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Dark Clouds are Gathering. Can you Weather the Storm?

Some pretty ugly weather rolled across the U.S. yesterday and overnight. We caught some of it where I live, though other parts of the country fared much worse. Bright flashes of lighting filled our living room, and great cracks and booms shook the house. You couldn’t see the rain in the pitch dark outside, but you could hear it beating against the siding and roof. The weather alerts were sounding from my phone every 5 minutes, sending my anxiety levels up a few notches each time, and my 6-year-old was squeezing the life out of my arm as we sat on the couch together. We live in a modern, sturdy house—something book characters don’t always have, particularly those living in a medieval or other historical-type era where the weather’s benevolence is crucial to survival.

As I sat there in a comfortable well-lit room, with the lull of the T.V. to distract me from the tempest outside, I was reminded how weather can play a significant role in a story, or even become a character in itself.  It can set the mood for a single scene, or shape the entire plot.  Weather can grow crops, or destroy them, it can fill sails or sink ships, level homes, and flood streets.  Its temperature extremes are sometimes deadly.  Long periods of unchanging weather can affect the mental states of those subject to its effects. For those characters out on the road, the weather can give them an easy-going, pleasant journey or an uncomfortable, and even dangerous one. If a fictional society is largely agrarian, bad weather has the power to completely destroy it—no armies needed—by bringing about starvation and sickness.  In a time before radar and weather apps, sudden changes in weather would no doubt have been mysterious and alarming to the average person. By the time they knew bad weather was coming, there wasn’t much time to prepare.

Do you have a favorite book in which weather plays a significant role? If you’re a writer, how do you handle weather in your own stories? Is it something that just lurks in the background, rarely seen, or are your characters keenly aware of its impact on daily life? Have you ever written a story in which the weather actually took on the role of a character?

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Writing Tracking Scenes: Happens More Often than One Expects, by Charles Yallowitz

Ironically enough, just yesterday I was working out my outline for a chapter in which one character is tracking another. This article brings up some good points as to how to effectively handle this sometimes tedious task, and also how to keep it interesting for readers.

We’ve all been there.  Stalking an enemy until we find the perfect chance to strike or discover their hideout.  Then the author falls asleep or gets bored and throws the entire scene into chaos.

Having one character follow another can be tedious, especially if it lasts for a chapter.  I’ve seen it done different ways too.  Some authors only have villains do tracking, so it’s in the background.  Others have the trackers so far away that they can talk and the physical act is secondary.  Then there’s avoiding such scenes entirely.  I like having some tracking scenes since Luke is a forest tracker.  Pointless to give him the skills and never have him use them.  I tend to fall into that second category, but there are ways to make it interesting…

Source: Writing Tracking Scenes: Happens More Often than One Expects


Fantasy Art Wednesday

Get inspired with this week’s Fantasy Art Wednesday, where fun fantasy artwork is combined with a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing.

This mysterious glowing gate is hidden away in the most unlikely of places.  Stone steps curve upwards to a door that looks as if it doesn’t belong to this time or place. Surrounded by rough rock, and primitive pillars and ladders, its glow dimly illuminates the crumbling cavern which seems barren of all other life. If you could avoid the gaping holes in the floor, and wind your way up the ladders and out of this place, what would you find beyond it? Sunlight and fresh air? A dying world? Perhaps you’d be better off risking the gate and hoping there is something good on the other side. But that doorway could go absolutely anyplace. Why was it built, and who built it? Was it intended to be a simple mode of transportation, or a unique wonder? Was is built to provide a way home…or a way to escape?

"Blue Gate" by Lakehurwitz

“Blue Gate” by Lakehurwitz

Medieval Monday: The Green Valley in February

Today’s post is actually a video that I really think you’re going to enjoy! It’s half an hour long, but well worth the time to watch! A small group of historians and archaeologists restored and brought back to life an abandoned village in Wales, re-creating over an entire year what life was like in the early 1600’s. This would be considered the Renaissance period, but the humble agricultural lifestyle really hadn’t changed a whole lot. Much of this would be applicable to the medieval period as well.

This episode is not the start of the series, but it is the video from February, so you can see what would have been happening at this time of year hundreds of years ago. Really, really fascinating stuff. I encourage you to take the time to watch. I will include one episode each month going forward until the year’s worth of videos run out. Aside from doing this type of thing yourself, I can think of no better way to really put yourself back in time, to see and vicariously experience life from another era. Hope you enjoy it!

Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.


Fantasy Art Wednesday

Get inspired with this week’s Fantasy Art Wednesday, where fun fantasy artwork is combined with a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing.

Night has fallen on the old quarter of the city. Far in the distance a castle rises up to meet the moon; two equally unattainable destinations. This is, after all, the poor quarter, and I am not here by chance. Only the brazen and the rats–including the worst of human vermin–dare to emerge at night. Or the desperate, like myself. I watch the guards as they pass below, crossbows raised and ready. They’re always on edge during night patrol; a state that often leaves behind tragic consequences. I hope not to be one of them, though I am as like to find one of their arrows in my back as I am the dagger of a thief. But travel I must, to someplace far beyond this hell. Beyond even that castle in the distance. A new life, a new destiny awaits me out there, if I can but escape. There are many who would keep me here by force if they had any suspicions about my flight. I must elude them all…

"Night Over the Poor District by ortsmor

“Night Over the Poor District
by ortsmor

Medieval Monday: What’s to Drink?

Much of what we drink today on a daily basis would not have been available in the Middle Ages. Coffee wasn’t brought to Europe until the 1600s, and was met with suspicion—even sometimes condemned by the local Church. And though Britain in particular is now known for his proud heritage of drinking tea, it was not introduced until the 16th century, and did not gain popularity until the 17th.  Anything that required refrigeration was difficult to keep, and only consumed fresh, when available. So what did medieval people drink on a daily basis?

drinking-brawlThere is a persistent rumor that water was avoided due to widespread contamination of waterways by pollutants and bacteria. This is actually not the case. While plain water was certainly nothing exciting enough to sing songs about, it was regularly drunk by itself, or used to water down other drinks. Even though they had no concept of what bacteria were, medieval people were smart enough to distinguish fresh from polluted water, and carefully avoided the latter. Large cities in fact invested considerable wealth into reliable water systems that would bring in fresh water from springs or other sources. Waterways used for industry were avoided as drinking sources, as were stagnant or marshy waters. Rainwater was thought to be the healthiest water, and it was easy enough for anyone to collect. There were instances when medieval physicians might advise against water, such as when eating a meal. Wine was recommended instead, as water was thought to “chill the stomach.” Ironically, a 15th century source advises pregnant women to beware of cold water, which was thought to be harmful to the fetus, and drink wine instead.

Some juices were consumed, particularly where (and when) fruits were readily available. Milk was another option, produced not just by cows, but goats and sheep as well. Even most peasants owned one or more of these animals. In spite of this, fresh drinking milk was surprisingly uncommon. There was no easy way to keep milk from spoiling, and it was only available during the times of year when animals were producing. For the most part milk was used to make other foods like butter and cheese. Milk to drink was primarily given to the sick, young children, the elderly, and those who were too poor to buy meat. Peasants did drink whey, buttermilk, milk that had been soured or diluted with water, and almond milk.

Alcoholic beverages were the preferred choice. They were considered to have nutritive value and aid digestion. They were also the easiest drinks to preserve for relatively long periods of time. However, alcoholic drinks in the Middle Ages were somewhat different than those we are accustomed to today. What type of alcohol you drank largely depended on where you lived, and what you could afford.

brewing-aleIn the northernmost regions of Europe where grapes did not grow, most of the alcohol consumed were beer or ale, both of which were much weaker than the modern day versions, and might be further watered down if desired. Ale was the most common, brewed with barley but not hops. “Small Ale” (or “Small Beer”) had extremely low alcohol content and was actually considered an important source of hydration and nutrition. It was a cloudy drink, consumed fresh, and would have been drunk on a daily basis by just about everyone, even youth.  Ale with higher alcohol content would have been saved for recreational purposes due to the intoxicating effects. Beer was at first brewed with “gruit,” a mix of various herbs, then gradually with hops as brewers figured out the proper ratio to use. Hops was a better preservative, allowing beer to be stored for 6 months or longer, whereas beer brewed with gruit needed to be consumed more quickly. Wine was only drunk by those who could afford to import it.

By comparison, in Southern Europe where grapes were plentiful, wine was the drink consumed on a daily basis and was considered to be both prestigious and healthy. Red wine was thought to “aid digestion, generate good blood, and brighten the mood.”

pressing-wineLike beers and ales, the quality of wine varied greatly, with that made of second and third pressings the lowest quality with the least alcohol content. These would have been the equivalent of “small ale”—a drink consumed daily by just about everyone, and even in large quantities, without concerns about intoxication. The poorest peasants might have to settle for watered down vinegar as their daily drink. Fine, expensive wines with much higher alcohol content would have been made from the first pressings of grapes. Such wine might also be mulled or spiced—also considered to be quite healthy. Red wine would be combined with sugar and spices such as nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, pepper, and cloves among others.

Wines might also be made from fruits other than grapes, including berries. Perry and cider were popular in northern regions were pears and apples could be grown. Mulberry, blackberry, plumb, and pomegranate wines were some of the different varieties enjoyed.

Mead was another drink available, and could be made to contain alcohol or not.  Made from honey, water, and yeast, the alcoholic version could be as weak as small ale, or rival strong wines. The taste varied locally, as most regions had their own traditions and recipes. Different sources of honey also produced different flavors of mead. Spices and fruits might be added. Some recipes called for grain mash, or for hops to give it a beer-like flavor. Toward the end of the Middle Ages, mead was most commonly used for medicinal purposes rather than as a table drink.

Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.