And so it — drafting — begins

I have the opening to Barbarian in the City outlined:
BitC Scrvi2

The cast list has also grown:


  • Madok – Leader.
  • DINDRAYN – Girl Thief. Blonde. RM calls her “little sister” and treats her as a Sword Triber.
  • Catigern Longfinger – Ultimate pickpocket
  • Aglovale the Key – Ultimate burglar
  • Brangaine – female cook


  • Prefect LUKAN: Hereditory prefect. His family have seen better days.
  • Laudine: Lukan’s sister.


All a bit older.

  • JAZERANT – Jaded leader
  • Howel – brother and trusted second in command.
  • Gwyn the Knife – knife thrower. Mortally wounded by Ravenmirth


  • Edern, Prefect of New Dock: More concerned with turf than justice.


Position pretty much straits of Gibraltar. Locations:

  • Shiptomb Strand: Lee shore. The western quarter of the city borders the Worldgirdle Ocean. “Crumbling sea defences.” “Where crap gets washed up”
  • Old Docks: Behind the great northern mole. Silted up. Used only by fishermen with low-draught boats. Handy for lee shore. “Once great”
  • New Docks (100 years old): Kept clear by a diverted river. Policed by the Port Authority Proctors. “Commercial Hub” “The world passes through” “My turf, not yours”
  • Council of the Seven: They run both the city and the empire.
  • Council of the Wise: Oligarchy.

So — further to the earlier discussion of what I called agnast: The broad sweep of the entire novel feels good. However,  I don’t yet know the characters, am not yet in love with the city, so this outline feels dishearteningly flat. At this point I could reformat my harddrive and go on a 48-hour bender ending. However, I prefer to trust my technique and keep moving. Only in the writing will this start to come alive…


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Posted in Barbarian in the City, Outlining, Scrivener, Writing Life
2 comments on “And so it — drafting — begins
  1. Geoff Hart says:

    Martin noted: “The broad sweep of the entire novel feels good. However, I don’t yet know the characters, am not yet in love with the city, so this outline feels dishearteningly flat.”

    First, I’d ask yourself what makes your story different from all the stories that have come before it. How is your barbarian different from other barbarians? Might be just his form of swordplay, or it might be that his culture attaches deep spiritual significance to combat, but not to killing your opponent. That’s not to say he’s a pacifist or vegan, just that death may not be the goal of running around with a sword. It’s also not to say he runs around with a padded staff weapon to avoid hurting anyone. Perhaps it’s the tension between wielding a finely honed razor-edged blade with precision and *risking* killing someone. If I recall, you’d originally talked about a city slicker defeating the barbarian in combat and taking his sword; maybe this suggestions explains why: the barbarian isn’t willing to sacrifice his principles just to win a fight.

    Then ask: How is your city different from other cities? Perhaps their gods are really big about the death thing (e.g., think Aztec sacrifices, though possibly with a European spin), and this philosophy clashes radically with the barbarian philosophy — which is why the barbarians (who are actually more civilized than the city folk, as Robert Howard occasionally implied) live as far from the cities as they can get. What are the consequences of the urban death fetish? Are people sacrificed to the gods because they committed crimes, or are only pure and innocent people worth sacrificing? Is there a thriving aboveground or underground economy based on obtaining sacrifices for the temples?

    If any of these notions catches your fancy, I hereby and publicly grant you full rights to use them, with no strings attached. Buy me some Scotch next time I’m in Edinburgh. *G*

    In any event, if you can’t answer those questions, it’s not surprising that you’re unenthusiastic about the story: if it’s all already been told, and you have nothing new to say, where’s the fun in writing it?

    One of my favorite tricks in my own fiction ( is to ask whether it’s possible to invert the standard tropes. I don’t do it all the time (sometimes I just want to tell a “comfort food” story that walks me through familiar ground), but when I do, it greatly repays the effort. For example, my novel “Chords” ( seems like a perfectly conventional buddies-with-swords-on-a-road-trip story if you take it at face value. And I think it succeeds perfectly well on that level. But if you pay closer attention to Alison, who seems to be nothing more than one of the key supporting characters, it’s worthwhile asking yourself how much of what you’re being told by the two male leads is the literal and objective truth. Not as much as it might seem. Some day I really want to write *her* version of the surface story. First, however, I need to write the sequel to the sequel (“Jester”). Maybe this fall, once I’ve got the nonfiction books finished.

    • mharoldpage says:

      The flat is part of the experience! I’ll discover a feel for the characters and their city dynamically as I build the story. The higher level stuff feels exciting, the conflict is there. I can only trust to my imagination to take me interesting places.

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