Season 2 Episode 6: Earning My Keep

In this episode, I describe how I started ‘earning my keep’ in Ganhook’s compound. I explore how to use boring, common tasks to build characters and locations. And the Strange but True section deals with a New Year’s Eve tradition in the City of Bones.

Key Takeaways:

How to give your characters everyday tasks unique to your world.

How to use those tasks to enhance your character’s environment.


I had planned to talk about map making in this episode. But on the morning I was supposed to begin investigating how to navigate the City of Bones, Ganhook shocked my by giving me chores.

So, in this episode, I describe how I started ‘earning my keep’ in Ganhook’s compound. I explore how to use boring, common tasks to build characters and locations. And the Strange but True section deals with a New Year’s Eve tradition in the City of Bones.

This episode is once again sponsored by Felgoya. Felgoya is an experimental musician (whatever that’s supposed to mean in this place), and by not telling more about herself in the last episode, she was trying to invoke an air of mystery.

Fine. But that’s a hard thing to do when her potential audience isn’t even in the same dimension. I’ve listened to her stuff. Lots of wailing. Lots of chiming bells and scraping sounds. It’s cool, though. She’s got me as a fan.

Now, on with the show.

If I had thought that I’d get a nice, cool tour around the Bone Jeweller’s neighbourhood every morning, I was soon disappointed.

Actually, they were so good at springing disappointments onto me in Dunari, I wondered if disappointments were a way of life here. Some kind of evil game where people’s first thought upon waking were, ‘Oh? Who can we disappoint today.’

When Ganhook greeted me at breakfast, I knew something was up. Only important things brought him to breakfast. It was clear, although he liked me, he didn’t know what to do with me. So he avoided me during the day.

As I tucked into some toast, Ganhook said, ‘It’s time to earn your keep.’

I’d heard that before. From Mum. Whenever the lawn needed mowing or leaves needed sweeping, she’d say that ‘earning your keep’ was a great way to prepare myself for the world.

I considered the whole ‘earning your keep’ thing more like exploitation.

And their idea of earning my keep was tame compared to Ganhook’s plan. He wanted me to gather up the talking advertising spells that got trapped in The Space, that tunnel between the outer and inner compound walls, where anything that tried to sneak into the compound got trapped.

Gathering and recycling these spells was now my responsibility.

What bothered me, though, was why Ganhook instead of Stein Cat was telling me this.

Had something happened to the cat?

I said, ‘Where is Stein Cat?

Ganhook said, ‘Stein Cat used to do the lavun light recycling. But she once had an accident in the recycling room, and won’t return there.’

This sounded dodgy. I was surrounded by dangerous things. I didn’t need to go looking for more.

And what was so worse about this accident compared to all Stein Cats other accidents?

When I asked Ganhook, he said ‘She killed herself in there.’

Shocked, I cried, ‘Suicide?’

‘No. No.’ Ganhook clasped his hands and shook his head. ‘One of Stein Cats ghosts killed her.’

I sighed aloud. La! La! La! La! La! Typical Dunari. Just when you thought things couldn’t get weirder, they did.

Ganhook said that Stein Cat had gotten careless, fallen into the recycling pit, and emerged as Ghost Cat Number Fourteen. The next version of the living Stein Cat hadn’t been happy about that, and mocked Number Fourteen mercilessly for being careless.

Number Fourteen didn’t like the mocking, so she pushed Stein Cat into the pit.

Ganhook said, ‘It was the only time one of ghosts turned on her. She’s taken steps to prevent a repeat.’

He also assured me that the recycling pit had been modified to prevent future accidents.

Knowing this didn’t make my toast taste less sour.

After Ganhook’s wonderful little confidence building tale—a tale I was delighted hadn’t been a bedtime tale—we went outside, crossed the courtyard, and entered the Space.

The first time I’d been in The Space, the advertising spells trapped in there had been roaming the darkness. This time, Ganhook showed me where he’d set traps for them close to the door. Simple traps that resembled exits to the compound, but imprisoned the spell in a grey sack when it tried to pass through.

Recycling sacks, Ganhook called them.

‘Over time,’ Ganhook said, ‘It’ll be your responsibility to keep the whole Space clean. For now, just learn about the traps.’

I was fine with that. When it comes to hunting mischievous spells along a dark tunnel, tomorrow is always a better day to do it.

Once we’d gathered seven sacks, we returned to the kitchen, and down to the recycling chamber which was down in the basement. Stacks of metal barrels and crates were half filled the room.

Actually, the whole place was a bit boring.

The ‘pit’ was a hole in the floor that dropped away into a funnel. As if to prevent anything from climbing out, the walls of the funnel were smoothly polished stone. There were no railings around the hole. This unsettled me because when I looked down into the hole, it was like looking down from a tall building and feeling the urge to jump.

Ganhook said, ‘Only recycling spell sacks can pass through it. Even if you fall, it’ll spit you out. Since Stein Cat’s ‘accidents’, it’s been modified.

At the mention of Stein Cat’s accidents, A misshapen foggy mess drifted out from behind a pile of barrels. It was impossible to tell whether it was Ghost Cat Number Fourteen or Fifteen. But the blurry colours resembled Stein Cat in the most abstract way.

An eye appeared from within the mess, and stared at me.

I tried to look away, but couldn’t. This thing looked so wrong, so . . . messy, like it had been chewed up, spat out in a thousand pieces, and all those pieces were churning about trying to piece themselves together again.

A twisted half-mouth appeared, and hissed something unintelligible. I waved at it. It hissed again, before glancing sideways as another furry mess appeared. The two messes hissed and spat and swiped at each other before, mercifully, sinking into the walls.

Ganhook pretended he hadn’t noticed them. As he raised the first bag over the hole, a tiny voice cried out, ‘Don’t . . . do it. Please. Don’t do it.’

At first, I thought a ghost mess had yelled out. Then it came again. From the sack.

Instinctively, I cried, ‘Wait!’

Ganhook smiled. ‘It’s only the advertising spell. Their devious creators add voice effects to try to stop them getting destroyed.’

‘Oh no, oh no, oh no,’ the voice wailed. ‘Please don’t kill me! Please don’t do . . .’

Ganhook dropped the sack. The voice tailed off into a long moan. The sack flopped down and through the opening. A rattling, crunching sound briefly flared up.

My mind couldn’t make much sense of that sound. How on earth could a spell be ‘chewed up’ by a machine.

When Ganhook handed me the second sack, the spell cried out, ‘Nooooooooo . . . Noooooooooooo . . . where is your heart?’

I dropped it, more out of fright than

More shrieking. More crunching. More moaning.

The next spell pleaded harder, said that if he didn’t sell a certain quota of dried fish powder, it’s family would suffer. That got me. I felt like stealing some money from somewhere, giving it to the spell, and releasing it.

Who on Earth manufactured these things?

I dumped the rest of the sacks into the hole. I never saw any of the recycling results. And I was glad of it. Just dealing with those spells was enough for one day.

I couldn’t sleep that night for thinking about all those different voices I’d heard. Fake voices. Ghost voices.

My inner voice was active, too, telling me that there was a lesson to be learned from the day’s experiences, something to do with not beating yourself up too much when you make a mistake.

Oddly, out of all the voices in my head, Ganhook’s was the loudest.

As we’d left the recycling room, he’d said, ‘By the way, when you’re gathering the spells, tell me if you hear one advertising hair dye.’

I couldn’t believe it. Ganhook hated the advertising spells. Now it sounded like he listened to some of them like everyone else.

With every passing day, the people in Dunari sounded just as complicated as the people back home.

It comforted me more to know this.


So, what was I to make about all this ‘earning your keep’ carry on?

It made me think about how most people spend their days.

Even Kings and Queens don’t spend their days fighting great battles, performing heroic acts, or caring for their people.

While some rulers live lives of drink and debauchery, rulers mostly spend their lives doing tedious, day-to-day things.

Most of the time, ruling isn’t glamourous. It’s boring.

And day to day life, from the perspective of a hero or commoner, isn’t much better.

Even when a hero is off doing heroic things, much of it is boring. Spending weeks or months hacking your way through pest infested jungle to find the lost city of gold, will get monotonous. It’s tough work. It’s boring work.

While we don’t need to know the boring, trivial details of a character’s everyday life, there are wonderful opportunities to use boring, trivial details to add real atmosphere to our world building.

Just look for ways to develop ordinary tasks into extraordinary events. It’s a great way to slow the pace between high points of a story. And a great way to develop some interesting details for your world.

How do people wash clothes, clean windows, or dust carpets in your world?

Just think about what could emerge from a dusty carpet when you give it a good whack, or what might emerge from your clothes when you try to wash troll’s blood off it?

My first job in Dunari was recycling lavun light. The concept behind recycling lavun light was just as simple as the concept of recycling paper.

It was the method that was different.

The day-to-day lives of your characters are as important as the heroic or evil or destructive things they do. Think about how everyday things could affect your characters quest. Suppose your protagonist gets called out on some urgent task. She leaves dinner boiling on the stove.

Does the dinner get burned, or does the house go up in flames?

One way or another, there are countless ordinary things that can affect the story and world.

And after a hard day of doing heroic or destructive things, what problems do your heroes return home to?

For inspiration, list what day-to-day chores you detest. Then think about how you can use those chores to make your characters, and their world, more interesting. This works in many positive ways. Not only will you give your character something to do, you’ll deflate their ego a bit, and also feel satisfaction at sharing your hated experience with someone else.

Intertwining the normal boring with the abnormal and exciting increases the relatability element and adds limitless scope for drama in your work. Okay, so trapping and recycling lavun light advertising spells sounded great. And it was – but not for long. It became a chore, and it really isn’t nice dealing with spells preprogrammed to say almost anything to avoid being destroyed.

It became a chore.

And everyone has chores.

You might never see Luke Skywalker cleaning his underwear. But I’ll guarantee you that after some of his adventures, he’s got lots and lots of scrubbing to do behind the scenes.

Bye for now. Or as we say in Dunari, Dreavik!