Most often when I’m brushing my teeth. Maybe it’s the mint?
I will start thinking about a set of characters, and playing with bits of dialogue in my head. Often, what they will say to each other is surprising, revealing solutions to plot and story problems that I would have never thought of on my own. (Of course, given that this is all going on inside my head…eh, who says writers are sane?) And I will have “Oh. OH! Oh, hey, that’s perfect!” moments.
Well, last night I was thinking about Alex and Lauren from my Waters story. They were standing on the bow of the Kalianne, looking out over a contested Shallow. Our dear antagonist Meeley had brought in her airships and the fighting was pretty fierce. Alex was debating whether to take the Kalianne in, and decided he didn’t want to risk a confrontation with Meeley just yet. So they’re watching from a distance.
Lauren frowns and says, “Why do they fight like that? What do they really want?”
“They want what everyone who gets stuck in this desolate wasteland wants.” Alex sighs. “They want to go home.”
Oh, so much to unpack from that single exchange. I already knew Alex was a pirate, and that his ship is not the only pirate ship on the Waters. I imagined that they do what pirates do: pillage, plunder, and acquire loot. But what if said loot is not riches and such? What the heck are you going to do with money on the Waters anyway? The most valuable asset on the Waters are the ways out: Docks, and Shallows.
Now, Docks can be built, and destroyed, but they are permanent in the sense that once a Dock is established between the Waters and a world, that Dock does not move. But Shallows…wander. The worldside effect is that Shallows come and go…that misty grove that was a Shallow yesterday may not be one today. The Waterside effect is that the Shallow that leads to one particular place and time today may lead somewhere (or somewhen) else tomorrow. The Waterside location of a Shallow is permanent, like an island, but where and when that Shallow will take you is always changing.
Perhaps Shallows occur in “clusters” on the Waters (like islands), and because of proximity, the Shallows within a clump of clusters, and more within individual clusters, will have something in common. One particular clump of Shallow clusters may all lead to Earth, for example, but each cluster will lead to a specific “time zone” within Earth’s timestream. So one cluster might take you to Earth, circa 1600 CE. A nearby cluster would also take you to Earth, but circa 2100 CE, or circa 2300 BCE. The individual Shallows within a cluster mark different places (which change, and migrate), like the Bermuda Triangle, Avalon, Roanoke, etc…and specific hours, days, weeks, months, or years, like June 11th, 2010 CE 12:04 PM EST- 5:06 PM EST… or March 1374 CE, or 1751: January – December. Shallows have a start time and a stop time: they drift to a spot in time, exist there for a little while, and then meander on.
And perhaps clusters are arranged in such a way on the Waters that in order to access specific clusters, one is actually forced to go through other Shallows, or skirt them very close.
(Docks are different. They are anchored to a place, not a time. Therefore, if a Dock was built in the Edinburgh Vaults of Scotland in 1800 CE, there will still be a Dock there in 2010, unless it is deliberately dismantled. Docks are valuable because they give pirates a steady access to supplies (like, you know, food?), and it’s useful to have control of a Dock within easy sailing distance of the Shallow clusters you control…but it’s not necessary. Thus, Docks are not as contested. Some Docks maintain their own small governments, world-side or Waterside, that require pirates to fly a flag of truce to “dock” and resupply there.”)
Now, if it is as Alex said in my mind, and most pirates marauding on the Waters are really just trying to get home, then Shallows are by far the most valuable commodity on the Waters. Especially if one of the quirks of Shallows is that the more people are around them, the more likely they are to shift. If it gets brushed by a few times, it may shift places sooner than it would naturally…which is no big deal. (Hey, if it takes you to Earth, October 6, 2010, who cares if it takes you to Bermuda or Japan? You’re home.) However, if too many people start passing through or around a Shallow cluster, they could start shifting times, eras, even worlds.
If that’s the case, then it behooves you to not only position your own people near certain Shallow clusters to monitor them, but also to keep other people away. Sometimes you can deliberately “agitate” a Shallow, in hopes that it will shift to a time or place closer to what you’re looking for, but it’s a delicate line to walk. You don’t want to shift a Shallow out of your general era (or world). Thus, you only want your own people agitating a given Shallow. And the best way to ensure that is to control the area around that cluster, and sink anyone who gets too close.
That gives a solid base for Alex and Meeley’s rivalry: they both come from Earth. Perhaps the Earth 1600 cluster and the Earth 1900 cluster are very close together, forcing each party to risk screwing up the other set of Shallows in order to reach their own. Add Lauren to the mix, with her needing to find an Earth 2000 cluster, and we have a pretty good setup for some juicy conflict.
(Incidentally, Earth does have Docks. However, the Docks that Alex tends to use aren’t Earth Docks, so Lauren will get to see some pretty interesting sights while aboard the Kalianne.)
In other news, I’ve been working on the conference registration booklet for the SCWG again this year. Much easier, since I was able to recycle a lot of the formatting from last year’s book. My pen-wielding mouse from last year got to make a cameo appearance.
Also, I’ve finally tracked down a plugin that allows me to block spammers from registering on the blog. I get tired of having to clear out the approval box every few days, especially when it’s the same durn spammers over and over again. I was able to use my email backlogs to create a blacklist, which makes me glad I didn’t clear out that box.
Now, pray it actually works. And do let me know if you are a legitimate person and are getting blocked for some reason.