Workshop Episode 42 (Guest Host: Michael Sullivan)

The Roundtable Podcast, Workshop Episode 42, with Michael Sullivan and Ben LoveMichael Sullivan – erudite and eloquent author of the “Riyria Revelations” and the forthcoming “Riyria Chronicles” – returns to the Big Chair at the Roundtable to help us workshop a fantasy noire tale offered by Ben Love (co-host of the “First Million Words” podcast). The synergy around the table is amazing as everyone weighs in, exploring, expanding, and rhapsodizing on Ben’s excellent idea, building on each others inspirations. It’s classic Roundtable goodness, friends, with the inevitable outcome… Literary Gold for everybody! (and once you’re done here, check out Michael’s Showcase Episode!)

PROMO:ShadowOps: Fortress Frontier” by Myke Cole


Workshop Episode 42 (Guest Host: Michael Sullivan)

[caution: mature language and themes – listener discretion is advised]

Check out this and all our episodes on iTunes and on Stitcher Radio!

On Michael’s To-Do List…

  • Finished “The Crown Tower” (a prequel) August 2013… the origin story for Royce and Hadrian, part of the “The Riyria Chronicles”
  • A short story in the “Unfettered” anthology (by Grim Oak Press)
  • Working on some SciFi (time-travel) and non-fantasy work and a trilogy of some kind




… and Ben’s Goodness:

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Comments (7)

How do people get from the island to the mainland and vice versa? I can imagine merchants and traders who would give a lot to be able to predict the island’s path. (Think Nathan Lowell’s Solar Clipper series.) Not that your main characters would be interested in trade, but it might be a good motivator for someone else. Red herring, maybe?

It’s also possible that the ritual has to be done on the mainland somewhere, so the island’s location may be significant due to that as opposed to some sort of mystical alignment. If there’s a ritual you really don’t want to happen, what better place to put the book than an island that constantly moves? Maybe the island “docks” with the special location only very rarely, or only under specific circumstances, or maybe there’s a spell involved so that the island can’t dock at the special location until the spell is broken, and that’s what the priestess or her patsy are trying to do, or get the protagonists to do for them.

(The breaking of the spell could be book one in a series where the ultimate goal is to bring about this ritual. Maybe losing the sacred book is book 2, etc.)

I would love to see Ward set up to be a willing sacrifice, and then at the end his buddy says “I don’t think so, you idiot” and totally messes things up in an unexpected way. I like the idea of Ward having a special sword, but I think it would be more fun if he wasn’t the one who ended up using it. (A mystery to solve in book 2, why can so-and-so use the sword and not Ward?) Not only does Ward have the burden of this weighty heritage, he doesn’t even get to use the cool sword? More grist for his mill.

I have a suggestion to develop the High Priestess character. You want her to be more than just an evil villain. I think she needs a hobby. When she isn’t doing church business, or secretly trying to take over the world, what does she do for fun? To relax and take a break from plotting and scheming.

I think she should be a weaver. In her office at the church, there is a side alcove where she has a loom set up where she is weaving a tapestry for the church. There could even be some kind of clue in the tapestry.

Great story all around. As I said on Twitter, I found myself trying to interject suggestions constantly. Thankfully, most of them were picked up and passed along by you guys.

I do have one additional idea to contribute, though. It’s a bit involved, it’s most likely crazy, and it tries to tie a lot together. In the spirit of Michael’s initial suggestion, it also has ramifications for an extended series. Before I describe it, I want to recap what I wrote down from the episode so that Ben (and others) know where I’m working with, list the main problems that I see remaining after the discussion, and then make some suggestions to the story that make my idea a bit easy to fit in.

Starting with what I remember from the episode.

1) There is a mysterious land that was rumored to have been visited by the traveling city at some point before living memory, but not since.

2) Ward’s great-grandfather (henceforth g-gdad) did something dishonorable that at least Ward still remembers.

3) Ward carries g-gdad’s sword as a marker of that dishonor/shame. He does not use the sword.

4) Ward uses rune magic, one of the many types of magic on this world.

5) Ward’s inherited sword has runes that are not attuned to him and that he can not use. (That this was of note suggested to me that he either should have been naturally able to use his g-gdad’s runes or he should have been able to learn how to. Ben can correct me on that.)

6) A ritual book was stolen. The only one that knows what the ritual entails is the high priest.

7) The high priest requested Ward’s presence on the effort to find the ritual book.

8) For failure to recover the ritual book, Ward is fired from the city guard.

9) The stolen ritual requires a sacrifice.

10) Ward and Tapely continue investigating on their own. In the climax battle, Ward somehow attunes and uses the runes to stop the ritual. (This was mentioned at the beginning and Dave /may/ have said that that part sounded weak, but I don’t recall it coming up again.)

11) After stopping the ritual, Ward is reinstated into the city guard, but decides to stay out and set up shop as a private investigator.

12) The theme of the story is doing what is necessary, no matter the cost.

At the end of the episode, I had a few outstanding questions and issues with the brainstorming result.

1) A sign of dishonor (like the wooden-gun sword) is a promise to the reader that it will either get in the protagonist’s way or that there will be redemption from that dishonor. The story as outlined has neither.

2) There was no explanation of how Ward attuned the runes at the climatic battle. It sounded almost deus ex machina.

3) If Ward’s family carries this dishonor and he openly wears a sign of it, doesn’t that mark him as too untrustworthy to be admitted to the city guard?

4) If Ward’s family carries this dishonor and he openly wears a sign of it, why was he put on such an important case?

5) What motivation does Ward have to not rejoin the guard? Feeling like he just wants to be a private investigator is a bit weak.

To make my idea fit into Ben’s story smoother, I have a few suggested changes/additions. I’ve marked “(Secret)” the information that I think would best not be known by anyone.

1) Rune magic is only known to exist on the floating city or in a few places where former city inhabitants now live. (Secret) Rune magic come from the mysterious land. It was brought to the floating city by some of that land’s inhabitants that moved during the visit.

2) G-gdad was in the city guard. He was tasked to protect a high priest, but he accidentally killed the high priest “in the confusion” of an ambush. (Secret) G-grad’s HP was his own father, so he’s a failed guard and kinslayer. Unforgivable. The only thing that saved his family is that almost no one knows the truth.

3) (Secret) G-gdad purposefully killed the HP because HP was trying to use the ritual, just as the current HP is. I’ve played with whether or not g-gdad was the intended sacrifice, but don’t have a good suggestion.

4) (Secret) The two people that g-gdad told were the city guard commander and the replacement HP. The church is one of the major groups in the city and knowledge of what the HP had tried would have torn the church and city apart. G-gdad accepted a disgraced dismissal to save the city that. It was the necessary thing to do. Ward was hired into the guard by the current commander, who knows the truth of g-gdad from records sealed to the city guard commander; (s)he felt that it was unfair to Ward and wanted to give him a chance to reclaim the family name.

5) Ward joined the guard to prove that he can reclaim the family name and honor. Wearing the sword but not using it is his way of owning up to his family’s past and saying that he does not fit that reputation.

6) (Secret) The ritual is from the mysterious land and requires the sacrifice of one that can use the rune magic.

7) Modern HP, to all outward appearances, became a kind of a mentor to Ward when he successfully entered the city guard. (Secret) But she has been manipulating him the whole time. The current plan is to use Ward as the sacrifice but frame him for the crimes so no one questions his disappearance.

My ideas to add to the story.

1) As I mentioned above, the dishonor has to get in the way or there has to be a path for redemption. The getting-in-the-way doesn’t work for what I’ve laid out about, so there should be redemption. But the redemption is not Ward’s. The redemption is that of g-gdad–in Ward’s eyes.

2) Ward repeats g-gdad’s actions (killing a church HP to stop the ritual) knowing it will seal the family legacy, but it is the necessarily thing to do. This would be the culmination of not only the main plot line, but the truth of g-gdad and of…

3) …The runes. Accepting and repeating g-gdad’s decisions causes the runes to be attuned to Ward (not sure of the underlying philosophy of the magic runes, but maybe this could work in somehow). [Maybe one of the runes is a magic cutter (or maybe not) that lets him stop the ritual. Maybe g-gdad put the runes on in case the ritual came back?]

4) The guard commander and the new church HP know that Ward was right to kill HP, but can not let it be publicly known because of the resulting strife. Ward accepts not getting his job back and playing along as a failure to prevent [insert scapegoat] from killing the HP [or maybe the HP sacrificed herself]; it’s necessary. But at this point, he doesn’t mind so much. He felt that he needed the guard to reclaim his honor. But now that he knows that his family’s honor was never lost, it was only hidden. [This would be a subtheme: What is publicly believed is not what matters, the truth is what matters.] And now Ward goes off to be a PI, probably not working for the upper class of the city.

What would this get you (Ben)? It would fill (what I saw as) holes. It would tie the mysterious island in more (even though no one knows about the rune magic or ritual connections for a few books, at least). It makes g-gdad more central to the story instead of just a chip on Ward’s shoulder. It provides more motivation for Ward. It would open up the possibility of more secrets (if g-gdad made the sword to fight the ritual and his father tried to use it, he knew the connection; did he make other preparations around the city? what other remnants from the mysterious islanders’ immigration are around? why did the islanders’ move onto the city? why hasn’t the city found that land again? why would they make a ritual that gave someone such power and influence?)

You’d need to fill in Ward and Tapely gathering clues about g-gdad and what really happened last time. As well as trying everything else together…but that’s part of the fun.

Anyways, that’s about it. Hopefully the ideas make sense, aren’t too crazy, and don’t come so late that you’ve already finished the book.

Side note: Tapely is female, Dahlia is her sister. Play with crush on co-worker’s sibling, and toss about misdirection and suspicion. Also, since Dahlia’s in the church, she can’t be openly seen with Ward in later books (because of the secret), creating the tension.

Something else to consider, even though it may be too convenient: g-gdad (and his dad) understood the ritual and rune magic so well because their family had not lost knowledge of being descended from the mysterious island. G-gdad did not pass that along to his kids because *hand wave* of what had happened.

Hey guys! Thanks for all the extra brainstorming. I haven’t read it all yet, but I will soon (having a couple of kids really eats away at my time, and at my brain cells). Just wanted to say thanks and to let you know I’ll be returning with my own feedback soon. Oh! Also, I started writing already. Have quite a bit done already but I’m looking forward to using (a lot of) the advice I’ve received during (and after) the show.

The more I listened to the show, the more I liked the story.

I wonder if Ward and Tapely shouldn’t be equal characters. The firing from the police force could be a wonderful growth moment for them. Ward who prides himself on duty and stoicism could fall apart from the experience. Tapely who is easy-going and saw the job as just a paycheck could find the strength to fight for a cause and rally his partner.

There is a lot here for a series: a budding romance, encounters with different cultures.

A bit of color for the story might be the effects of the island’s travels. The setting might get cold as the island travels to higher latitudes and the characters have to adjust to the weather.

I think you need to be careful to not drop clues early.

I also wonder about the magic system. You mentioned in the pitch that Ward has magic abilities, but they were never mentioned again during the show. I wonder if making magic common will get in the way.

Marvelous show and story idea. Good luck.

Hey, guys! Sorry about the delay in getting back to you, but I decided to take some of the ideas here and just run with it. So I hope you’ll all forgive me as I have been busy at work with making my literary gold. I have a few things I wanted to do with later books (I’m planning on making it about 6 mid-length novels in total).

1. Here’s what’s going on with Ward being able to use his great-grandad’s sword: I was toying around with the idea that Ward actually is his own ancestor. He’s just been keeping himself alive magically and periodically rebooting his mind/memories (it’s a function of his magic: the runes on the blade are normally used for things like healing/self-empowerment, but memories can be stored within the runes as well. As Ward unlocks runes on the old sword, he is also bringing pieces of his memory back).

2. Okay, so maybe Ward isn’t his own ancestor…maybe his great-grandad stored the memories in the blade because he saw this ritual thing coming (like, his betrayal of the church had to do with imprisoning something inside of the island and the ritual will free it if completed).

3. Or…Ward is linked to the island. This is the one I think I’m going with. Ward is the soul of the island (passed on by his great-gdad, the original soul of the island), the thing (or person) trapped within the island is the body, and there’s going to be a mind floating around out there somewhere too. The ritual will release the body from its confines, thus making the island start to head back to its point of origin (this is probably a bad thing). So, the body (which Ward’s great-gdad imprisoned to keep the island away from its point of origin) is set free. Ward must now decide if he will let the island go to its origin and see what kind of magical stuff happens, or if he’ll force somebody else to take the mantle of the island’s body.

Alright, guys. What do you think? This is mostly end-game stuff I’m talking here, so keep it as hush-hush as you can ;).

Also: Tapley is now a woman who is a recent acquaintance of Ward (they get partnered up at the beginning), Ward’s old partner is MIA after Ward botched an old mission, the High Cleric is now a man and is likely not going to end up as the bad guy (he’s just being used as a pawn by my new, top-secret antagonist), and I’m contemplating making some visits to other continents of the world that the island is going to bump in to.

Thank you all for the comments/feedback/ideas.

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