fear and pain. I cried out and threw the stone and the still-hard cube to the floor, my eyes snapping open.
I watched as the hope died on Uncle Winston’s face. His blue eyes were open wide at first, but they settled as they always did. Then his “you’ll get there” expression appeared.
“Next time,” he said. He had the same exaggerated confidence he’d been trying to bolster me with all evening. “Next time you’ll get it. You were this close,” he said, fingers only centimetres apart before him. “Tomorrow, you’ll do it. You’ll see, trust me. You’re not the first frustrated person to sit in that chair.”
Aunt Sarah didn’t even look up from her book. I was just as glad. I felt sick with shame already; I didn’t need to see her look of understanding and encouragement.
I needed to escape their patience. I wanted to get away, to wallow in the failure that I had claimed yet again. To sulk and pout and kick at stones and maybe scream at the stars a little. That would make me feel better, or at least different. Anything to escape their limitless understanding and my intolerable weakness. “I’m going to get some firewood,” I announced, my voice raspy and cracking at the words. I stumbled out the door and into the darkness.