The Edge of Magic: Story Building, World Building

Late January, 1996. A fire broke out in my apartment building, damaging the hall below the one I lived on and the apartment next to mine. I was absent, fortunately.

That weekend I attended a short fiction writing workshop led by Candas Jane Dorsey at the Black Cat Guest Ranch in the Alberta Foothills.

I was working on The Lost Room, Version 1, Chapter 12. Candas was revising her first book, Black Wine. Plenty of writers from her writing circle attended as did others from around central Alberta, including Amber Hayward, owner of the ranch.

Candas had just decided to reorganize Black Wine into two converging timelines, since a linear telling of the story did not engross readers. With the new organization, as you read Black Wine you follow what seems like two stories. But then you get the feeling that the events in the stories could not be synchronous. They finally converge and become one story that concludes Black Wine. (The point of convergence is also in the first chapter.)

When I returned home at the end of the weekend, I found my apartment building pitch dark, hauntingly empty and oppressively acoustic. I did not step in beyond the threshold, which was a fateful decision. The floor just beyond my apartment door was gutted from wall to wall; the drop to the hall below in the echoing blackness would have been agonizing. I ended up spending a few nights at my cousins’.

Challenges to Story Building: Throughlines vs Timelines

Stories unfold in three dimensions: spatial, temporal and structural. These effect how a story is told: events occur in the same place or in different places; synchronously, sequentially or discontinuously; and in a certain told order and layout. The nature of the story changes as these dimensions change and interact.

The Edge of Magic, my current short-story compendium, consists of three cycles: the Keeper of Dreams Cycle, Trapper Cycle and Possession Cycle, and a few chapters connecting The Edge of Magic to The Lost Room. These cycles follow different, albeit interacting, throughlines, fundamentally making them separate story arcs, like the two stories in Candas’s Black Wine. Yet each feeds and is fed by the others.

Which brings me to The Witcher, by Andrzej Sapkowski, which I just started watching on Netflix. This series follows three characters — Geralt, Ciri and Yennefer — as they interact with a large cast of supporting and recurring personae.

I just watched episodes 4 and 5, and abruptly realized that the three characters are not coursing different stories at the same time, but are in fact traversing three converging timelines, as Black Wine traverses two. The throughlines of Yennefer and Geralt meet in episode 5, while the actions of Geralt in episode 4 produces the storyline of Ciri, as revealed in episode 5. (This was the source of my realization. Prior to this episode, I believed the three throughlines were synchronous.)

The Edge of Magic was designed this way from the start. The Possession Cycle always was the last cycle and Keeper of Dreams and Trapper cycles mixed, with the Keeper of Dreams Cycle spanning more time than the Trapper Cycle.

The fringe between a novel that progresses serially through three timelines and one that metes out the timelines in parallel until they converge is perilous. Either novel could fascinate readers, leave them indifferent or repel them.

In the case of Black Wine and The Witcher, the parallel development of each of the timelines worked great.

Since The Edge of Magic naturally evolves along three converging story- or throughlines, with a chronological order to them, with the push of Candas’s Black Wine and Sapkowski’s The Witcher, I organized the throughlines of The Edge of Magic in parallel. I am interested to see how the experiment plays out.

One of the exhilarating acts of writing is world building. This is particularly true when the world matures as the story evolves.

What do you think? Do you like stories like Black Wine and The Witcher that play with story structure to tell a possibly more engrossing story?


Challenges to World Building: Light and Gravity

A major difference between writing a novel with dependent chapters and a compendium of short stories that contribute to the same overall story is that each story stands alone in the compendium while simultaneously kneading and building the story and world all the stories are set in. At the same time, building the world influences the story and the individual stories. It adds to a lot of edits, revisions and rewrites, which I thrive in.

Tals, the setting of The Edge of Magic, has always been set in a small pocket universe (it is the pocket universe), since the pocket universe has always been destined to merge with Stiefrasta in the Stiefrastan stories, including The Lost Room. The universe of Tals is the Gift, or Bridge Hub, of Stiefrasta.

This brings a few challenges to world building for The Edge of Magic. Since the pocket universe of Tals drifts through space-time in the Split Universe, it has no consistent external interaction with the outside universe. So how does it experience night and day? And why does it have a ground and a sky when it does not experience asymmetric (up-down) gravity consistently?

As you can imagine, this influences all the stories in The Edge of Magic. I have been building the world of Tals, while writing the stories of The Edge of Magic, for a couple of years now, but it was not until recently that I started exploring questions like these. Sure, I have been using skinlight to allow for daylight, and lack of skinlight to account for night. But really this is an avoidance solution that allows me to write stories while I continue to create Tals.

I have answers, but I am going to keep them secret so you can discover them as you read the compendium. I still have to refine why ground and sky exist — the solution I have now is weak. I think you will be pleased with my solutions when I am done.


Do you have any questions about Tals, The Edge of Magic and my story and world building?

I plan to keep you apprised as I develop the compendium, without of course spoiling the fun of the overall story and its component shorts, though a few teases, such as those I embedded in this post, are not out of the question.

I wish you all a great new year — new decade. May both be better than the mess we have been going through recently.

Keep writing,