Wuxia-inspired worldbuilding

Screenshot anime A Sister is All You Need

Worldbuilding is something novelists do all the time. Taking pictures of naked friends with our smartphones “for research” is not something we actually do. Rejoice therefore!

In my previous entry, I wrote about a Chinese comic I recently came across. It gave me some ideas for a short novel draft I could write for this year’s NaNoWriMo, the (inter)National Novel Writing Month.

I am not talking about writing fan fiction here. It is true that you could probably summarize both of them in a short paragraph that was identical, if you specifically was asked to do so, but that would require cutting out some pretty central themes. You see, I take this as an opportunity to practice the two new literary interests of mine from the last couple years: Wuxia and LitRPG. And the comic has nothing to do with LitRPG, which is the genre I have read the most by far this past year.

LitRPG is basically literature set inside a role playing game, or a world following the rules of a role playing game. There are basically two branches of this, the main branch is probably the one where in the future games become so lifelike that they are experienced similar to Real Life even though they are not actually real. Another branch is where the world is assumed to be real but has the same features as a role playing game, sometimes even including a user interface where you can see your statistics! That’s going a bit far, I think.

I will go for a plot device used in a Japanese light novel series, Overlord. In it, the main character remains in the game when it shuts down, and instead of being disconnected he follows along with the game world when it disconnects from the real world into some parallel universe where the game is real and real life is not. In Overlord, the main character retains all his powers and artifacts and even the base of his guild, making him hideously overpowered. I am not going that far.

Worldbuilding 1: “Real” Life

My main character – let’s just call him Marty Stu for now – is a 68 year old retiree sometime around 2030. He has some unnamed health problems by now but is still faithfully playing his favorite MMORPG, the Wuxia-inspired Lands of Soulcraft. When the game is closed down after 12 years, he decides to stay up all night playing till the end. However, in the last seconds before the shutdown time, he becomes dizzy and loses consciousness. Some time later, he wakes up and realizes that he is somewhere in the game world, but this world is now real and he is a teenager again. Either that, or he is dreaming and can’t wake up. Or dead.

Worldbuilding 2: Lands of Soulcraft – the game

The game had a cult following, but was also infamous for design decisions that made many players either give up or ragequit.  Leveling in the game is extraordinarily slow – if you have a job and a family you can expect to spend a year gaining one Rank. There are ten of these, although only five are known in the beginning of the game. Each Rank has 5 Rungs. The Ranks are from lowest to highest: Iron – Copper – Silver – Gold – Platinum – Topaz – Emerald – Sapphire – Ruby – Diamond.

The metal Ranks exist in the Lush Lands, where the first half of the game takes place, a land where the heroes mingle with various ordinary people. To advance to the gem Ranks you must leave for the High Lands, the mysterious mountain world where immortals are said to live. Here are no farmers and only a few courageous traders in guarded camps at the bottom of the valleys. The land is populated by powerful monsters, mysterious races, and masters of swordmanship and Soulcraft (basically magic). Once you go there, your opportunities to return are severely limited, and you cannot use any powers gained there in the Lush Lands even should you be able to visit. A condition for going back is that your powers are restrained for the duration.

You gain rank by a combination of three factors: Practice, Lore and Exploration.

Practice is the simplest but the most boring. You practice with weapons and body training or meditate using various spiritual practices to improve the strength of your Soulforce. You can basically do this as a player while reading a book on the side. Obviously this get a bit different if you are trapped inside the game which has become real.

Exploration is the opposite: It is exciting but requires your full attention, and the results may vary a great deal. Quests give you rare experience that is valuable in leveling up, and you find rare weapons, armor, amulets, and ingredients for Alchemy and Inscription (enchanting).

Lore is found in the many large libraries. The game has thousands of books, hundreds of them are important for understanding the game mechanics. They are detailed, complex and interwoven so that some players claim the game actually equals university level. Understanding the game lore only superficially will hamper your progress, but once you have deeply understood, experimented with and practiced the game lore, “reincarnating” as a new character is much easier and faster than your first time. You may even catch up with and overtake your first character, because it is possible to make stupid decisions that hurt your maximum abilities forever. (Much like in Real Life.) This detail caused a great deal of ragequitting, by people who discovered after up to five years that their character was flawed beyond repair and would never become number one in this world.

To make things worse, the lore in the Lush Lands is hideously incomplete, something you will only learn in the last half of the game. Basically the greatest heroes of the Lush Lands are just milling around in ignorance, making do with what looks to them like a complete, deep and rich lore but is actually grade school compared to the deeper understanding available in the High Lands. Among the discoveries is that some characters that had seemed to be irreparably flawed were actually in a pretty good position to advance if they had continued long enough. Cue more ragequit.

The game was destroyed when it was sold to a large gaming company that made it free to play but sold Rank promotions and other goodies for real money. The High Lands were overrun by rich noobs who had the most powerful characters in the game world but no idea how to play. This caused the regular players to quit, and the noobs to quit as well, and the game closed down two years after the acquisition.

Worldbuilding 3: Lands of Soulcraft – the world

Once Marty wakes up in the game world, he notices that it seems completely real. He can not only see and hear, but also touch and smell. He gets hungry and needs to eat and drink. The people he meets seem way too intelligent and realistic to be Non Player Characters, but none of them have heard about any other world that is more real than this one. More disturbingly, nobody comes back from the dead. What has happened? Where is he?

Is he comatose in a hospital, dreaming that he is trapped inside the game? Or did the psychic energy of the many dedicated players actually create the game world in some alternate reality? Or did it already exist and the original designer of the game was some kind of psychic? Is Marty dead and some kind of deity or karma has shunted him to this world? Or is his body dead but his brain frozen down and later thawed up to be wired into a computer recreation of the game? And most importantly: Are there others from his world there? And if not, what is his relationship with the people of this mysterious world? And what is his destiny there?

Magical Daydreams worldbuilding

Oblivion portal (Screenshot game Oblivion)

After writing the below, I looked for a good illustration photo, and suddenly realized that the game Oblivion does have portals to pocket universes. However, Oblivion is itself set in a highly magical world, and the pocket worlds are limited variations on the same theme. Not really what I am talking of.

The muses in my head just came up with a worldbuilding I have never read about before. It is a mostly ordinary world where the economy is largely based on magical daydreams.

The only “magic” in the ordinary world is the ability to access the Dream Aether, where daydreams are real. Well, more or less. Each Dream is basically a small pocket universe, and people can visit these and, on certain conditions, bring things with them back.

(It is not specified whether the Dream Aether is local to that planet, that alternate universe, or whether it exist everywhere but some mutation in the distant past gave humans the ability to interact with it. If the muses know, they are not telling yet.)

The Dream economy is based on three types of people: Makers/Dreamers, Stayers/Visitors and Fetchers/Adventurers. The Makers and the Fetchers have the more specialized talents.

Pretty much everyone can Dream, but most people’s dreams remain small, personal and flimsy. There is a kind of bell curve from the few who cannot Dream at all, over the ordinary people who can only make small banal Dreams, to the actually useful Makers, and a few extraordinary people whose Dreams change the world.

Dreamers cannot simply wish into being whatever they want. The Dream Aether has its own rules, which are fantastical but consistent, and different from (or rather in addition to) the natural laws of the ordinary world. The magic inside the Dreams is more similar to High Fantasy, in a general sort of way, but its principle is that Everything Comes at a Price. There is a balance of risk and reward, effort and result, light and darkness etc. So if you create a Dream in which you can only grow potatoes, your enemies will mostly be weeds and beetles; but if you want precious treasures of gold and jewelry, you will have to fight deadly monsters and dodge devious traps. Stuff like that.

A Great Dreamer can create a fairly large fantasy realm with extraordinary treasures, but the Dream Aether will enforce the corresponding challenges, presumably dredged from the subconscious of the Maker. (Although some crazy philosophers believe that the Dream Portals actually lead to other worlds that exist elsewhere and are just “found” rather than “created”. Dreamers generally disagree with this, although they admit that they often start with a vague idea which then takes on a life of its own.)

Maintaining a Dream takes effort, but Visitors can do this. The more (and the more Dream-talented) people that are inside a Dream, the more persistent it becomes. It is even possible to maintain Dreams indefinitely after the original Maker is dead. Some people stay more or less permanently inside the most important Dreams, having houses and families in there.

Fetchers have the dangerous task of grabbing the loot, at considerable risk to life, limb and sanity, and getting it back to the ordinary world. No magical talent is needed for this, but obviously they need other skills that Joe or Jane Farmer is unlikely to have.

A few extraordinary Great Dreamers created realms that have been permanently settled for centuries at the least, possibly millennia – there are legends of forgotten realms that are still inhabited. (The oldest of these was supposedly created by Allfather, the progenitor of all Dreamers now alive, millennia ago. But no one knows where it is, if it still exists.)

The rise of a Great Dreamer can alter the geopolitical balance, for lack of a simpler phrase. It is like discovering a very valuable natural resource – but one hard to extract.

Magical weapons and armor (and other magical artifacts) exist in many of the Great Dreams, but they lose their power permanently when taken out in the mundane world. This also means you cannot bring magical artifacts from one Dream to another and game the system that way. You can however bring weapons and armor made from mundane materials but with exceptional quality. Of course, these are not exactly left lying around unguarded – they are usually found on ferocious opponents.

ANYWAY, this is kind of meta-worldbuilding in the sense that the actual pocket universes could be anything from a poorly disguised World of Warcraft clone to something never before imagined. The muses may or may not follow through on this. At the moment, they seem more interested in the meta. In such a world, would you breed for super-Dreamers in the hope of discovering new amazing realms, or hunt them down in order to preserve the existing order? What if different countries take different approaches? What if there are more or less secret cults doing each? What if there are secret cults guarding the entrance to Dreams forgotten or never revealed? What if any random kid could be the next Great Dreamer, with the power to change the course of history forever?

Your challenge, should you accept it, is to recommend fiction similar to this, so I don’t need to write it myself. Writing is a thankless job, especially if others have done it already.

Lifetome worldbuilding

"Oh gosh. My imagination ran wild there."

Isn’t a library the best place for your imagination to run wild? ^_^

I have yet another idea for a story I’ll probably never write, although if I live, I may give it a shot either in JulNoWriMo or NaNoWriMo.

The basic premise is related to “The 1001st Book”, but this is closer to my own reality, although it is still highly symbolic, vertical projected onto horizontal and with a tinge of urban fantasy. That would be the closest genre, I guess: Urban fantasy. Although that genre seems overrun with vampires and werewolves these days. This is not like that. Very unconventional.

The main character is a rather solitary adult man (unlike the late teens I usually have, but somewhat similar to my Eternal Road in this regard, which makes sense from the intended audience).  His favorite place to hang out is the library, and one day an unfamiliar librarian tells him that he has read a thousand books. As a reward, she lends him a book that is not in the shelves: The Chance of a Lifetome.

Yes, the mythspelling is intentional. For the book tells the story of the mysterious and legendary book called “the Lifetome”, which enables the reader to travel to worlds outside of our timestream. While in these worlds, one will hardly age at all, even should one stay there for many years. One is also virtually immortal while there, as even if one should seem to lose one’s life, one would just return to the timestream. There are supposedly a myriad of these worlds. While they may seem to be outside of time, they have their own time, although it flows differently from ours: While there, one will see not only the seasons come and go, but people are born, live and die; only the visitor, returning home after decades, will find that hardly any time has passed. In this way, one may live for centuries or even millennia, just not in one’s homeworld.

The Chance is not itself the Lifetome, but contains clues to the next book. Each book must be read and understood in order to correctly predict which is the next, until the last in the series is the Lifetome itself.

I have picked up the word “lifetome” (as in “the work of a lifetome”) from the One Cosmos blog, but there is no relation between its use there and my worldbuilding here. Well, apart from the obvious, that the blog has sent me down the path of chasing numerous books, some of which have sent me to other books and so on. But then again, that is what happens when you read a thousand books, don’t you think? ^_^

(In case it isn’t obvious, the books are themselves “lifetomes”, allowing us to sit in on the lives of many others. Through the magic of books we can travel in time, we can see empires rise and fall, even the stars are within our grasp. We can visit worlds filled with magic, or worlds sparse and harsh and gray, or worlds so mundane that they might be our own. It is an amazing thing in its own right, and I am glad to see that neither the gramophone nor the cinema have managed to eradicate reading, contrary to predictions…)

Magic tech levels

In the world of Daggerfall, a kindly mage or priest may heal you in a minute, unlike my state-appointed doctor who usually just tells me to exercise more. ^_^

Yesterday I wrote about how the chance of women doing dangerous work depended largely on the medical tech level of society:  If plagues keep killing people off, someone has to supply more babies. Each human has a slightly different immune system, so rolling the dice over and over makes perfect sense in that perspective. This is how it has been in the real world, but any fantasy world using mortals will have to contend with the same issues.

Arthur C. Clarke famously said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, but I would also argue that any sufficiently researched magic is indistinguishable from technology. For instance in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, the One Power is reliable and thoroughly researched, making magic a very predictable thing. Healing is available but limited by the number of channelers in the world.

In Stephen Donaldson’s first Covenant trilogy, the Land is rich in magic. It is not well understood, but simple healing magic is widespread. The citizens there seem to be no worse off than modern man when it comes to surviving ordinary afflictions. There are of course other dangers in Covenant’s dreams, but ill health is not the worst of them.

In contrast, the Middle Earth of Tolkien – while fantastic in some ways – does not have widespread magic use. Magic is spectacular, miraculous, and rare. The elves seem to have healing power and are pretty much immune to non-violent death, but they live by themselves for the most part. Ordinary people and hobbits cannot expect to have their wounds cured quickly and cheaply in their local village.

The inhabitants of the role playing game Daggerfall, on the other hand, are in luck: Pretty much any town or large village has a temple where diseases and wounds can be healed either for free or at a reasonable price. There are also potions to be bought. The Mages Guild also has a school of Restoration, as well as selling various healing items.  With regard to diseases and accidents, Daggerfall would be a better place to live than the modern world. (Of course, the rampant violence makes up for this.)

If you create your own fantasy world, it would be wise to give some thought in advance to the “magical tech level” of the world, or the parts of the world where your story takes place. Is magic widespread, reliable and well understood? In that case, life may be similar to modern life in many ways:  Affordable health care, fast transportation, long-distance communication and so on. The principles would be different, but humans have largely the same basic needs and desires everywhere, so magic would be used to accommodate them much like technology is here.

A classic example of this is the “Darkness” series by Harry Turtledove, set on the continent of Derlavai. This world has undergone a thaumaturgical revolution similar to our industrial revolution, and magic is used in much the same way as technology is here. In fact, the series is an elaborate paraphrase of the second world war, but different in details so as to remain unpredictable.

It can be quite interesting to look at books and role playing games in this way, seeing whether their “magical technology” is in line with the culture described. And of course, it will be useful if we try to write our own fantasy stories, as some of us like to do.


1001st book worldbuilding

Thoth, god-king of Atlantis, as imagined by a contemporary Japanese artist. (From the movie The Laws of Eternity, although this is not about that.)

As if I had nothing better to do, I came up with yet another story. It has potential, I think, but probably not a lot of potential. We’ll see. As usual what I write about here is mainly the “worldbuilding”, the setting of the story, not the plot, if such a thing even exists. I usually leave that to the muses in my head.

The protagonist is a 15 year old boy, but that is kind of incidental. The point is, he has read 1000 books. He did not know the exact number, although it seems reasonable when he is told so by a new librarian at the town library. She gives him a book called The 1001st Book, which will probably be the title of my book as well if I complete it. Unless someone has used that name already, which is certainly possible: There is no end to the writing of books, according to Ecclesiastes.

The book he is given is a fantasy novel about some guy in a world where magic exists but modern technology does not. Magic is not something you are born to, anyone could become a magician, but it seems to happen only to bookish people. The reason, we learn from the book, is that you can only become a magician after having read and understood 1000 books. It does not matter what books. After this, you will be given the 1001st book, which tells you the truth about magic, and toward the end of the book, teaches you the Attalan Runes.

The Runes are a syllabic script (which I currently imagine to be similar to hiragana or katakana in Japanese, not that I am saying so in the text). Once you master the Runes, you can go on to learn the Sigils of Mu, representing words or concepts (which I imagine as similar to kanji in Japaese). It is in this script that the secrets of the world are written, which magicians need to know in order to master the forces of the world.

After reading the book, the main character (of my book, not the book he is reading) begins to dream that he is in that other world he read about. The dream is very lifelike. It is in this dreamworld that he will find the 1002nd and later books. Over time, it will become more and more uncertain which world is the most real.

The 1002nd book is the first of the 20 000 Books of Truth, written 12 000 years ago by Thoth, god-king of Attalan. It was also he who established the practice of offering the teachings of magic to those who had read 1000 books.  Thoth is believed by the locals to have been the incarnation of a god, not the Creator but the protector and guide of this particular planet. The line between gods and the most powerful magicians is somewhat blurry, but Thoth was more powerful and wiser than any of them.

It is said that this god incarnates in the world from time to time when history needs it, and if someone ever reads and understands all the 20 000 Books of Truth, that person will be proved to be the reincarnation of Thoth. But so far that has never happened. This is because there are many branches of knowledge, and they seem to be mutually exclusive: When you have studied one of them, the opposite branch becomes meaningless, mere incomprehensible babble. And the other way around: They who have studied the opposite branch, will not be able to study the first one.

(If you thought that last part far-fetched, you may want to lend a helping hand to the people teaching respectively quantum physics and relativity…)

Occasionally some magician is able to reconcile two branches of magic by seeing them both from a much higher perspective, and this person gains the wisdom and power of a god. But so far no one has been able to combine them all, or even nearly all. It is believed that only the Rebirth of Thoth can do that.

So, is my main character actually the reincarnation of Thoth? Perhaps not, but that is beside the point for now.  I am still just sketching out the world and some of the characters and some of the plot for the first book. You don’t become a god over the course of a single book, you know. Not even a small god. Definitely not Thoth, god-king of Attalan.  ^_^


In case it was not obvious, this is based on real-world legends. Thoth is an Egyptian god of wisdom and writing, which was later identified with Hermes Trismegistus,  Thrice-great Hermes. They were both renowned for having written thousands of books, although only a few scattered writings remain from Hermes. Of Thoth, as far as I know, only legends remain. A much more recent vision has placed his whereabouts in ancient Atlantis.

Whatever the historical events that gave rise to these legends, their now thoroughly mythical nature today makes them well suited to include in such a story, I think. Unless someone else has written it already. There is no end to the writing of books, after all!


JulNoWriMo plans

Your teacher is out to save your soul, your cousin breaks your computer while surfing for gay porn, and your club activities have you surrounded by the opposite sex. What will become of your high school life?

Because it is not crazy enough to spend November drafting fiction each year, some people have decided to supplement NaNoWriMo with a summer version, JulNoWriMo. Yay! Actually, it seems most of the clientèle are teens and students, who have lots of school work (by their standards)  in November, but are bored to tears during the long summer days off from school.  But in addition to them, I have also signed up. Just in case.

I don’t really intend to go for 50 000 words.  Even I have my limits! ^_^ As in limits to my unrealistic ambitions.  I have my job, after all, and there is not much chance to concentrate on my writing there!  I think I can say that much without breaking my non-disclosure agreement…  Still, I hope to write at least some. In July, I mean.  And what would be better than rebooting the story I have only just scribbled down a couple pages of?

The story I am thinking of is a mostly harmless romantic comedy patterned after the Japanese tradition of “boy meets girls” – a single high school boy and his relationship to a number of very different girls.  I use “relationship” in its more general meaning here, we are not talking about a harem, although the boy may possibly have a different opinion on this.  From my side, it is more about the utter craziness of girls as seen through the eyes of an uncomprehending male. This is well within my area of expertise. There may be some romance, which is well outside my area of expertise. But I am good at winging things at the last moment.

The setting is as usual a slightly Nipponized world, perhaps the way ours might have been if Japan had taken the other side before and during WW2. I am not going to get into that, but there will be a few element that are subtly more Japanese-inspired than usual.  Also, one of the characters is a quarter Japanese, a rare thing in itself since they don’t mix much with foreigners.

The story is about a boy who starts in a new high school. Bookish but otherwise healthy now, he spent much of grade school with medical problems that kept him from getting into sports, and has decided it is too late now. (No, I am not going to let him try baseball and discover that he is born to be an ace pitcher. Sorry, DONE TO DEATH.) Instead, he joins the literature club. However, it turns out that this club consists only of half a dozen girls and now him.  This is their story mostly, but seen through the eyes of a boy.

My cast so far (and cast is mostly what I have at this point):

Rick: The male lead.  He is a bit of a bookworm, but his health has improved to the point where he is near average in running, jumping and swimming. (It helps that he is not overweight, unlike many others.) He fails miserably at team sports though and has no confidence in that regard either.  As usual for his age, girls is very much on his mind.  He is also doing well in school. Hair: Black, short.

Yuki: Rick’s classmate, a stereotypical “girl with glasses”: Studious, serious, innocent, clumsy, lacking social skills but generally well liked anyway because she so clearly wants only the best for others and have no strong ambitions apart from doing well in school.  She is the one most similar to him, and the more realistic love interest. Hair: Black, thick braid.

The President: Probably only president of the Literature Club, she is not referred to by name even by her friends.  She is tall, elegant, beautiful, rich, polite and very reserved.  She expects much from others and more from herself. Hair: Red, fancy braids.

Lynne: The opposite of the President, she is short, round, talkative, friendly and extremely approachable. Grown up with 3 brothers, she feels at least as much at ease with boys. Rick is frequently distracted by her backside, as she seems convinced that chairs are for kneeling rather than sitting. Hair: Honey-colored, barely shoulder length.

Carla: Morality police, her main task is to protect Lynne and Yuki from Rick’s roving eyes, and generally keep all the girls safe from boys.  She has somewhat unrealistic ideas about the lengths boys will go to in order to enjoy the presence of the opposite sex. And perhaps she protests too much?  Hair: Brown, curly.

Two more literate girls:  Personalities to be announced.  I haven’t gotten to know them myself yet.

The Teacher: Their homeroom teacher is female, not married, and still young enough to get away with it. Contrary to stereotype, she is quite responsible. She is also from the sixth dimension, the Realm of Light. Yes, she is a member of that world’s equivalent of Happy Science, though it will not be called by that name, and will give sage advice based on the teachings of Master Taiyou Sorano.

The Cousin:  Rick lives on his own, in theory.  However, his female cousin is looking after him, and way more so than he feels he needs. She treats him like a little brother, both at school (where she is a third-year) and at home, where she comes and goes as she pleases. Not sure how big part she will play though.

Adrian: The boy from the arts club is strikingly beautiful, charming, and way too interested in Rick. Several of the girls are cheering him on in his attempts to court Rick – if that is what he is doing.  Hair: Yellow blond, tousled.

While lacking the plot of a novel, I think the character interactions should be worth at least 15-20 000 words if I take the time to write them down regularly.  And who knows, perhaps they manage to work out some kind of plot among themselves. Not getting my hopes too high though.

Magic colors worldbuilding

Imagining a world in which sorcery plays a similar role as technology here. Again.

Inspired a little by Psychic Academy, I started writing another fiction story. The connection is pretty far from plagiarism, as usual. When I say one of my stories is inspired by another story, it usually happens like this: I condense the other story down to a short paragraph or even just a couple sentences. Then I expand those again. So basically if you were to tell the two stories in a short paragraph each, they would sound the same, but if you were to read them, they would be completely different.

The short version: A teenage boy comes to a high school for gifted youngsters who can wield extraordinary powers. He does not know exactly what he can do, and people tend to mis-estimate him, but he turns out to have talent. More importantly, there are girls! Very different girls. What kind of relationship will he have with each of them?

Actually, I am more interested in the magic, but there is no way anyone would read it without girls. I should probably throw in a pretty boy too just in case.

To the matter at hand: Worldbuilding! This story is actually in the same timeline as one I started on last year (or was it the year before?), but takes place a few generations later, when society has started to depend on sorcery, rather than it being a disruptive technology (and generally outlawed) as in the first story.

Sorcery (in this and all of my stories) is the art of drawing magic from other worlds, generally from worlds in which it is more plentiful and into worlds where it is scarce. Magic is by default a chaotic force, breaking the rules of nature. As such, it needs to be bound by powerful spells. Rather than the willpower and talent of the individual, as in traditional magic stories, the magic here is bound by arcane sigils, elaborately drawn patterns that in this case just happen to look vaguely like Japanese or Chinese characters.

Both this method of binding magic, and the five colors of magic, were used in the NaNoWriMo Novel That Deleted Itself And Its Backups, two years ago this fall. However, that novel was set in a modern version of the world in the game Master of Magic, so the magic was native to that planet, and there were magical crystals, magical metals, and various non-human races common to fantasy worlds: Elves, dwarves, lizardmen and catgirls. In today’s story, however, there are only humans (although they had a brief visit from an elf-like race that taught them sorcery). And the magic is drawn from worlds where there is (supposedly) too much of it, one world for each of the colors of magic.

The colors of magic are the same as in Master of Magic and the more famous Magic: The Gathering. I may have tweaked them slightly. There are five colors, or rather five and a half:

Red is the color of fire and direct destruction. However, it can also be inverted to create cold. It is the easiest color to bring into being, but hard to control in large quantities. Red wielders tend to be extremely energetic.

Green is the color of nature, life and fertility. It also has healing powers. Green wielders tend to be extremely erotic. They also have longer lifespans.

Blue is the color of water, air and the mist of illusion. Control of air and water is important for transportation, and Blue adepts can also control the weather. Blue wielders tend to be unpredictable and unfathomable with a quirky humor.

White is the color of light, protection and knowledge. It reveals secrets, sees through illusions and protects the innocent. White wielders tend to be lawful and pious, or at least somewhat sanctimonious.

Black is the color of death and draining other magics. It is strictly forbidden, but supposedly it is possible for a sufficiently advanced sorcerer to figure out how to create black magic. If there are Black wielders, they are by definition evil.

Gray is the magic of summoning, teleportation and item enchanting. It is considered a stunted magic, with many limitations, and only taken as a secondary color. In this world, it is also referred to as Yellow.

After the Coming of the Strangers came the Age of Witches, in which sorcery was an underground and illegal activity in Scandza (formerly Scandinavia), though it may have been legal somewhere else. As of this story, however, society has come to depend on sorcery. In an age where modern technology is mere legends and natural resources depleted, even a barely adequate magic wielder comes in useful, and the most talented sorcerers can turn the tide of a nation’s fate. The adepts, or A-level sorcerers, are the mega-stars of their age, like movie stars, top athletes or presidents in our world. At the bottom of the scale, E-level sorcerers are dowsing for water, tending gardens or working in kitchens. By far the majority of sorcerers are E or at best D level, while A sorcerers are so few as to be known by name.

In West Scandza Youth Academy of Sorcery, the first year is spent learning the basics and choosing one’s primary color. The first year exams decide what class one will start in next year. Once you are in a class, it is rare to move up or down more than at most one class, and usually not even that. So the pressure is extreme, as the fate and fortune of whole families or towns may hang in the balance between a bunch of geeky high school juniors with trace amounts of blood in their hormone stream.

Keepers worldbuilding

A castle from the role-playing game Daggerfall.  I remember daydreaming that I could own one of those…

The muses in my head have gracefully given me some background for another story, though I don’t think it is enough for a whole novel. That’s OK, I don’t finish novels anyway. Actually I probably won’t finish this either, but I still find it interesting. It is a mix of fantasy and some allegory, though I think it is pretty subtle. Then again there are people who think C S Lewis is subtle.

As usual I make worldbuilding notes in my journal. In this story, there is an old forgotten stone circle, broken and overgrown, that is actually a portal to another world. But it only opens at special times and to people with a special mindset – those who feel they have nothing left to lose in this world except life itself. Or that is what the Keepers say. We don’t know for sure. We know that the main character is pretty close to that, though, after an unlikely string of misfortunes. He feels drawn to the place and falls asleep among the weathered and broken stones, only to wake up to find them in much better shape. He is now in another world, although it takes him some hours to realize it.

It is a world similar to ours, but its magic is stronger and slightly different. It is nothing like the magic of Harry Potter or Dungeons & Dragons though. (Or Daggerfall, for that matter.) Rather, it is very similar to the magic of our Earth, a magic of the earth and the sun and the human heart.

You may not think of it as magic, because you are so used to it and have read long explanations of it in your school textbooks, but think of it. You dig a hole in the ground and plant a small seed. You water it if it gets too dry, and a plant comes up. You may have to remove competing weeds, and add more water if it does not rain, but eventually the plant bears fruit. It may be a herb or a vegetable or a berry bush or even a tree that gives lots of fruit for decades to come. Or it may be a flower of great beauty. In either case, the most skilled men and women of the world would have been unable to make something as wonderful as this, and yet it grows like magic from the earth and the water, the sun and the air, and a little help from human hands.

The human mind is a bit like a dog. The dog will compulsively seek out new places and pee on them to mark them as its own, and then it is satisfied. The human mind likewise will put words on all new things it has found, and then it is satisfied that it owns them. We have done this with the magic of our own world, which we call “life”. It would not take long to extend this a little if we came to a world where there were also the occasional living stone.

In the land of the Keepers, there are stones that grow. These are the building material for the Keeps, the castles of magic stone that the Keepers live in. The Keeps have many beneficial effects, like improving the health and lifespan of those who live in them, and improve the fertility of the land around them.   But they must be built from these special stones that are alive with magic.

You have to learn to look for the living stones, for there are many stones in the world and only a few of them are alive with magic.  They don’t shine with magic, at least not when you are new to them.  In time they will stand out at a glance, but at first you have to learn about them from books or have people point them out to you or even give them to you. Existing keeps drop some small stones randomly, or you can find them by combing the countryside for them.

The stones must not be cut, you have to find other stones that they fit together with.  Depending on the kind of stones you find, your first little keep – no larger than a small play hut – will have its own unique shape.  Because the stones are so rare, it will take years to make something you can curl up in on a rainy day. But once they get together with enough other stones, and given time, they will begin to grow. Where they only fit roughly together, they will fill in the gaps until you cannot get a paper in between them.  And the whole place will expand, so slowly that you cannot see it from day to day or even from week to week, but look back a year or two and it has definitely grown bigger.

A fully mature keep has great magic powers.  Its inside will even amplify light, so that a single candle can make a room brightly lit.  It makes crops grow faster and bigger around it. Inside it heals wounds and illnesses, makes you stronger and wiser, and extends life with decades or even centuries.  A keep has a special affinity with its builder, though it will also extend great benefits to his family and even some to visitors.  A Keeper – the builder of a keep – will not exactly die from old age even after centuries. Rather, he just fades away. Sustained by the magic of the keep he no longer needs to eat or sleep, and eventually he becomes less substantial. He finds that the keep becomes in a way transparent to him:  He can see anything that happens within it no matter where he is, and eventually he can move from any place to another in it by merely willing it.  But to the others, it will seem that he is gradually becoming transparent, appearing at will as an image or even just as a voice.  But this only takes place once  a keep is several centuries old, and the keep may live for millennia after that. At this time the appearance of the Builder is forgotten, his soul infused in the stones, so it appears as if the Keep itself is a sentient being of great intellect.


Actually, given my history with writing, chances are that someone has done this already, and better.  Or failing that, will do it before I finish it.  For instance, I still have the first chapters on this story about a teenage boy who went to study magic in a  school in a big stone building and met various boys and girls and became a main character in an epic battle between good and evil in the world. From the printer I used, it seems I wrote it around 1990…

NaNoWriMo story germ


Pre-industrial road from Oblivion.

I honestly still don’t know whether I will be able to take part in NaNoWriMo this November, as I usually have done.  It is the last month before I need to be out of this house and into a new place (which I still haven’t found), and experience shows that this is a lot more work than one thinks beforehand.

But just in case there is time to write, either this November or later, I have a seed for a story I have not used before.  I could just reboot an earlier story, I have a lot of them, most of which are not used for NaNoWriMo before; but as I change over time, so also do the stories I would write, and this is a brand new one. Well, it has a few elements that I have used before, but overall it is quite fresh.

The main character will as usual be a boy in his late teen. This is not random.  It is the age in which boys in modern times are (at least in theory) able to stand on their own for the first time, and make important decisions for the rest of their life, like who will be their spouse and what will be their career. If I write about someone younger, I will need to take into account their birth family. If I write about someone older, I will need to take into account their existing marriage (or liberal facsimile thereof) and career, possibly even children.  So for the simplicity of the story, especially a far-out story like this, the best time is around the end of high school. Probably a little later, these days.

I haven’t even come up with a name for the Main Character yet, so for now let me just call him MC.  MC is diagnosed with a slow but deadly disease, just as he thought his life was about to begin. He is not happy about it. Things are generally not good in other ways either.  Insert some well-deserved emo here.  He goes hiking in the nearby mountains (which should be pretty convenient if I set this story in my native Norway).  It is a favorite hobby of his and he wants to do it one more time, also he wants to be alone with his thoughts for a while.

While walking in the mountains, he gets lost in a sudden fog and when he exits, the landscape seems subtly changed.  He has lost his way, but not only that.  There is something different about everything, and the map does not quite fit the terrain anymore.  Off we go into fantasy land!  But not quite the standard fantasy.

Once he finds a road and follows it to the nearest village, it is obvious that we are not in Kansas Norway anymore.  Or, not quite.  People still speak a similar language, but not quite the same. Their houses are different and prettier, the people are likewise more beautiful and smart. It is as if the whole place is slightly upgraded from the world MC knows, and he is starting to feel more than a little inferior, although nobody is actually mocking him.

One thing that is not superior is communications.  There are no cars, no phones, no radio or TV.  The worst part is that people generally don’t miss these things. People tend to work in the same area where they live, and they don’t buy lots of imported stuff.  Their furniture is handcrafted by more or less local artisans, and so with most other things.  People take great pride in their work, and take good care of the things they own.  Mass production and mass obsolescence  are unheard of.

When they learn about his medical condition, his new friends decide to take him to a larger town to the east, where there are better doctors.  So with a couple others, he sets off  on a journey.  Various things probably happen here to fill out the story.  The thing is, as they come further east, everything become slightly more awesome.  The people here are even smarter, prettier and longer-lived.  Their things are of even better quality, and longer lasting.  The healers here treat MC with natural techniques and herbs, and manage to slow the progression of his disease.  However, he will have to travel further east to seek a cure.

As you may guess by now, the change repeats itself.  As they travel eastward and just gently upward, the land changes in subtle ways, and they come to an even more superior region.  People here live the same unhurried life, but in even greater depth and quality.  MC feels like an absolute moron when he tries to follow their conversations with each other, and he  learns that they usually live for a few hundred years. They also manage somehow to halt his disease, although they cannot cure him.  For that, he should travel to the next province eastward…

So basically this is a kind of fantasy story that is also a parable of our spiritual life, albeit very subtly so.  As the travel goes on, our MC witnesses ever more perfection, depth, quality and durability.  This makes him feel ever smaller, weaker, uglier and more stupid.  But eventually we learn that he himself is also changing and beginning to absorb some of the quality from the new world he lives and breathes in.  At some point he realizes that he would not want to go back to his own world even if he could, and if he did, he would be a very different person from when he left.

This story should also explain why not everyone is “going East” and upward toward the more perfect regions. Actually there are some who do, and our MC meets and becomes friends with some of these. But most stay where they are. They have family, friends, livelihood or property that they can’t leave behind. Perhaps there was some time in their life when they could have made a break and searched for something better, but that time is past or they are still waiting for it. Also, there are some who tried, but they couldn’t stand the feeling of inferiority living among people who were more perfect than they. Actually, some chose to travel westward instead: Even though they lose some of their abilities and lifespan over time, they still get respect and admiration in the meantime, and a feeling of being more useful to those around them who have less abilities.

Yeah, pretty transparent once you know it, but I hope to be able to write something that is at least a bit enjoyable in its own right. Also, the metaphor should be very generic. There won’t be deity namedropping, if I can help it, though there would probably be less personal concepts like the Light and perhaps the Way.

Oh, and there won’t be any Land of Aslan or some such in the ultimate East.  In fact, as far as this story is concerned, there is only the way, and the end of it cannot be seen.

No offense to teachers


The teacher appears, but the student is NOT ready. (From the anime Mamotte Shugogetten.)

Despite my age, I still occasionally dabble in the art of creative writing. It is less than before, for sure, but still sometimes I come up with a compelling idea or two. Unfortunately, you need seven compelling ideas and a lot of hard work to make a novel, according to the voices in my head, so I will not finish this latest attempt either, unless some serious inspiration (and transpiration) strikes. Still, making notes for later. (And because while I work on a story, it is not uncommon for someone else to actually write it, and then I come later and say “I thought of this too” and the world is like “riiite”.)

“When the student is ready” is, of course, a title inspired by the famous saying of Lao-Tzu, the Old Sage of ancient China: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. It is generally quoted as a Buddhist proverb, but unless I dreamed this very vividly, the Old Sage said it in a very specific context, namely regarding the immortals or angels. (Some translations say, “…the master will appear”. Not a big difference, ideally. If not all teachers are masters these days, sometimes far from it, that does not apply to this situation.)

In fact, the striking contrast between the original meaning and modern school life was probably what motivated me to start on this story in the first place. And of course gigabytes upon gigabytes of high school anime. The anime / manga inspiration will probably be obvious if one knows it, but not to the complete outsider. The story takes place in Norway, but a Norway in an alternate timeline where the English and American cultural influence is at least partly replaced with Japanese cultural influence. (This actually was something I lifted from a dream I had a couple years ago.) For a foreign reader it is not easy to say what is Norwegian and what is Japanese culture if you know neither.

In anime, the sexy high school teacher is a common stereotype. I can’t say there weren’t any in real life either, althought they were pretty rare. I’d say my biology teacher qualified, but I did not spend much time thinking about it, as I was trying to stay pure. Well, mostly. Anyway! This is not about me, of course. When you first start writing fiction, you may have a lot of personal subconscious stuff that leaks into your story. But after 40 years (I started early!) I like to think I draw more on the collective subconscious than my own.

So we have a slightly Japanized (Nipponized?) Norway. We have a high school boy who is a bit of a bookworm. Not the caricature nerd that trips over his own feet and is painfully shy. Rather, he just has a high opinion of books and a low opinion of people in general, although he has a few good friends from grade school that are still hanging together. The three of them who are still single is Johan (the above mentioned bookman), Ove (the horny type) and Cecilie (standard childhood friend with romantic potential). And then comes the teacher (tentatively called Gudhild Hoshiyama, unless I come up with something better.) And yes, she is an immortal, or as close as you come.

The teacher is actually there for our main character. The immortals have divined that he has the potential to become one of them, something very few humans in each generation have. So she is there to keep track of him until such time as he is ready to begin on the Path, and help him make that decision.

Due to the beauty and perfection of the teacher, or simply because she has breasts, several boys are strongly attached to her, most of all Ove (the best friend of main character). Johan (still main character) has a very different reaction. Apart from being less interested in romance generally, he can somehow notice that she is immensely powerful, and is scared. He is also confused that no one else sees her strength, or generally that she is too good to be true.

So as the story begins to move, we have two love triangles both involving the MMC (male main character, for the non-romance-writers out there). His best friend is drooling for the teacher, who only is interested in the MMC. Jealousy arises when that interest starts to show. On the other hand, we have the childhood friend, who has vague plans for MMC and suspects teacher is out to get him. More jealousy arises.

And of course there should be supernatural stuff and tasteful preaching of Religio Perennis. The “immortals” actually spend much of their time on a slightly higher plane of reality, which they (unlike yours truly) visit physically. In order to survive that trip, our hero has to undertake various mental and physical exercises that seem pointless and conceited to those who don’t know what’s going on, that is to say, all mortals.

The device I have invented for their bodily transition is a pilgrimage to the mountain of Hoshiyama (Star Mountain) from which the FMC has derived her name. The path at the foot of the mountain begins in the mundane world, but after walking through the layer of fog or low clouds that always hang around the mountain when there is a pilgrimage, one arrives in the higher world. Magic and tasteful preaching ensues. Or perhaps I should postpone that to the next book and end this one as our hero enters the fog, thus leaving the reader in doubt as to whether he really is destined for greatness or is just plain insane. I love that. In fact, I think there are times when my journal conveys some of the same confusion…