Character totem animals

A sorrel horse (photo by Olav2, found at

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s an unconscious habit of mine to, sooner or later, start identifying my characters with animals. A spirit guide for them, of sorts, that encompasses some of the things they are. Often, when I find myself doing that for a character, it means they’re starting to solidify in my head. It’s an odd habit–I honestly don’t know why I do it, and I never set out to–but it’s kind of fun.

I was writing a passage for Ellius when it hit me that I’m identifying him with a horse. A skinny, kicky, half-mad mustang, to be precise, all wild and unkempt and with a coat full of burrs. He’s a red-head, well, that red which is closer to blond, rather than auburn, so maybe a light reddish chestnut/sorrel horse.

Bajyer has been a bit bear-ish since conception, and Anli grey-hound-ish, but I’ve yet to find Taiver really nailed down to any animal. I want to say some sort of blackbird, up in the treetops, laughing at everybody and making mischief; though not a raven or a crow, necessarily. He doesn’t have that air of death or doom, at least not yet. I suppose it’ll come to me, eventually.

Things that really shouldn’t be an issue, but are

This post by Jim C. Hines makes me cringe and shake my head, not because I think he’s wrong, but because I think he’s right. I’m not a published author so I can’t speak out of experience, but just from what I’ve observed, and from what I’ve gone through as a female on the internet in general, his hypothetical “Jane”s experience really rings true.

It makes me sad that this is still the case, that we still have to put up with these inequalities as women in, well, pretty much any professional field, and that we have to feel guilty or somehow like complainers if we do bring it up. That we have to feel embarrassed to call ourselves feminists.

I admit this is why I have mixed feelings about choosing a gender-ambiguous penname. I have pretty much tried to be gender-neutral as often as possible online, because for me, that was always part of the appeal, that I was detached from my physical self and all the things that implied, from race, gender, appearance, etc. However, I remember at least twice being given a hard time by certain individuals for doing so. Honestly? Tiresome. Why should it even matter? Why do my “bits” matter? They don’t affect my writing or my work ethic or my morals.


Another thought, about the trouble minority-centric or minority-written books often have trouble finding an audience:

One thing I find, as someone doubly in the minority, as a minority, you get used to simply putting yourself in the shoes of a majority lead character. I can read a story about a white male protagonist and identify with him just fine, because I’m bombarded with the stuff; it’s what I grew up with, and that’s the image of “heroic” I’ve imprinted on. But for someone in that majority position, I could imagine it’s a lot harder to deal with or identify with someone who isn’t what you’ve seen as the hero since childhood. There haven’t been an endless stream of stories featuring dashing Asian ladies sweeping in to save the day. So why should you go out of your way to read it? Except that it might make your life a bit more interesting. Heaven forbid.

It’s Sabotage

Now I’m going to have that Beastie Boys song in my head forever.

One thing I’ve already taken away from my short story workshop is how much the first few paragraphs of a short story really set the stage. They set up reader expectations and provide a base point from which the story can be launched. I think on some level I knew this, but it was never concretely or with any sort of conscious awareness.

It’s also helped me a bit with thinking about my longer works. I will say it’s no secret to my friends that I struggle with my first chapters. Often they don’t “feel right” or there’s something about them that doesn’t click with the rest of my story. Now that I’m more aware of what are some really important things that a story opening does, I think that will help my first chapter writing as well.

For instance, the point where I had chosen to start the story currently codenamed Empire kept feeling wrong, although it was fun. After turning it around in my mind, I think the reason is that it’s far more goofy than the rest of the story, and though it tries to hook with action, there’s very little “stage-setting” because you’re dumped direct into action with no moment to get an idea of where that action is taking place.

And now back to the title of this post. I’m finding myself doing that self-sabotage thing again. Where I stop believing in something and let my doubts win and give up on my ideas while they’re still half-formed, half-written. I’m really excited about “Empire,” but thus far, I haven’t been able to interest any friends in the idea, and I’ll confess, the Evil Little Voice in my head has been creeping up and whispering “then why waste months writing something someone will never read?”

(Usually I hit this point somewhere around halfway into the story. Not sure why it’s so early with Empire. Maybe because I have plotted out the whole thing, so in my mind, it’s half-done? Which it isn’t. But who can explain brains?)

I can’t let the Evil Voice win. It wins too often with me, anyway.

Story Sketch: Bayjer

This is really a story sketch of Bayjer, Anli and Ellius, I think. But we’ll call it Bayjer’s for now, since it’s his POV.



“I’ve never seen a witch take so much tafil!” Anli frowned as she raised her cup. Her eyes never strayed from Ellius, who was huddled in the far corner of the tavern, over a twist of paper filled with the red dust. He stared at the dust like he did not know what to do with it, though Bayjer had seen him take the stuff before.

“How would you know?” Bayjer asked. “There aren’t any Ingfakuti witches.”

“There are a few,” Anli said, her delicate features turning dark. “But most of them are dead, yes. That’s the best you can do with the corpse-eaters.”

“You’re in a foul mood tonight. But I understand most witches like them fresher than that.”

Bayjer smirked as Anli made a warding sign. Across the room, Ellius had tapped the tafil into a bowl of rice porridge. The odd look of confusion was fading, giving way to something almost… greedy. Bayjer looked away. He felt suddenly uneasy, and took a long drink.

“But you’re right,” he said to Anli, as she refilled his cup and then her own. “I’ve sold the doses before. He’s got nearly three there. And yesterday he took two more.”

“And still he looks wasted. A witch on that much tafil should be glutted and fat. Something is wrong with him. Taiver should end our association with him.”

Bayjer ran his fingers through his short beard. “I won’t say you’re wrong, my lady, but I trust Taiver’s instincts.”

“Even Taiver makes mistakes,” Anli said.

Ellius used his spoon for only the first two swallows of porridge; after that, he simply picked up the bowl and bolted its contents, as if he were a starving man. Bayjer watched his adam’s apple bobbing rapidly as he swallowed. When the bowl was emptied, Ellius licked the rim and the insides, oblivious to the curious stares of those watching. Then he stared into the bowl as if he might refill it by will alone.

Bayjer tugged on his beard and shifted restlessly. “I’ll talk to Taiver,” he said, and then rose. “Come on, let’s go, Anli.”

Her grateful look unnerved him.

Story Sketch: Idriq, revisited

So, as mentioned, Idriq is no longer a young lord but rather, a young lady! And so. A new story sketch for her. I actually like this much better, anyway. As with all story sketches, raw, unedited and exploratory.



Taiver had been watching the sharp-faced lad for near an hour before the youth approached him.

“I understand you and your friends are seeking employment.”

Taiver cocked a smile at the lad and drank before answering. “We might be. Depends on the job. And the pay.”

“It’s simple enough,” the lad said. “Look and listen, and don’t get noticed.”

“And the pay?” Taiver repeated, avoiding Bajyer’s eye across the table. If he looked at Bajyer now, he’d only laugh, and that wouldn’t do them any good, not if the lad had his father’s money to spend.

“Seventy lir,” the lad told him. Taiver’s eyebrows jerked up.

“That much? Who are you working for?”

“I’m working for myself,” the lad said, looking irritated. “Of course.”

“Come now.” Taiver set his tankard down and frowned at the boy. “That’s a lot of coin, but not enough to hide your master’s name.

“I’m not hiding anything,” the lad said. “I am employed by the Order of Firhkenn, but I am an independent agent.”

“Lying isn’t a nice habit for young lads such as yourself–”

Taiver found the rest of his sentence cut short as the lad put a blade to his throat. Bajyer, bless his heart, finished the sentence for Taiver as he bared his own blade and showed it to the boy. “–And that’s not very priestly behavior!”

“I’m not a lad,” the lad said, coolly, “And neither am I a priest. My name is Idriq Bestricht, and if you lot aren’t interested in helping me, there’s plenty here who will.”

Taiver’s eyes widened as he saw the lad clearly, as if for the first time: the fine, if sharp, bones; the soft brow; the almost-hidden swell of small breasts under the fur-lined vest. The not-lad pulled a silver emblem out from under that vest and showed it to them.

“The Raven is rolling in his grave,” Bajyer muttered, backing off. “Eyes of Firhkenn. I don’t know about this, Taiver.”

But Taiver was all smiles. A lad that wasn’t a lad, seventy lir, and a chance to spy for a heathen cult. He couldn’t imagine anything that sounded more troublesome, or more entertaining. He held out a palm to Idriq and bowed a little at the waist.

“I am never one to balk at assisting a lady,” he said, cheerfully, and when her scowl deepened, he knew it was a done deal.


Last night I finished the first outline for The Scarlet Empire, which is yay! I’m still not used to outlining stuff, but the story was getting so complex in my head that I just thought I really needed to. Now, to actually start writing!

In the meantime I keep doodling. I decided that I’m going to make Idriq a girl, which means, ignore the Story Sketch from yesterday. In my mind she dresses and carries herself somewhat boyishly, in part to combat the lack of respect she gets, in part just because she prefers to. For the most part her role and behavior won’t change in the story.

Anyway! Doodles.

Story Sketch: Idriq

I’m taking a short story workshop from Cat Rambo and just had the first session today. Really great, lots of things I kind of “knew” on instinct solidified, and lots of things I didn’t really know as well. And now I think I shall finally have to sit down and read some Kurt Vonnegut, which I have been meaning to do for ages, and revisit Joe Hill, whom I tried once and felt lukewarm about.

One of her assignments for next week was to write 250 words about a character from a short story summary we had to bring, doing something mundane. Which made me smile a little, since that’s kind of like these story sketches I am doing. (Er, well, sort of. In the exploring a character sort of way.) The short story summary I brought was about a Vessian warrior’s daughter, so I look forward to working on that, as it’ll help with the worldbuiling I’m doing for (tentatively titled) The Scarlet Empire. (Hm, I am also considering Empire of Hunger ? Hm, that looks much worse typed out. Need to keep considering.)

OK, today’s story sketch: Idriq. Whose name I may decide to spell differently, we’ll see. Idric? Ideric? Preferences? 🙂



Being the third son of a nobleman was barely better than being born working-class, as Idriq saw it. Sent here and there on his father’s interests… He might as well have been a merchant’s son, working for his wages. His father should not have been surprised that he took up with other, more promising causes. He should have been pleased that Idriq had chosen to serve as Eyes for the Firhkenn order instead of becoming a thief or a gambler.

But Lord Bestricht bellowed and raged just as if Idric had signed on to the Elite. He grew red in the face and broke china, and threw silverware, and frightened Mother. Later on he drank until he passed out, and Idriq and his mother dragged him into bed, holding their noses against the tavern-floor reek of him.

His mother’s touch was soft when she patted his hand. “It’s a good thing you do,” she said, not quite meeting his eyes, as was polite for a woman and her son. “And Anereiq will be pleased.” A small smile caressed her lips as she named her eldest son.

Idriq bowed to her, and said his thanks, and excused himself. Later, he was glad when the Lord Knight asked no questions of his request to be sent away immediately.

Story Sketch: Ellius

As fun as it is to doodle the characters, this is going to be a novel or novella, so I’ve started “word sketching” as well. I’ve decided to try to go through all the characters, writing a short piece about each. As an exercise, I’m also going to post them here, just for fun. These’ll probably be spontaneous and raw, unedited, so I can’t promise they’ll be good… but, they’re sketches— good isn’t the point. Finding, learning, experimenting, building for later… that’s hopefully what I’ll be doing.



The stories of the Vessian witches are the stuff of nightmares: gaunt figures in tattered robes and bits of armor, with ravenous eyes and ferocious appetites, unstoppable forces of nature. One lone witch of Vess, they say, could wipe out entire battallions with raging rivers of fire, dissolving the corpses of their victims into slurry they magically consume them for power. To even speak to one is to invite death to sup on your blood and bones.

Strange, then, to think that Ellius is one of them.

He is still, and quiet, and his appetites are private. The only hint of the mad hunger reputed of his kind is in the leanness of his face and body, and the rare, faint flash of some secret desperation in his eyes. Though he is tall and broad of shoulder, he has less strength than would be expected of a man of his size; it takes him and Anli both to wrest the heavy crates of cargo onto the back of the cart. His laugh is soft and restrained—at least, the only laugh Taiver has heard him utter—and seems to hide as many secrets as the rest of him.

His smile is not common, and more often a grimace, which is why for Taiver it is an irresistible challenge to tease it out.

Taiver jokes and jabs; he worries at Ellius like a dog with a stubborn piece of sinew. He is intrigued, and then he is more; too late he realizes he has been consumed by his own curiosity.


So I’ve been trying to properly draw Ellius so I can get a fix on his face and I can’t seem to. I keep drawing this generic roman-statue-esque face I often draw for certain types of characters. But after thinking and thinking about it, he actually, I think, looks something like Price Lir from “The Last Unicorn” cartoon, only maybe with different hair (maybe?) and of course, you know, realistic and stuff. But that sort of tall, lanky, gawky, a little dorky and yet somehow also a little heroic and handsome looking, only a little, with a kind-ish face. I had pictured his hair swept back, badly cut off with a knife.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter so much, since he’ll be comprised of words, being a novel character, but still.

I also realized that the Taiver in my head looks quite a bit like Daniel Dae Kim with facial hair. *laughs*

Developing character

So I am toying with a new story idea and one of the things I always do at this stage is doodle! And I thought it might be fun to share. So here are some notebook margin doodles of some characters I am developing for an as yet untitled fantasy story. The plot outline really wants to be a novel, which makes me cringe because I’ve still got to finish The Motley Star and revise The Red Box. Or, I could go haring off a new idea. Hmmm, which shall it be!

Briefly, Taiver is the adult son of a merchant and despite being the official representative of his father’s interests in the port of Graipyj Yiz, still a bit of a wastrel, letting his sister handle the business. Ellius is a “barbarian” mage, come from across the sea to escape certain secrets of his past.