Let’s Make: A Fantasy Story Shop — Lucky’s

It’s been a while since I did a Let’s Make, one of the many series that fell to the wayside when I stopped posting every day. Still, I love this series, so I thought I’d sacrifice one of the more recent, bloggier posts for another installment.

And, this time, I thought I’d solidify something I’ve been slowly gathering details for in my day-to-day: a fantasy shop.

See, the weird thing about “shops” in fantasy is that they’re often . . . samey? Basic? Maybe “convenient” is the right word, but what I’m getting at is that they’re usually thrown together based on simple standards (not so much tropes, but basic, established ideas of what fantasy shops are, how they work, what they sell). DM’s running D&D games might try to give shopkeepers a bit of charm, but fantasy, in general, makes the average shop a little simple. A little too perfectly named.

A shop in a town known for its thieves, for example, might be called “The Rusty Lockpick.”

In a seafaring town, the shop might be “The Bronze Spyglass.”

And, sure, both of those would be charming, acceptable names.

But, today, I want to offer a different approach: how about a shop built by someone who wasn’t cute about naming it?

How about just a no frills, mess of a store on the side street of a fantasy city?

Yeah. . . Yeah, let’s make that!

Step 1 — Choose a Name

A little backwards this time, but choosing the name of this shop first will help sell it as a hastily chosen name, or perhaps one that’s lost its meaning.

What I’m looking for is something charming — of course — but also something simple, memorable, and easy to say. Basically, I’m looking for a nickname for this shop, because I’m getting the feeling this rundown little place has been in business for generations.

Off the top of my head, I’m going with “Lucky’s”.

Step 2 — Figure Out the Proprietor

So, of course, I don’t want to go crazy giving a ton of backstory for a side character who won’t be a main part of Rainwater, but I do want to give the proprietor of Lucky’s a believable, charming personality, with just enough backstory to build off of. Because, as I’ve learned the hard way, if I don’t give my characters room to grow in my stories — if I hammer everything down in an outline — my details will be ridged when it’s time to write.

So, instead, I’ll jump into whatever smaller details come to mind.

  • The proprietor’s name isn’t “Lucky.” My initial thought is to make Lucky his grandfather, but I love the idea that Lucky was a mascot — maybe a dog? Maybe the proprietor’s grandfather’s dog, who used to be his companion on adventures?
  • Not sure yet what the proprietor’s actual name is, so let’s just go with a placeholder: Rosco.
  • If you walk in, see Rosco, and say, “So you must be Lucky,” he is guaranteed to gouge you for whatever you want, no matter how small.
  • I can’t fight the idea that Rosco has an eye patch. It seems incredibly typical somehow, but when I try to think of a notable shopkeeper with an eye patch, I come up blank.
    Actually, I think the stereotype for a proprietor in fantasy is literally “barrel-chested.” Inn keepers, smiths — whoever they are, whether they’re jovial or gruff, they’re always “barrel-chested” men.
    So, I think I’m alright on the eye patch.
  • Rosco lost his eye in . . . okay. I just brainstormed it for 10 minutes and found a bunch of possible ways he lost it. However . . . I’m also getting the strong, aimless curiosity I always get when I don’t know enough about a story/world to hammer down details with confidence.
    I’ll decide on his eye later.
    Although, I always love the idea of characters having countless stories for how they got scars/nicknames/etc., so everyone in Errsai has a story for how Rosco lost his eye.
    Rosco himself has several favorites.

Step 3 — Decide on the Merchandise

What does this store sell? General goods? Potions? Considering real world possibilities (my favorite thing to do in this situation), is this a pawn shop? A purveyor of refurbished swords and armor? There are countless possibilities, so don’t get stuck on the standards for fantasy shops: Items, Armor, Weapons, and Magic.

Lucky’s is pretty obviously a low-end thrift shop for cheap, second-hand goods. Naturally, it offers everything — at least everything that can be made cheaply and imperfectly. Finding those things, from flawed daggers to frayed novels, is undoubtedly Rosco’s calling.

Step 4 — Decide on the Look

What does this shop look like, inside and out? How is its merchandise arrayed? Does it have dominant colors — a clear aesthetic maintained by its owner? What’s the overall vibe of the place?

Lucky’s looks like any good antique shop — a densely packed nightmare of stimuli. Of course, the difference is that Lucky’s is lined with broken things you don’t actually want — things that you’d only buy at the worst of times, in the direst of needs. Lighting comes primarily from grimy windows, the lights inside of the shop too obscured by Rosco’s bent and breaking merchandise.

Step 5 — How Does It Make Money?

I guess Lucky’s actually pulls in enough of an income to survive in a fantasy city?

Actually, no — scratch that. I love the idea that Rosco found a loophole that keeps Lucky’s open forever; some kind of legal motion that locked it in government-funded perpetuity. Something starting with a petition to have it made into a historical landmark, which spiraled way out of control.

The point is, this junk heap is government-funded, somehow. And I love it.

Of course, I think Rosco still needs to make enough money to eat, so there’s a backroom lined with lock boxes, all available for rent — to people Rosco likes. Because that . . . is just the right amount of “shady.”

Step 6 — Add Some Regulars

No establishment is complete without regulars. Here are the first few ideas that come to mind:

  • A tall man with a deep voice stands outside, hawking Rosco’s wares. He does this rarely and is even more rarely paid.
  • When there is hawking, a much younger woman leans on the front of the shop, accompanying the large man’s cries with flute music. She seems to be a descendant of the shop’s original owner, begrudgingly attached to it.
  • Two old men visit Lucky’s almost every day, setting up whatever ramshackle table is available, playing whatever old, broken games Lucky happens to have.
  • Once a week, Mr. Olimpaie comes from Rainwater Archaic to browse for enchantments. He has never bought a single thing.

And, with that, Lucky’s is as finished as I dare to make it in the worldbuilding phase. I was going to add a “Give It Some History” step, but that actually worked itself out over the course of the build.

Anyway, thanks for joining me for this short bit of brainstorming! I hope you enjoyed!

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To all of my regulars, thank you guys, once again, for reading. I’m not able to post every day, like I want to, but the site is still slowly building up a following, and that’s incredible. In the last few months, I’ve almost doubled my number of followers, and that support actually keeps me going. I’m not exaggerating — if not for you guys, it would be so hard to stay positive on the totally blind scale of writer self-doubt. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

But also, of course, thank you if this is your first time visiting. My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

But, either way, thank you again just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.

Games for Writers: No Man’s Sky

Wow. It has been forever since I’ve written one of these.

And, of all games, I picked No Man’s Sky, hands down the least disappointing game of 2016. Why, I remember no one being upset about this one.

. . .

So, disclaimer first: I know. I know that No Man’s Sky was a huge, flaming disappointment. And, with this post, I’m not trying to say that you should run out and buy it. The only reason why I didn’t trade it in, in fact, was that I forgot it was on my shelf. The only reason why I still haven’t traded it in, is that the Foundation Update was pleasant. Maybe Hello Games’ll suddenly stop supporting this game in a few months, but, as I’d only get a few bucks for trading it in now anyway, I’m holding out for future updates, hoping I at least get my money’s worth that way.

Regardless though, none of that is why I’m writing about this game today.

Today, I’m writing about No Man’s Sky to give it props in one regard. Because there is one way in which it helped improve my writing.

The name game.

I’m a big believer in the power of video games. I don’t think they’re the ultimate form of entertainment, but I think they have an innate ability to provide experiences you would never have otherwise. On a most basic level, they have the power to make you feel that you’re, say, a pilot navigating his way through a space battle.

But, at this point, an idea like that is oddly quaint when it comes to gaming. Video games are far more specific and varied. They’re able to deliver more unique tones and feelings.

And No Man’s Sky delivers a feeling and experience that I have never encountered in any other video game. Ever.

And that feeling just so happens to be important for worldbuilding.

In this video game, in which you have to gather elements from plants, rocks, animals, and planetary bases, all to power and mod your ship so that you can fly to the heart of the universe, the sandbox that you’re in is planet-sized. There’s no one around to talk to you and, often, there isn’t much to interact with.

All there is to do, is walk around, explore, and name the creatures, plants, and locations that you find. And it’s that naming–of these tiny parts of a frighteningly massive universe–that is invaluable when it comes to worldbuilding.

No Man’s Sky is a Game for Writers because the experience of being on unfamiliar territory, and not being able to go back–of having to walk around a bizarre landscape and, especially, naming things as you go–will improve your naming game tenfold.

Because now, you are the settler who founded Manhattan.

You’re the guy who’s standing there, on the spot, trying to decide what to call a place you’ve never been to.

You’re the person who’s all, “Uh . . . Fuck it. Louis Town. Wait, no, Louisville . . . : I This is exactly why there’s a Long Island in every state, isn’t it?”

No Man's Sky_20160812141756
Because sometimes, you’ll just name ’em the first thing that comes to mind.

But you’re also the person who reaches a base at the top of a mountain, and, after hours of naming different locations, looks around and sees that there are two caves nearby that look like eyes. So you name the base “Rockmire’s Gaze” and then spiral into thinking of why the mountain is named “Rockmire” and what the people of this planet would think of the fact that it has eyes (if there were people–No Man’s Sky is beautiful but it’s still a pretty vacant resource collecting game).

My point is, after playing this game, I got a lot more heavily invested in naming trends, and I think all fantasy writers can stand to do that. And not just naming trends of landmarks or animals, but of everything; I’m finding that plant names are particularly interesting to me (“Why ‘foxglove’? And, wait, ‘ladyfinger’?. . . That’s just weird.”).

But, being put in a place to name things in quick succession also highlights your own naming trends and helps you slip away from them. In my case, I realized I love ending planets names with “-ulus” or “-os,” and as you can see from the picture above, “Prime.”

No Man's Sky_20170217182318
Although I found I also go with single words, like “Amethyst,” for planets and other locations. It’s a bad habit in my writing that I know I have to break now.

With animals, I fall back on real suffixes mixed with appropriate sounds–“byparn” being a favorite example for a cow-like alien with two horns. I also go for direct descriptors with dashes though, particularly for plants; “bat-winged borp” and “arrow-leaf tree” for examples.

Again, I wouldn’t recommend buying No Man’s Sky; it’s still a little too sparse on the gameplay side for me to recommend it to anyone.

But, if you’re a writer, and if you already own it, or if you have a friend who owns it, maybe check it out for that one day–that one batch of hours–where you’re genuinely a pilgrim, naming a land you know nothing about.

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Thanks for reading. I hope this was an interesting return to the Games for Writers series. You can check out these previous installments on Metroid Prime, Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season One, and Dark Souls, but please be advised that they’re mostly terrible (I wrote the Silent Hill one nearly seven years ago; I was a much different writer back then). I also wrote a post about making sure your writing is free of completely unrealistic video game tropes, a pitfall that I called the CR Trap.

Regardless though, that’s all for this week. Thank you for dropping by, and, as always, write well.