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Don't Backstories need Rhythmic Writing Too?
Looking to improve your writing? This is from a series of posts on rhythm in fiction. The first post is here.
Note: In this interesting fantasy setting, designed by somebody else, you are either an elf, or you are a slave. A “kelari” is a high ranking slave used for dangerous, armed work.
(There is a discussion below)
My name is Jakob Smiles. The son of Nico Smiles. I know that you don’t know his name for if you did then you’d be crapping holes out back your pants. The cause of him not being known was his fine skill at subtle jobs, the sort you want to keep unknown - the knife at night, the absent treasure. My dad was Kelari, the pride of fey who like their pets and toys. He taught his boys well, and I was best among his litter.
But... fact be known, they sold him cheap, way back when I, a foolish son, provoked a bear-like beast and... dad was hurt defending me, never to recover fully. Regrettable. How could a boy do so much harm? Maplegarten’s creatures are cursed.
After that, they sent me far to Oakenwalk to ally with another crew to steal an Oath Sword. A suicide mission with me on point. Still, I did the risky deed and then came back to base to show my crew the spoils. A human took an elven sword! Yet... my ally from that other crew, Anja, a sorceress, revealed to us the sword was fake, was bait, a beacon to lead them to idiot thieves. Anja hid it from their scrying eyes and we escaped. Thank fey.
My lord was impressed with her, and bought her, paying quite the price. Our skills together deadly strong, our brand new crew then stole the cursed skull from Bantamlight and took the name ‘The Bantam Skulls.’ Later, we slew the cleric Raimond Cohen - even now the men of Swinehood cry out for our blood for this.
The deeds we did were ones that none thought sane to try, and so our lord assumed us brave. But fools are brave. We always felt so safe and sure like silly kids who knew no cares.
I wed that girl. Anja. She didn’t know any better.
After she and I were joined, I felt so light I dared to dream of life with her away from here where we could live without the yoke. A smart escape I planned, and she agreed. Hah. We failed to last a single night. At dawn they asked her who had planned it. She said she had. My world is still spinning like her head was after the blade fell.
You buy me cheap today, but woe to those who think the price is paid. I’m loyal, but I’m cursed. Yet... you probably need me.
In a tabletop RPG, somebody called the ‘game master’ creates the world, decides what rules it will obey, fills this world with people, creates an interesting situation, and then runs a game using all of this for a table of ‘players.’
This is a rhythmic writing study to write a character backstory for such a game.
The extremely short story takes an iambic rhythm and deliberately breaks it from time to time for effect.
An iambic rhythm is one that follows a pattern of da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM. The famous example is, “so FOUL and FAIR a DAY i HAVE not SEEN,” from Macbeth. This rhythm is said to resemble human speech a little, and so it feels somewhat natural in many cases. The problem is that it can become a little monotonous after a long enough stretch, and a break in a rhythm can be quite striking.
Specifically, I find these rhythm breaks are disorienting, and can be used to convey a feeling of disorientation. In fact, I found above that it was extremely disorienting - more than intended, which led to a lot of edits to tone things down. These rhythm breaks should perhaps be used only for effect and not for variety, and always deliberately. This is the main takeaway from this study.
Do let me know how you find it, I would love to know. Personally, I love how this piece turned out, although the first few lines are a bit vulgar, and there wasn’t room to elaborate on any details. My brain is turning about all the ways I can adjust things next time.
If you are trying to improve your writing, join me. Subscribe. Comment. Share. It’s quite the voyage and you shouldn’t have to go it alone.
This is part of a series of posts on rhythm in fiction. The first article is here:
PS, thanks to Oleg ( the author of a slick short story named Pulling No Punch cards), for feedback on the style of a previous piece.
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