Unwritten Stories

Posted: November 29th, 2013 under the writing life.
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Like most writers, I have a head full of unwritten stories–only they aren’t nicely complete, something I could, with time, simply write down.   They’re like the old men who, when we moved here, used to sit on benches in front of the domino hall (no longer there) and grocery store (still there, and now including what was the domino hall, but the wide covered sidewalk is now cluttered with the ice machine, the propane tank locker, a newspaper stand, and signs, so it’s hard to even walk under cover let alone slouch on a bench and talk, as the old men used to do.

At any rate, every one of those old men had stories to tell, but they were shy of the newcomer woman who slowed down on her way in and out of the grocery store, hoping to overhear more.   A few of them (Doss and Wallace, particularly) finally relaxed enough to share some, but nowhere near all, their stories.    The characters in my head with unwritten stories have stories…everyone does…but they aren’t telling them yet, or not in enough detail that I can be sure it’s really a story and not an anecdote they want to share. 

“When I was young I used to trail cattle down to the stockyard at Georgetown.  It took two days; we stopped overnight down there where the road makes that curve, to water them at that little creek.”    I made the mistake of asking questions, not waiting out the long pauses in these stories, not understanding them, early on.  “Oh,” said that old man, “it wasn’t like it is now.  You wouldn’t understand.”

“When I was young, I used to move cattle over there the other side of 183, on that high ground, up to Lampasas, at night because it was cooler.  It was all prairie then, never plowed, and in the late summer the grass was so tall it was like riding through water, in the moonlight.”  I was quiet.  Slowly, with the long pauses of someone who had worked alone for hours at a time, out with cattle and a horse and maybe sometimes a dog, a little more came to me.  “As high as the saddle.  Some years,  that big grass, you know?   When it seeded that would be as high as my head, sittin’ there on the horse.”  Not enough for a full story…it was background, it was anecdote, it had no real beginning or end.  “The river ran clear, back then.  That one, you know when you’re driving on the road and there’s a cut through rock and then a bridge…well, there was a place upstream with a break you could get the cattle down off the high ground and they’d get to movin’ too fast; they could smell the water…”

“Oh, way before that–they used to move cattle up this way, on north, and stop to water them right over there, where those houses are near the creek. And there was a racetrack, too, right in there.   They had horse races and the preachers would get mad.”

“Those people out on that back road to Salado, they grew melons down in that draw, and all kinds of garden stuff, and haul it into town with a mule wagon.”

The woman were more willing to talk.   “When I was a girl, when the bluebells bloomed, they were just solid down by the creek, in the meadows there near our house, and we would go down and pick them and make us crowns for our hair and have them in the house…”  (These are not bluebells, but a rare gentian that produces a large purple flower, every shade from palest lavender to deep royal purple.  Real bluebells don’t grow here or anywhere near.)   “When I was a girl, my girlfriends would ride out to our place (on horses) to spend a day down by the creek…”  or  “I’d ride my horse into town to see my friends.”   Boys might have a bicycle; girls didn’t.   So it was walk or ride a horse.   They also talked about each other.   “Her?  She was always like that.  Hated dresses, wore overalls like her brothers–”  “Prob’ly were her brothers’!”  “I  ‘spect so.  Anyway, she drove a tractor and everything, and she’s still got a mouth on her.  She’ll tell anybody what she thinks.”  And the wonderfully evocative “Do you remember the time so-and-so did such and so?…??”

In my head, the characters talk to each other and sometimes to me.   Mostly its in murmurs I have to strain to hear, until one of them gets bolder and comes closer and talks loud enough to be clearly heard.  But the snatches I hear fascinate me and I try to sneak up on some of them, even though experience suggests these aren’t ready yet.    “It’s wasn’t either my imagination:  there’s something in there…”   What? asks the writer and silence follows, impenetrable.   “Whatever she thinks, it’s not over yet.”  This, a little louder, intended for me to hear, and with a gleam of eyes out of the shadowy corner where shadowy figures are sitting, elbows on knees and heads close.  I know the she is aimed at me, the writer.

There are times when a half dozen or so jostle one another, waving hands at me, talking loudly, each insisting that the next book should be his or hers or theirs together.   “It’s MY story!” someone says.  Then comes the patient interview period, with me writing and testing that character’s potential.   And there are times like right now, when they’re all staying back from me, muttering and murmuring to one another, nobody ready yet to face the writer and the writer’s power of choice.  Even Mirabel Stonefist, a familiar-enough character from the Chicks anthologies, who should be coming forth for another attempt, is hanging back, scowling a little.

Some stories I know a lot more about (Kolya Ministiera’s backstory, Arcolin’s backstory–some of which is now coming out, but not all of it)–and more about Kieri’s.  But backstory doesn’t always make good fore-story when the later story’s written.   We all know Kolya retired as a soldier after losing an arm.  There’s no future extension from starting back before that (any more than there would be in writing about Paks as a nine-year-old.)   Stories are best (I think–I could be wrong) when they end with the potential for more stories in the direction they were moving.    Stammel’s death ends his life, but the people he affected live on, and their stories might be (possibly) something I could write.

I started a story about Sier Segrahlin at the Battle of Greenfields, in which he is killed.  We already knew he died;  Gird finds his body after the battle, recognizes him of course, and then wonders about the fate of Segrahlin’s son, the one who was willing to kill his father that time Gird saved his life.   How had Gird affected him.  How did he feel at that battle?  How was he perceived by his peers and his king?    What had he done with his son?     So far as it goes, the story is interesting and feels “right”…this is the real Sier Segrahlin, still “that brown man” as Gird saw him.   (It’s also the real king, not Luap’s father  but his second successor, and as Dorhaniya put it, a fool.)   But the story stops, stubbornly (so far; I’m still pushing at it) before the point at which he does what he is going to do, and then, in defeat, dies.   I know a couple of things that answer questions I had about the whole situation…but not enough of the answers to go on with.

He is a fascinating man…he should make a story…I think eventually he will…but it’s going to be a lot of work.   He’s aware that power is slipping away…he doesn’t understand it and wants to, he has suspicions he can’t prove one way or the other, and he’s hampered by the same situational and cultural problems that hamper many of us who live in some level of privilege.   To really know what he needs to know…to achieve understanding…he’s got to be willing to see reality up close and change his mind.   He teeters on that edge, in the story as written so far.   He’s moved toward understanding as far as he can go without breaking completely with the culture he was born into…and he can’t do that.  Partly because Gird’s war rouses his natural opposition, and when pushed he pushes back, as many of us do.   And partly because centuries of tradition and family weigh heavily on that side of the scale.

But he’s not the only one.   Exactly what is Sofi Ganarrion’s relationship to the crown of Kostandan?   Why did he leave?   Why does Kostandan still care who his offspring marry (and by the way, who is/was Sofi’s wife?)   Sofi has an odd reputation among mercs–many see him as a flamboyant showoff, but his own troops see him as a very competent commander, and his actual record (his contracts, his battles won/lost, his retention of personnel) suggests someone far more competent than his reputation.

The unwritten stories itch inside my head, both the ones I can almost see coming forward and the ones still being whispered and murmured over there in the shadows.   Who’s next?   (I wish I knew!  But it will come; I just have to keep sitting here day by day, thinking and writing, and something will eventually jell.)


  • Comment by GinnyW — November 29, 2013 @ 7:37 am


    Fascinating. Having a whole crowd of characters in my head that were not speaking to me just might make me feel a bit rejected. Like having a class (or congregation) that refuses to sit in any of the front rows, because they would be too close to the teacher (preacher).

    Sier Sergrahlin’s story took an odd turn in Limits, when Andressat discovered that his widow sent the regalia to the Verrakai. So I am not surprised that there is a story (even a full length novel) lurking there, waiting to come out into the light. If it does, I would like to read it.

    Sofi Ganarrion’s story is more surprising. He does not appear regularly enough for me to have a good picture. Although now that we have met Ganlin, we have a bit more insight into the royal families of Pargun and Kostandan. But I must say that Kostandan still seems a very shadowy place to me. It is just kind of stuck between Pargun and Dzordanya. Yet I can see that perhaps there the Sea People have developed most clearly in their own way. Not under the influence of Achrya as the Pargunese did. Not in conjunction with the Mikki-Tekki as the Dzordanyans have. Yet most likely in fairly regular contact with both. Apparently, they also have regular trade through Prealith as well. Do they have relations with the horse nomads to the north?

    Now that you have suggested it, a story about a (younger) Sofi Ganarrion sounds like an exciting window into some of the lands and people of Pakworld that we have only glimpsed from the edges of the story.

    Whether one of these, or something else, I hope that one, or more, of the characters becomes bold enough to talk to writer! Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Comment by Annabel — November 29, 2013 @ 8:18 am


    Gah, I hate it when that happens! I got given a story once – surprisingly, not fantasy; most of my stories are fantasies – where the backstory would have been told, in flashback, it had to be, but then the present-day “bit” was far too light and it wouldn’t match, so I didn’t write it. I still keep on struggling with it, but I can’t hear how it ends other than people saying “Oh yes? How interesting!” which is not what I want at all!

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 29, 2013 @ 1:26 pm


    I have been feeling a bit rejected, though with T-day coming on and friends set to show up, it was a peculiar combination of happy anticipation in the outer world and slightly sad “Why won’t you play with me” in the inner. I think perhaps I just need to finish the page proofs and then my head will be free enough of “previous project” to locate the best signal for the next big one.

    Sofi showed up peripherally in one of the side stories I wrote. He seems much older now that his daughter’s married to the Duke of Fall’s son. Some of the shadowy figures from the original DEED are now coming out to show me more of themselves, but then they dart back in the shadows, like minnows in a stream.

    I have established finally that the much older Count Vladi is Sofi’s “godfather” in the south–a combination of not-quite-guardian and definite spy for the court. There was a lot of stuff going on down there besides what Paks saw, noticed, understood, and it’s been fun learning some of it. Without the strain of a deadline, I’ve been able to explore the archives, so to speak, only some of which have turned into stories, but…what was Aliam like as a young commander? What did people think of him? What merc companies no longer active in Paks’s day were active then? What started Vonja’s bad reputation and why did they live down to it? (Still haven’t figured that one out.)

    Kostandan is in some ways more traditional than Pargun. They’re Seafolk, yes, but they’re not expansionary…and you’re probably right that it’s because they didn’t make a pact with Achrya. (They did buy sailcloth from Pargun which benefits from Achrya’s spells. They farm in the old way, as they did across the sea, and they have not penetrated the forest between them and the northern steppes as much as Pargun did. Their horses derive in part from Pargunese, at least the warhorses, but since they don’t engage in war as often (to the annoyance of the Pargunese, who wish they’d help out more) they also favor smaller, more “scrubby” horses for farm work, more like Norwegian Fjord and Icelandic…but these they import from across the ocean, stealing them. They eat more fish even than the Pargunese. They have an “understanding” with the northern horse nomads, and there’s very little contact.

  • Comment by Nadine Barter Bowlus — November 29, 2013 @ 11:12 pm


    Thank you. I always learn something interesting everytime you post.

  • Comment by Wickersham's Conscience — November 30, 2013 @ 1:15 am


    Your meta stories are as terrific as your stories. Somehow, seeing the bones of the stories, the ideas and partial ideas, makes Paks’ world and history more robust and more complete. Thanks for the insights.

  • Comment by Genko — November 30, 2013 @ 9:14 am


    I’ve always been curious about Sofi — his name pops up here and there, usually as a bad example (i.e., I wouldn’t marry any of his get), of some unspecified deficit. His name is tossed out there as though the listener knows exactly what is being talked about, and maybe the listener does, but I’m left with this tantalizing impression of — what?

  • Comment by GinnyW — November 30, 2013 @ 8:09 pm


    I wonder what happened, and when, that led to the Mercenary Code that Aliam Halveric and Kieri Phelan were instrumental in establishing. There must have been an incident, or set of incidents that led others to join up with them.

  • Comment by AThornton — November 30, 2013 @ 8:40 pm


    Being flamboyant is neither here nor there, it’s a personality trait. Sofi Ganarrion has the trait but he may cultivate the image and reputation of being a flamboyant showoff lightweight because it makes it easier to outwit, out-maneuver, and then sucker punch an adversary. “Surprise is an event that happens in a commander’s mind,” after all, and what could be better for Sofi than for the opposing commander to think he’s all fluff-n-stuff and then – too late – find out he is a accomplished, shrewd, and able commander and tactician.

  • Comment by elizabeth — December 17, 2013 @ 4:24 pm


    Sofi is, in fact, a very bold, courageous, and skillful cavalry commander. He would not have survived so long had he not been, even with Vladi’s spears keeping an eye on him. He’s charming in person when he’s not about to kill you, a bit of a ladies’ man, as many men born to privilege and power are, but he has more than one side, including to his sexuality. Kostandanyans are not tolerant of that. (I don’t consider his flamboyance related to his sexuality, since straight men can also be flamboyant.)

    His own marriage was arranged, and his wife had no complaints of him, though she was not particularly “in love” with him–they got along peacefully enough (with him gone on campaign half the year) and all the children credited to him in that marriage are in fact his, biologically. He was, and is, a loving father though (being Sofi) far more lenient in some ways than Kostandan custom allows. His wife made sporadic attempts to keep the children in line, but her real interests lay elsewhere and anyway she believed discipline was the man’s responsibility.

    The daughter who married the Duke of Fall’s heir, for instance, was a considerable nuisance in the past when she showed up at her father’s camp mid-season (that situation is a reason Kieri would never have considered marrying any of his get: he had no problem with women soldiers, spirited women, strong women, but Kailin Ganarrion at her worst adolescent moments was…a disaster. Spoiled, smart, athletic, and beautiful in a way that warned no one what she was really like.)

    She was hauled off to Vladi’s sister’s place in Kostandan, not quite in chains, and emerged from that a formidable but far more acceptable young woman. She was never at court; everyone feared her effect on Ganlin, who already seemed headed the same direction, though quite a bit younger. Sent back to Aarenis, she intimidated but enchanted the Duke of Fall’s heir–a fairly weak personality–and everyone saw the advantage of getting some backbone back into that line. Including Kailin…a weak, biddable husband was exactly to her taste. She rides well, handles a sword efficiently, and–to everyone’s surprise–weaves stunningly beautiful cloth, dyeing the yarn herself. She’s pregnant right now, the only thing that kept her from disobeying everyone and going to battle.

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