One of the goals of SPFBO is to give a chance to self-published authors to get more exposure. This year I’m taking part in the competition as an advisor for Fantasy Book Review’s judging team. I decided to offer a spot to the authors in our group and will post them throughout the year. To see all of our content regarding the competition, check out my SPFBO page!
Michael DeAngelo is the creator of the Tellest universe of fantasy books, and the lead designer of the tie-in tabletop game, Quantum Quest.
He is currently working on the sequel to Awake: Arise (due later this year), a new trilogy beginning with Heart of the Forest (due later this year or early 2019), and the sequel to The Tinker’s Tale: Stealing Seramore (due early 2019).
Michael enjoys any opportunity to flex his imagination, and loves building on the world of Tellest through any medium he can. His other hobbies include anything Marvel-related, exploring other worlds in videogames, movies and books, and spending time with his wife, and their dog and cat.
Every storyteller has heard of writer’s block. It’s the bane of our existence, and it can cause a serious lack of mojo. Once you get a taste of it, you can find yourself stuck at your writing desk, looking at a blank page or screen, or stumbling forward with an idea that you’re not sure you can get behind.
In a lot of ways, that first line that you write when you’re beginning a story can be a block all on its own. How do you decide where to start? What motivates your characters? Where do you go once you set the wheels in motion? It’s challenging to create and develop your world.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Sometimes, storytellers look at their tales as set pieces and action scenes. Think of it as watching a movie: when the camera is on, the sequences move along, and the set is ready to come to life. When the camera is off, things fade to black, and nothing occurs in that little part of the world anymore.
Authors have an opportunity to make their worlds more dynamic by letting them live and breathe even when they aren’t in focus. And the best part of this type of world-building is that you’re letting the world itself help to generate new ideas that move things forward. Add to the world. Give it some flavor. Include a little more than just the storyline beats, and you’ll find that the world gives back. Neville Longbottom wasn’t an important character when J.K. Rowling first wrote his name—the surname even had a few permutations when she first conceived of Harry’s classmates, including Puff and Sidebottom. The act of coming up with the names of “the original forty” became a set of plot generators all on their own.
Sometimes you’re faced with what seems like impossible odds when you’re developing your story and hoping for growing material. Imagine telling a story where your hero is a farm boy whose parents die under mysterious circumstances, leaving him all alone in the world. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for plot generators there, but that all changes when you introduce him to the bigger world beyond the countryside. When he first ventures to the nearby city, what does he see on the path to his destination? All those buildings and landmarks have their own stories; the guards who stand sentinel at the gates talk about the latest rumors they’ve heard; perhaps the townsfolk are ready to celebrate an important event unknown to the hero. When you open up your world to new possibilities, they begin to grow exponentially.
In John Seavey’s book, Storytelling Engines, he discusses how comic book writers have a status quo that they could tell stories around without making humongous changes. In essence, they could stay in the world they’d created, and lean on what already existed to create new tales. He likens it to following a recipe, where you have all the ingredients you need, but you’re free to experiment and find new and exciting ways to put them together. Spider-Man’s life, for example, is so robust that there are plenty of opportunities to generate more stories. Whether it’s his work, his school or his relationships, there is food for thought, and it’s helped to give the wall crawler such an expressive set of story possibilities.
This strategy works for novels as well, and it can help you to avoid the dreaded writer’s block if you employ it properly. Let the world grow even when the character doesn’t see things happening in the background, or in the city or town they left behind. On the other side of closed doors, what plans are being set into motion? What kind of prophecies do people talk about, and how does that come around in the story?
While you can certainly use this concept on a book that doesn’t need a sequel, the possibilities grow when you let it flourish around a series. Characters that readers might only have seen glimpses of can be treated to a promotion, where they have more to add to the story. This often occurs in series where there are overlapping storylines. You can see it in stories where decades pass, and you bear witness to the descendants of original characters.
I’ve leaned on this kind of storytelling in my older books, but didn’t realize what I was doing at the time. It was only in my latest release that I made a conscious effort to acknowledge and foster the idea.
When I pieced together Silver Serpent, I wanted it to have its own collection of plot generators that I could lean on as I developed the story. I knew that the city of Argos had to be its own character, where the people who lived there had their own lives and interactions, even when the main characters weren’t around. Life existed long before Kelvin or Marin met these citizens and continues afterward, leaving a lot of storyline potential in place. Kelvin also has a growing list of mentors and companions (as well as enemies and adversaries) that help to fuel the story with plot points. There are lightly touched elements of the tale that are being expanded into big, beefy parts of the narrative in the upcoming sequel.
If Silver Serpent didn’t have a grander fantasy universe that it leans on, there would still be enough content in the two books to produce a perpetual set of plot generators for a long while. I’ll always have the ammunition to head back to Argos and see the next big plot hook—and now, thanks to my plot generators, there are tons to choose from.
If you’re a storyteller and you’re looking for a way to avoid writer’s block, try and give yourself a head start. Develop some plot generators and set the world up to put together the building blocks for you. You’ll find it’s much easier to see the adventure moving forward, and it will feel more natural as well.
https://amzn.to/2PMXpHY (this would be a reference to the line “You can see it in stories where decades pass, and you bear witness to the descendants of original characters.”)
If you’d like to get in contact with Michael DeAngelo, you can find him on social media:
Read an excerpt below and get Silver Serpent by clicking on the cover:
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Read an excerpt of Silver Serpent:
Chapter One: Arcana Unleashed (sample, get full chapter here: Silver Serpent First Chapter)
Every hot breath that left her lips felt as if it could be her last. She limped on, rounding a corner in the dark of night, only the meager flames in those streetlamps offering her any sanctuary. And they were far and few between.
She heard her pursuers behind her… How many were there? It mattered not. In her current condition, if any of them found her, all was lost. She cursed herself, knowing better than to rush headlong into a trap like that. The Brotherhood had practically announced every move, and still, she strode into it as though she were unbreakable. Her ankle spoke to the truth of that matter.
No, it was her hubris that hobbled her that night. She had seen it all before and swore she would not walk down that same path. A helpless chuckle left her lungs then; she wasn’t exactly walking.
A shadow stretched down the alley, cast by a distant streetlamp. She couldn’t see its owner but knew they were up to no good. Blowing out a deep breath, she leaned against the nearest stone wall and tugged the rapier from the sheath on her hip.
The Silver Serpent would not go down without a fight.
As the fellow drew farther from the light, he came into view in a way that made his shadow look like the real threat. Small and unimposing, he held his short sword out to the side like someone who had never been trained in its proper use. Still, she knew better than to make any more assumptions. She wouldn’t make that mistake again.
He sauntered up to her with a grin on his face. Though night had come to Argos and they lingered far from the streetlamps, his eyes were sharp enough to confirm he had found his mark. There could be no mistaking it—she was the Silver Serpent. Auburn hair fell beneath that black tricorne hat and would have shielded her face well enough that she didn’t need the domino mask that covered her eyes. The rest of her ensemble was a combination of form and fashion: a choker with a red gem in it caught the reflection of those distant flames; leather gloves and boots were fitted to her form perfectly; a black jacket was unopened beneath an exquisite leather belt; and her shirt was low enough to highlight a gorgeous shape.
The thug lingered on that part the longest. He licked his lips at the thought of his helpless prey before him, all alone on that cold night.
She waited there, steadying her breaths until little wisps of steam ceased to leave her lips. Standing as straight as she could, the dare was made to her foe to cross the distance and see just how helpless she was.
He didn’t keep her waiting long. As he drew close, he leapt out at her like an eager housecat. She was no mouse, though. She leaned on her uninjured leg, spinning a pirouette around his awkward lunge. Her rapier smacked against his rump, nudging him against the wall she had been using for support. The Silver Serpent hunched low as she backed away, favoring that wounded ankle. From her vantage, she saw the shade of red on the man’s cheeks, and a click of her tongue pushed him farther.
That sole member of the Brotherhood charged forth, swinging his sword with reckless abandon. She scoffed as she took the time to dodge those pitiful attacks, and as he grew winded, she lifted her sword, catching the weakest of his blows with ease. With his weapon halted overhead, she balled her fingers into a fist and struck his chest.
All the air was expelled from his lungs, and he bent over as if he could find his discarded breath on the stone below him. The Serpent stepped forward to deliver another dizzying attack, but her ankle wobbled beneath her. A kick like that would have to wait for her to recover.
That was only if she recovered, she reminded herself. Though that man produced awkward sounds while trying to catch his breath, she heard other rapid footsteps in the distance. That leg would only heal if she found better sanctuary than the light beneath those lamps.
Bracing against the wall like she had done, the thug didn’t notice her approach. He turned his head just in time to see her lunge forward with the basket of her rapier. That was all he would remember from that night, for it struck him in the temple, spilling him to the ground in a heap. As he ceased his struggle, breath finally entered his lungs again.
She turned about and allowed herself another moment of weakness, laying the tips of her gloved fingers against the wall. With adrenaline fading fast, she was reminded of the pain in her leg and was left to wonder if it grew worse since that encounter.
The vigilante let a quiet growl shake her chest. If she hadn’t been delayed by the pointless endeavor, she would be halfway home by then. The thought of it had her shambling forward quicker, but every step on that battered ankle forced her to wince and a fretful breath through gnashed teeth. She drew from the alley into a wider area of the streets. The homes and shops were strewn about farther from each other, but the darkness seemed more prevalent, as those lights from the hanging lanterns were farther around corners. One of those bends would be just dark enough, she thought. It would hide her well enough while her foes from the Brotherhood tried to track her down. In time, they would move on, and she could find a more permanent sanctuary far from where they had triggered their trap.
The Serpent was already shaking her head. It could take longer for her pursuers to move on than she wanted. By the time she could aim for home again, the sun might creep into the sky. At that point, everyone in Argos—criminal and layman alike—would be trouble for her.
No, she reasoned, she had to move along—though she soon realized the way was filled with more obstacles than she anticipated.
“This is as far as you go,” she heard. When she whipped about, she saw him there: a ruffian she’d thwarted on more than one occasion. It was only his silhouette she spotted, but she was sure it was him. “You’ve overestimated your odds this time, Serpent,” he said. “You’re outnumbered, and you’ll not be getting away from us.”
“When will you ever learn, Thoro?” she asked. Her voice was deep and sultry, more powerful than the women the Brotherhood associated with. Just hearing her own voice was enough to prop her up, and she brought her rapier to bear once more. “I am not the prey. You are.”
“Sometimes the prey overwhelms the predator,” the man countered.
At once, the Silver Serpent understood it was no longer the two of them in that quiet part of the city. Another pair of thugs from the Brotherhood was there, surrounding her on either side of the street.
Thoro came closer, his fierce gaze locking onto the wounded vigilante. The man was young, but his eyes were filled with experience. Pain, regret, guilt, and fear were a part of his life far too often, but that wicked smile he wore was the most terrifying thing the woman had seen in some time. “This is where your story ends,” he promised.
At once, his companions moved in, brandishing their own weapons. The Serpent alternated glances at those brigands circling like vultures. She might have been able to fend them off, but those other rapid footsteps, those hoots and hollers, made it clear even a victory against those two would be hollow.
“Bring her to me alive,” Thoro ordered. “And leave her pretty. I’ve always wanted to see what was beneath the mask.”
As she gripped the sword in her hand, she waited for the men to fall in on her. That adrenaline would flow through her again, and she would use as much as she could to last through the attack, but she knew her odds were dire.
Another noise resounded above, and she cursed her luck. Thoro had no shortage of allies, it seemed.
“Don’t you know it isn’t safe for a woman to be out here alone at night?”
She arched her eyebrow, for that voice was familiar enough to resonate with her. She let it repeat in her mind, and once it registered again, she blew out a weary sigh. That voice was familiar, though it had been forced deeper to disguise its owner. Still, she recognized it well enough.
“There are all kinds of unsavory folk about this late,” he went on.
The Silver Serpent looked to Thoro, and his gaze confirmed it. The latest arrival wasn’t one of his. She slipped out farther into the open, closer to her criminal adversary, and glanced up to the roof of that building to see her rescuer above.
Clad in green and brown, his dirty blond hair was caught in the night breeze. Her keen eyes caught sight of the feathered arrow nocked to his bow, though the rest of his audience could barely make sense of him.
“Now who’s this,” Thoro demanded, “a devoted fan?”
The fellow on the roof stood straighter upon hearing that query, squared his shoulders, and looked upon the men below with a wry grin. “I am the Emerald Adder,” he declared.
The masked heroine did everything in her power to stifle the groan trying to force its way from her lips. While the thugs below muttered about the strange name, the fellow above deflated.
“Kill the moron, and bring me the woman,” Thoro bade.
At once, the man above made his foes certain he was not a mere imitator. He brought his bow to bear and took aim. As he peered through one narrowed eye, the Serpent glimpsed behind the green domino mask, so much like hers. In the darkness, the slim ring of gold around his pupil was apparent. With a subtle thrum, he loosed his missile, and it screeched forth, striking the brigand closest to the woman. The thug tumbled to the ground and cried out, cradling his bloody thigh.
The Silver Serpent made good use of her gift, turning about and lunging at her next nearest opponent while he was distracted by his companion’s screams. She grimaced as she bore the weight on her damaged leg but remained standing regardless. With a graceful spin of her blade, she knocked the crude sword out of that thug’s hand and followed with a sideways slice up his hand. He yowled and grasped his palm, hopping back just far enough away to avoid another deadly bite of that rapier.
Thoro had seen enough. He strode forward, pulling his own sword from its sheath, a scraping sound reporting its presence.
The Serpent set her eyes on that weapon, noting how similar it was to her own. “You’ve changed your weapon, Thoro.”
“I’ve merely added one to my repertoire.”
“You’ll never best me at the rapier,” she assured.
“We’ll see about that.”
The resonant thrum of the bowstring could be heard again, and Thoro dipped out of the way, avoiding the projectile shot forth from the archer above. The bandit looked up at him with a furrowed brow and shook his head as he turned his attention back to the masked woman before him.
His prey limped forward, willing to meet him and his deadly attack head on. At once, their rapiers clashed, sending a metallic note far into the distance. The Serpent heard those other members of the Brotherhood closing in but knew her focus had to be on the lone man before her.
As Thoro took the lead in the fight, he demonstrated some skills and maneuvers that shook his foe off balance. She flashed her eyebrows, oddly proud of the man who had been naught but a pain in her backside before. In that darkness, with a wounded leg and a burning in her lungs, she realized he had become a rival of growing talent.
When the Emerald Adder struck out with his bow, the member of the Brotherhood dodged again. That arrow snapped when it reached the stone street, Thoro well out of reach. The fellow in green above growled as he drew another arrow from his quiver.
A chorus of steel on steel rang as the duel grew more intense. Thoro set the pace and the momentum, and the costumed heroine favored her leg as much as possible. He pushed forward, but the woman refused to give any ground, forcing him to dance around her instead. She placed her weight upon that sturdier leg, meeting his attacks with an impenetrable defense.
Thoro may have grown in skill, but he was no match for the Silver Serpent.
And she had at least one more trick up her sleeve.
Knowing that her enemies—Thoro’s allies—were closing in on their position, she feigned several parries, enticing the man closer and closer. A glance to the rooftop let her see her would-be savior was looking over his shoulder to fetch another arrow.
It was time, and she knew it.
As Thoro drew close enough for her to smell his powerful musk, she let him know even a cornered serpent still had fangs. Her free hand slid to her hip, and she tugged a leather pouch from her belt. In a continuous motion, she rotated that arm in a circle and slammed the container to the ground.
A loud pop resounded, and it was the only warning the member of the Brotherhood would receive as a bright light flashed. Thoro cried out as the flash powder stole away his vision.
The man above knew not to waste the gifted opportunity. He aimed with his bow one last time and took a moment to breathe. Once more, a golden circle highlighted his eye as he caught Thoro in his sight.
In all that commotion, the man from the Brotherhood couldn’t focus on the thrum of the bowstring. The arrow screeched forth from above and thumped into the muscle of his shoulder, and he fell to his knees when his legs shuddered. A scream rang into the air as he contended with his pain and discomfort.
The Silver Serpent watched as her ally dropped from the roof of that building, landing in the street upon bent legs. He ran to her side and propped her up, bearing some weight to allow her injured ankle some relief. They hastened away from those injured fellows, farther into the darkness.
“You’re a fool,” the woman chastised. “You’re not ready for something like this.”
He bore a smile as he ushered her along. “Neither were you, it seems. If I wasn’t here, things could have gone much differently this night.”
With a sigh pressing past her lips, the Silver Serpent offered him a nod. “You’re right. Now you have another task, though. Get me home…and without anyone seeing me.”
“I really don’t think you’re the one who has to worry about being seen,” he teased. He did as instructed, though, leading her down the adjacent alley, away from those injured members of the Brotherhood.
As the effects of the flash powder wore off, Thoro gnashed his teeth together, watching the man in green and brown assist the Silver Serpent to safety.
* * * * *
Get the full first chapter here: Silver Serpent First Chapter