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!

Behind the Scenes of “Road Tripping”

As you may have already seen, I had another story published in Splickety this month! This month’s theme is senioritis, so I wrote a story about a graduating senior whose plan to go road tripping with his friends nearly derails … before an unexpected ally steps in to save the day. If you haven’t read it yet, make sure you do before reading the rest of this post!

I should begin by saying this story was not inspired by any personal experience of either making or missing a road trip after graduation.The theme’s prompt specifically mentioned pranks, proms, and college applications, but I wanted to try to come up with a concept different than those situations. I can’t trace the road trip idea to anything in particular, but I think High School Musical 3—and specifically Troy Bolton’s car troubles—were a subconscious but significant influence.

And therein lay my first challenge: Coming up with a car problem that would genuinely jeopardize road trip plans, but could also be solved relatively quickly. This issue would also need to cost a significant amount of money that a teenager could realistically have saved up. (I have no idea how much teenagers make/save these days.) This is a very specific problem.

So I found myself trying to identify a specific car problem that I didn’t have. Usually, people know what the issue is and they want to find out how much it cost and how easy it is. I was doing the reverse. After many google searches about common car issues and estimates, I eventually landed on having a tire blow out. Even though replacing one tire would average about $150, I figured the parents insisting on replacing all of them would be a good way to drive that up.

In terms of plot, I knew from the beginning that I wanted the main character’s younger brother to save the day. My relationship with my own younger brother was a very loose influence. The element that I wanted to highlight how even emotions like annoyance have an undercurrent of familial love. I think I achieved this better with the younger brother, particularly in his reactions to the older brother’s cluelessness. The line “Just trying to be nice, you moron” is probably my best sentence to date. Classic.

But seriously. Even while I was writing the story, I knew the main character had a couple things working against him. He wasn’t very sympathetic, and he wasn’t proactive at all. In any other situation, I would have modified the story to focus on the younger brother. He has those in spades. But since the theme was senior year, I felt a need to tell the story from the older brother’s perspective.

Part of this is because the first version of this story ended very differently. After the younger brother (Chad) offered to pay for the tires, the older brother (Daniel) said it was might be his best graduation present. They went down the stairs, with Chad calling out that he figured out Daniel’s graduation gift.

This was the story I submitted, though I knew it could still be stronger. I’m super grateful that editor Lauren Hildebrand enjoyed the story, but had the same sentiment. She reinforced my feelings that Daniel doesn’t have much of an arc, but also shared that she thought Chad would’ve liked to go on the trip. She made other solid comments about fleshing out the friends and how to treat dialogue, but her comments on the ending stuck with me the most.

I wrestled with it for a while. Maybe I was identifying way too closely with Daniel, but I didn’t think it would make sense for Chad to join the three boys on the trip they’d been planning for years. As I was thinking through this—trying to figure out how to get Daniel to offer but Chad not go—I eventually had another thought: Why not plan two road trips?

I’m a little embarrassed of how long it took me to come up with that, but I got there eventually. And I think the end result is appropriately sweet without negating the occasionally-tense brother-brother relationship. I made those changes as well as others, and that version is what you can read today.

One final note about the texting conversation. I’m not a big texter, but I’m pretty happy with how I feel I captured a text conversation between digital natives would go. When I submitted, I thought about keeping Alex’s and Ian’s texts lined up on the left, but lining up Daniel’s on the right to mirror how it would look on a phone screen, like so:

D: Bad news. Parents say all tires need to be replaced

A: Dang man. How much?

D: 600

A: Whoa

I: WAT

In the end, I stuck to the submission guidelines and kept everything aligned on the left. It may have worked with the initials like you see above. But with the nicknames (which … I did not know you could do in text conversations), I think they’re easier to track just left aligned. Maybe one day I’ll experiment with a text conversation that uses this format.

That concludes my behind the scenes look at “Road Tripping!” I hope you enjoyed both the story and learning how it came together. If you have any other questions about its creation, feel free to ask them below 🙂 Thanks for reading!