Of the Arbour is nearly finished!

I just finished writing the final major plotty scene in the OF THE ARBOUR rewrite last night, and have only a few loose threads to wrap up before it’s finished and it can go out to beta readers for editing. While this is always an exciting occasion, I’ve been considering fantasy tropes a lot lately, and how they tie into my stories.

Unlike other novels, I went into OF THE ARBOUR, and especially the rewrite, purposefully using typical fantasy tropes. But in order to make it more fun for me and for the reader, I spun them on their heads. Under normal circumstances, these are all things that I detest reading about, but by (in my opinion) warping them and making them more relatable, they no longer remain those hated tropes we see entirely too often.

TROPES USED IN THE ARBOUR:

  1. The farmboy: Sage is everything the farmboy trope demands: he is thrust into a scenario he didn’t ask for, and bumbles along like a ball in a pinball machine. He’s a nobody who ends up the hero, but by no choice of his own. Now, I don’t actually dislike the farmboy trope because it’s a relatable character, unlike heroes who just somehow know what to do. I find that readers can get more attached to a character who is just as confused as they are. While Sage is good at fighting and often wins his battles, he does so out of skill and not luck, and when he loses, he loses hard. He hates doing anything noteworthy and tries to shy away from others as often as possible, making him a less than ideal hero. In fact, he’s straight up terrible at being the hero.
  2. The prophet/prophecy: Prophecy is one of my most hated aspects of fantasy, followed very closely by the love triangle. It seems like such a cop out to me to have everything prophesied to win or lose, regardless of a character’s choices or skills. So, in this instance, a prophecy is foreseen at the beginning of the novel, when the aforementioned prophet is 20 and doesn’t even know they’re a prophet. Fast-forward 5 years, and a friend who studies prophets is starting to see connections, and yet the “prophet” bungles things so spectacularly that having foreseen this part of the plot doesn’t actually change anything: they’re so thick about it all, so in denial, that even having foreseen a problem and having someone realize it, it doesn’t make a difference in the end. Everything they tried to prevent turns out exactly how it was foreseen, and what work they did was for naught.
  3. The love triangle: Love triangles are a thing I detest nearly as much as prophecy. When I think of a series that has both of these heinous crimes, I think of Wheel of Time, though I love the series despite this. With the Arbour, there is technically a love triangle, but it gets turned on its head: while someone is pursuing Sage, he’s pining after a lost loved one who died a year previous. By the time his emotions are sorted out for the one who died, the pursuer has admitted feelings and they’re both able to move forward. So it’s still technically a triangle, just one of the participants is dead.
  4. The dashing hero: Sage is not your typical fantasy hero. He is riddled with anxieties and issues, and while I imagine he’s handsome and others in the story say as much, he’s got severe body image problems that stem from a bad childhood and adolescence, as well as disfiguring scars and a limp. He’s a cranky, sarcastic, cynical, and oftentimes cruel insomniac that masks his insecurities with teasing and ill humour. But when he’s happy, he’s a delight. He just has to work for it.
  5. The villain: One thing I always try to steer away from is the typical villain who is evil for the sake of being evil. With this rewrite especially, I tried to make it so the antagonist was the antagonist purely because he was not the protagonist. I am a firm believer in the anti-hero concept, because it’s very rare than a person is truly evil. Unless somebody is personifying Hitler, I’m just not into it.

Fantasy tropes are there for a reason – they were tried and true in the past, though more and more people veer away from them. With this rewrite, I dove in feet first, but I’m having a lot of fun turning them around and twisting them so they aren’t your typical overused ideas.

This is the most fun I’ve had with a rewrite. I can’t wait to be finished and send it off to beta readers, so I can get more feedback.

Soon soon soon 😀

Rewrite comparison: Of the Arbour

As you all may or may not know, I wrote a book several years ago that I’m rewriting, called OF THE ARBOUR. While I still liked the plot and the characters, the writing was juvenile and sloppy, and desperately needed honing. Hence, rewrite!

The rewrite very closely follows the same plot as the original, with added characters and new subplots, and a much darker, more tense and miserable tone. I’m on the penultimate or penultimate penultimate, depending on how much I write chapter of the rewrite, and as I reread it and check back at the original for important plot points and bits I still like, I can’t help but be amazed at the difference a few years has had on my writing style and skill.

The original and the rewrite both start the exact same way: Sage, the main character, and Cain, an anti-hero, are sparring for the grandmaster of the Arbour as a final exam for their second-last year at the school. In both scenes, Cain is winning via superior skill and strength, and Sage is forced to defend instead of attack and ultimately loses the fight.

But the difference astounds even me.

OF THE ARBOUR ORIGINAL

Glittering sparks flew as metal screeched against metal, flashing in the dark and echoing painfully in the shadowy cavern. The swords flew apart and their wielders leaped back at each other, swinging and slamming their heavy steel weapons together, causing the blades to scream once more. Their feet shuffled against the rocky floor, hopping off small boulders and the sliding walls of the cavern, their wild, seemingly aimless swings always hitting their mark with natural ease.

Both fighters were male and both tall. They jumped away from each other, lips lifted in silent snarls. The taller of the two had long black curls that brushed shoulders covered in thin cotton, a uniform that moved and breathed freely. He emitted a low roar as he pushed his feet off a flat rock nearby and propelled himself at his foe with a wild slash. His opponent was a slightly shorter blonde with painfully messy hair. His dark blue eyes flashed as the brunette’s blade barely missed the top of his head, and in a split second he rocketed forward, his long sword clasped tightly in his hand as he jabbed forward at his enemy’s feet. The brunette just leaped in time, twisting his body in the air so he landed facing the blonde, who was back on his feet, his blade held defensively. His teeth were bared in a dark sneer, his breathing coming heavily as the black-haired one growled, tossing his sword from his right hand to his left and yanking it in a slash across the blonde’s chest. He barely stepped back in time, swishing his own sword up to slap his enemy’s away, causing the hard metal to screech together.

The young blonde calmed his panting, his pale peach skin flushed with the excitement and adrenaline of the battle. He hated that he was panting and heaving, and that his face was red as the new sun, whereas his foe’s flesh—a dark, olive hue that matched his tangled black hair—never seemed to change from that same shade.

The dark-haired man hesitated. His mouth opened somewhat as he gasped for air, and his gaunt cheeks filled with breath, giving them a rounded shape for a split second, then he exhaled sharply, trying to conserve his energy. His narrowed brown eyes sparkled with the pump of the battle, egging his fellow warrior on, taunting him.

His foe caught the taunt with open arms and grunted as he hefted his sword, thrusting the sharp, slanted tip at his dark rival, his cobalt eyes bright in the dank, dim grotto. The brunette man dodged in time, and the apex of the blade tore the front of his simple white robes, somehow managing to miss the flesh. The skin was left intact.

The blonde launched backward, forcing a few metres between himself and his antagonist. He flexed his fingers on the circular hilt of his sword, lifting his free hand to brush dirt from his long, straight nose. He examined a tear in his own plain white robes that he hadn’t even noticed he sustained—a small bit of crimson was soaking the simple material of his attire, turning a deep vermillion as it spread into the fibres of the clothes. Furious that he had been injured and the brunette man hadn’t, his sky eyes flicked back to his enemy, who was standing calmly fifteen metres away, his brown eyes small and evil in the darkness. The blonde snarled and leaped forward, bringing his sword down in a malicious arc, slamming the blade onto his foe’s. Their faces were centimetres apart, both pushing against each other as hard as they could, muscles straining beneath the flimsy cotton of their robes.

“Enough!”

OF THE ARBOUR REWRITE

He was exhausted.

His muscles trembled when he moved, shuffling back and scraping his feet on sharp rock. Lifting his arms was a challenge, but he had no choice—he had to keep going. When it came, and steel crashed against steel, he felt the vibration in his very bones. They seemed to grind together in his hands where he gripped the smooth leather hilt; but he felt no pain in his flesh, where the skin had grown thick and tough with practice. He knew his soles bled—he had seen the smears of brownish red on the stone floor—but he felt nothing. Aside from hot streaks of salt where the sweat slid down his temples and his chest, his flesh was numb; the pain he felt was etched into his bones, coursed through his muscles with each movement.

But he had to continue. What small part of his mind that wasn’t overwhelmed by his exhaustion knew that he had no choice but to keep going.

The crash came again and again. His breath was loud in his ears, and sweat stung his eyes; he blinked it away and pushed back, giving himself even a fraction of a second to catch his breath.

Cain’s cheeks were flushed mottled scarlet, and his curls were plastered to his skull with sweat. Sage could have smiled, if he had more energy. It came as something of a small relief to know that Cain was just as worn out as he.

The reprieve was brief. Eyes narrowed, sword hilt clenched in both hands, Cain let out a guttural roar and pushed forward off the rocky floor. Sage only had a moment to react, and then their swords were once more locked together. One more step back; another swing and block; and the screech of metallic song that made his ears ring.

As he danced around Cain’s attacks, blocking almost mindlessly, he wondered how long they had been at this. Sunshine streamed in dusty beams through the open mouth of the cave. Sage’s sword met Cain’s once more, and when he shoved it away he hopped backwards several steps, both in an effort to dodge Cain’s relentless blows and to better see the sun.

An hour at least since they began the fight. An hour of the most brutal training of his life.

By the gods, how he wanted it to end.

But there was no end. There would be no end until blood stained one of their blades, and Sage had sense enough to know that it couldn’t be his.

Cain’s attacks were relentless. It was all Sage could do to keep his sword up in time to block them. He had no room for attack of his own, but if he couldn’t get past the speed of Cain’s attacks, he had no hope of drawing first blood. Each time he stepped forward, dragging his feet on the gravel and sand, Cain pushed back. They had endured all the same training—they were well matched as sparring partners—but Cain had just enough of a height advantage over Sage to keep any hope of attack at bay.

Master Kelvan had always said that the best offense was a good defence, but this was getting ridiculous. There was no way to win if you were constantly defending, unless you were lucky to accidentally tire out your opponent enough for him to make a vital mistake.

Sage knew Cain would never make any sort of mistake. Cain was tireless; as a child he and his friends assumed that Cain simply evolved past the need for sleep.

“Sage, Cain, you may stop.”


Check that difference. Even rereading such a small portion of the original makes me cringe.

Practice makes permanent. A wise man once told me that. Read and write and practice, and you’ll get better. It’s the only way to improve.

What I was proud of before I’m embarrassed by now, but that is the way of the artist. Without having been proud of it once, I couldn’t have learned and improved.

Magic

They said there was no such thing as magic. They said it couldn’t be possible. They mocked and teased and flung so-called scientific facts in your face until you could no long bear it, then they laughed and pointed when the tears leaked free and you ran away to safety.

Physics, they said. Math. Universal constants. Gravity.

There was no such thing as magic!

After so long hiding in bathrooms, sobbing until your lungs hurt from their cruel jests and open stares, you knew it was time. They would see. You would make them.

No such thing as magic.

Ha!

Soon they would see. You would harness the power of the dark forces beyond their ken, and they would all see!

Of course, hindsight being 20/20, blowing up the competitors’ washrooms at the Olympics was probably not the best place to start. Handcuffs are tight, and nobody believes you when you claim it wasn’t a cherry bomb, it was the dark forces beyond their ken!

… no such thing as magic. Hrmph.

Sun

The sun has no business shining so brightly. Not now. Not today.

Chewing the inside of your lip until your mouth floods with the sharp tang of blood, you turn away from the window and tug the heavy curtains back into place, cutting off the pale morning light and shrouding the room in darkness once more. Each step across the floor feels practiced and carefully chosen, and yet you plod. Your bones are like lead, your skin stone. An effigy come to life, pulled free of its tomb to walk the earth among the mortals.

In the safety of the darkness, you walk across the room, arms outstretched to feel for sporadic furniture and pillars of priceless art. The wood is polished and smooth under your fingers; the marble cool and impersonal.

When your hand grazes the engraved doorknob, you hesitate, hearing muffled voices down, down through layers of wood and brick and stone. Your next breath is heavy, rattling, as if through a skeleton’s loose ribs. It will take courage to leave the dark. Courage you don’t think you have.

It would all be so easy if only you could blow out the sun.

Badger

“Leave me alone!”

“No! Come back here!”

“I don’t wanna! Go away!”

“But, honey, we’re looking at the gorillas.”

“I don’t wanna look at the gorillas. I wanna look at the badgers.”

“They don’t have any badgers at the zoo, honey. Come here, see what the gorillas are doing.”

“Can we see the badgers?”

“No, I—”

“I wanna see the badgers. Let’s go see the badgers. Gorillas are stupid. Badgers are cool. I wanna see the badgers!”

“Honey, I don’t think—hey, where are you going? Get back here!”

“Looking for the badgers!”

“But—”

“Excuse me, ma’am, but is your child looking for badgers? We don’t have any of the kind he probably wants, but we do have honey badgers. Would you like to go see those?”

“Only if we can feed him to it.”

“What was that?”

“Nothing. Honey, did you hear that? There are badgers. Now stop pestering me and let’s go.”

Apple

Full and red and perfect, not waxy or lumpy in the slightest. The inside would be crisp and white and juicy. It was her greatest creation yet, and she had to share it with the world. The single mother down the street—she might appreciate it. She always seemed to buy her seven kids McDonald’s and Kraft Dinner. She might not even have the money for proper fruits and vegetables. She would appreciate it more than anyone. She deserved it more than anyone.

A glance out the window showed a light smattering of rain. Donning her black hooded shawl, the old lady placed the perfect specimen in a cloth-covered basket and left the house. The young mother was home; her rusted minivan was parked on a driveway strewn with broken bicycles and chipped digging toys. Stepping around a jumble of plastic diamonds, the old lady ducked beneath a low porch roof and knocked on the door. The echoing shrieks of so many children echoed from within.

After a long wait, the door opened and the weary eyes of the young mother stared dully at her.

Smiling, the old lady pulled back the cloth. “A gift for you.”

The mother looked in and her face crumpled in a stormy glower. “An apple? A fucking apple? I don’t want your charity, ya old hag, and I seen Snow White!” She spat on the porch at the old lady’s feet and slammed the door.

With a sigh, the old lady set down the basket after removing the perfect apple.

She hoped those vile children got scurvy. It was just an apple.

Actual news?

Not just flash fiction?

Curious.

ahem

PURITY will be released as a print on demand in the near future.

So you’ll be able to hold that sucker in your actual hands.

That is all.

WOO!