Review: The Basement Escape Room

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Brevity/Mt. Diablo by The Story So Far)

I promised this yesterday, but life (by which I mean D&D) got in the way.

Yesterday, I went to The Basement, an escape room in Sylmar. Supposedly, it’s one of the most intense horror-themed escape rooms in the Los Angeles county area.

It absolutely delivered.

All of the little details – from the fact that we had to put hoods over our heads initially, to the poor lighting and the paucity of flashlights, to the ominous digital clock in the corner counting down our forty-five minutes – made The Basement the best escape room experience I’ve had to date.

I’ve been to one escape room before – Escape Room L.A., specifically a room called “the Theatre”. I would have put that room at a solid 8 out of 10 – it was difficult, but not too difficult, and the puzzles were fun and interesting. I went for a friend’s birthday party, and I wasn’t at all disappointed with the money I spent.

After The Basement, I’m now realizing that Escape Room L.A. was more like a 6.

There won’t be any spoilers here, so if you’re looking for cheats, go somewhere else. But suffice to say The Basement was a totally immersive, pretty intense experience that had me, at one point, literally leaping back in fear. There aren’t very many ‘jump scares’ per se, but the terrifying atmosphere of the room builds a kind of pressure that Escape Room L.A. couldn’t hold a candle to.

(In case you’re wondering if I succeeded, the answer is yes – to Escape Room L.A. In The Basement, we were in the process of keying in the final code when the time went out. Suffice to say I’m pretty salty.)

It was another indicator of how real the experience felt that I found myself trying to comfort the actress who played one of the fellow prisoners, despite knowing she was an actress.

The only thing that bugged me about The Basement was the sheer amount of red herrings in the room. In Escape Room L.A., everything that could be messed with ended up yielding some sort of clue or key. In The Basement, there were entire puzzles we didn’t solve which seemed to have no impact on obtaining the final code to exit the room. They were likely alternate puzzles (The Basement has a variant version so if you fail the first time you can come back to a completely new set of puzzles and try again), but it seems sloppy to me to leave the puzzles from the variant version just sitting in the room to waste time on.

If you’re looking for one of those family-friendly escape rooms, I would absolutely recommend you check out Escape Room L.A. It seems like the perfect amount of difficulty and atmosphere for puzzlegoers and moderate thrill-seekers.

If you want an intense, extremely challenging horror experience, I don’t think there’s anything better than The Basement. I would play it over and over again (and I probably will).

Yours, dead and eaten by Edward Tandy,

-R.R. Buck

Two Short Announcements

Hey all,

Hope you’re having a good Sunday! I won’t be posting very much right now, but I did want to update those few wonderful souls who care about my personal life.

First, The Oasis has been accepted by Westwind, UCLA’s journal of literature and the arts, to appear in their Winter 2017 issue! I’m really stoked to be able to work with them on edits (which means later this week I’ll have a post about the editing process, so be sure to check that out). It also means I’m an officially published author for my creative writing!!!! 😀

Second, I’ll be spending the next few hours at a horror-themed escape room in L.A. called The Basement. It’s supposed to be super terrifying and it only has a 12.4% success rate, so keep your fingers crossed for me, Lindsay, my brother, and his girlfriend! You can expect a short review when I get back (two half-posts make a full post right?)

Until then, keep on reading and keep on writing!

Yours, anticipating impending pants-wetting,

-R.R. Buck

The 4 Types of Alpha Readers Every New Writer Should Have

(Reed’s Playlist for the Occasion: Petters On The Low by the one, the only, Dunkey)

Before you read this, make sure you read the preceding article about drafts; it will make things make more sense (and you can also pick out the inconsistencies in what I say as my opinions develop over time).

When you’re starting out as a writer, your readers are almost as important as you are. In fact, the amount to which your early writings improve will entirely depend on your readers – not in that you can’t improve without alpha readers, but there will be a ceiling to how high you can climb unless you have good ones.

So, without further ado, the four types of alpha readers every new writer should have:

The Adorer (AKA the Lindsay Liegler) is the one who will always tell you how wonderful they think your work is. Their criticism, if any, is usually framed in terms of them (“this part confused me, but I think other people might get it more”) and they always seem to be proud of your writing, even if you’re not. The Adorer may be the only person you’re allowed to show your first draft to, if you’re having difficulty mustering up the strength to start a second draft. Their optimism will continue to inspire you to work towards that perfect final project.

The Surgeon (AKA the Dylan Buck, the Kritika Iyer) is the one who isn’t going to hold back on you for any reason. They will pick apart your writing on all levels, from “this plot is confusing” or “this character seems to have no motivation” all the way down to “that’s the third time you used the word elucidate in one page; pick a goddamn synonym already”. The Surgeon is best used late in the game while you’re working on your third draft, to help you get everything perfect for a finished project.

The Reader (AKA the Mikey Tharratt, the Brandon Agundez, the Jesse Kendrick, or the David Terry) is someone who, while not necessarily a writer themselves, is an intelligent and well-read consumer of your particular genres. They know the best authors and can recognize the best strategies; they are exactly the kind of person you’d like to see reading your finished work someday. They’ll also be able to tell you, through general consensus, exactly what things do and do not work for your book from a reader’s perspective (arguably the most important perspective there is). For this reason, they should only be utilized at the end of the third draft, where the project is as close as it’s going to get to something you would make an actual person read.

The Writer (Aka the Audrey Miano) is the last of the four, the one who is also a writer and can help you from a nitty-gritty, nuances-of-the-craft perspective. The Writer should be approximately at the same level of skill as you (although a little better or a little worse never hurt anyone) so you can learn from each other without feeling condescending or condescended to. The Writer may also be the most avid reader of your work because, like you, they recognize how important a role they have in your writing experience. The best draft to utilize The Writer is the second draft – before you’re too set in your ways to change, but after you’ve gone through some extensive revisions that you don’t need pointed out to you.

All four of these alpha readers are important, and it’s also important to have them stick to their roles. If you have a Reader who becomes a bit too pandering like an Adorer, their criticisms may be replaced with praise that’s useless when you’re tightening the last screws on your work. And should your Writer start picking things apart like a Surgeon when it’s still the second draft, you might get disheartened by the amount of things wrong and abandon the project altogether.

In the end, you can learn a lot about writing by practicing the craft, but you’ll reach a point where you can go no further without a dedicated crew of alpha readers tearing your work apart in just the right way. If you’re lucky, you’ll have readers as good as mine 😀

Yours, ready for a lot of weekend D&D,

-R.R. Buck

Why RWBY’s Characters Are Good Examples for New Writers

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Hey Thanks by the Wonder Years, Beast of Burden by the Rolling Stones, If by the Red Hot Chili Peppers)

I’m writing this post because my friends and I are gearing up to binge-watch RWBY Volume 4. (Don’t tell them I already watched it on my own.)

I think new writers (myself included) have this misconception that great characters stem from complex personas. I wrote in a previous post about the similar misconception that we shouldn’t be using archetypal characters in our works.

We need to get over this. There’s a reason archetypes are good; they are the scaffolding from which a more nuanced character can be made. Until a certain point in the series, Harry Potter was just a star-struck noob and Hermione Granger was the know-it-all annoyance.

You don’t start with your character completely fleshed out. You start with a facade of a person and then, as you fill in more details and backstory, something crazy starts to happen. They get deep – surprisingly quickly too. I did this for a D&D character who started out as an ex-military man haunted by the destruction of his hometown. Classic PTSD-ridden character, right? Turns out he had a much stronger moral sense than I’d anticipated, a real desire to protect people. I didn’t even notice until he was breaking the fingers of a man who had merely threatened one of the other members of the party (much to the surprise of myself and the entire rest of my group).

“Creating a character” isn’t the term for what you should be doing. “Discovering a character” is much more like it. When you start with an archetype and then delve deeper, there’s a pleasant feeling for the reader of getting to know someone they’ve always known – that’s the archetype – in a much more intimate and subtle way. (Plus it also leads to some really cool moments where you as an author are surprised by a decision that your character makes. To be honest, it’s my favorite part of writing, having my own characters shock me.)

RWBY (an American-made anime created by RoosterTeeth) is an incredible example of this. It’s no spoiler to say that every single character in RWBY is derived from some sort of folktale or legend – the main four heroines are reimaginings of Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and Goldilocks. All of the obvious character traits (Red’s naivete, Snow White’s frustration with being locked away by family) mix with new concepts the creators imbued into their characters (Goldilocks with a riot grrrl temper and Belle as an angsty, subdued teenager).

In the first season, it’s kind of like you’re watching Into The Woods, but packed with even more folklore. Still, the characters are essentially two archetypes forced together. Combine cute, unaware little Red Riding Hood with a fierce passion for protecting those close to her, and you get Ruby. Mix Snow White’s perverse family dynamics with an obsession with precision, and you have Weiss.

But none of these characters are new in a sense. Weiss could just as easily be seen as the Hermione prototypical “perfectionist”; Ruby could be Prim Everdeen with a battle scythe. What makes these characters different is what they go through over the course of the show. Is Weiss the kind of person to lie ‘poisoned’ until a prince can come free her? No, she’s going to create giant spirit beasts to smash shit up. Is Ruby able to take the full hit of the loss of her friends and continue to be a leader to her team? Nope, she’s going to get weaker and cede that title to Jaune. (That one actually surprised me.)

Even if you don’t know the show, you can understand what I’m saying. We start with archetypes because it’s what we (and our readers) know; where we go from there, and how the journey fares, is what makes things exciting – what makes a character really pop off the screen and beat the shit out of you with shotgun gauntlets.

(Okay, but seriously, if you haven’t seen RWBY, please watch it. For the love of God.)

Yours, sick as a slug but still hanging in there,

-R.R. Buck

How Many Drafts?

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Kygo’s remix of Take On Me)

I should say from the get-go that all the research I’ve done, all the books I’ve read on writing, say the same thing: it changes based on the author and the project. Some authors may write 200 perfect words a day, finish their first draft in a year, and it will be publisher-ready. Some may write dozens of drafts, each taking less than a month. There is no right way to do this.

If you, like me, are dismayed by a lack of consensus for advice, get used to it. The writing field is full of people who think they know best, all of whom write in drastically different ways. And in a way, that kind of makes sense – if they all did the exact same thing, we’d have no variety in our books.

If you want a place to start, I suggest you take the same path as me. It goes like this:

  1. First Draft
  2. Wait at least two months
  3. Second Draft
  4. Wait at least two weeks
  5. Third draft

The first draft should be a sprint. You don’t talk to anyone about what you’re writing, don’t ask for feedback or critiques; you don’t even look back over your own chapters and start editing a little bit. You shit that project out as quickly as possible, because the first draft is about momentum. Especially if you’re writing something longer, you can quickly lose it if you get bogged down in editing. I swear this was the single biggest thing holding me back from writing in the beginning, so if you can resist the temptation, you’ll be well off.

The waiting period is to allow that steaming-hot mess of a first draft to cool off. You need time to gain perspective, to allow yourself to see it from a third-party point of view. I swear if you touch it before that first waiting period is over, your edits will not be nearly as clear or helpful.

If the first draft was a sprint, the second draft is a marathon. You need to re-read over the whole thing and determine – what are you trying to do with the project, and are you achieving that goal? The answer will almost invariably be “Yes, but not as well as I could be.” That’s fine. In addition to making continuity changes related to events of the project, character temperaments (never, never, have a character make a decision they wouldn’t make just to forward the plot), and other elements, you’ll be looking for the flow of your novel that takes it from beginning to end. There will be chapters that perfectly match the flow you intend. Great; leave them in for draft 3. Then there will be chapters that jut out, slow or even halt the flow. Kill them. It doesn’t matter if they contain your favorite bit of dialogue, or your most impressive side character – kill them. They will stop your reader faster than anything.

The second waiting period is more of a formality than anything. Some people can go right from draft 2 to draft 3. For me, I get so invested again in draft 2 that I need a little break first.

In draft 3, you’ll be cleaning up and making everything look pretty. All the little spelling, grammar, and word choice errors, all the bad descriptors and the horrible adverbs – these are the targets of your last draft. Your story is looking good, nothing is blocking the flow, but you still can smooth things out just a little bit more. This one should be almost as slow as the second draft and to me it’s the worst one, but it’s absolutely necessary to make your project publisher-ready.

A last thing to note – you can have beta readers look over your work only when you’ve finished the second draft. That first draft can easily be killed by one accidentally harsh comment from a beta reader. The second draft is about you getting your story in the order you want – readers’ opinions might distract you from the goals you have for your project. But any reader can ignore the little word choice errors (or, if they’re homies, they can circle them for you) and see if your tale overall is compelling and engaging.

I’ll definitely have another article on beta readers soon – what makes for a good one and a bad one. For now, just get started on that first draft. If you intend to write novels, you’ll need practice shitting out 100,000 words in two months.

Yours, rested and slightly saner,

-R.R. Buck

A Question About Tolerance

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Carrion by Parkway Drive, Where The Sun Never Sleeps by Stick To Your Guns)

Hey all,

So I’m going to take a long weekend away from it all to be with family. I think I really need it at this point; I’m kind of exhausted (and I got sick too). That means, for the sake of my mental and physical health, I won’t be posting anything for at least the next three days.

Be strong until I get back. I believe in you ❤

I’ll leave you with one thing, though. It’s a question I’ve been asking myself quite a lot lately, and I want to know what you think about it.

Should we be tolerant of intolerant people?

The answer might seem obvious to you; it’s not to me. For a long while, I touted tolerance as one of the primary virtues a person should attempt to live by in life (see my post about my first tattoo). To me, tolerance isn’t just something you get to do towards another educated, intelligent, rational person whose views just happen to differ from your own; you have to muck about with the neo-Nazis and the true horrors society has to offer, and you have to offer them tolerance as well.

But I was reading an article the other day about librarians fighting back against the Trump administration’s attempted censorship of free access to knowledge. You can find it here if you’re interested.

Anyway, I was reading it and thinking hard about the nature of tolerance, and how it seems like we have a paucity of it on both sides of the spectrum. On one hand, some Trump supporters are clearly xenophobic and nationalist (and I’m going to try my hardest to be impartial here, so if you read any negativity in my words, please block it out if you can). But on the other hand, I’m seeing an increasing number of people on the liberal side of things who are belligerent if not downright hateful.

Here’s the problem. I’m a straight white male. According to a lot of people, I don’t get to have a say in this debate – and to some extent, I agree with them. How could I ever know what it’s like to be marginalized, oppressed by institutional prejudices that have been around for hundreds of years? I could never, ever understand such a thing.

But when I see people acting in such a feral, loathing way towards other human beings, be it on either side of the aisle, it makes me sad. I think to myself, Why can’t some Trump supporters recognize that not all Muslims are terrorists? But I also think, Why can’t the radical anti-Trump protesters recognize that not all Trump supporters  are complete monsters?

And then I see things that make me even more disheartened: in the comments section of the very same article I was reading, I learned that one of the librarians most involved in the protest against Trump (April Hathcock) is pretty staunchly prejudiced against white people. Apparently, she’s tweeted things like “White people, by virtue of their race privilege, are racist. All of them. Everyone.” I don’t know if I believe living under a racist system automatically makes someone a racist.

Can I condone her hatred of my people? Before I might have said no. Now I’m not so sure.

Does the middle-class white society need to be rudely awakened to what it’s like to face strong prejudices? Maybe it will help us learn. Maybe it will make us even more hateful of minorities. I honestly don’t know.

I’m starting to drift from my point. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I used to believe that tolerance is something you have to extend to everyone, even those who are intolerant. If you’re not doing that, you’re being just as intolerant as they are. But now, in the face of all this craziness, I’m starting to wonder. Do we need to be tolerant of people who want to commit acts of genocide and open prejudice? Is it actually wrong for a member of a minority to hate someone like me, simply because of the color of my skin?

It’s impossibly tangled. The child in me wants to find black and white; seeing none, he runs into a quiet corner of his life and takes shelter under the wings of his family for a weekend.

But I want to ask you, followers and general blog-reading public. What do you think is the answer here? Do we need to be tolerant of intolerance right now? Or do we need to strike back against it with a wave of hatred just as powerful?

If you don’t have the answers, join this slowly sinking ship and have a drink with me.

Yours in perplexed solidarity,

-R.R. Buck

Needs-Be-Met [Short Story]

A little post-Valentine’s present to my lovely followers.

Needs-Be-Met

This drink, thought Colin, is absolutely the most disgusting swill I’ve ever tasted in me whole life.

He took another sip, eyeing the Qarlight crowd. Nothing too interesting to keep his gaze for more than a second. They all seemed duplicates of the same man – as if somewhere in Locurr there were a mold of a muscled, salt-skinned, grizzly-bearded fifty-odd swab with a permanent grimace.

Skorn, he thought. That was the kind of name for this kind of sailor. Two dozen Skorns packing this tavern full to brim, and he couldn’t find a damned reason to be here a moment later than he had to be.

But he didn’t need to be here. So why was he here?

Must be something I ain’t seen yet.

He downed the last swallow of his drink, the muscles of his throat pulling tight to keep the venomous whiskey from seeping into his stomach. The barkeep noticed his empty glass and moved as if to bring him another, but stopped as another patron hammered on the bar with one fist.

I should leave before he makes his way back to me.

But there was something here, wasn’t there? Why the hell else would he be here?

Colin’s mammy had always told him, “You is one shit-stain of a child, but by Providence above, you can find the right moment as though you was being led to it on bridle.” He’d had difficulty figuring that one out as he got older – especially with the move to a more coastal locale. But the memory rang in his head, clear as a ship’s horn on a cloudless night.

No, he was here for something, and he had to wait for it. Colin resigned himself to another whiskey.

If he wasn’t so bored, he wouldn’t have noticed the door sliding open. As it was, his eyes just so happened to be pointed in that direction when the traveller entered. She was trying to act all inconspicuous, but you could see she wasn’t from here on account of her cloak. There wasn’t no one in all of Locurr who’d wear that shade of shimmery gray; they dealt in enough fog rolling through the bay as it was without dressing like it.

The woman didn’t receive much attention as she made her way around the perimeter of the tables, ducking between Skorns sharing an ale together or the occasional Skorn throwing back whiskeys alone. Even the barkeep, distracted as he was with the horde of rabid Skorns crowing for one last drink before closing, didn’t see her.

But Colin did.

And she seemed to see him. She made waves towards him, padding across the oaken floor and taking a seat at the back-corner table next to his downturned whiskey glass. Her cloak was pulled up around her head, but he saw the tip of a smooth, pale nose and the curve of a smile. No, wait, the other one – a frown.

“You’re a hard man to find,” she said.

Colin had a rule for situations like these: Pretend to know what’s going on.

“Well, I had to be here,” he said. “Otherwise you wouldn’t’ve found me.”

The traveller cocked her head at him, the folds of her hood deepening.

“So, can I get you a drink? I’d stay away from the whiskey, personally, but – ”

“Were you not made aware of the business?” she said.

“I was just getting to that, woman. Calm your balm.”

He gestured her in closer.

“You have what I’m looking for?” he said in the ghost of a whisper.

She gave a barely perceptible nod.

Can’t wait to see what it is.

“Good,” he said. “Let’s find a more private place, yeah? I have a room upstairs.” He hadn’t known how long he would have to wait at this shithole-in-the-wall.

She nodded again, and rose as he stood.

“What the shit do you think you’re doing?” he said in a fierce whisper.

She glanced at him, startled, and he finally got a glimpse of her face under the hood of her cloak. She was Vellish, sure enough. And she looked kinda plain. Only thing special about her was her frown. Well, that, and she wasn’t a Skorn.

“We supposed to leave at different times,” he said. “Otherwise it looks like we came here together.”

“Right,” she whispered, her face coloring. “I apologize… I didn’t… well, I haven’t done this before.”

Me neither.

“Just meet me up in room twelve in five minutes,” he grumbled, pushing back his chair.

“Five minutes?”

He rolled his eyes in an exaggerated circle. “Yes, ma’am. Five minutes.”

Should give me enough time to figure out what’s going on.

* * *

And after all that, all she needed was a damn dagger keened.

To be honest, it was insulting. Colin had played some real majestic folks in his time – captains, merrymen, even a lordling once – but he’d never stooped so low as to be a smith. Hell, he wasn’t even sure how he would go about it.

Kiri sat on his bed, lit by the low light of Qar shining through the open window. That was her name – Kiri. Those damned easterners never could figure out how to make a name sound proper. Oh, what’s your name? Flellim? Pleased to meetcha, Phlegm.

“How long will it take?” she said, fidgeting with the material of her cloak.

“Depends,” he said, pretending to study the edge of the blade. Thing was definitely dull, but the tip still looked like it could stab someone good. People would waste money just because they couldn’t kill a person the way they wanted to.

It was definitely of an unparalleled quality – that much even Colin could tell. A wicked, curved thing with flares and barbs along its length, it wouldn’t have looked out of place tucked into a blackscourge’s jerkin, or thrust up to the hilt in a baron’s chest. It had been crafted from some strong shimmery bronze metal – probably bronze – with some accents painted in purple and crimson.

Now how, Colin thought, does a woman like this find her way to a dagger like this?

“Maybe a couple of days,” he said, finishing his inspection. “I got a lot of cargo on my ship, so to speak.”

“Money isn’t an object in return for haste,” Kiri said.

He nodded, thinking to himself.

“Right, then I can have it ready for you tomorrow night.”

The frown deepened. “Is there no way – ”

“Sorry, are you a smith? Do you know how to sharpen this thing?”

“Well, no, but it couldn’t possibly take more than – ”

“Let me explain something to you,” he said, standing from where he’d been leaning against the desk and pacing to the window. “You might find some low-rate metalman in the wharf district who’d be willing to bring this thing back in an hour with some nicks along the sides and a half-assed job. You want that, door’s over there.” He turned from the window to face her, lit from behind by Qar. “But you want that thing to cut a string that’s layed atop it… you want it to move through skin like butter… you’d best leave it to me and pick it up when I damned well tell you to.”

Hell yes. Nailed it.

Kiri sighed, nodded. “As you wish.”

“Now, before you leave, I need your word this thing won’t be used for anything illegal, yeah?”

She stiffened, but stayed silent.

He let the moment stretch before letting out a hearty belly laugh. “Oh, child, you shoulda seen your face! Nothing illegal.” He wiped a pretend tear from his eye. “I’m just jerking your anchor. You go on and get. I’ll start on this thing first rise tomorrow, and we’ll see if we can’t get it to you by Roelight. Sound fair?”

She nodded and stood from the bed. “You have my most sincere gratitude, sir.”

“Gratitude don’t buy the bread,” he said, ushering her to the door. “But that hundred chits you’re gonna bring me will.”

* * *

Colin didn’t see himself as a conman. In his opinion, a conman was like a common thief – willing to take advantage of poor folk for his own ends, not seeing the bigger picture of things. A man like that deserved to scrounge for his next meal.

Colin was a needs-be-met. He’d invented the position himself after his first forays into the area. People came to him – he always did seem to be in the right place – needing something, and he would do it for them. It didn’t matter what it was; sometimes, he wouldn’t even know what he was supposed to do until it happened. Then, all of a sudden, he’d be showered with praise and chits and maybe even a personal thank-you.

There was only one rule to being a needs-be-met.

The thing the person hired you to do was never the thing they actually wanted.

It had never failed to steer him true. A woman wants her cattle brought to market? Turns out she actually wants her husband killed. A child is looking for his friend? What he actually wants is for his mammy to pay him more attention.

As such, being a needs-be-met required a lot of research. Colin had been holed up in Locurr for only a year or so now, but he knew the right people to ask about a dagger like this. Within a few frantic hours of shuffling around, paying tips to the low folk of the city, he’d found out exactly what the dagger was for.

It had been made to kill a king.

The King of the Coast, actually. Warren or something, his name was. Apparently, he’d been threatened near four years ago by a man wielding the exact same dagger. Poor fool had put more thought into posturing than regicide; he was captured and hung before you could tip your hat.

When the waves had settled, the King had created an unmarked grave and a bereaved widow – Colin supposed that was Kiri – and continued to rule as though nothing had happened. Or, well, not exactly – apparently he’d increased tariffs on the ships arriving from around the world to pay for a larger, ‘justified’ standing guard. Poor farmers and merchants in the area were starving now, unable to buy any of the food being shipped in.

From what Colin had heard about Warren, he seemed like the kind of king who would probably make the world a better place by dying. But Rule #1 said that Kiri didn’t actually want to kill him.

So what was it, then?

* * *

When he finally got it, the answer seemed obvious. She thought she wanted to kill him – hell, Colin couldn’t blame her there – but she actually wanted to be caught killing him. Folks did strange things like that; they would want to try to succeed at something but ultimately fail. Colin had had his share of needs-be-met jobs with the exact same procedure.

The only problem was, apparently there was something magical about the dagger – so said Colin’s contact in the seedy part of town. Kiri had funneled all her money into imbuing the thing with strange powers, such that if she tried to kill King Warren, she might actually be likely to kill him.

Well, Colin couldn’t have that.

He made up his mind and slipped the dagger under his cloak – a good mucky brown garment, as was custom here in Locurr.

He left the tavern, found himself a strong roan, and left the city.

* * *

It seemed like the stupidest people in the world were guards.

Colin couldn’t say for sure, because he hadn’t met all the guards in the world, nor all the stupid people. But in his opinion, if a man walked up to you and said I have a magical dagger that someone was going to use to kill the king, you didn’t throw that man in a holding cell. You let him talk to the king.

Sure, there was a point to being cautious. But if he’d been an assassin, wouldn’t it have been the stupidest thing in the world to announce it beforehand?

Well, actually, that is what Kiri’s late hubby did.

Colin’s thoughts were interrupted by the impending arrival of the king. He could tell even before he saw the guy – the heavy clank of full armor compared to the pitter-patter of his guards’ footsteps from down the corridor.

What kind of king arms himself but not his guards?

King Warren appeared, resplendent in full plate painted gold, his flowing tresses floating in the breeze. Or, that was how Colin preferred to imagine him. Right now, underground and lit only by flickering torchlight, the man looked like an old suit-of-arms and his hair was plastered flat to his neck.

“So,” he said. His voice, at least, was impressive.

“Yep,” Colin said.

“You say there is a magic dagger.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“One that a man used to kill me four years ago.”

“That’s right, Your Majesty.”

“And now his widow intended to use the same dagger to slay me?”

“Absolutely, Your – ”

“Enough. You will speak when spoken to.”

Colin was silent.

“You said you had the weapon in your possession, that you wished to turn it in to me so I would be safe.”

Colin remained silent, but cocked an eyebrow.

“And yet when my guards searched you, there was no weapon to be found.”

Colin nodded.

“….you may speak now.”

“Well, it looks like it was part of the magic,” Colin said, reaching towards the back of his shirt. “They couldn’t see it, but it’s here, on my oath. See?” He pulled the weapon out and held it in both hands.

Immediately, an unseen force jerked the dagger from his hands and hurled it across the room, burying it up to the handle in King Warren’s eye. His body hit the floor before either of the guards could even react.

Well, I’ll be dipped, Colin thought. Looks like Kiri did want him dead after all.

* * *

Colin bowed his head, and the magister placed the crown on his brow. A growing cheer rang out from the courtyard of the Coastal Castle as the citizenry from Locurr all the way to South’s End Bay praised their new king.

What a strange law, Colin thought. He’d been sure the guards were going to run him through when they saw Warren dead on the ground – seemingly by his hand. Instead, they were coronating him.

Colin spied Kiri somewhere in the crowd by her silvery cloak. All he could see of her under the hood was a granite scowl. He waved to her; she turned to leave.

Never been a king before, he thought, beaming for his public. Guess the people of the Coast have some needs to be met.

Symbolism in Writing

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Postcards from Hell by Zebrahead; Jude Law and a Semester Abroad by Brand New)

Another interesting tidbit today from Stephen King’s On Writing:

“[Symbolism] doesn’t have to be consciously crafted as a kind of ornamental Turkish rug upon which the furniture of the story stands. If you can go along with the concept of the story as a pre-existing thing, a fossil in the ground, then symbolism must also be pre-existing, right? […] While writing Carrie I never once stopped to think: ‘Ah, all this blood symbolism will win me Brownie Points with the critics'” (pp. 198-199)

It makes for a good occasion to point out another mistake I made in my first experiences with writing – assuming that symbolism is something you consciously craft into a story.

At the start of things, I would read all these great works of literature and say to myself, “This author knew from the very beginning what every single detail of their story symbolized.” Meanwhile, my writings seemed silly and shallow in comparison.

But a few days ago I was re-reading over the full version of The Oasis, my short story posted elsewhere on this blog, and I noticed some pretty heavy symbolism. For one thing, Terjjen greeted the rising sun, which usually represents progress and the dawning of a new era, with unease and revulsion – a foreshadowing symbol of his desire not to be dragged into a political war. The final scene (spoilers!) has Terjjen glancing back and forth between the blue button (where blue has been the color of dread previously), the bookshelf (which represents knowing better and making an informed decision), and Olienna’s body (symbolizing the death of his previous life, one way or another). When he chooses the button, it’s indicative not just of his choice to start a race war, but also a subtle head-nod to a decision that is counterintuitive to Terjjen – the decision to move forward.

I’m not pointing this stuff out just to stroke my ego. I’m trying to say none of this was intended when I wrote the story. It just happened and then I realized later on the symbolism inherent in the writing. The second draft – at least according to Stephen King – is meant for recognizing and nurturing those symbols, so that what came across as the subtext in your mind can be noticed more easily by the reader.

TL;DR: If you’re scared of the literary giants and their impossibly complex symbolism, don’t be. Chances are when they read over the first draft, they were just as surprised as you.

Yours in the dark of an unlit apartment,

-R.R. Buck

Stephen King’s Words of [False?] Wisdom

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Superstition by Stevie Wonder)

This will be a real short one.

I’m reading through Stephen King’s book On Writing, which so far has proven full of interesting tips and tidbits. Today, however, I came across one thing which totally jarred me, which I wanted to share.

“Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.”

In a section where King describes the basic elements of a story, he makes a special point to bring up plot as the enemy. Plotting out your novel, he says, is the best way to make the story itself fall flat. The twists and turns of a good book (or at least King’s good books) come from a situation he’s put his characters in, which he then observes.

(Interestingly enough, he also writes about the “What if…” question as a great way to start the concept for a book, which is how I usually start mine.)

The reason it jarred me is that I have always had my book – hell, my entire series – developed in terms of plot, at least vaguely, before I set my fingers to the keys. I found early on that if I don’t have an endpoint in sight, it’s really hard for me to actually complete a work.

That being said, I still let my characters ramble around on their own paths. I’ve had entire chapters that surprised me because a character made a decision I didn’t expect. But there’s always been that light on the horizon, the end of all things where the story will eventually, in the course of its own time, progress.

When you’re starting out as a writer, you’ll hear a lot of (probably contradictory) advice coming from different sources of authority. If you’re confident enough to be able to, I’d advise you to read all of them for exactly what they’re worth – advice from people who’ve made it – and then choose what to follow and what to ignore. You will only ever be able to write the way you write; if that’s plotting out everything to the last tree branch beforehand, then you go Glen Coco.

Despite this, I still find the advice intriguing. I think I’ll try to write something short soon where I don’t know anything more than that initial “What if…” question, and see how it turns out.

Until then!

Yours fully,

-R.R. Buck