Creating Rules of Enchantment

Creating Rules Of Enchantment

Where Does Magical World Building Begin?

It can start with the characters, the world, or the magic.

  • Some begin with the characters, and then look around for their stage–their world.
  • Some begin with a world and then look at magic to make it run and determine what sort of people would fill a world that looks like theirs.
  • Some begin with magic and look at how that would influence the world and the people in it.

Ways To Think About Magic

  • Magic can be a “character”, manipulating and interacting with the world and people in it.
  • Magic can be mystic, inexplicable, special, and outside the scope of day-to-day life
  • Magic can exist in the cracks of the world building, holding it together.
  • Magic can be straightforward and logical, but be aware that can make it more like technology by any-other-name. A fireball is just a gun.

Do You Need Rules For Magic?

  • Some people like to incorporate their magic organically, following intuition and “what feels right’
  • Some people follow the magic to all its logical conclusions, needing to know the metaphysics behind it.
  • Some people write unlimited magic – but then you have to consider how that effects the world and day-to-day environment.
  • Some people write limited magic
    • Limited by rules and power flow and physics.
    • Or limited by mystic forces and the degree to which the magic interacts with the world the story is in.
  • No matter which way you build your world, your magic needs to be consistent.

Why Do We Write Magic?

  • The setting inspires magic
  • We love believing 3 impossible things before breakfast
  • It makes the hair stand up on the back of our necks
  • It’s fun
  • You can make the spirits come when you call, when you’re the one writing it.

This post was derived from notes from the titular panel at WorldCon75. The panelists were Mark Tompkins, Jo Walton, Kari Sperring, Greer Gilman, and moderated by T. Thorn Coyle.

Is your world magical?


Vlog: Creating Rules of Enchantment

Creating Rules Of Enchantment

Where Does Magical World Building Begin?

It can start with the characters, the world, or the magic.

This post was derived from notes from the titular panel at WorldCon75. The panelists were Mark Tompkins, Jo Walton, Kari Sperring, Greer Gilman, and moderated by T. Thorn Coyle.

Is your world magical?

Just Send It!

Just Send It!:

When to Stop (Re)Writing & Just Get Your Work Out There!

From the titular panel at WorldCon75, the panelists were Mike Pohjola (moderator), Ken Liu, Kali Wallace, Ellen Datlow, and Katri Atalo.

All writers are united by one question: when is your manuscript done?

How do you know your story is ready? They say to only show your most polished work, but many of us are perfectionists, have anxiety, and/or are too close to our manuscripts and can only see the flaws. Declaring our manuscript done may be a day that never comes, but we have to stop sometime.

For the answer, let’s see what the professionals say.

Top 3 Ways You Know You’re Done Revising:

  1. When you find yourself rearranging commas.
  2. When you’re getting bored and a newer and better idea comes along.
  3. When you’re sick and tired of looking at it and just can’t make yourself revise again.
    • NOTE! This does not mean you shouldn’t POLISH your manuscript – after you’re sick of it, you should still do a line edit for typos, grammar checks, and consistency issues.

Sadly, however, sometimes we’re our worst judge. That’s why you need trusted beta readers and/or critique partners before you send it to an agent or editor.

Fun Fact – In her work as an editor, Ellen Datlow knew, whenever a writer she’d worked with in the past decides something is the “best story they’ve ever written,” she was almost always about to see their worst story yet.

7 Ways To Make The Best 1st Impression With An Agent or Editor

  1. Have a story that gets the agent/editor’s attention.
  2. Write the best story you can.
  3. Don’t harass agents/editors.
    • Don’t come up to them on the street/at a convention and ask them to read your manuscript.
  4. Spell the agent/editor’s name right.
  5. Add your contact info on the manuscript itself
    • Many agents/editors these days just upload your manuscript to their kindle or phone, completely disparate from the query. Make it easy for them to contact you for more.
  6. Be open to edits. Know that your FINAL draft is never the final draft. Until it’s printed, everything can change.
  7. Knowing people doesn’t help. Polished manuscripts do. All networking can do is get your manuscript a closer look.


Where are you in your writing journey?

Is it time for you to face your fear of the ‘no’ and just put your work out there?

Vlog: Just Send It!

Just Send It!:

When to Stop (Re)Writing & Just Get Your Work Out There!

All writers are united by one question: when is your manuscript done?

For the answer, let’s see what the professionals say.

From the titular panel at WorldCon75, the panelists were Mike Pohjola (moderator), Ken Liu, Kali Wallace, Ellen Datlow, and Katri Atalo.

Injury Mechanics: A Brief History of Hurting People

Injury Mechanics: A Brief History of Hurting People #WorldCon75

I knew most of this information about weapons and injuries, but the presenters of this panel laid it out in such a useful way for a writer. If they use this weapon, these injury choices. So, this is my follow on to Thursday’s Writing Fight Scenes That Work.

Common Injury Reactions

When a body is injured, there are four things that commonly happen.

  • lose their guts (vomit)
  • bleeding
  • shock (from blood loss or emotionally shook)

Causes of Death

At the most basic, there are three things that cause a body to stop.

  • Brain damage
  • Low blood pressure (blood loss)
  • Heart Stop

Realistic Capabilities of First Aid

  • Prevent infection
  • Clean/Stitch wound (cuts/punctures)
  • Modern – CPR/fluids/Heimlich maneuver

Combat Types and Injuries

4 Types of Close Combat Damage and the Injuries They Incur

  1. Slashing (Cutting to the heart of the matter)
    • Main damage to unarmored areas
    • Blood loss can incapacitate or kill without treatment
    • Flesh and muscle injuries are recoverable if the organs are intact
  2. Stabbing
    • Potentially immediately deadly, especially in the liver
    • Can cause internal bleeding
    • Weapon can get stuck
    • Can bypass armour
  3. Clubbing
    • Main damage is bruising and losing combat effectiveness.
    • Concussions, maybe fractures and internal bleeding
    • If a clot breaks free, someone who seems okay can seem to randomly die even 2-3 days later.
  4. Wrestling (Twisting people to your will)
    • Most basic type of fighting
    • Breaking joints is easier than snapping bones
    • Joint injuries are harder to recover
    • Armor both protects and hinders

In large scale battles, training matters. Studies show untrained armies had large numbers of people hit in the back, head, or off-hand. If you lose, they’ll kill you. If you run, those behind you don’t know you’re from their side, they just see a warrior running at them…

Fun fact: When using a shield, the back leg won’t be hit as much.

Modern Ranged Combat

Otherwise known as poking holes in people from far away. In 50 percent of gun fights, 1 hit ends the fight.

  • Most people hit once with a pistol will walk away
  • Most people hit once with a rifle or shotgun are incapacitated.

Why are they so deadly?

  • Bloodloss
  • Damage to nervous system
  • Organ damage
  • Longer term
    • Infection
    • Internal bleeding
    • lead poisoning

Note: If you hit bone, the bouncing of the bullet makes exponentially more damage

Other Types of Modern Weapons

  1. Napalm
    • The flames aren’t what kills you, it’s the carbon monoxide poisoning
    • Most common are burn injuries
    • Loss of combat effectiveness, you drop immediately
    • The burn probably won’t kill you unless it’s a massive lethal shock
      • But infection is very, very easy
      • Fun fact: New skin often grows back with no sweat-glands so it’s easy to overheat
  2. Mustard Gas/Tear Gas, Venomous Agent X, Radiation
    • Effects internal organs, sometimes immediately, sometimes letting you live long enough to develop cancers. Depends on amount.
  3. Tasers/Electrical weapons
    • super bad for heart conditions
    • scars along nerve lines
  4. Plasma
    • both heat and electrical damage
  5. Lasers
    • burn damage

And, one of the old standbys:

  • Gravitational damage
    • Shoving someone off a cliff/out a window
    • Blunt force, similar to clubbing. Think about how they land

(These notes are from the titular panel at WorldCon 75. The panelists were Asko “Mostly Harmless” Metsäpelo, Ikka “Warlord” Niemi, and Kim Hokkanen.)

Vlog: Writing Fight Scenes That Work

Jack Campbell, Elizabeth Bear,&Sebastien de Castell discussed how to Write Fight Scenes That Work at #worldcon75. Here are my notes.

Writing Fight Scenes That Work

“Point of View solves everything.” – Elizabeth Bear

These notes are from the titular panel at WorldCon 75. The panelists were Elizabeth Bear, Jack Campbell, Sebastien de Castell, I. Simes-moderator)

How To Start A Fight (in a story)

By establishing what each opponent could gain or lose, we establish the stakes and make the reader care about the fight. Preferably by giving the reader a favorite, someone they want to win and someone they actively want to lose. – Jack Cambell

Fighting starts with two or more people with diametrically opposed goals. The fight is typically triggered by a change or ramp-up of the time line or a ticking clock’s time running short. One of the best fight scenes in writing is from Watership Down, in which Bigwig faces General Warren to save the baby bunnies. – Elizabeth Bear

Making the readers care and the stakes high isn’t about scale, it’s about the characters and the consequences. – Jack Campbell

In real life? Whoever is willing to risk more usually wins. In a bar fight, if one person isn’t afraid to go to the ER and the other is, the one who is unafraid is going to fight far more aggressively. – Sebastien de Castell

In The Princess Bride, the most important part of the sword clash on the Cliffs of Insanity wasn’t the fight itself, it was the introduction of Inigo and Wesley before the fight, establishing their rapport, and the fact that, had circumstances been anything other than they were, these two should have been friends. – Sebastien de Castell

Rules of Fighting (are they breakable?)

In stories, the cliche is for the honorable hero to pause and kick the sword back to their worthy opponent. What rules are necessary to the fight and which ones just seem unlikely?

Physics! (of course) is unbreakable in most settings. But if you change the expected rules of the fight, there need to be consequences. Just remember who the characters are informs their expectations. When two people agree to a no-rules fight, that means something different to a street girl than to a noble.  – Jack Campbell

There are expectations. – Elizabeth Bear

  • With the rules of war, in the modern day, we have expectations for the treatment of prisoners of war and avoiding civilian casualties.
  • In bar fights – eye gouging is not expected. If it starts off a fist fight, weapons are not expected.
  • In a fight for dominance – in a story, you usually end up with some sort of adventuring group deciding who’s in charge. It’s part of their ‘cute meet’ story.
  • In a fight for survival – there are no rules.

Fights need to follow the rules of motivation! – Sebastien de Castell

Remember the period you’re in and the expectations of that time and place.

  • Classically, most duels were not fought to the death.
    • It was easier to run or burn down your enemy’s house.
    • Also, duelists to first-blood were known to dip their blades in dog shit and hope the wound will go septic.
  • The story of David and Goliath is not what modern westerners think it was. Slings were well-respected battle weapons for shorter ranges.
  • There is only one recorded instance of gunslingers meeting at high noon. ONE.

How To Write Realistic Fights

Most people want to avoid fights. – Elizabeth Bear

  • When you write a fight, use the character’s point-of-view.
  • Don’t give the reader the blow-by-blow, complete Dungeons and Dragons initiative by initiative actions.
    • These can be hard to follow and are about actions, not motivation
    • Think about talking to a soldier or martial artist who’s actually been in a fight. They’re typically not going to remember the blow by blow, just the major actions.
  • The fight needs to be visceral
    • Showing how the body is feeling and the character is reacting emotionally can let us know how the fight is going

There are some weapons that can create a sort of distance. Physically and emotionally. – Sebastien de Castell

  • One can write a character who fights more intellectually, with snarky narration and emotional distance – when they’re not fighting for survival. If they’re trained enough, dueling or wrestling sort of fights can qualify.

Do The Characters Need To Know Why They’re Fighting?

If you want the reader to connect with the characters, they need an immediate goal they’re trying to achieve by fighting. – Elizabeth Bear

Never use a fight scene just for fun. A fight scene needs to be a physical manifestation of an emotion. For the protagonist or the antagonist. But, it can’t just be on a physical level. – Sebastien de Castell

Sex, fighting, and conversation scenes are all alike. Something has to change — knowledge unearthed, opinions voiced, character growth — during any sort of scene or the scene needs to be cut. – Elizabeth Bear

How Long Should A Fight Be?

As long as it needs to be.

In Indiana Jones, there’s the scene where Indiana just shoots the guy with the sword. It works because of the reversal of expectations, making it funny. Reversal of expectations is what keeps readers excited. – Elizabeth Bear

Fight scenes should have beats, a certain ebb and flow, like classical music.  The main character should make mistakes. They’re reacting to the circumstances, they don’t necessarily have time to plan the best course of action. – Sebastien de Castille 

Remember: Everyone in the fight needs to rationalize to themselves WHY their actions are acceptable.

Stay tuned! Monday, I have a bonus post of “Injury Mechanics: A Brief History of Hurting People” where you can find out just what sort of damage it makes sense for you to inflict on your characters.