The Witch Watch: The Origin and Characters

By Shamus Posted Sunday Mar 11, 2012

Filed under: Projects 119 comments

Some people (okay, ONE person) has requested that I talk about some of the inspirations behind The Witch Watch. (Which you can buy now by clicking on this very hyperlink!) Note that while I’m not going to be discussing the plot directly, this post will contain mild, indirect spoilers for the book. (Which you can buy etc etc.)



The book idea came while playing World of Warcraft. I had just rolled up an undead character. In the game, there’s an NPC welcoming you to the world as soon as you spawn for the first time. The idea is that this guy has just brought you back from the dead to help them with their struggle.

At the time I thought it would be amusing if someone in the player’s position was greeted with, “Welcome back, Bob! We’ve revived you so that… what? You’re not Bob? Oh. Sorry. How awkward. Not to hurt your feelings, but we have no idea who you are and nobody seems all that upset about you being dead. Again, sorry. Not to make this any worse for you, but I need to revive Bob, and right now I used up all the magic bringing you back. Would you mind… you know, going back to being dead?”

Originally the story was going to be silly along these lines, but as I fleshed out the tale it became less of a cartoon world and more of a legitimate setting.



As I devised the system of sorcery, I came to think of it as (of course) a programming language. Actually, more a system where you could apply localized diffs (changes) to the source code of the world around you. You couldn’t create energy or mass, but you could move them around a bit or alter the rules regarding where energy tends to flow.

I very quickly realized that this was going to turn into a plot-hole monstrosity. The more I explained it, the more readers would be able to say, “But then why can’t the heroes… X?” I could fix those, but only with more explanations. It might be a fun idea, but non-programmers would quickly become irritated with the long-winded asides on why you can’t do X or Y unless Z and not W. The further I got, the less I wanted to nail down anything that wasn’t 100% required for the book.

Historical Fiction

I have to say that even lighthearted historical fiction is much harder than sci-fi. History is complicated and it’s hard to know how all the little details worked. For example: How much do you tip someone in 1885? Now, often you can get away with “small tip” or “large tip”, but if you need a couple of characters to haggle then you need to have some frame of reference for coinage.

How did you get a carriage? There’s no phones, so you can’t call one. Does someone walk to where they are stored and rent one? Can you drive the carriage yourself and pay extra for an optional driver, or does the owner drive his own carriage? How many people “reasonably” fit inside of one? If you’re going to be somewhere for one day, does the carriage wait for you or do you send for another when it’s time to leave?

Sure, I can just make up stuff if I like. Most of us won’t notice, but for those that do, the scene will sound like the ravings of an idiot, like the CSI shows where people “hack IP addresses” by using visual basic, looking at 3d models on a big-screen television, and typing really fast. You can’t get everything right, but you do want to avoid sounding like you don’t care.

But this can be a real flow-killer to stop every other page and hammer away at Google for half an hour to figure out where this character should be keeping their money.

I’m not vowing off historical fiction, but I will say this was probably a challenging place to start.

Now I see why authors tend to get “stuck” in genres. Right now, I want to WRITE ALL THE THINGS. Zombie apocalypse. Grounded sci-fi. (Like 2001 Space Odyssey.) Space fantasy. (Like Star Wars.) Time travel. Superheros. But each genre requires a certain investment of time, and once you have a couple of books under your belt it’s probably a lot easier to stick with what you know.

Lord Moxley


In the process of researching the book I read about Oscar Wilde. I’d heard of him, but I’d never really read about him in detail. I was really taken with the idea of the dandies. We have such a monochrome view of how people acted back then. It would be like people 100 years from now assuming we all acted like Dan Rather or Johnny Carson. I was eager to get away from the, “My Fair Lady” stereotypes and toy with some of the other subcultures.


I’ve mentioned before that I tend to write in specific “voices” of people. Perhaps a result of being an auditory learner, perhaps as a personal peculiarity. I find that I most enjoy writing characters I can hear. Moxley began as Oscar Wilde, but I began hearing his dialog as acted by Stephen Fry.

In Free Radical, Nomen Nescio was far more fun than anyone else. In The Witch Watch, Moxley was my runaway character. Every time I got tired of the project I found myself wanting to give him another scene, just because he was so dang fun to write.


As I said, the tale started silly but grew into something a little more serious as it expanded. The character to suffer most from this was Gilbert. He began as “Steampunk Undead Leeroy Jenkins” and slowly became a deeper fellow. He began with the voice of Adam Baldwin:

Link (YouTube)

But then when I started writing the flashbacks where he was alive, his voice slipped a bit. It’s easy to make an undead guy into a grunting berserker, but Living Gilbert needed more complicated motivations than, “punch problem in face”. So now I picture Living Gilbert as kind of Nathan Fillion, and Dead Gilbert as played by Adam Baldwin. Which don’t make no kinda sense to me.

I have no idea why both versions of Gilbert have Firefly actors in them. I’m pretty sure that’s just a coincidence. I wasn’t even watching the show at the time.

Alice White

Link (YouTube)

Alice began with the voice of Kiera Knightly as she appeared in the first PotC movie. Not so much in looks. (Although since I didn’t give Alice a lot in the way of description beyond what she wore, I suppose it doesn’t matter.)

Alice was originally intended to be a supporting character, but she grew in importance as the story drifted away from comedy. A lot of her “science” and backstory wound up unused. If I ever revisit this world, I imagine Alice would be the main character, and Gilbert a supporting one.

I originally had her being good with firearms, but she was already too awesome. A wizard AND an inventor AND attractive AND a natural leader AND a detective AND a gunslinger? Might as well name the book, “Mary Sue Saves The World”.


Young. Raised in an abusive environment. A magical prodigy. Spectacles. Naive, and a natural character to ask exposition-inducing questions. He was integral to the story, but I was really, really worried that he would be viewed as a Harry Potter ripoff. He wasn’t, and Potter wasn’t at all an inspiration for this character. However, the fact that the two characters had so many superficial points in common made me worry. (Johnny Depp had the same problem with people mistaking his Willy Wonka for a Micheal Jackson riff. It doesn’t matter what you intend. If other people see something else, then you messed up.) To avoid this, I made Simon as un-heroic as possible without making him unlikable.

This worked out. It kept him small. I already had two main characters, and sharing with a third would have been much harder.

Obligatory link to buy the book, even though you just read 1,300 words of spoilers for it.


From The Archives:

119 thoughts on “The Witch Watch: The Origin and Characters

  1. PhotoRob says:

    “Right now, I want to WRITE ALL THE THINGS.”

    You know what this means? More potential reasons to throw money at Shamus!

    1. The Right Trousers says:

      Nah, he doesn’t need money. Shamus, all you have to do is write a small program that outputs all possible strings in lexicographical order. Then, in principle, you will have WRITTEN ALL THE THINGS.

      Well, all the finite things. And you might have to wait a while for a good one.

      1. decius says:

        Write that program, then release the output under Creative Commons Non-Commercial.

        Congratulations, you just broke copyright.

        1. The Right Trousers says:

          Can you copyright an infinite work?

          It’s only countably infinite. Does that make a difference?

        2. Adam P says:

          No, patent it. Then use it to bully everyone who ever writes another book.

  2. tengokujin says:

    So, FMA and old-school magic circles did influence your magic! And “Equivalent Exchange”? :p

    1. Shamus says:

      I see conservation of energy / EE as a required component of any non-borked magic system. As soon as you give characters a way to create energy or mass for free, you open up all kinds of goofy holes. For people who over-think settings, you wind up with, “Why do people farm? Why don’t they all become clerics and use the ‘Pray for Free Food’ spell?” And so on. As soon as you can create stuff, it becomes hard to explain why people still need food, or energy, or why money hasn’t been devalued through duplication, or any number of other things that can go wrong in a non-balanced system.

      I suppose you could make a fun setting to explore these ideas, but if you just want “our world, but with magic” then it feels like you need a justification for why magic isn’t the driving force behind everything and the solution to every problem. You can do that by having powers mediated by intelligent actors (gods, aliens, demons, or what-have-you) but then you have a bunch MORE stuff to explain. :)

      1. Chris B Chikin says:

        Shamus, for the love of everything, read Terry Pratchett’s books. Seriously, it’s hilarious how similar The Witch Watch is to his stuff considering you’ve never read any of it.

        Anyway, I bring it up because he gave a similar explanation for magic in his book. Basically, when the Gods first made the universe magic was all free and easy and this led to all kinds of silliness. So the Gods went “Right, enough of this foolishness,” and re-wrote the rules so that magic became pretty much a pointless endeavour. It became the case that performing a spell would require the same amount of effort and just doing that thing without magic. So a wizard casting a “summon food” spell would find the spell to be just as difficult as physically working the fields and rearing the crops and livestock to make that food.

        It works in the Discworld universe because it fits with the general insanity of the place. But your explanation of magic there sort of reminded me of it.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Agreed.And dont worry about time,most of the discworld books arent that long.I read the colour fantastic in a single day.Granted I was in school back then,and it was weekend,but still it usually takes me between 3 and 7 days to read one of the discworld books.Just pick up one of the books and read it,they are all loosely connected,so it doesnt matter much with which you start.

          1. Adam says:

            That would be “The Light Fantastic” presumably; or “The Colour of Magic”

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Light fantastic.I made a whoopsy.

              1. We own The Light Fantastic. I have attempted to get him to READ The Light Fantastic…to no avail. Eventually when he has a a severe backache or something else that forces him away from the computer but not in such a way that he can’t think straight, THEN he will read it.

                1. MichaelG says:

                  I even tried sending a “Reader’s Digest” email with bits of interesting books. No luck. I think he’s immune to outside influences.

                2. Von Krieger says:

                  I would recommend starting in the series where I started, with Guards! Guards! and from there going with the rest of the books with the Watch.

                  Going Postal is also a good place to begin.

                3. Kdansky says:

                  I recommend making him read some of the better books first. The first two Discworld novels absolutely pale in comparison to later works such as Night Watch or Wyrd Sisters. Light Fantastic and Colour of Magic are not that good.

            2. Peter H. Coffin says:

              I figured it was intentional, since both books are so frequently published together, in a single volume.

        2. Stratoshred says:

          Though of course a fundamental component of Discworld is that it doesn’t have to make sense; “narrativium” is far more powerful than mere magic :)

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Actually,sometimes(most of the time)the silly world of the disc makes far more sense than many other stories.Sure,the rules do seem silly,but they are at least consistent.

          2. rofltehcat says:

            Well, one of the basics of Discworld magic is still, that it requires (at least) as much work as doing the thing in a normal fashion. So carrying something around and making it float around requires the same amount of effort. Of course it can still do stuff that aren’t exactly possible by regular means…

            And yeah, some things don’t seem to make sense there at all but once you consider the omnipotent factor of “people are stupid/just too stupid to understand things”, most of it makes sense. Just take Stibbons, for example… who(se artworks) defined the looks Simon for me (and Alice looked for me like I imagine teen-Susan).

            1. Thomas says:

              Not only was the book ridiculously Discworldy (mainly the later stages where it moved from fantasy tropes to current world satire) in tone, it even had that same level of humour but really being about serious stuff. I reckon it matches up closest to Night Watch of them all. Vimes and Gilbert even share similar roles in the story and had similar relationships with Young Sam and Simon. Heck even Jack has a counter-part :D

              AND the author picture was exactly like Terry Pratchett’s author picture, even with a mini version of Pterry’s hat.

              You should interpret this to mean I think you are a very very good writer. I bought Witch Watch because well you’ve provided me with a lot of entertainmnet. I’ll buy your next book because I really want to read it

        3. sab says:

          Also the preservation of mass is in the discworld books. Paraphrased: “You could turn someone into a cockroach, but then it would have to become so big, it couldn’t support it’s own weight. Or you would have to turn them into a few thousand cockroaches and would be very hard to get them all back together again to reverse the spell. Especially if you stepped on a few of them. Earlobes and other parts would go missing.”

          Another irrelevant but funny quote: “In ancient times the plural form of wizard was the same word as ‘war’.”

          1. Tizzy says:

            In one of the Tiffany Aching stories, someone gets turned into a frog. This leaves a huge blob of leftover stuff suspended in the air… The victim is *very* relieved to be turned back promptly.

        4. Falcon says:

          I wouldn’t go so far as to say it makes magic a pointless endeavor. Sure it requires the same amount of effort, but that effort can be in a safe controlled environment, to be used when in a less safe environment.

          That said, yeah Shamus you should read diskworld. They’re quite good.

        5. Abnaxis says:

          Erm…The issues Shamus is getting at here aren’t tied to a specific author, whether Pratchett hung a lampshade on it or not. Equivalent exchange is a fundamental problem that any hypothetical magic/sci-fi/fantasy setting has to deal with if it goes into enough depth–you might as well tell him to read DnD Dungeon Master’s Guide (lampshade: there aren’t enough clerics with spell slots for summon food and drink to feed the world) or Star Trek (lampshade: replicators still require energy) for further examples

      2. MichaelG says:

        Er… but you broke this rule! Gilbert doesn’t need to eat or breathe. So he IS free energy created by magic. Put him to work on a farm, and you’ve got free magical food.

        If you want a “modern” world with magic integrated into it, read “Too Many Magicians” by Randall Garrett.

        1. Sem says:

          Strictly speaking you’re right but I don’t think that most people will be okay with raising their forefathers as an undead slave class at the cost of one life for every undead slave.

          1. MichaelG says:

            Where it would work is for your classic evil conquering nation. They kill some enemy by draining their vigor, and use that to resurrect an army of undead. The more powerful the army, the more people it can kill, and the faster the army can grow.

            A nasty possibility allowed by this magical technology.

        2. Shamus says:

          I’ve been wondering how to answer this one. I don’t want to nail down things not in the books, but I hate to ignore this point. So I just want to say: I did think about this issue, and I did have an in-universe idea in mind. It’s not in the book because none of the characters are aware of it, and I might use it as a plot point later.

          This does not change the fact that the book, as presented, does not seem to address the fact that abomination seems to = free energy.

          1. MichaelG says:

            The simplest fix would be to require more vigor periodically to maintain an abomination. But you killed that possibility:

            “The illegitimate Pope Adrian II was buried this way a thousand years ago, and we could dig his head up today and find him still screaming for release.”

            So magical perpetual motion it is… :-)

            1. Hitch says:

              I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone really knows how long an abomination lasts. I don’t get the impression that anyone has let one go on until their vigor runs out. Sure, they think the illegitimate Pope Adrian II would still be screaming, but no one has actually checked. Then as Drax (sort of) points out below, not having to power a body might allow the vigor in its head to keep it active an unnaturally (if that term even applies anymore) long time.

          2. Drax says:

            I need to preface this by saying that I have only read the sample so far, but I will be pruchasing the book very soon.

            I’m not so sure that Gilbert is free energy, when Simon rezzes Gilbert he states “I think you were preserved very well in here. I imagine your remaining flesh should last you quite a while.”

            This leads me to believe that as Gilbert runs around doing things he would be “burning” his body as fuel. Eventually, without intervention, his body would fall apart and he would become a talking head.

            As for the talking head being a endless supply of energy. Since the head is talking without the use of a throat, it would seem that the undead don’t talking using thier bodies anyway. More likely is that they use magic(unintentionaly) to manipulate the air around them to cause the sound vibrations that others would interpret as speech, this could explain why Gilbert’s voice sounds hollow. This magic would probably be powered by the soul, or vigor, which dosen’t have a defined limit(as far as I’ve read) and the magic itself would take such a miniscule amount of energy(even in D&D Ghost sound is a level 0 spell), it would be like powering a single LED bulb with a nuclear reactor. Draining something like that would take a very, very long time…something a mortal would probably call forever.

            Thank you Shamus for making such an amazingly compelling book, and I’m sorry I’m trying to dissect the world based on the 3ish chapters avalible in the sample(I have to break things down and see how they work…I’m a programmer). I can’t wait to read the whole book.

            1. decius says:

              Good luck powering anything electrical with a nuclear reactor.

              You might have a chance powering a LED with a generator powered by a steam turbine powered by a steam generator heated by a nuclear reactor. That’s a lot like powering locomotion by contracting cells using chemical reactions which use glucose as an important intermediary form- in other words, eating. Most of the ‘overhead’ of staying alive involves keeping that chemical energy in a form ready to be used.

      3. Mephane says:

        Since I have thought about this issue a lot, too (though not in regard to this or any other specific kind of fiction), I came to the conclusion there are some ways to allow magic in a fantasy setting while still sounding at least somewhat physically sound:

        – If at all, allow magic to violate only the second law of thermodynamics. This would permit some interesting stuff with more realistic side-effects without allowing the creation of energy from nothing.

        – As a consequence of that (and because matter is, in fact, equivalent to energy), enforce strict conservation of energy and mass. If a character turns someone into a frog, that extra mass should go somewhere, and turning them back into a human would require extra material.

        – Have the sorcerers body provide the work required to locally reduce entropy*. For example, magically lifting an object might stress them the same as physically doing it (but magic would allow it at a distance). Creating a fireball could draw heat from the caster’s body and so also effectively impose a limit on how often they can do it without killing themselves. This would also open up the possibility of artifacts etc. capable of storing “magical energy” for future use, allowing more powerful spells that require a lot of preparation and “charging up” of a talisman.

        *The entropy of any open system can be lowered by increasing the entropy of the surrounding system. This in fact is a fundamental function of all living organisms. :)

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          The homebrew I use has something like that.Magic flows trough every living thing in the form of life force,and wizards can harness this to cast spells.The simplest spells would make the grass around them wither,while the most complex ones would require people around them to weaken,or even die.Druids would then be casters who try to return the floating magic back,with some loss of course.And some wizards would drain themselves instead of the environment,for quicker and more potent spells,but at the cost of their health.

        2. Abnaxis says:

          The trick I like to indulge in is to make my universe coexist with other dimensions that fuel magic with their energies. So crazy stuff like giants can survive in an ecosystem that can’t reasonably feed them because of their ties to the spiritual plane, which supply them with energy while they live. If you break that connection, they either have to start eating everything in sight or starve.

      4. Lazlo says:

        Another interesting treatment of a “how magic works” system is Larry Niven’s “the magic goes away” series. It’s a bunch of short stories, very tongue-in-cheek, set in ancient pre-history, before all the warlocks and magicians used up all the (heretofore unknown to be) non-renewable resource, mana. Some of the ideas in it are pretty fun.

  3. Kudos on not falling into the “world-building for the sake of world-building” hole that so many fantasy authors fall into. Because once you’ve created all that gobbledygook, you just HAVE to jam it into the story SOMEWHERE.

    If it doesn’t matter TO THE STORY, DON’T MAKE IT UP. Now, granted, when you’re in creative mode and brainstorming how to construct the actual story, you may come up with a whole ton of random stuff that you can actually fit into and improve the story with. But you gotta be ruthless and understand that just because something sounds Really Cool, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ready to abandon it.

    And don’t tell people interviewing you that Dumbledore is Gay. No good can come of it, even if you decided he IS.

    1. Sumanai says:

      I’d say “make it up, but don’t put it in” since often when I’ve liked the magic in a world, I’ve found out that the writer made up a system for how it works. Nothing precise, usually, but general “you can’t create stuff from nothing”, “magic obeys Newton’s third law of motion” etc.

      Otherwise it’s easy to end up with something like Spider-Man: One More Day or similar.

      1. Tizzy says:

        As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what ol’ JK did: make up a lot of stuff to make the whole world hold together, and leave most of it off the books. The “Dumbledore is gay” thing just sort of slipped out. (Not that she shouldn’t have known better, but I guess she is less used to speaking in public than many other authors…)

        1. Sumanai says:

          Some day I’ll get around to at least attempting to read Harry Potter. Problem is, it’s one of those things that give me a bad premonition.

          1. Tizzy says:

            They’re worth it especially if you’ve managed to remain relatively spoiler-free so far. I think she’s the queen of misdirection.

            1. Thomas says:

              And call backs/foreshadowing. Look at the examples on this page, spot the odd thing out


  4. Alan says:

    So, before I start I should say that I have ordered the book in dead tree form, and it hasn’t got to me yet, so I haven’t read it.

    When you say that it is easier sticking to what you know, the next thing you write, do you think that it will be in the same genre?

    1. Shamus says:

      I can’t say anything, lest I jinx it. But I am writing another thing. A different thing.

      1. Raygereio says:

        Are we talking about a thing thing here, is this more of thing thing?

        1. Sumanai says:

          After thinking about this, I suspect it’s a thing thing.

      2. Alexander The 1st says:

        Is this thing closer to Project Frontier, or closer to the book?

        1. Closer to a book thing– he is currently writing.

  5. Soylent Dave says:

    How much do you tip someone in 1885?

    In England? About the same amount we tip people now, I’d imagine.

    Sod all

    Did you have fun with our truly spectacularly awesome pre-decimal currency?

    1. Shamus says:


      It actually was fun. The scenes where Alice has to barter with people were pretty painless, because the money conversions were decently documented. And I didn’t need to do math with them. :)

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        For further inspiration about Victorian England, I strongly suggest reading Dickens. Any Dickens Book will do, but the Pickwick Papers are probably the best (among those I have read). They’re a bit longwinding at times (compared to the other books), but they contain soo much information about the time they were written in, even though of course they contain a lot of parody.
        (also, lots of coach rides in that one :o)
        The best thing in the Pickwick Papers so far is the description of a local election. Frighteningly close to the circus seen these days…

        The most striking difference from my view is how cheap it apparently was to pay someone to do something for you (obviously because there were so many people around with no income who’d do anything for tuppence).

        1. Mrs. Peel says:

          I strongly concur. Shamus, if you do plan to write historical fiction again, I recommend spending a lot of time immersed in the language of the era. Georgette Heyer, who pretty much invented the Regency romance novel, did the research you describe on things like principal streets in London, modes of transportation, etc., and she also read every primary source – letters, journals, etc. – she could get her hands on so that she could get the language just right. (Yes, they’re romance novels. They’re also fantastically well-researched historical fiction. And they’re not bodice-rippers – looking at the ones on my shelf, I don’t think there’s even a kiss in half of them.)

          Dickens is surprisingly readable, actually. I reread David Copperfield a few years back and couldn’t get over how much I kept laughing. Mr. Micawber is comedy gold.

          Anyway, TWW was good. Looking forward to more!

          1. krellen says:

            I think being forced to read Great Expectations in school ruined Dickens for me. I know I should like Dickens (and I love A Christmas Carol), but that book left so many bad tastes in my mouth that it’s hard to enjoy him any more.

            1. Abnaxis says:

              Aww, but that’s not even the good Dickens. It’s a shame to quit before you read Tale of Two Cities or David Copperfield

            2. Agreed, though I was never forced to read Dickens. I, however, passionately HATE Dickens writing style, finding it tedious, miserable, and boring. I have forced myself to work through several and though the plots themselves are compelling the writing gets me every single time.

  6. Craig says:

    Just finished the book. And you know Shamus, you did a damn good job. Totally enjoyed the ride and would love to see more from you. Doesn’t that make it all worthwhile?

    1. AnZsDad says:


      Seriously, Shamus, yours is the first ebook I’ve purchased (from Amazon, to read on Kindle for Android, and Free Radical was my second). I have read a few previously (some stolen, admittedly, but most borrowed from my library’s ebook repository), but I felt it important to support your work. Ever since discovering your blog (a short way into DMotR) you have entertained me regularly, and helped me while away many an idle hour. I don’t wish to see that well run dry, and I’m more than willing to provide a few sheckels to help fuel your dreams.

      Also, I wanted to tell you, Heather, how awesome it is that you have not only provided Shamus with support for this log over the years, but decided to jump into this new endeavour with him. Yours is obviously a very special partnership.

      Wishing you both all the success in the world,

  7. JPH says:

    I’m sure this comparison has already been presented to you at least once, but have you read Yahtzee’s book Mogworld?

    The two big similarities I can tell from the outset are that both of you gained your inspirations from playing World of Warcraft and that the protagonists of your stories are very similar, or at the very least are put in very similar predicaments.

    If you haven’t read Mogworld, I recommend it. It’s a good book in its own right.

    1. Retsam says:

      Mogworld was entertaining, but my major frustration with that book was that I felt that Yahtzee used the book to take potshots at religion as frequently as possible. I mean, I’m used to negative depictions of religion in books, games, movies, etc. In fact, I respect a somewhat “grey” view of religion, because, quite honestly, that’s realistic, the church is, by our own admission, filled with imperfect people, it’s a mixed bag.
      But Mogworld just went a little overboard. Cast a religious character as the, rude, incompetent side-kick who never accomplishes anything except annoying everyone around him? Check. Cast a religious character as the main, evil-overlord styled antagonist who is never given a convincing motivation or made sympathetic in any sort of way? Check. Fill half the rest of the world with deluded followers of the aforementioned antagonist? Check.
      It just felt unnecessary, and in some cases, lazy writing, using a stereotype as a substitute for character development. (Not only “a stereotype”, but two different stereotypes, both negative, about the same group of people) The book was about an MMORPG, so it didn’t surprise me that there were quite a few jabs at MMORPG players, but it did surprise me that there were about twice as many jabs at religion.

      1. Jay says:

        Well, in a MMORPG, the gods are kidding themselves. We know exactly who the creators are, and as long as they get their monthly, they’re fine.

        P.S. I’ve also had the insight that Oscar Wilde was basically Stephen Fry 100 years earlier. Unfortunately, 100 years ago it wasn’t legal to be Stephen Fry in England, which caused some trouble.

        1. Peter H. Coffin says:

          It does save Fry the problem of being accused of being frightfully derivative…

    2. rofltehcat says:

      I think this was already asked in (one of?) the last Witch Watch thread here: If I remember correctly, he did not read it.

      I fear that if he had, he’d probably not have written Witch Watch the (awesome) way he did… I think the whole “Shamus does (by coincidence) something comparable to Yahtzee” it is like a somewhat amusing curse, Shamus is under. I think there were even people “critizising” him for it, over at the Escapist.

      Or did I mix all of that up with someone else?

      1. No, he has not read it. And EVERYONE over at the Escapist is constnatly being compared to Yahtzee– it is just kind of a downside of writing at the Escapist (had this very conversation at PAX East last year with Shamus’ editor.)

    3. Victor says:

      I have to say that the two books felt quite different to me. The single thing I can really see in common is the fact that un-dead get leading roles. Other than that, the plots struck me as quite different, as well as the overall feel of the worlds being described. I don’t think the protagonists are similar at all (I found Gilbert, pre- and post-death more believable). Some situations might be considered similar, because the un-dead protagonists have to address their un-dead-ness (that’s not a word…..), especially as it pertains to other people’s reaction to them. Ultimately, I got the impression that Mogworld was trying to comment on the nature of virtual worlds, more than anything else, and a few times this took me out of the story. The Witch Watch, on the other hand, felt much more cohesive, because I didn’t feel it had only one underlying aim/element/comment.

      1. JPH says:

        The reason I said the protagonists are similar is that they both go through very similar experiences at the beginning — they both are incidentally reanimated, and neither of them particularly want to be alive, so they both set out on goals that would lead to their re-death, while also on the run from people who want them dead in ways that wouldn’t actually kill them. When reading The Witch Watch I was honestly feeling déjà  vu.

        Bear in mind that I’m nowhere near finishing The Witch Watch yet; I think I’m about 15% of the way through.

  8. Jimmy Bennett says:

    I just finished reading the book today. I must say it was a very exciting, fun read.

    I wanted to ask a question. You mentioned the magic system in the post. I noticed that in the book that people who cast spells using spell circles were referred to as sorcerers, while people who cast spells using some innate magical powers were called wizards. I was wondering what the logic was behind this decision. I’m just used to the system in D&D (3rd edition) where sorcerers cast spells spontaneously and wizards cast spells out of books. It seemed strange that the roles were reversed in The Witch Watch.

    Anyway, thanks for writing such a fun book. I had a great time reading it. I’m going to head over to the other thread to have a more spoileriffic discussion of the book.

    1. Shamus says:

      I can’t explain it, except that it “felt” more right to make it that way. I personally associate “wizard” with “fireball” and “sorcery” with arcane texts. No deeper thinking was applied. :)

      1. Simon Buchan says:

        I noticed that too: as someone who associates (probably apocryphally) “sorcerer” with “source”, as in, the source of the magic, I felt a little discombobulated at first.

        1. Suburbanbanshee says:

          Terry Pratchett has “sourcerers”.

          Our world’s sorcerers come from French “sorcire”, closely related to Latin “sortilegia”, and the word means “one who influences luck, fate, fortune”. “Sors” is luck, fate, fortune, or (originally) a lot that you draw. Diviners and luckmakers, basically.

          You could make a case that the state lottery commission is a bunch of sorcerers.

        2. Ian says:

          Yeah that one kept throwing me throughout the story as well. I never quite managed to get over my prior thinking.

  9. sab says:

    In case you haven’t, you should definitely check back to the first Forsaken quest in WoW. After you’re resurrected, it’s your turn to resurrect some other people. Not all of whom are… desired. It made me chuckle, and seems even more appropriate than the old opening quest that you’re referring to.

  10. Ben says:

    So Shamus how familiar are you with FMA? I haven’t read the manga but the first cartoon version (which I understand deviates from the manga) actually had a twist at one point very similar to what happened with the lightposts :) just curious if that was an influence or if it was great minds thinking alike.

    1. Shamus says:

      I did watch FMA a few years ago. (The first one, that deviated from the Manga.) If I borrowed from it, it was subconsciously. I don’t remember much about it today. (I actually have a review of the ending here on the blog, in the long-dry Anime section.)

      1. Ben says:

        Really? You don’t remember this? :)
        The whole city of Lior is used to power alchemy by turning the entire city into an alchemists circle

        1. Shamus says:

          Wow. I’m sure I watched it. (I watched most of the series in a week-long binge) but that’s not familiar at all.

          This is not to say I didn’t borrow the idea without knowing it. I’m just saying: My memory is not what it used to be.

          1. Halceon says:

            On this same note, I gather that the un-annotated circle in Headmaster’s book was this same city-wide circle. It felt like a bit of a letdown that none of the characters remembered about it when looking at the city’s schematic. Is this something you intended to be a bonus for attention or did it just turn out that way?

        2. Sem says:

          The manga (and the 2nd anime because it follows the manga) goes even further. The whole country of Amestris is used in a transmutation circle.

          1. tengokujin says:

            Like so:

            Man, when I read Simon’s reaction to how some of those lamps were gas and some were electric… heh. I was shouting (in my head) at them to pay attention :à¾

            1. CapHector says:

              I was thinking the same thing, simply because it was the kind of detail that seemed to be mentioned for a reason.

    2. Kdansky says:

      It’s one of the best “normal” Anime/Manga to come out in recent years. Probably because the magic system for once makes sense. It’s still magic and unrealistic, but it is consistent within itself. I would recommend watching it in Japanese though. The dub is horrible.

  11. dovius says:

    A wizard AND an inventor AND attractive AND a natural leader AND a detective AND a gunslinger?

    For some reason after this line, I can’t help but imagine Alice as a female Harry Dresden (Don’t have the book yet, so I don’t know if that is accurate).

    1. rofltehcat says:

      Well, she is just awesome!

      1. I also love her, mostly because she is just like every character I create for D&D or MMORPGs.

    2. Ben says:

      Yeah I actually described this book as “Desden in Victorian England” :) just those words got Shamus at least one extra sale from a friend of mine.

    3. Nick says:

      Harry Dresden kinda sucks at a lot of things.

      Inventing things is definitely one of those things. He can do it, but it takes him ages and doesn’t have a lot of elegance behind it. Actually, a lot of his weaknesses are in his lack of fine control instinctively – he just has a lot of raw power to back him up.

      He is all the other things on that list, though so I can see the comparison.

    4. He has ALSO not read nor watched The Dresden Files (though his kids aand I have watched it.:))

      1. AnZsDad says:

        While I thoroughly enjoy the Dresden Files book series, I really didn’t enjoy the TV series much. I think it was mainly due to the disappointment at the significant changes which were made. The same thing happened when Kathy Reichs’s Tempe Brennan novels became the inspiration for the series Bones. Both the Dresden Files TV series and Bones are likely decent shows in and of themselves, but when one is hoping for moving picture versions of the source material the shows fall flat.

  12. Raygereio says:

    The further I got, the less I wanted to nail down anything that wasn't 100% required for the book.

    More isn’t necesary when it comes magic. Explain it in detail to much and you risk ruining the feel of “magic” and turning it into a regular, run-of-the-mill thing, or a science instead.
    The only thing really importang I reckon is being consistant in what magic can and can’t do and a general concept of how the magic happens.

    Also: dear Economy. Please fix yourself so that I have the money to spend on books again.

    1. sab says:

      See also: midi-chlorians. *shiver*

    2. Simon Buchan says:

      Have enough Magic A and you end up with a science. But I’m a big fan of it when it’s done well, no matter how (hilariously!) bad the rest of the books got, this was something Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series got really right: nearly every reveal or twist to do with magic was just calling back to everything already established.

      1. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

        You put that link back where you found it RIGHT NOW.

      2. Sumanai says:

        A few years back when I was designing a tabletop rp-system with a friend, I had difficulty not over-thinking the way magic worked. I had to stop, because I realised I would have to learn about chemistry, biochemistry, physics, quantum physics, alchemy of various areas and eras, theology, religious studies and geology. Also mathematics to understand some of that and to come up with formulas on how to calculate the amount of magical energy there was in a given area and how much would be drained for a fireball of a certain temperature thrown to a certain distance.

        I know my limitations, and that would’ve been far, far away from my abilities. And the way I was thinking about it it would’ve been impossible to just make stuff up. Now I think if I returned to it I could tone it down considerably, though I might end up scrapping the basics I used.

        Except for the idea that a lot of the limitations of magic are in people’s heads. I like that idea too much and gives me a reason why spellcasting changes over time and depending on the person using it.

  13. Hitch says:

    While I was reading The Witch Watch, I saw in an earlier post that you had specific voices in mind when writing your characters. I remember thinking, “Well, I don’t know who Shamus was thinking of, but I certainly get a Stephen Fry feel from Moxley.”

  14. FuguTabetai says:

    I haven’t read this yet (bought it on Kindle back when you first put a link to the Kindle version) but plan to get to it soon.

    On magic systems that are logical and make sense, have you read Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series? Very well thought-out magic system and great books. Actually, all the Sanderson books I’ve read have well-thought out magic systems.

    On magic as programming, I highly recommend Rick Cook’s Wiz Biz books. Comedy fantasy that includes lisp and emacs jokes. Also a very good series.

  15. george says:

    At least it’s better than Harry Potter, where there is no discernible laws on magic besides: You need a wand to do anything good, you need ‘oomph’ to make it work, and you need to say the words (most of the time) yet it’s never really mentioned who creates the ‘words’ and what their significance is (unlike in say Earthsea or Eragon, where in saying ‘fire’ in the ‘true’ language will create fire for dragons (as the true language doesn’t let humans lie, whereas for dragons it bends the universe to their will)/humans).

    There’s so many things modern media discard as acceptable breaks from reality, such as space friction (it is so small that ships would not be able to turn like that, your interia doesn’t just change, STAR WARS), time-dilation from Einsteinian physics (negative-mass bubble my arse, mass effect), Kinetic guns on ships not pushing the ships back (Halo).

    And as far as we know, we can’t create mass/energy (Dark matter and antimatter do some weird stuff), also light has momentum (i.e. it can push things) yet has no mass, and it can bend around objects, some physics is incredibly mind-screwy.

    1. Sumanai says:

      You know, my reaction to people saying that Bioware has, in regards to Mass Effect series, “shown their work” (or however it is said) is slowly turning into a mad cackle.

      1. Hitch says:

        What Bioware has done with Mass Effect is produced a satisfying amount of technobabble. It’s just convoluted enough that a lay-person can tell themselves, “If I understood all of this it might actually work.” It’s a step above reversing the polarity to solve every problem or just calling for more “jiggawatts.”

        1. Sumanai says:

          “Shown their work” means that the makers have gone out of their way to find out how stuff works and then based their own stuff on it. Believable technobabble isn’t enough to justify the use of the term, yet it happens constantly on TVtropes. After all, technobabble is just nonsense that may sound smart.

          I kinda prefer “reversing the polarity” type, since there’s a certain feeling of nostalgia. Also it doesn’t give the impression that I’m supposed go “ooh” or “aah” about how smart the writers are. Instead they’re honestly taking the piss.

    2. Raygereio says:

      Well some of those things are acceptable breaks from reality either because they just don’t matter, or because they’re necesary.
      The former would be the recoil of a giant railgun. That’s not to say including it isn’t awesome though. An example of that would be The Risen Empire when a ship used that recoil to alter course in a stealthy manner. But more often then not, that detail is just not important to the setting or story.
      An example of the latter would be FTL travel/communication. Yeah, in reality à­t’s impossible both in practical and in theoretical terms. But if you want a galactic civilisation in your setting, you will need to handwave a solution to make FTL travel happen in order to make that setting make logical sense.

      Having bullshit science in your SF really shoudn’t be that big of a deal. As long as you keep things consistant and logical.

      some physics is incredibly mind-screwy
      Pretty much anything that can be explained using quantum mechanics is mind-screwy.

  16. Nathon says:

    If you haven’t already, you might want to look at Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. I know you’ve read Snow Crash, but these are very different and amazingly well researched historical fiction. Here’s a talk he gave at Google about his process, which you might also find interesting.

    1. Both of us made it part way through the first book in The Baroque Cycle. Too much is enough. Once Stephenson starts getting wordy he REALLY gets wordy.

  17. Jack V says:

    “Some people (okay, ONE person) has requested that I talk about some of the inspirations behind The Witch Watch”

    FWIW, I love reading posts like this that describe how someone (especially someone I know as not-already-a-widely-established-novel-Author) worked on their book, but I wasn’t sure what questions to ask :)

  18. Abnaxis says:

    Originally the story was going to be silly along these lines, but as I fleshed out the tale it became less of a cartoon world and more of a legitimate setting.

    I have the dead-tree version on order, so I haven’t read it yet, but from the sample I think this is exactly the reason why I will enjoy this book. I like a little seriousness and humor both in my books, and anymore it seems like you get either one or the other.

    It’s been a long time since I had to read Shakespeare, but one of the things I used to like about it when I did was the variation that was in every Shakespeare play. It wasn’t all comedy or all tragedy, but a mixture of both that kept me both interested and invested.

    Anymore, I see myself gravitating more towards stories that have this humorous, cynical sort of tone just for the variety it brings (see also: Vatsy and Bruno)

  19. Mari says:

    OK, I know you don’t have as much time to read as you would like and just about the last thing you need is more books on the list to never read but your comments on magic put me in mind of a series that treats magic the way you initially wanted to deal with it. Jack Chalker’s Soul Rider series which begins with “Spirits of Flux and Anchor.” It’s not family-friendly reading. In fact, I’m not sure who would find it “friendly” reading of any sort. It’s weird as heck to be honest but there’s some kernel of interesting thought at the core of it. It’s just that that kernel is wrapped up in some very twisted trappings that at times seem almost calculated to shock or repulse the reader. But anyway, yeah, magic as a programming language where the most “powerful” sorcerers are the ones with the most mathematical minds.

    1. How about this– anyone who thinks Shamus should read a book should buy it for us and send it here. “I” will read it and tell him all about it so at least he has an idea of how awesome the books everyone wants him to read are– but no Dickens and no extra long Neil Stephenson (I have read all his shorter books plus Crypto but anything beyond and I have had enough. Too many notes.)

      1. Abnaxis says:

        No extra long books?

        *Starts packaging Heart of Darkness…*

        (kidding, kidding…)

      2. FuguTabetai says:

        The first book of Rick Cook’s “Wizardry” series is available for free from the Baen free library.

        Book 1, Wizard’s Bane

        They also have “Wiz Biz” and “Wiz Biz II” which collect books 1 and 2, 3 and 4 into two volumes, but apparently have bad editing. I ended up reading the first for free, and buying the rest. The price is right, if you like fantasy, magic, humor, and programming, you are right in the (absurdly small) venn diagram for this series.

      3. Suburbanbanshee says:

        He did want to shock and repulse the reader. He was trying to get out of his contract with his publisher, while simultaneously getting revenge on them.

        That said, Chalker is inventive but no fun to read at all. Yuck.

    2. Also interesting is I remember back when we were dating Shamus and I both reading “The God Game” and finding the whole video game world where you are God for real thing interesting (everything else by that author is basically sleaze but that book was fascinating.)

      1. Mari says:

        And THIS is why I’m not packing up my copies of the Soul Rider series to ship to you immediately. Like I said, the nuggets of thought in the center of them were fascinating but those were buried in a lot of very sleazy stuff that I’m having trouble imagining either of you getting through. Slavery and a corrupt church were some of the less offensive bits. More difficult to dismiss is the constantly recurring “gender bending” theme which is handled in the most lewd and graphic way possible short of including illustrations.

      2. Suburbanbanshee says:

        Andrew Greeley has exactly two books that are like a nasty Seventies miniseries, and they were basically political/social commentary. Many his other books feature racy covers, a few love scenes, usually a mystery or adventure plot, and otherwise total wholesomeness. His later books pretty much went with total wholesomeness and a few swear words and love scenes, but nothing like most romance books today.

        The funny part is that, like David Drake, he eventually started including sections explaining the literary devices of his books, because nobody was noticing them. (To be fair, people don’t normally expect theology literary devices in romance/action novels. And there’s some very funny stuff about the theology metaphors in the racy covers.)

  20. Dev Null says:

    Moxley began as Oscar Wilde, but I began hearing his dialog as acted by Stephen Fry.

    That would be because:

    1) Oscar Wilde was awesome.
    2) Stephen Fry is awesome.
    3) Stephen Fry is actually Oscar Wilde, risen from the dead, with an excellent make-up artist.

  21. RichardB says:

    Shamus, I’m struck that Elizabeth Moon just expressed very similar sentiments in this blog of hers.

    Seems you’re birds of a feather, at least in some aspects of your writing approach!

    (Disclaimer: no commercial connections, just a fan of both authors).

  22. ooli says:

    Great post. Want more like this.
    Look like the everyday analysis of game, except it’s about a book, and one you wrote. So everything better.

  23. Jeff says:

    Your book is too cheap, Shamus! I need to wait for something else I want to order so I can get free shipping from Amazon. =P

    1. Stormcaller says:

      buy 2 (or more) and give them away?

  24. Ruthie says:

    I pictured Kiera Knightly as Alice the whole time! This book lends itself to the big screen easily. You should get her for the movie version:)

  25. baud says:

    I’m three quarter through the Witch Watch and Simon never felt like Harry Potter. Perhaps because he is and act like an adult and is like totally not annoying like Harry? (and also not the center of the world/story, so it helps).

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