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!

Some of My Favorite Books

Since I’m still pretty new to the blogosphere, I’m still in the process of brainstorming and developing post ideas. And, as a writer, it seems only natural for some self-generated content to include some of my favorite books. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and the books aren’t arranged in any particular order, but they’re some of the first titles that come to mind when I think of some of the books that have had the biggest effect on me.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. When people ask what my favorite book is, this is my most common answer. I vaguely remember being really intimidated by its size as a young kid, but eventually mustered myself to tackle it. And when I did, it blew my mind. The self-referential narrative and scores of characters with unique stories expanded my idea of what I thought a book could be, and, ultimately, inspired me to start creating my own stories.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (and whole Narnia series) by C.S. Lewis. The Neverending Story may have got me started on storytelling/creating, but The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe got me started on reading. I wasn’t much of a reader at a really young age, but my mom insisted that I read the Chronicles of Narnia. I in turn insisted that I start with LWW because my brother and I watched the animated 1979 version on VHS. By the time I finished, I was hooked. I devoured the series, moved on to other fantasy books, and never looked back.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. My mom (sense a theme here?) read this to my brother and I when we were young kids, and I fully intend to do the same with my own one day. It took me quite some time after that to move on to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I really loved how The Hobbit gave us a shared family memory.

Sabriel by Garth Nix. I read this classic YA adventure on a week-long Boy Scout trek. I had no idea what to expect, but was drawn into the world Nix created and revealed through Sabriel’s eyes. The combination of reading such a an engaging adventure while hiking through the Northern California forests made reading this book such an unforgettable experience. Even better, I was able to share this story with Nix in person at an author event where he signed and personalized it, and we were able to talk about our scouting experiences together!

Neverwhere and Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Once again, what made these books so special was their stories plus the memory of where I read them. I actually bought my copies of both books while studying abroad in London, and read them that same semester. It was so cool reading Neverwhere while living in London and able to go out and walk to the different places it references in London Below, and I really enjoyed reading Stardust at a time when I was going out every weekend and exploring other parts of England.

Like I said at the beginning, this is just a smattering of my favorite books, but there’s probably a reason they’re the first few to come to mind. I’ll most likely revisit this idea over a number of posts, but hopefully won’t resort to this theme too, too often, haha.