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Harry Dresden, private investigator and the only wizard in the Chicagoland phone book.

He has battled the Queen’s of Faerie, Fallen Angels, Demons, Necromancers, and Vampires but when an old lover returns with some surprising news, things are about to change.

Hence the title.

Harry finds out on the fist page of the book that: a) he has a daughter, and b) that the Vampires of the Red Court want to sacrifice her the way of the old Mayan Gods.

Harry ain’t having any of it.

Now this book follows the conventions of the series: Client in Trouble, Harry figuring out the bad guys plans while dodging their attempts to kill him (and/or his client), final battle to stop a dread ritual. But this time Harry allies have been reduced by clever diplomacy from the Red Court and because it is her daughter life on the line, the stakes are higher than ever. The typical Dresden humor is there, as are the interfering fay, the tired gumshoe and the practical magic.

But the tension is cranked up to eleven when the odds get stacked to elebenty.  What makes this story stand out among the galaxy of exceptional Dresden stories that precede it is the decisions that Harry has to make, decisions that he has avoided or dodged until now.

Harry and his world won’t be the same.

I like the character’s growth in this one and how the story continues to expand beyond the borders of Chicago. To those who feel comfortable about the formulaic format of the series might find this expansion uncomfortable but I found it refreshing. And we learn more about Harry family both past and future in this story as well, thus deepening Harry as a character.

And the ending, well, I can tell you that I didn’t see that one coming, that’s for damn sure.

One word of warning, if you haven’t read any of the previous books in The Dresden Files series, don’t try to read this one. The first few books stood alone, but as the series has grown, so has the interwoven plot lines.  You won’t know who two-thirds of the characters are without having read the past volumes. So go ahead, pick them up and read them.

If you’re not a fan of Urban Fantasy, you will be after you read The Dresden Files.

I guarantee it.

Oh and one more thing, I want a dog like Mouse! 😉

——-

Years ago I thought up an epic saga, two thousand years in the future with vast star ship armadas, legions of mechanized soldiers and double dealing noble houses. I spent many an hour writing the back story, going so far as creating a “Encyclopedia Galactica”.

So where is this great story of mine?

In a drawer somewhere?

Perhaps a lost computer file?

I wish.

It remains all in my head. I wrote a paragraph at most only to annihilate it with the dreaded backspace button.  Yes, I fell victim to the bane of oh so many would be speculative fiction writers, world building disease.

Although, truth be told, it is not really a disease, per say, but an addiction. What really happens is that writer’s get addicted to the act of world (or universe) creation.  There is always something new to create; a race(s), country, time line, key characters, monsters, magic items, technology, etc.

I have three ways of breaking the cycle of addiction to this God-like power:

  1. Forget about world building and just write the story. The story’s universe will be come to life as you write.
  2. Mine what you already have.
  3. Look for work where world building skills are useful.

That is what I did for my second novel. True, I did cheat by placing it in a near-future setting and borrowing heavily from history (both real and mythological). Yet I had to create organizations, magic, demons and the like.

So I did a bit of world building, but only so much. I’m not a outline writer, instead what I do is I scribble a few notes to set my “universe” boundaries. I ask myself a few questions about the scope (planetary, star system, galaxy), technology (giant robots, magitech, steampunk) and characters. These form the outer edges of the canvas I will work with, as well as the basic palette of colors. As I write the story I take notes of the stuff that comes up, expand where needed (research, research and when in doubt research some more). That way I kept writing and ended up with a complete work that included a fair amount of back story.

The second strategy is to mine what you already have. As Howard Tayler suggest in the latest episode of Writing Excuses podcast, write a story about the people already in your outline.  Somebody had to create the fabulous Sword of Unbending Truth, defend the Pass of No Return or assault Garesh VI, right? You don’t have to write a whole novel around them, but a short story would do. It also shifts the focus from telling (world building) to showing (writing a story). At the very least you are creating a living framework for your universe, one that will hone your skills as a writer and may even be publishable in their own right. Not all 600 page books are made up of one story,  many are omnibuses/anthologies.

This brings me to my third point; you might not be a writer…of novels. Your talent may well lie in creating fertile fields for others to explore. You might still write in your universe, but that doesn’t mean your the only one that has to. You can share your idea with your writer’s group or get a job with a gaming company (paper/pencil or computer). They are always looking for the next “campaign setting” to serve as the basis for an existing or new franchise.

Just look at the many books already published in pre-existing franchises. Most of them are based on RPGs, comic books or other preexisting works. George Lucas created Star Wars, but dozens of writers have worked on the Expanded Universe. Same thing with D&D (all versions), World of Warcraft, Star Trek, and so on.  Just look at the Dragonlance series of books.

Whatever approach you decide to take the key is to be productive. World building is necessary, but it should not stop you from doing actual writing. At some point you have to stop telling me about the genealogy of the great kings of Adtmadar and start showing me who they are and why should I care about them. That means more than a dissertation or a time line. It means characters, dialogue, plot and action.

It’s the difference between a house and a home.

A house it’s a structure. Nothing more, nothing less.

A home is place that people live in.  A place that has meaning and consequences.

Time to turn your house into a home.

Nancy Hightower over at her blog asked her readers about their definitions of  urban fantasy. Since SuD  fits the genre I decided to reprint my answer(s) here.

Urban fantasy (I prefer the term contemporary fantasy) is  a fantasy themed story (magic, monsters, quests, etc.) in a contemporary setting. BTW, a lot of the non-fluff Mall/Valley Girl YA stuff falls into this category. All Urban fantasy that I have read (and I’m writing right now) has several of the following elements:

1)World in the Shadows: Magic and monsters co-exists with technology but it resides in the dark places, such as alleyways, basements, backrooms, abandoned buildings.

2)Hidden in Plain Sight: This world co-exist with ours but either because it’s denizens (or the government or some other organization) work hard to hide it or we are blinded by our disbelief it is hard to see it for what it is.

3) The Hero Has a Gift: From the simple gift of Sight (the  ability to see the Shadow World) to wielding reality altering powers, he or she has the POWER. BTW, the POWER happens to be the source of all of the MCs problems. Hey vamp princess, not so sexy now with that stake stuck between your…well you know….eveil twins! 😀

4)The Setting: Urban really means “contemporary”, guns, computers, the police, modern communications. Chicago’s only listed Wizard packs a staff and a .38 caliber.

5)Black & White with a lot of Grey in between: You have your Good guys, your Bad guys and your Innocents. Except that the Good guys bend and break the rules, the Bad guys are not entirely nihilistic and the Innocent, how Innocent is the Hooker with the Heart of Gold, really? It is also a grimy environment and most of the dirt is moral.

6)Whatever the season Red is always in style: And by Red I mean blood, gore, and the like. Border-line horror story, except that the MC gets to kick back even harder.

7) Language and Sex: These are the elements that separate Urban Fantasy from their creepy crawly YA counterparts. People use the word fuck (shit too, as in “Ah shit!” or “Holy Shit!” or “The Shit Hit the Fan!”) a lot, and they mean it. Strip bars, prostitution, and a good roll in the hay (or three) with the local Vampire Prince are not out of the question.

That’s all I can come up with right now.

OK we tackled the general forms of fight scene description, now it is time to see the a fight scene from the point of the fighters. It is very important to understand who the opponents are, their training/experience and capabilities.  A fight between two characters looks very different if one is a trained martial artist and the other one hasn’t thrown a punch in his life.

So lets look at the typical match ups in fiction:

  1. Henchmen/Minions vs. Hero: Redshirts, stormtroopers,goons, mooks, etc. face down mighty hero. A single swing of his sword will bring them down by the score. Nothing says “I GOT THE POWER” like mowing down twenty or thirty of these before breakfast. Let the Battle Royal begin!
  2. Stalker vs. Victim: The Stalker is a hunter by trade, be he a serial killer, a supernatural horror or an assassin. He is good at capturing, maiming and killing. She (most of the time is a she) is a hapless bystander whose life hangs by a thread.
  3. The Warriors: These kids knows how to fight. Put up your dukes!
  4. The Hero vs. The Big Boss: Whether a recurring villain or the hero’s target in the climatic battle at the end of the book, the Big Boss is the ultimate (and many times the only) threat.

The first one (Minion vs. Hero) is pretty easy although it can be tricky. Its very easy to fall into Superman vs. Bank Robbers scenario where the bad guys. Unless your setting up the scene for another type of confrontation, like the introduction of super villain avoid this iteration of the scenario. Your reader is going to read that and go “Oh, he is super…great” and then put the book down.

Best way to do it using the Stormtrooper rule: the minions go down easy, but once in awhile they score a flesh wound. A reminder that while the opposition is crappy, they can get lucky and really hurt the hero.  That injects enough tension into the scene while still showcasing how much of a bad ass your MC really is. Speed is crucial. For that reason the Killing Blow or Snapshots techniques work better here.

In the Stalker vs. Victim scenario the attacker has all the advantages. Here tension is key. The stalker is usually a criminal with a well practiced method of attack (ambush is the preferred method) or a supernatural horror impervious to most attacks. The Victim (usually young and female) is not trained in combat and its clearly outmatched by the attacker. Many time the victims act like minions in that they fall easily to the Stalker attacks.

This scenario puts emphasis on the fear of the victim. Her emotions are paramount in creating and maintaining the high level of tension critical to this scenario. Only by a clever ploy, herculean effort or rescue by a third party can the Victim survive this encounter. The Blow by Blow method may work best, in as much as you space the action to build the suspense.

A fight between Warriors features at least two opponents that are evenly matched. They need not be exact duplicates. In fact, the tension comes from highlighting their differences in strength, agility, speed, accuracy, and weapons. It is easy to fall into the Blow by Blow description of these battles  but what makes these fights interesting is who their strengths and weakness compliment each other.

The Hero facing the Big Boss comes in two forms: the introductory appearance and the climatic battle. The first meeting between these two the Hero can be defeated, it can be a draw, the Big Boss is present but does not fight (the Hero fights another Warrior or Minions). Think of the three (of four times) that Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker share the screen in the Star Wars saga. The first time they do not fight, Luke fights of Minions (Stormtropers) and then escapes. He then has a second encounter where he is defeated and finally he overcomes Vader in the climatic battle aboard the Death Star.

The key to this fight is that the Hero is outmatched by the Big Boss strength and/or resources. He must find a way to stop the villain, but he is not ready yet. Through training and defeating of lesser threats he gains the means to confront his nemesis.

In the climatic battle scene if the Hero and the Big Boss have no met before, the Big Boss then appears unbeatable. The Hero must either show greater strength than his enemy or find a clever way of defeating the Big Boss. Not to be confused with the Stalker vs. Victim scenario. The Hero knows how to fight and will be in the very least powerful enough to worry the Big Boss who while he may not want to admit it, knows that he is in trouble.  You can use all the descriptive methods mentioned in Part 1. The key here is that while over matched, the Hero is not defenseless and his attacks will show that.

Of course during the course of the story and even one fight scene you can mix the pairings. A Warrior or Big Boss may have a cadre of Minions at his disposal. A Minion may turn out to be more of a Warrior and of course the Victim can always turn the tables on the Stalker.

Now that you know who your combatants are it is time to see how tactics and terrain influence a battle in Part 3.

Until then…

Gifu Prefecture, Japan, March 28, 21:09 hrs

Ethan knelled before the altar in the shrine’s inner sanctum.  Smoke coiled upwards from burning incense sticks. He tried to meditate, to clear his mind of all distractions but the events of the last week intruded into his thoughts. The visit by his old time school friend Sanjuro, intense practice sessions with his grandfather, the antics of Mariko’s cat chasing after empty boxes of soda. Peace, something he had not known in years, perhaps this was the answer to his grandfather’s question. The reason why he had come here in the first place.

His body also remembered the recent days. The bruises where his granfather’s bokuto scored hits. Ethan tried to push all these thoughts away when the hairs in the back of his neck rose. A stench in the air. The faint smell of something that lives and dies among human refuse.  Instinct took over. In one swift move Ethan grabbed hold of Tasumaki took a battle stance facing the door.  It slid open. A shadow leapt toward Ethan. Ethan took one, two, three steps and slashed from the scabbard. A claw came within inches of his left cheek. The attacker fell to the floor with a dull thud.  Ethan glanced back and saw what looked like a giant rat dead on the floor. Dark ichor spread from the wound. More sounds from beyond the door. Rushing to the inner garden saw two more attackers one on each side of the garden. Ethan ran to the right, his opponent reacted by lounging at him.  Reversing his grip, Ethan thrust forward impaling the beast. To his left the other rat fiend jumped clear across the sand garden. He reacted by slashing in a semi-circle from front to back, cutting the monster open from groin to neck. A river of dark blood poured from the gash as the creature tumbled backwards.  As soon as it hit the ground it began to dissolved into a smoking pool of dark ichor.

The wind carried a series of distant sounds to Ethan’s ears. A scream, a hiss, a broken vase. Ethan ran down outside toward the house. Everything passed by in a blur. Without barely noticing Ethan’s feet seem to jump from one staircase landing to the next without touching any steps in between.  A distance that would have taken a dozen or more minutes to travel took less than a minute.  With one last step, Ethan jumped from the road to the wooden deck overlooking the pond. The lights where out inside, but he could smell the stench of the enemy within. Suddenly a figure stumbled backwards from the kitchen. Without thinking, Ethan thrust the sword through the glass door.  It exploded into shards that sped forward the enemy. The slashed and stabbed it, pinning it to a wall. One, two, three steps, a downward slash from neck to sternum.  Another creature fell backwards from Ichijo’s room, over the second floor banister to the living room floor below. Before it could react Tasumaki decapitated the enemy with a single stroke. For a second Ethan and Mariko stared at each other. Mariko held a large kitchen knife with a reverse grip in a defensive stance. Sounds from the second floor attracted Ethan’s attention. It was Linda, Mariko’s cat, jaws clamp on an intruder. It flayed wildly, trying to pry of the cat, but Linda would not let go. Ethan ended the uneven fight when he cut the fiend’s right leg from under it. A single thrust to the neck finished it.

The door to Ichijo’s room was open. Cautiously, Ethan stepped in to investigate. He gasped at the sight. His grandfather laid in a corner barely breathing. Turning on the lights Ethan saw why. The old man clutched at his bloody chest.

“Onnichan!”

“I’m alright Ethan, just a scratch” his grandfather gasped.

“We have to take you to a hospital.”

Ichijo lifted a finger and pointed at box inside the closet. “My papers, you need them. Use them–“His breathing stopped, his pupils dialated. Ethan didn’t bother checking for a pulse. He had seen this to many times. Toru Ichijo was dead.