I joked recently that it seems like every story has to end with some gigantic battle. That’s how we know it’s the end, right?
Think about it. Which of the world’s great legends tell us that our problems should be addressed through something OTHER than violence?
Hercules, Beowulf and Gilgamesh all killed monsters. King Arthur’s knights in shining armor maintained the peace by fighting monsters. If no monster was about, they would fight each other to catch a lady’s eye. Lord of the Rings featured massive battles for the fate of the world. Military SF, of course, features more technologically advanced weaponry in exotic settings, but the role of the warriors remains the same. It seems the only way to “save” anything is through battle.
Then you get to other forms, like comic books. Superheroes level cities to bring in the bad guys. For this, we admire them. In gaming, the only way to get XP and level up is by killing things. Very few games award XP for clever solutions that avoid combat. Then there are movies, where we may move from combat to combat without time to think. The more explosions, the better!
It’s true that the world can be violent. Depicting violence in stories could be seen as mere honesty. Although, it’s hard to believe that most of us experience that much violence personally, in our daily lives. Not in proportion to the amount of violence we consume as entertainment.
Or perhaps the violence in storytelling is a form of wish fulfilment. As a teacher, I’m well aware of how much time we spend teaching kids NOT to solve their problems with their fists. Watching an animated fight could be viewed as a safe release for dark impulses.
Nevertheless, I was startled to realize how often I, myself, built in a gigantic battle to settle things at the ends of my stories. It wasn’t something I had really thought about. In the accepted frameworks, that’s the way it’s supposed to be done.
Still, it became my personal challenge to write stories where characters solve their problems in some other way than through battle.
For the past two years, I’ve been working on a novella series, Minstrels of Skaythe, where the protagonists try to live peacefully in a dark and dangerous world. In Skaythe, the evil mage Dar-Gothul is an absolute ruler who has twisted the world in his image. Mages are the ruling class, whose magical power gives them the right to do whatever they wish. Selfishness and betrayal are “good.” Showing concern for others is “bad.” My good mages quietly move through the land, disguised as minstrels. They share moments of peace and harmony through their arts. For this, they are branded as renegades.
In the first novella, The Tower in the Mist, one of the minstrels is arrested for the crime of singing a love song. Keilos doesn’t fight back, but instead reacts with basic courtesy. The hunter-guards, led by Sergeant Zathi, are genuinely freaked out by his strange behavior. Captors and captive have adventures that require them to work together, but not all of the hunter-guards can let go of their assumptions about what’s “good” and “bad.”
In the second novella, Dancer in the Grove of Ghosts, Tisha is a gifted healer. She’s decided to undo a curse cast by Dar-Gothull himself. On the way there, she encounters a gravely wounded guardsman. Common sense would say Cylass is her enemy. It’s sheer folly to help him, but Tisha follows her own moral code. Devoted to peace, she tries to show Cylass a different path — and risks betrayal by the one she saved.
While writing it, I played with the idea that comrades on a quest always have a strong bond of friendship and are working for a common goal. Setting them so much at odds brought a deeper tension to the tale.
Currently I’m in revisions of a third novella, The Ice Witch of Fang Marsh. Here I directly countered the idea that the tale has to end in a gigantic battle. I built the story toward that typical climax, but then the two antagonists talked, instead.
I have to say, the ending as written feels… weird. Like the conflict isn’t really over. My beta readers both said the same. Not that the ending was bad, or felt forced, just that they hadn’t seen that approach before.
Unsettled as it is, this outcome is what’s true to the characters. They had a previous relationship that allowed them to talk things out. Or maybe it’s that they were two women, with an instinct toward collaboration rather than combat.
Will this ending satisfy anyone besides me? Good question! I’m having a great time with Minstrels of Skaythe, exploring alternatives to the nagging prevalence of violence in storytelling. If you’re up for the challenge of a slightly strange outcome, I hope you’ll check out my novellas, The Tower in the Mist and Dancer in the Grove of Ghosts.
Fredericks has six fantasy novels out through two small presses. More recently, she self-publishes her fantasy novellas and novelettes, bringing her to 13 books in all. Her latest is The Tower in the Mist. Her short work has been published in Andromeda Spaceways and selected anthologies.
In addition, she writes for children as Lucy D. Ford. Her children’s stories and poems have appeared in magazines such as Boys’ Life, Babybug, Ladybug, and a few anthologies. In the past, she served as Regional Advisor for the Inland Northwest Region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, International (SCBWI).
“He’s dead. He just doesn’t know it yet.”
Mortally wounded, Cylass is abandoned on the battlefield by comrades who would just as soon have him out of the way. But as he waits for death, a strange savior appears. The dancer, Tisha, heals him with her forbidden magic, but also draws the wrath of his cruel former lord.
Soon guardsman and renegade mage are on the run. Will Cylass help Tisha, as she helped him? Or will he do the smart thing, and turn her over to the vicious Count Ar-Dayne?
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