Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Three Things I Discovered When Writing 'Thief and Demon'

Today I welcome author, Jake Elwood, onto my blog. Jake's story appears in the published today Fiends: Ten Tales of Demons. 

Three Things I Discovered When Writing "Thief and Demon"

Heroes Come in All Shapes and Sizes

My protagonist in Thief and Demon is a little girl. She's a street rat, an orphan, an escaped slave. She's about as far removed from my life and experiences as it's possible to get and still be human. I'm middle aged. I'm six and a half feet tall, and male. You would think I would find it a bit of a stretch to get into the mind of an impoverished and desperate little girl. And to some extent, you'd be right.
But I can remember being young and penniless and powerless. Not to the extent that Fleetfoot Mina is, but still. I've been an outcast. I've been broke. I've wondered how long the gap between meals might be this time.
And I've run up against people who were bigger than me, stronger, meaner. I've known bullies. I've known people with power over me and the worst of intentions. We all have. Mina's life takes these things to an extreme level, but her experience is a distilled version of what we've all gone through. She is us.
So does power
Mina's not a mover and shaker, but she's not helpless. There's no joy in writing a story about someone who can't do anything. A protagonist should protag, after all. I pitted a penniless street kid against a powerful sorceress who can summon demons to do her bidding. As I threw the two of them together, though, something interesting happened. Little Mina surprised the sorceress. She surprised me. No matter how bad I made things for her, she just kept fighting back. Effectively, too.
Every human interaction is an interplay of power, and power is something that both people have. There can be gross imbalances, but in every case, no matter how powerless someone may seem, no matter how downtrodden or insignificant, that core of power, however deeply buried, is there.
It's an easy thing to forget. Mina came to life on the page for me, and she helped me remember.

Setting Is a Character

In my earliest attempts to write fiction, it was all plot. I took to plot like a duck to water, but the characters were just hollow placeholders. Hero. Villain. Victim. Bystander. Love interest. And the setting? Entirely an afterthought. Who cares where the characters are? It's what they do that matters, right?
Er, not so much.
What's Frodo Baggins without Middle Earth, or Harry Potter without Hogwarts? Did you ever watch a Star Wars movie and find yourself wanting to peer past the characters' shoulders so you could just soak up that amazing PLACE they were in? A good setting can be fascinating on its own, and it can interact with your characters, give shape and meaning to your plot, and make your theme reverberate long after the book's been set aside.
For Thief and Demon I needed a city in a world where most people don't live in cities. I needed the chaos and hurly-burly of urban life, a place with room for a small thief to hide and thrive, a place with pockets to pick and danger on every side.
I also needed a larger world, one that Mina would stumble into without ever quite knowing who the players were or anything more than the very basics of the game.
She brushes against icebergs, and Mina – and the reader – never sees more than the tip. The world she lives in is much bigger than what makes it onto the pages of the story. It's infinitely more complex, and mostly hidden, as it should be. I've told the story as it happened through Mina's eyes, and I've given peeks and hints about the world that shaped her, the world that made this story possible, the world that made it all happen.

Clichés Lurk on Every Side, Ready to Drag Down the Unwary

Genre writers walk a fine line between delivering the tropes that readers expect and mucking up a perfectly good story with a lot of worn-out clichés. I've got a demon summoned inside a pentagram – like that hasn't been done before – and, in an earlier draft, Mina set the demon free by breaking the outline of the star.
Remember that fine line I mentioned earlier? I crossed it there, and a beta reader called me on it. I sulked for a while, thought about finding a better beta reader, and finally went back and took a hard look at the story. And I dug deeper, and I found a better way. I won't spoil the ending for you here, but I think you'll like the final version much better than what I almost inflicted on the world.
Always be suspicious of your first idea. Consider rejecting it, not because it's bad exactly, but because your fourth or fifth idea is probably better. Dig deeper. See what you find.
Adventure isn't enough; even very small heroes should grow

There was a time when I wrote boisterous, tidy plots that brought everything to a pleasing conclusion with the hero back where he started, invigorated but unchanged. I'm not satisfied with that sort of thing anymore. Now, at the end of a tale, you can look at one of my characters and see that they've been through a story. Mina at the end of the tale is not the same little girl who nicked a handkerchief a few dozen pages before. She's only a few hours older, but she's wiser and stronger and her view of herself, of her place in the world, is utterly different. And when that happens, I know I've done my job.


Fiends: Ten Tales of Demons edited by Rayne Hall, can be found on



  1. Interesting thoughts, Jake. For me, it was the other way round: Setting and character came to me naturally, and I had to learn how to construct a compelling plot.

  2. For me, the most important aspect of a story is a character arc.

    1. For me too, at least with most stories. But the most important aspect isn't necessarily the one that comes first when I begin to craft a new story.

  3. All that seems clear to me now, but when I was a kid? Man, I was oblivious to character. The plot WAS the story to my ten-year-old self. It's been a long struggle to learn to make characters with real depth.

  4. "Always be suspicious of your first idea. Consider rejecting it, not because it's bad exactly, but because your fourth or fifth idea is probably better. Dig deeper. See what you find."

    I love that advice! Great post!

  5. Super! Thanks for the advice! I write stories. They may be different: fantasies and horror, love stories and anecdotes... All in all I've written 76 stories. None was published. That's the saddest point.