Another “What If” Session: The Haunted Library

Since I like to talk about all points in the writing process, today will be another brainstorming session for a new project.  I have to keep my hands and brain busy while my devoted friends are hammering my novel to bits!

So I’ve decided to build on the Gothic Library post I mentioned last week.  I don’t know that I’m going to end up incorporating any of these prompts/suggestions directly.  But I’ve been reading a lot of fantastical stuff lately (I’m just about to start the third book in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy, so I’m up to my ears in vampires and witches) and I’ve become attached to the idea of setting a romance (duh, it’s what I do) in a haunted or otherwise mystical-magical library.

So, let’s try to construct some logical questions and see how the answers go.

  1. Who are my main characters?  I feel like I want the bulk of the story to take place within the library, so it makes sense for at least one, if not both, of my romantic leads to be librarians.  If only one, I imagine the other would start out as a new patron and transition to becoming a regular (and the love interest) as the story progresses.  So I already have two ways to go; right now I’ll focus on having them both work at the library.  I can always come back to the librarian/patron combo later if this doesn’t pan out.
  2. So they’re both librarians.  How do they meet?  This one’s easy.  One has worked there for years and the other one just got hired to replace a retiring colleague.  Or possibly a deceased one, whose ghost still lingers.  Yeah, I like that.
  3. If the library is haunted, how can anyone tolerate working there?  Because everyone who works there has some sort of supernatural ability–the library itself rejects candidates who are mundane.  Or the ghosts do.  I’m not leaning towards making my characters into magic-users to the degree of formal witchcraftmore of psychic quirks and limited powers.
  4. Such as? I got caught up in the idea of telepathic touch.  One of my librarians can read minds, but only with skin-to-skin contact.  Which makes her (or him, I haven’t decided which of them to give it to) take precautions to avoid touching people, like wearing long sleeves no matter what the weather is, and wearing gloves at all times.  Which she could pass off as protecting the books, or lie about, saying she’s covering up scars.  As for other quirks…telekinesis would be handy to reshelve books quickly.  I’m sure I’ll think of more.
  5. What are the obstacles to this romance?  Well, one partner’s reluctance to touch would certainly be a start.  On top of that…the new librarian, living in a new and strange town, feels off-balance about everything in his life as he tries to settle in, and his sudden, somewhat inexplicable feelings towards his strange coworker don’t reassure him that starting over will be easy.
  6. Starting over?  Why’s he starting over?  His power got him into trouble in his old life.  Since I haven’t assigned who has what power quite yet, this one will have to stay vague, but I’m sure it will be a snap to flesh out once I’ve settled everyone’s quirks.
  7. So how does the romance begin? The library decides they’re perfect for each other!  They’re both reshelving books on a quiet night and the shelves themselves move, boxing them together in the romance section.  Hmmm.  That might be too heavy-handed.  Maybe the ghosts steal things from her desk and hide them in his, so that he has to keep bringing them back to her.  Or they lock him in the book sale room near closing time one night, so that he has to call her to let him out.  Oh, those wacky ghosts!

There’s still plenty of work to do–names and character histories, putting together their personalities and families; grounding this odd library in an equally odd town, where things are out of the ordinary but no one ever raises much of a fuss about it; and coming up with some sort of extra-romantic conflict as well, something about the library itself (since it’s so important to the story) to drive the plot forward in addition to the romance.  That, I haven’t worked out yet, but most of the bones of the story are there.

I like this.  I think I’ll keep working on it for a while.

The “What If?” Exercise

Time for me to play a little game with myself, and you get to follow along.

I have a novella I wrote for a contest some time ago kicking around in the back of my mind, because most of the feedback I got on it was “Expand this!”  I sat on it for a while, and now I’m tossing around ideas.

It was a fantasy story with a touch of magic involved, but given the space constraints, I never got into how the magic system worked, and I lampshaded the fact that I never explained it.  Not a crime when you’re trying to tell a good story in about 10,000 words, but if I want to rework it?  I need a real system.

So…what if magic was powered by starlight?  Not an entirely original concept, I know, but run with me, here.

Things I can extrapolate from that:

  • Magical practitioners would likely spend part or all of the night awake.  If magic use was uncommon in this world that I’m playing around with, then we’ve got a ripe opportunity for a secret society.  On the other hand, if magic were commonplace, it’s possible that vast bulk of this society would be nocturnal, with only certain jobs needing to be performed during the day.  (Farming comes to mind as the most notable exception.  Plowing and planting by starlight might be difficult!)
  • Well, what is the sun but a star that’s really close, you say?  Psssh.  Sunlight’s too powerful–or, alternately, because there’s so much of it readily accessible to a practitioner, it could be dangerous to use because it would be easy/tempting to draw more power than the person’s skill could handle.  (Also my world could have a different sun, or more than one!  But let’s set that aside, because it’s another kettle of fish.)
  • So what forms could this magic take?  Let’s use scrying as an example.  That’s often depicted as looking into a mirror or still water to see elsewhere, or elsewhen.  But in my system, it could only be done at night, when the scrying surface reflected the stars.  Which leads to my next point…
  • …Limitations.  Wielders of starlight would be helpless to perform magic during the day (or, alternately, it would be dangerous to), but they’d also be hampered by the weather at night.  Cloudy skies?  Too bad!  So where would they live?  Somewhere with little rain and clear nights…like a desert, to choose the first thing that popped into my head.  Not the only option by any stretch, but it certainly fits the nocturnal theme–if I made it a hot desert, then it’s pretty believable that people might be more active at night, when the temperatures are more comfortable.

“What if?” is one of my favorite questions as a writer.  Asking that gets the ball rolling, and every answer leads to more questions, until you’ve got full-fledged concepts to play with.  Now I’ve got choices to make, and a story to revise.