Behind the Scenes of “In Search of the Magma Heart”

Today’s the launch day for Bingeworthy: Havok Season Three! My newest flash fiction story, “In Search of the Magma Heart” is available exclusively in this collection, so I wanted to share a brief post about how it came together.

As a volunteer for Havok, I had the option to write a story for the anthology as long as it matched one of the season’s themes. The “Bingeworthy” season themes were all based on story tropes like Dynamic Duos and Answering the Call. I thought it would be fun to try to pack as many as possible into one story, but ultimately submitted it under the One Thing theme.

And having fun with the story was really the driving idea. Even though I wasn’t planning on submitting to Havok’s Wacky Wednesday genre, I wanted to write something that would make me and readers laugh. When I wrote the first draft of this story, it had been quite a while since I had finished a fiction project. So my goal was just to enjoy the process, and that meant a heavy dose of humor.

That meant starting with developing a funny premise. As I brainstormed, I thought it would be fun to focus on a reluctant hero—who makes no attempt to hide said reluctance. I also decided to create another character so the two of them could banter on their adventure, but it also worked to make her the one who invited him along in the first place.

Of course, the funniest thing that can happen to a reluctant hero is drawing them even deeper into the quest they want to escape. So from the very beginning of plotting, I wanted something to happen to the main character that would keep him from going back. If you’ve read the story, you know this definitely happens.

With this goal/ending in mind, writing the story was a matter of maintaining forward movement while sprinkling in bits of humor. I may have mentioned this in previous posts, but I think one of the best sources of comedy in fantasy is juxtaposing fantastic elements with more modern/mundane sensibilities. This is why one character is named Maelys (a real, albeit uncommon name) and the other is named Tom (which you may know a few of).

I think the most prominent example of this occurs in the first two paragraphs. The first paragraph is supposed to read like an epic, action-packed opening promising a heroic fantasy story. Then the story “cuts” to her friend panicking on a rock surrounded by lava. I think the gambit pays off, giving readers an idea of what to expect for the rest of the story.

Of course, by design, that juxtaposition gets somewhat inverted at the end. (Spoilers ahead.) I tried to write Tom’s rock collecting as another bit of comedy—kind of a jokey side note explaining why he agreed to this adventure in the first place. But at the very end, that hobby has a very serious ramification. As I wrote the story, I tried to balance the humor with foreshadowing, and I think the final version leans slightly toward the latter. It’ll be interesting to hear how readers react to the story, and whether they paid special attention to the rock collecting at the beginning or if they thought it was just a funny anecdote.

Regarding the ending, when I was writing the first draft of the story, I tried to fit in  a little more action to amp up the climax. In this early version, the cavern was home to a serpent that attacked the duo when Tom grabbed the wrong gem. Maelys battled the guardian while Tom ran around being useless. It was a funny idea, but it also would’ve used up a lot of words.

I knew that if I wanted to show this scene, I’d need to trim the tunnel scene. But that walk through the darkness had so much good humor and banter (even more so in the first draft), that I didn’t have the heart to trim it. In my opinion, those elements matched the heart of the story more than a big fight (even if said fight did include one character running around). I was willing to sacrifice the action, but I like to think that there’s an alternate timeline with a >1000 word story that has both bits.

But since we can’t currently access that timeline, I thought it might be fun to share a deleted scene of sorts. When I realized the fight would take too many words, I tried trimming the serpent’s part down to a very brief appearance. This section was still too long, so I cut the snake entirely, unceremoniously sentencing it to a forgotten draft on my computer. Until now.

Tom nodded. “Alright, cool. So we just pick the right one of these orbs and you can be on your merry old quest.”

“I guess so.”

“Great.” Tom strode toward the closest gem, arm outstretched. “Now we just need to figure out which one it is.”

Maelys started saying, “I wouldn—”

Tom grabbed the gem, and a hissing sound reverberated through the cavern.

The teenagers locked eyes then looked up. An enormous, ebony snake slithered between stalactites.

“You are kidding me!” screamed Tom.

The snake launched itself at the boy before finding itself suddenly impaled by Maelys’s spear. It thudded to the ground, then shot the swordmaiden an indignant look before crumbling to dust.

With that, I’ll conclude this behind the scenes look at “In Search of the Magma Heart!” You can find it and 45 other great flash fiction stories in Bingeworthy: Havok Season Three, available now. Thank you for reading!

Upcoming Story in Bingeworthy Anthology

Exciting news! This week, Havok announced their newest anthology: Bingeworthy: Havok Season Three. As you may know from my previous post, this year I began volunteer editing for Havok. This means (in addition to selecting and editing stories for the website), I got to play a small part in selecting stories for this anthology. I can’t wait to see them released into the world (in digital and eventually print form) all collected together!

I’m also excited to share that I’ll have a story published exclusively in this anthology, titled “In Search of the Magma Heart.” I wrote it with the “The One Thing” theme in mind, but it also fits in nicely with “Dynamic Duos,” “Answering the Call,” “Super Duper,” and even “Strange New Worlds.” That’s almost a whole season’s worth of themes packed into 1,000 words! It takes place in a fantasy world, but I’ve sprinkled in healthy doses of humor and banter, similar to “When Magic Died” and “Salty.”

Other than that tease, I want to leave the synopsis vague until after the anthology releases. But when I do, I’ll be sure to post a behind the scenes look at how the story came together, right here on the blog.

But if you’re intrigued by the idea, be sure to keep an eye out for “In Search of the Magma Heart” and 45 other flash fiction stories in Bingeworthy: Havok Season Three, releasing next week! It’s available for preorder on Kindle right now, with paperback copies becoming available soon.

Behind the Scenes of “When Magic Died”

Happy new year, all! I’m excited to announce that my latest flash fiction story “When Magic Died” has just been published on the new Havok Publishing website. If you’ve already finished it, read on to learn a little about how the story came together. If not, go check it out now — because it’s only available to read for free today (January 2nd)!

Like previous stories submitted to Havok (when it was an imprint of Splickety), I wrote “When Magic Died” specifically for the theme. But this time was a little different. The theme for the whole month of January is rebirth, but I also needed to decide which genre/day to submit to (mystery, sci-fi, humor, thriller, or fantasy). I sat on this decision *for a while*. Then, in late October, I saw them put out a call for submissions for the humor genre. I took that as a sign, and started brainstorming.

Taking the theme very literally, I figured that something would need to die at the beginning of the story. Since fantasy is my preferred genre, I thought about what kinds of things would die in a fantasy story — and pretty quickly thought of chosen heroes’ quests to do something like save the world. I figured the humor part would come from the hero failing their quest right at the beginning, then doing just as bad a job when they’re invited to be part of the rebirth.

I considered having the hero fail a quest to save the world, but I felt that I wouldn’t be able to describe a world-rebuilding scene without ripping off The Neverending Story. The idea of magic dying struck me as a good replacement, so I ran with that. It seemed like it would be fun to write about an adventurer who’s supposed to help rewrite the laws of magic, but ends up doing so in a very unconventional way.

In terms of writing the story, that was the only outline I worked with. Most of my other flash fiction stories are a little more plotted-out before I start writing. But I figured I’d do better at being funny if I took more of a discovery-writing approach. That way, things would feel more natural instead of being forced in a particular direction.

So when I started writing, some things came more easily than others. I wanted to get to a joke as quickly as possible so I could readers’ expectations from the beginning. The set-up “magic was dying … had the nerve to do just that” was an idea that stuck from early on, and (especially in the first draft), it gave me some space to be not-as-funny in describing the opening scene in more detail.

Which felt like a mini-saga of its own. Since I knew most of this piece would be driven by dialogue, I originally wanted to cram so much information right in the first couple paragraphs to make sure readers understood the point of the quest, show how magic died, establish the dragons in the story, etc.

It was all pretty superfluous, which is a recurring theme in most of the early paragraphs of my flash fiction. Thanks to some incisive editing, the final version gets to the meat of things much quicker — and lets me reference the enormous collections of random objects collected by questers (especially in video games). If this story hadn’t already been so close to 1000 words, you can bet that list would’ve been a lot longer and weirder.

As I wrote, I figured a lot of the humor was going to be juxtaposing traditional, almost regal, high fantasy elements with more modern and banal bits. I’m not well-versed enough in comedy theory to understand why, but I just think it’s funny to have a fantasy world where dragons say things like “Missed it by that much,” and “A magic system. You’re supposed to come up with a magic system.”

I was happy with the way Dave (so named because I thought a non-fantasy-sounding name would be funnier) came together as I wrote. My initial thought was that his character would be just shy of competent. Which is funny, but can also become moderately annoying. Fortunately, when I settled on snark and sarcasm being the basis for magic at the end, I realized it would need to be part of his character during the story (instead of just thrown in at the very end). I feel like that gives him some agency earlier on, especially when the dragons are suggesting different magic systems.

Which leads back to the conversation between Dave and the dragons. As mentioned earlier, I tried exercising my discovery-writing (and comedic) muscles with this story. I enjoyed the challenge of balancing things that just seemed funny with beats that would push the story forward. This made it nice to have five different characters playing off one another — no matter who inserted a wry comment or made a joke, there was always someone to steer things back on track. Five characters in a flash fiction story really is madness, but I was fortunate that this one could revel in it.

And, in case the topic comes up, I take zero issue with developed magic systems, haha. It just seemed like a fun thing to play with in the event of one being entirely erased.

Of course, I can’t talk about what went on behind the scenes without mentioning editors Lauren Hildebrand, Gen Gavel, and Andrew Winch. The story is much stronger than the first draft thanks in no small part to their help and insight, and I’m super honored that they selected it as Havok’s inaugural Wacky Wednesday story! Thanks all 🙂

Have any questions or comments about “When Magic Died” — the story itself or how it came together? Feel free to post below or under the story on Havok’s website. And make sure you keep following them on social media or become a member for even more awesome flash fiction stories!