Today I received some good news. A story of mine has been published on the website CommuterLit. The story itself (titled The Mountain’s Reach) is actually part of a much larger world, and I’m currently working on a novel plus a few other short stories set in the same world. So I figured I’d use this blog to talk a little bit about it, and about where the story idea came from. Before you read on, please check out The Mountain’s Reach on CommuterLit.
The story itself came from a sort of prompt. I was reading the brilliant Writing Magazine one day, and came across a competition run by a tea company. The idea being to use one of their product titles for a short story. Things such as Jade Dragon and, the one I used, Emerald Mountain. Originally, then, the mountain described in the story is much more magical and mystical than it ended up being in the final draft. It was emerald, shrouded in mist, slightly more attractive and yet, I’d hoped, menacing too. The deadline for that came and went but the story stuck with me, and when I went back to it I realised how easily it would slip into a world I’d already created, a world where the northern land of Shaylae is pretty much the last known destination before people reach the mountains and, beyond, the cold, snowy waste lands.
As mentioned in the story, there are two other lands here; Tarka and Sharn. In the centre of these three is the desert. Each land has its own capital, rulers, and characters. The novel follows three main characters; Arrow (Sharn), Rayne (desert) and Jackson (Tarka). The village which the characters in The Mountain’s Reach come from, however, is in Shaylae, which is mostly considered a religious land, with lots of temples, priests and priestesses and, unlike Tarka, the desert tribes and Sharn, is accepting of magic.
So these three – this small family – set out for the mountain. They go past the mountains at the northern part of Shaylae, and most of the story takes place in the unknown lands beyond.
When I started writing it, I didn’t have a clear, solid idea of where it was going to go. (Again, I urge you to read it if you haven’t already; the next bit contains spoilers) I don’t plan out huge amounts before I write, and what I usually find happens is the characters seem to take over. And if I try to make them do something they don’t want to do, or push the story in a direction they don’t want it to take, they push back.
I knew when I started writing it that the father would love his family, of course, and that he would be taking them to a place that haunted his dreams. Turned out, to my surprise, he had been there as a child. The mother does not want to go; the daughter is excited for the adventure. But as they travel, she loses her enthusiasm, and both females become, to him, a nuscence, simply trying to stop him reaching this place he knows he has to get to.
This is the point where the story took a turn I sort of didn’t expect. I wasn’t sure throughout if I was going to end it with the family at the mountain, though that seemed too easy, or if things were going to be a little darker. As it turns out, they never do reach the mountain, and the story ends with the man trudging through the snow on his own.
The world itself is currently unnamed. I’ve been playing around with different ones (Raeg is currently written at the top of my map). But it’s taken shape a lot since I started writing the novel. Every village is now marked down, every city, port, and change in scenery – for example, as one character leaves the desert and encounters grass. These small details are important for me, and crucial for me to remember. I found out a while ago that something like a map was very important for a world you’re creating from scratch, and partly hated myself for not having really, fully used them before.
I described the general geography above, but here’s some other facts about this world (if you’re interested).
- South of the desert is a land simply known as ‘the wilds’, which most people agree is too dangerous to travel across and better left unclaimed.
- Tarka borders Shaylae only slightly, and the border contains mountain passes and treks which make it very easy for bandits to hide in. So, most people travel by sea between the two.
- East of Sharn is the sea, and across this another land which some traders go to but most don’t explore. There’s a story here though, a legend passed down of two brothers – one a prince, one a bastard – and their sister who disappeared mysteriously from her room, shortly before her coming-of-age ball. No one quite knows what happened to her…
- The world has a mixture of different religions and gods; the tribes worship a full Pantheon of gods, and each tribe takes their name from them – Zeus, Hades, Aphrodite, Ares, etc. The Ares tribe was wiped out, with only two people left alive. And it’s fairly easy to tell those from each tribe apart, as they have varying characteristics and different appearances. The temples in Shaylae usually have areas set aside for multiple gods for people to worship, and the High Temple is home to the High Priestess, who can apparently see the future and helps guide people to their destinies.
So there we have it. A bit of background, and some information, on these lands, and some information about my short story for you.
And if you’re a writer, let me know if you’ve made up any lands yourself – any books you’ve used as reference? How do you plan it out? Do you use maps or something else? I’m always keen to hear about how other writers work, so please feel free to let me know (or link to your blog/site/stories) below.
Image above belongs to my good friend Beckie, who can be found on Twitter @beckiejphoto