• facebook,  writing

    Character blocking – less can be more

    I’m enjoying the work of reading the first Malazan book, but the prose itself, I do not like. The amount of character blocking bothers me. I get why the author does it (you can find his analyses of a scene or two online) but…it doesn’t read well for me.

    Character blocking is something most writers I know do. Including myself!

    I say “blocking” in the manner of a stage play. It is describing many small gestures of a character that doesn’t meaningfully add to a scene, or just doing it to excess. Character blocking is a broader way of describing something that is *usually* Eye Choreography.

    X looked at Y. He looked away.
    Y’s gaze cut to the ground.
    X looked at the thing, and then he looked at his sword.
    He walked to the bar with his gaze averted.

    There are two issues here.

    1) A book is less like a stage play and more like an impressionist painting you create in a reader’s mind. Broadly describing behavior will allow readers to fill in gestures themselves.

    2) Gestures don’t mean the same things to everyone. It’s unclear. I just touched a hand to my chin. What am I doing?
    Is this a thoughtful hand?
    Am I messing with a blemish?
    Am I hiding the cleft in my chin?
    Maybe I’m about to say something.

    Looking at things or moving your hands or whatever can definitely be relevant, necessary scene information…sometimes. *Writing* it can also be totally necessary for *you*, the author, to work out where things are in the scene and what is happening. YOU know why the character is Looking.

    A character’s mood and physicality can be conveyed throughout the scene in MANY ways. It should form a greater picture for readers. Save specific gestures for when you wanna “zoom in.”

    In editing, I get rid of all blocking except the stuff that makes a scene *less* confusing.
    If he absolutely needs to look at the window or nobody is going to realize he’s talking about someone outside instead of inside the room, then yes! Block that. It zooms us in on that “look.”

    But remember: Gestures mean different things to different people. A lot of people can’t read body language at all, even on the page. You are adding gestures that “zoom focus” without adding more information or experience for the reader. I am exhausted constantly zooming focus on characters’ faces when their whole bodies exist and inhabit a setting.

    There are alternative beats you can use, if you want to confer a pause in dialogue (though I think you can let readers infer a lot about dialogue cadence too). I will favor beats that embody characters in their setting in meaningful ways.

    I really like beats that add *new* description to a character or setting. That breaks up big blocks of description and adds color and vivacity.

    I also like character-specific beats. One character might mess with his ear a lot. Another has antsy feet. One can’t stay sitting.

    Using character-specific beats consistently across scenes, chapters, and books helps fix a character in the reader’s mind. And the reader will bring biases about the character to fill in smaller gestures (X looking at Y, then away) as appropriate to their personality.

    In Malazan, Character Blocking is frequent. I know from reading the author’s analyses of his scenes that he does intend these lines to confer information. “By looking at the sword, Tattersail is thinking xyz.” He doesn’t actually intend for anyone to know what that means though. The author generally doesn’t care if anyone knows what he’s talking about. While I respect the attitude, I find that his reliance on blocking to express information he doesn’t care about conveying isn’t NEARLY as well-thought-out as his worldbuilding details.

    I dislike the insulting connotations of “lazy” when I mean “convenient at the expense of quality,” but lazy is the word I think reading a lot of this dialogue. Perhaps less lazy, more cursory? Like “FINE I guess people have to inhabit this world I’m writing, and they talk.”

    Likewise, I can’t say the prose on Malazan is bad when what it actually is, is that the writer and I have way different priorities. That’s all.

    I see my prose on this level as the Welcoming Center of my book. It needs to get out of the reader’s way so that my story and world can thrive. I want my language efficient and my meaning clear. I am not deliberately puzzling anyone, unless the specific intent of a scene is to puzzle, and even then, I will communicate it wholly differently.
    Efficiency of language can be so beautiful.

    Malazan is legendary for its complexity, opacity, and demands upon the reader’s patience. The world and experience of conquering the books makes this worthwhile. For my writer friends, I suggest editing out Character Blocking in draft 2 because you aren’t writing Malazan, probably. Don’t worry about the rough draft. Write whatever you have to write in the rough draft. But consider taking a scalpel into your scenes to excise all but essential blocking.


    Blocking (and especially Eye Choreography lol) is super common in some areas of fiction. It’s an instinctive thing. We’re trying to think our way through a scene and conversation and we put in unnecessary information while we work it out, which is better removed later, imo.

    A story written so minimalistically need not be dry – action and dialogue alone can still be compelling if your story is compelling. I do like to add some physicality of gesture, commentary, inner thought, etc on those things, and that’s nice too.

    A novel writing class is probably bringing some of these thoughts out because I’ve had to read Hemingway. Hemingway does not do this in his dialogue at all, and his dialogue is still effective (imo).


    “Santiago,” the boy said to him as they climbed the bank from where the skiff was hauled up. “I could go with you again. We’ve made some money.”
    The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him.
    “No,” the old man said. “You’re with a lucky boat. Stay with them.”
    “But remember how you went eighty-seven days without fish and then we caught big ones every day for three weeks.”
    “I remember,” the old man said. “I know you did not leave me because you doubted.”
    “It was papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him.”
    “I know,” the old man said. “It is quite normal.”

    Then we can look over at Gardens of the Moon by Stephen Erikson for the other end of things.

    “Are you the last left in the cadre?” he asked.
    She looked away, feeling brittle. “The last left standing. It wasn’t skill, either. Just lucky.” […] She heard Hairlock laugh, the sound of a soft jolt that made her wince. “The tall one,” she said. “He’s a mage, isn’t he?”
    Whiskeyjack grunted, then said, “His name’s Quick Ben.”
    “Not the one he was born with.”
    She rolled her shoulders against the weight of her cloak, momentarily easing the dull pain in her lower back. “I should know him, Sergeant. That kind of power gets noticed. He’s no novice.”
    “No,” Whiskeyjack replied. “He isn’t.”
    She felt herself getting angry. “I want an explanation. What’s happening here?”
    Whiskeyjack grimaced. “Not much, by the looks of it.” He raised his voice. “Quick Ben!”
    The mage looked over. “Some last-minute negotiations, Sergeant,” he said, flashing a white grin.
    “Hood’s Breath.” Tattersail sighed, turning away.

    That is some dialogue from the beginning of Malazan, which I personally feel is too much blocking. The information conveyed is not important and it breaks up the conversation too much, distracting from the way the conversation is meant to propel the scene.

    But again, as I said above — This is an issue of different authorial priorities. The author here think it’s important we should know that the cloak this mage is wearing is heavy in the middle of an explanation about the situation and people in the situation, and I think it’s too much.

    (I originally posted this on Facebook on 2/12/23.)

  • Diaries,  writing

    Progressing on Dwarrow stuff for ATTBTM

    I spent a while yesterday working on nachīga, the language the Dwarrow use in my gothic fantasy novel. *Most* the work this new draft of the novel requires is actually on the Dwarrow, not the Àlvare, who are actually quite well developed.

    (I call dwarves Dwarrow for two reasons: Tolkien liked calling them Dwarrow, and also because “dwarf” means a lot of different things in English, including certain species of animals and a human skeletal disorder. Differentiating concepts linguistically should be done thoughtfully in fantasy, imo.)

    There’s so much work done on my Dwarrow that it’s easy for me to forget I’m missing some significant pieces. The Dwarrow were the first part of worldbuilding I did on this book, in fact. I wrote out this manifesto for the idea of how a society consciously aware of corruption and hierarchy might structure itself to prevent these things from growing.

    And that came about from thinking about Dwarf Fortress honestly – because in worldbuilding games, we take it for granted that we (the player/king/god) must provide every life form in our societies with food, housing, and medicine. But this is not the case in America and we find the idea revolting. We tell cultural stories about how unhoused people or those who are visibly ill are at fault for these qualities, villainizing the disfigured rather than the beautiful housed rulers who decided it’s okay some humans live this way.

    So I’ve got this weird manifesto about the society, I have maps, I have a lot of functional questions answered (levels of technology? applications of it? sanitation? fantasy mass transit?). But I actually didn’t do one of the most important parts of worldbuilding, which is the language itself for nachīga!

    It wasn’t essential to understand nachīga in the first draft. I wanted time spent with the elves to feel alienating, hostile, and foreign, so I integrated a lot of conlang words initially in order to distance readers from these hoity-toity fair folk. Meanwhile, Dwarrow were supposed to feel like a homecoming: wrapped in a big blanket of warm acceptance. I used common names for things to make it easier to follow and feel more familiar.

    A long time ago, years now, I created the Àlvare language-first. Every value I wanted for my elves, I put into the language. Being excessively elaborate. Deliberately obscure. Musical. Information-dense. Curated. So you can see why it would then feel weird coming “backwards” for my Dwarrow to finally arrive at the point where I need to design a language reflecting values/etc that have been elaborated on elsewhere. It’s a distillation rather than a foundation.

    Lots of fun getting into nachīga, though. Once I’ve determined rules for phonology and grammar and stuff, I use a software called Vulgarlang to produce my vocabulary. I go from “scratching my head over rules and IPA symbols” to “1500 vocabulary words in the dictionary” in a few minutes. It’s *really* satisfying.

    Since I spent so much time doing thoughtful worldbuilding stuff yesterday, I think today I should write cartoon dragon p0rn.

  • resembles nonfiction,  writing

    NaNo Eve

    October 31st is, in many circles, Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve or Samhain or what have you. And don’t get me wrong, I’m in the United States, so I definitely dress up and eat candy. But October as a whole is more of the Halloween celebration, and October 31st is the transition from that season to another.

    That’s right. For me, the last day of October is National Novel Writing Month Eve.

    For those of you unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo (referred to in the rest of the post as “NaNo” because I can’t pronounce “NaNoWriMo” out loud to my personal satisfaction) challenges the participant to write 50,000 words of a story in the month of November. I have won NaNo a total of fourteen times and participated in the November event* sixteen times before 2019. The stories aren’t anything to talk about – frankly, I’d drop them at the bottom of the ocean if I could keep personal access to them and still hide them away from the world – but NaNo hasn’t ever been about the destination. It’s all about the journey.

    (*The nonprofit behind NaNo also runs an event called Camp NaNoWriMo twice at other parts of the year, and they used to run an event called Script Frenzy. I’ve dipped my toe in both on my multiple occasions.)

    As someone who has undergone the journey regularly in my adulthood (and once under the age of eighteen), and made it to 50,000 on most occasions, here are some of my tips to muddle through to the finish line. What this isn’t: a way to write a decent book during that time. Rough drafts aren’t decent by nature, and I’m still figuring out how to have one that I can take through edits on my own. This post is about the sheer mechanics of cranking out words and sentences and paragraphs over the course of thirty days.


    What is your goal?

    One of the benefits to NaNo is its formal structure. You have thirty days to write 50,000 words on one story, which means there’s some outside deadline if you can’t set ones on your own (one of my classic foibles), and that’s what you submit to get the winner certificate on the site. But my golden rule of writing – of doing anything, really – is this: there are no universal rules, and as such, there aren’t universal goals, either. The habit book I read recently, Atomic Habits, had a similar idea in mind when they touted the formula to getting better at anything: repetitive practice just hard enough to be a challenge, but not so hard that you can’t do it.

    Obviously, NaNo is within this sphere for me, at least where cranking out word count is concerned. It isn’t for a lot of people. I use a computer all the time even if I’m not formally writing, so I type almost as quickly as I think. If you’re going for the “write the same amount every day” method (more on that in a minute), you write 1667 words, and if I have specific story ideas in mind, I can usually do that in a little over an hour. Even if I don’t, I can make something up within two hours and move on with my day. That’s not possible for everyone, whether because their words-per-minute is low or because it’s hard to think in story form or a million other reasons.

    Have you ever thought, “Well, guess NaNo isn’t for me”? That doesn’t have to be true! It’s part of the NaNo culture to approach it in your own way; I can’t remember a time when the NaNo forums didn’t have a NaNo Rebels section entirely devoted to people doing it outside the greater structure. This can include:

    • Picking a reachable word count.
    • Writing a bunch of shorter stories throughout the month and using that for your formal word count.
    • Picking up an already-started story and continuing it for as many words as you can.
    • Cowriting a story. (I’m not actually sure if this is NaNo rebellious or not, but it’s not the image of the lone writer bleeding onto the keyboard I have in mind, at least.)

    Official NaNo isn’t a competition against other people, despite some low-level competitive elements. It’s a personal challenge. It’s trite to say “just showing up is a victory”, but that’s because it’s true. One word during NaNo is a word you didn’t have before.


    How do you work?

    NaNo can be just as much a personal exploration as a story exploration. Your life needs to fit writing where it possibly didn’t before, and even if you were writing already, there’s still the fact that every day starts with a bunch of writing you haven’t done. Knowing what that looks like to you, and how you address it, is key to reaching your goal.

    There are more ways to write than people writing, which I anecdotally know because of myself and other writers in my life having multiple ways to write. There are locations: home office, coffee shop, library, park. There are methods: computer, notebook, dictation. There are times: on a regular schedule on any potential part of the day/night, whenever you can squeeze in a couple words, a mix of the two. There’s sprint length: 5 minutes, pomodoro, an hour. There’s daily word count goal: the even 1667, double 1667, more words at the beginning and less at the end, vice versa. I have my ways to work: brainstorming by hand, outlining as much as possible, writing on a computer wherever I have the opportunity that day, sprinting when I can but always a fan of midnight sprints, writing a lot when I first have all my ideas and then less as I run out of steam and need breaks.

    Make it as easy for yourself as you can. What easy looks like for you might not be what easy looks like for me, and it might not even be the same thing two days in a row.


    Who can you talk to?

    NaNo is fun because it’s a personal challenge. But it’s also fun because it takes what is often a very isolating and lonely experience and makes it communal. If you want to gripe about how far behind your word count is, but you don’t want to change out of your pajamas, you can go on the NaNo forums or social media and find other participants going through the same things as you. Maybe you have family or friends that are also doing NaNo, and you can turn regular hangouts or communication into NaNo write-ins. Barring that, many areas – worldwide! – have in-person meet-ups where you can write as a group in public. I’m one of the most agoraphobic people on the planet, and I’ve still gone to write-ins where I knew absolutely no one. Even if you do none of these things, there can be comfort in knowing that, as unique as the challenge is to you personally, there’s someone else somewhere who is feeling the same things as you.


    The pep-talk portion of the post

    One of NaNo’s traditions is to post pep talks by published authors all through the month of November, encouraging you through all points of your journey. (The second- and third-week pep talks, where I feel my lowest and the other authors understand, tend to be my favorites.) The post as a whole is my version of a pep talk, but pep talks are (often) less mechanical and more motivational. So here’s the ra-ra section.

    You can write this. Even if you’re reading this a week into November, thinking “this sounds fun, but it’s too late and I have no ideas”? You can write! You can find writing prompts online, you can think through cause and effect chains, and you can get to 50,000 words. You can enter December with a printed winner calendar and a manuscript document on your computer (and an external saving device, and the cloud – always backup your writing!). You can tackle an idea that’s smaller in scope but no less of a challenge for you. You can do any of it!

    And I’ll be right there next to you this November, as I am most Novembers.

  • featured,  resembles nonfiction,  writing


    Some years ago, I had major depression explained to me in terms of rivers trickling down a hillside. The rivers are feelings. Your brain is the hill. Wherever those rivers run, they’ll dig furrows over the years, and become so entrenched that rerouting them is difficult. When you’re depressed, those your river-thoughts dig horrible trenches, black and deep, and the longer it runs, the deeper it cuts. Therapy means more than taking pills to improve the water quality; it also means learning to fill in the old trenches and dig new ones. The work is difficult. It’s dirty. It never ends.

    I spent a lot of time writing as a child. I hit upon feverish obsession in elementary school, drafting lengthy stories about the things that interested me. When I was twelve, I wrote a 105,000-word epic fantasy tome that was slightly worse than Eragon, narrowly, and realized this would be my life. I had plans. I’d have published novels by the time I was eighteen, like my idol Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, and never need another job. My life would exist in the space between myself and the blinking cursor.

    Writing remained a retreat through my teenage years. I moved from high fantasy to horror to science fiction, then urban fantasy when Anita Blake started raising zombies in my brain. My second original novel–and most of the next sixty-plus novels–would remain urban fantasy, and the first of them were written when I was in high school. I wrote and rewrote those books, painfully aware they didn’t yet meet standards. I relentlessly hunted agents. I joined critique groups to pick apart my style and learned what it feels like to bleed over fiction.

    Sometimes I didn’t go to school because I wanted to write. At school, I was lonely. I felt like a lazy fool because I couldn’t track deadlines, organize my binders, backpack, or locker, and I made as much effort to survive as it took to be a straight-C student. Writing at home was different. I sat in a dark room with my heels up on a desk, just me and a glowing CRT monitor, and I wrote stories about tough women who killed evil.

    I don’t think I was ever actually diagnosed with depression. The word floated around because my mother and sibling were diagnosed with it, so I knew what it looked like, and eventually I went into doctors’ appointments, informed them I had depression, and requested a prescription. They assented. If I wanted a dose change, I told them and got it. My depression was self-managed for years.

    My survival through that time is impressive, looking back. I had a total failure of executive dysfunction and seldom got off the couch. Cleaning was a non-starter. Yet I always had clothes and bus fare, I kept a job, and I never had a major breakdown at work.

    I must have written my first dozen published novels at that job. I worked at an isolated desk on a computer room floor, and my job was primarily monitoring, so there was nothing to do unless something broke. As a lightly supervised young adult with vague job requirements, I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I never saw sunlight. I worked weird shifts. I couldn’t keep friendships.

    But I had the books.

    Perception is reality to the mind. Without enough serotonin, the world is terrible, has always been terrible, and always will be terrible. With too much cortisol, we’re all going to die and it will definitely be sooner than we hope. With a boost of dopamine, we’re in love with life, eternally perfect, always happy.

    For most people, these chemicals are stable enough to function with normal life. There are emotions, but you’re not consumed by them in perpetuity. When it rains, the rivers of your feelings will flow down the hillside, sometimes spilling into sadness or worry or joy. They’re always moving, though. Eventually it melds into the lake of your long-term memory.

    For the depressed mind, more feelings means more rivers going down dark trenches. It means the water floods, trapped within the deepest holes.

    You’re living in the bottom of that hole. You can drown in two inches of water. And people often do, if the trenches are deep enough or if it rains too much.

    My waking hours are consumed by writing, even now. If not the act of writing, then planning my books. I’ve developed myriad ways to imitate a normal life while living in my fantasy world. I listen to playlists when I drive so I can daydream creative ways to murder innocents. I’ll talk about the plots with my dog on our walks. Every time I watch a movie, I’m thinking about how I’d improve on it, or how I could tell the same story except with demons.

    When I go to bars for a few drinks, because I can’t stand being sober, I strike up conversations with people to get inspired for characters. I’m sexually harassed in reality and kill another man in my books. When I’m in the hospital, I make an inventory of sensations, smells, sounds. I get discharged and go home to write a character gravely wounded.

    I dwell on it, I wallow. Even the brightest days can be shadowed by threat of infernal apocalypse at the back of my mind, reminding me I have more to write.

    One time I wrote the death of a three-year-old while I was on vacation at a lagoon, gazing out at a perfect sunset. I had a three-year-old. I was pregnant. It hurt to write, like slipping razors over my tenderest skin, but I wrote it, wondering why all the while.

    Somehow, writing doesn’t feel like an escape. It feels urgent. Like I *have* to be writing, or thinking about writing, all the time. If I don’t, then I have to live in reality. I have to be myself, in my body, in my brain, in this world.

    Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a whole-life approach to treating depression, among other things. The idea is that you must get chemical support in the form of medications and then adjust your life to avoid deepening the trenches. You go to talk therapy. You learn to identify your emotions as you experience them: This is sadness, this is anger, this is fear. You desensitize to traumatic memories. Sometimes it means getting away from abusers, exercising more, or eating differently.

    Ideally, the result is that medication gets you out of the trenches of ill mental health so they can fill in. The rain forms new, different rivers, following easier paths. You have learned to argue without yelling. You take a walk once a day so the sunlight can purify you. You sleep more, talk about your feelings more, and stop dwelling in darkness. After a while, the dark places just aren’t as dark. You get to see the sunlight whenever there’s a break in the rain.

    I started taking antidepressants when my first son was a baby, eight years ago. I didn’t cry as much when left alone with him. That was good. I took them until my second pregnancy, then began again afterward. My medication remained managed by my general practitioner. One helpful GP changed my medication when I complained of low libido, and the experimental antidepressant threw me into wild panic attacks. I spent a week in a mental hospital.

    Since then, my medication has been managed by a psychiatrist, and things have been generally more stable. I’m more functional, anyway. Sometimes I get out of my hole to play with the kids, drive to appointments, and go to the gym. I clean the house occasionally. I’m raising a puppy, which requires a daily commitment to wearing pants and going on walks. Though I was fired by my last therapist for being argumentative, I did do several years of therapy, and my communication has vastly improved along with my understanding of self.

    Still, there are holes, and they are dark as ever. My eating disorder struggle reached a special level this year. I’m still seldom sober. I started using nicotine. My books are getting darker too. I’m trying to traditionally publish dark psychological suspense, with graphic depictions of abuse unlike any I’ve written before. And when I’m doing it, I feel that razor feeling again. The one that’s bad but good and irresistible. Perception is reality. It hurts right to write like this. But it also hurt right to starve myself, to bite my fingers until they bled, to drink until blacking out in public spaces.

    I attribute some of this to the nonlinear path of managing a chronic illness. Diabetics can stay on top of their insulin and still have problems. I have major depression even if I’m on bupropion, escitalopram, and alprazolam to manage it.

    Yet perception is reality. My reality remains between my body and the blinking cursor. When I write, I’m immersed in it, convinced on some primal level that these things are real. Old books feel like memories to me now, they’re so vivid, but faded. Some years of my life, I can only really remember what happened in my books. I’ve chosen to populate those memories with demons, hellfire, and death.

    Will I remember this year by the rapes I’ve written? Or will I remember going to the gym two or three times a week, walking my dog, and building LEGO with my children? Am I filling trenches with medication while digging deeper with my writing?

    I don’t know. I don’t know when I’ll find out, either. As I finish writing this, I’m already drifting to the problem I have to fix in my current manuscript, wondering how I can worsen my heroine’s life in a low-impact scene. There are wildfires in my head. I am filled with smoke. And I don’t know if I’ll ever quite find peace like this, or what life on the surface looks like if I do.

  • featured,  resembles nonfiction,  writing

    Productivity tools for the discerning writer

    Do you write? The answer is probably no, even (especially) if you consider yourself a writer. Why write when you could do your dishes or wash the floors? Well, it’s time to neglect your house because in our age, there are fewer excuses to ignore the blank page than ever before. Here are some of the best aids to the storytellers out there.

    A good pen. Start with the basics, right? You can go as simple or fancy as you want. Quill and ink is a classic for a reason, just as the evolved and less messy versions have appeared for their own reasons. Having a writing implement at hand is the easiest way to make sure you can get those ideas down when you have them. You can’t use the excuse that you don’t remember when you can scribble on whatever’s handy!

    A good notebook. And why use loose-leaf paper if you don’t have to? Bound books keep it all together in one place, both so you can travel with your notes and so you’ll have them all in one place! Just make sure not to get too many or the notebook you’re looking for will be buried under a pile of half-filled copies, and cleaning away from your workspace will look a whole lot more appealing than writing.

    A page marker. Save time by using a bit of ribbon or paper to show yourself where you left off. You can get creative with this, too; some leaves work for this really well and have fun differences in texture. Watch the passage of time as your bookmark goes from fresh and vital and green to brown and well-loved to crumbling to dust. Feel the passage of time as you hibernate in the winter and await a fresh crop of leaves. Try to avoid thinking about how you’ll be part of the ground you walk on before too long.

    A good carrying bag. Crafters can do wonders with a bit of fabric and imagination. Your pen and journal probably doesn’t need more than a pouch with a couple of straps, but you can go as big as you need. Bags of holding are very popular in the writing community for the portable workspace – very helpful when you’re traveling, as it can double as a bedchamber if you tuck it out of view just right – but make sure you don’t get one used and uncleansed. The whispers in your head will let you know if it’s new or not, and if you need to see someone to clear your dreams again.

    A reliable scrying tool. Sometimes, the ideas in your head aren’t enough. There are a variety of options to commune with the spiritual force of your choice. If you’re traveling light, a good set of cards or a coin might do the trick. If you need more complicated help, a ball or mirror, supplemented with the herbs and spells of choice, can bring a full advisor to bounce that difficult plot point off of. Just cast a circle if you don’t have a direct line to your god or spirit; you never know who else might be listening.

    A ritual knife. When you’re really in a tricky spot, blood must be spilt. Your own can do in a pinch – make sure to not drag the blade across one of your palms, or it’ll make writing harder – but small vermin is usually ideal for both its accessibility and utility, if your mouser isn’t keeping up. A big plot tangle might need more of a hunting trip, but use your knife to slit the buck’s throat before you take the antlers for your purpose.

    A flask. Sometimes, you can’t use the blood you’ve gathered right away. You don’t need a fancy tool to paint the blood on yourself – fingers always do – but a crystal vial or a forged tin is necessary to keep blood for later, especially if you’re on the move. Infused flasks can give the blood power to destroy your enemies…or make your manuscripts more visible to seeking editors.

    A good attitude. Whether you live in the bogs where the dead never rest, or the deserts where the wind will leach your soul at first opportunity, having a can-do mindset will get you far! (Just don’t go too far, especially at the turn of the day and night, or you might not come back.)