The Demon King Editing Notes

Starting in April, I’m going to begin putting together a formal query letter for The Demon King. I’d like to participate in the #PitMad event on Twitter at the beginning of June, and I’d also like to finish up this portion of the project so that I can go ahead and get started on the next novella in the series.

If you’re interested, this is my fifty-word Twitter pitch:

The Demon King is a high fantasy adventure comedy about a garbage wizard named Balthazar who seeks to claim a magical relic sleeping within the castle of a powerful and devious princess. Until then, he would prefer to be left alone so he can read trashy romance novels in peace.

I’m going to put the first novella through another round of intense editing in May, but I just wrapped up the initial set of major edits. I’ve been fixing typos and other minor second-draft awkwardness, but I’ve also been thinking about tone and structure, as well as how I relate to the genre of fantasy in general.

Although this will change as the story progresses, the beginning of The Demon King is largely an episodic comedy that plays with tropes from epic fantasy novels and video games. Instead of exaggerating or subverting these tropes, I’m interested in looking at them from the perspective of rational adult characters who fit their assigned archetypes poorly at best.

Each chapter is prefaced by a short introductory section modeled on the sort of “lore” or “flavor text” that a player can unlock in a video game by defeating a certain number of enemies, collecting a certain number of items, and so on. This isn’t made explicitly clear in the first novella, but these intro sections are written by Balthazar, the eponymous Demon King, who is addicted to romance novels and secretly aspires to be a writer himself.

I’ve been putting a lot of work into crafting an appropriately epic language for these sections. What I’m aiming for is a needlessly fancy style that borders on purple prose without being actually poorly written or obnoxious. In addition, I’d like for readers who come back to these passages after they know more about the world of the story to be able to see where Balthazar is being ironic, where he’s being sincere, and where he’s flat-out lying.

I had initially rendered these sections in italics, but I think we can all collectively agree that italics are difficult to read. I therefore reformatted the text to remove all the italics on the chapter intro sections. I might put them back in to demonstrate that these are excerpts from “found sources” and not part of the main body of narration, but I think the character-specific perspectives of the chapters are clear enough that third-person omniscient narration stands out strongly on its own.

I also decided is that everyone is going to be represented as speaking English. If the viewpoint character – usually Balthazar – can understand what someone is saying, it won’t be accented with italics. Perhaps other characters might comment on the fact that he understands speech they don’t, but I don’t want to play games with fantasy languages. Along the same lines, I deleted all mentions of fantasy language names. Nobody needs that.

One of my most hated of all sci-fi and fantasy tropes is when a story gluts itself on constructed terminology, especially in lieu of meaningful worldbuilding. I therefore tried to keep fantasy words at an absolute minimum. The crow people (called starags, after the Gaelic word for “crow”) have their own name because it would be silly to call them “crow people,” and the concept of a “gaesh” (a type of semi-telepathic soul bond that facilitates magic sharing) is something that I want to feel strange and alien to the reader, but I think that’s it.

I leaned into this by using common words for elements that are native to the story. For example, Balthazar is not a “demon” in the usual sense of the word, the “gargoyles” who appear about halfway through the story are actually bat people, the “artifact” Balthazar is seeking is something highly unusual and specific, and the creatures that Balthazar calls “dogs” and “horses” are not dogs and horses, not by a long shot.

As the story continues, I think it’s going to be fun to play with the disconnect between what various characters take for granted as common knowledge, but I want this to remain comfortably in the realm of comedy and not venture into the territory of “who knows what secrets at what point in the story.” If anyone asks, you didn’t hear this from me, but plot is overrated. The plot of The Demon King is going to become more interesting and intricate as more layers of the story are revealed, but I want the reader to care about the characters before the plot ever becomes a concern.

That being said, there are major conflicts between the characters that have no easy resolutions, so I took care in my edits to make sure that each of the main characters states their goals clearly. Figuring out why these characters insist on pursuing these goals is the story’s primary source of forward momentum, so I’m doing my best to set up these mysteries while also providing ample clues and a healthy dose of foreshadowing.   

Hopefully the process of writing a query letter will help me clarify the themes and narrative structure so that I can continue to hone the story when I return to it in May for another set of edits.

For the time being, I’m hosting the first novella in The Demon King on AO3, and you can find it (here).

This post’s illustration of Balthazar is by the lovely @Lemonscribs on Instagram, who was kind enough to compare the character’s aesthetic to Katie O’Neill’s fantasy slice-of-life comic The Tea Dragon Society. What an apt observation, and what an incredible compliment!

Draw Me Like One of Your Anime Boyfriends

It is an anime truism that a villain is evil in direct proportion to how stylish and attractive they are.

We can therefore infer that Balthazar is neither good nor evil, as he is not particularly attractive and wears the high fantasy equivalent of a track suit jacket over pajamas.

Balthazar as Antagonist


The Demon King
has ten chapters, and I’m a little more than halfway done with the first round of edits. I should be able to meet my projection of finishing by March 15, a month after I completed the first draft. The draft is only about 30k words, but progress is slow. The psychic damage I’m taking from finding typos and inconsistencies and unintended repetitions cannot be exaggerated.

This is only the first of five story arcs, so one of my main goals during this round of editing is to ensure that the central conflict is presented clearly and makes sense according to the somewhat limited information available to the reader. This is a short summary:

A powerful wizard named Balthazar wants to find a magical artifact hidden somewhere in the mountains between the kingdom of Whitespire and the ocean, which is highly poisonous. This artifact probably has something to do with the pure water coming down from the mountains and ensuring the prosperity of the kingdom. Balthazar doesn’t mention this artifact to his confidant Ceres, the reigning princess of Whitespire, who is presumably either unaware of its existence or unwilling to discuss it. If Balthazar does manage to find this artifact, the way he plans to use it will result in the downfall of Whitespire.

Balthazar is open with Ceres about his intentions to destroy Whitespire, but he makes no move to attack the kingdom, choosing instead to seek other magical artifacts elsewhere. It’s unclear why Balthazar is taking such a circuitous route toward his goal, but I hope the reader is able to get the sense that he’s not really the sort of person who would harm anyone if he could avoid it. He specifically doesn’t want to harm Ceres, mainly because he likes her.

There’s no significant antagonist in the story aside from Balthazar himself, as he’s going to have to do terrible things and hurt the people he cares about if he insists on achieving his goal. Unfortunately, he’s deadly serious about what he aims to do, so much so that it’s at the core of his sense of identity.

It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I’m inspired by the narrative structure of Homestuck, in which everything seems very silly and trope-driven until the reader gains a better understanding of what’s going on with the world of the story. I think it’s probably a fool’s errand to ask any given writer what themes they’re trying to express, but Balthazar has a line to the effect of “you always have a choice” that’s probably the closest thing to a statement of purpose I have regarding issues of individual freedom and dignity in the face of overwhelmingly horrible circumstances.

Also there are dick jokes, which symbolizes the fact that I like dick jokes.

In any case, once I finish this round of edits, I’m going to let the story sit for another month before writing a formal query. I’ll then do another round of edits before participating in several pitch events starting in late May. I’ll more than likely take the story offline at that point, but you can still read the draft as I edit it on AO3 (here).

Dungeon Etiquette

We live in a society.

Trying to apply real world logic to video games is a fool’s errand, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that most of what “heroes” do is awfully close to war crimes.

…I write, having just spent two hours leveling up my JRPG adventuring party through wanton murder and environmental destruction.

The Demon King, Chapter Ten

It is a beautiful day, and you are a horrible demon king.

What would you like to do?

– Make a pot of tea.
– Water your plants.
– Read a trashy romance novel.
– Have a nice chat with your nemesis.
– Take a long nap.

This illustration is by the magical Starstray (on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr). The prompt I gave her was “a very powerful and very fancy wizard who is very bad at being a demon king.”

I commissioned this painting to celebrate having finished the first book of The Demon King, which I’m going to call The Temple of Everlasting Autumn. It took me four months to write this 30k-word novella, and I’m going to take another month to edit it. I’d also like to put together some book cover style graphics to showcase each of the ten chapters. After that, it will probably be time to start thinking about where the project can go in the future. In the meantime, you can read the first draft (as I gradually edit it) and check out all the comics and illustrations on AO3 (here).

It is a beautiful day, and

You are a terrible bog witch dwelling in a haunted swamp forest.

You have just woken up from a three-month nap, and you hate everything.

What do you do?

.

I’ve been thinking about getting into RPG Maker, and I think I want the player-protagonist of my first game to be a horrible old woman. My ideal project would basically be a 16-bit version of Animal Crossing. You explore a haunted swamp forest, collect materials, and run errands while planting trees and watering flowers. The catch is that all of the dialogue choices will be extraordinarily rude and filthy. You’ll also have dialogue options that encourage murder, but the game will always tell you that killing people is wrong and make you choose something else.

I think it might be neat if the game were set in the world of The Demon King, with the demon king himself being a secondary character. The witch will coerce Balthazar into doing manual labor (like clearing away fallen trees) through shame, bullying, and offering him smutty romance novels, and each encounter will open up more of the map.

The point of the game will be to care for the forest while helping spring transition into summer. I imagine that it will take about two hours to play through the story, with five or six “stages,” or perhaps “chapters.” My main inspiration for gameplay is A Short Hike, but I’d like there to be significantly more text.

I wonder how long a project like this would take to put together?

The Demon King, Chapter 9

I just posted Chapter Nine of The Demon King on AO3 (here).

This is the second-to-last chapter of the novella, and it’s meant to function as a narrative climax. At the beginning of the first chapter, Balthazar casually murders someone; and, at the end of this chapter, he destroys an entire ecosystem. He has his reasons for doing what he’s doing, but I want to make it clear to the reader that he’s not fucking around. I also want to make it clear that this story is not YA fiction, so the language I used in this chapter is a bit… tumescent, let’s say.

Even though its narrative arc is complete in itself, this novella is intended to be the first part of a longer story, and I hope this sort of explosive conclusion is equally satisfying and intriguing. I think it can be understood as a natural outgrowth of the concepts that have already been introduced, but my goal is for an astute reader to come out of this chapter with a deeper curiosity about the history and metaphysics of this world.

This illustration of Balthazar is by the brilliant Jennifer So (@hellojennso on Twitter, @jennosaur on Instagram, and @jennlso on Tumblr), who designed the character. This is actually the first character design created for The Demon King (back in November 2018), and I’m excited to finally share it. Jenn nailed the character on the very first draft, and this is how I’ve pictured him since then.

The Demon King, Chapter 8

This illustration of Ceres is by Sali (@salisillustrations on Instagram and @saliechelon255 on Tumblr), who creates beautiful digital paintings based on books and anime, including Studio Ghibli movies and the Harry Potter novels, alongside her original work. Her characters are fashionable and expressive, and they always fit perfectly into their richly detailed environments. Sali has a talent for drawing fancy wizards, and it was a pleasure to be able to work with her on this illustration for The Demon King.

The eighth chapter of The Demon King is the culmination of Ceres’s first character arc. It echoes her introduction, in which she glibly treats murder as the only viable option to a tricky political problem, but now the reader is able to see the deliberation that leads to her decisions.

I’m interested in female political leadership, especially at high levels, when an executive’s position is just as symbolic as it is practical. It’s my impression that, whether it’s Hillary Clinton or Kamala Harris or Tsai Ing-wen or Angela Merkel, there’s an expectation that a woman needs to be perfectly competent and capable while still being both “rational” and having all the charm and charisma of a male politician. This is impossible in real life, of course, but it’s fun to exaggerate these pressures and expectations in fiction to see where they lead.

In any case, the prompt I gave the artist was “a beautiful fairytale princess quietly plotting murder.”

Although it’s still rough around the edges, I’m posting the first draft of The Demon King on AO3, and you can find it (here).

The Demon King, Chapter 7

This illustration is by the brilliant Yura Krokodil (@KrokodilYura on Twitter and @krokodilov on Tumblr). She also posts original comics on DeviantArt (here). This artist is a genius when it comes to environmental painting, and she’s magnificently talented at creature and costume design.

This is a scene from the seventh chapter of The Demon King, in which Balthazar ventures into a creepy mushroom forest and has a meandering conversation with a giant spider named Uniagoliantia. You can read the chapter on AO3 starting (here).

In Return of the King, Frodo and Sam cross through Cirith Ungol (“the pass of the spider”) on their way to Mordor, and along the way they encounter a giant spider named Shelob. The Silmarilion mentions that Shelob’s mother was Ungoliant (“dark spider”), a primordial spirit who took the form of an even larger spider. I think “Ungoliant” is a cool name, but it’s a shame it doesn’t have eight syllables, so I expanded it while making it sound more feminine.

Although there are definitely weird and creepy spiders in the world – just as there are weird and creepy fish and weird and creepy mammals – most spiders are just minding their own business, and I think their big bright eyes and round fuzzy bodies and short little legs are kind of cute.

When it comes to creepy things, I tend to think that mushrooms are much creepier than spiders. Still, they’re very cool-looking. I was talking with the artist about this, and about how the “evil forest” area that always seems to be one of the first dungeons in a lot of RPGs inevitably looks really interesting and beautiful, and she told me that she was inspired by the opening dungeon of Final Fantasy IX, which is called, appropriately enough, Evil Forest. It feels a bit anthropocentric to refer to a place that humans aren’t comfortable as “evil,” and I imagine that the creatures who live in any given “evil forest” are probably quite happy there.

Demons Have Feelings Too

The passage Balthazar is reading is from the introduction to the “Demons” entry of the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. The full paragraph reads:

Spawned in the Infinite Layers of the Abyss, demons are the embodiment of chaos  and evil – engines of destruction barely contained in monstrous form. Possessing no compassion, empathy, or mercy, they exist only to destroy. The Abyss creates demons as extensions of itself, spontaneously forming  fiends out of filth and carnage.

And this is just not a very nice thing to say, honestly.

I drew this comic to include as the interstitial illustration following the sixth chapter of The Demon King, which I’m posting on AO3 (here).