The Ants Go Marching to Alagaesia

The day before my wife and I went to the hospital so she could get our baby out, we woke to the sight of ants on our kitchen counter. Now, before you think we are just gross people who leave food out and that the presence of ants is the universe’s way of punishing us, we don’t leave food out. We did have a container of sugar on the counter, but it was closed and the ants didn’t seem as interested in that as they were in our dishcloth. And reliable friends and family members have assured us that due to the warmer-than-usual weather and lack of rain, ants and earwigs are out of control all over the Midwest.

We killed the ants as we saw them, but we wanted an ant genocide rather than a few executions. We needed a chemical weapon that was safe to use around kids, pets, and food preparation (it was out kitchen remember), but we didn’t get a chance to do any research or anything before our hospital stay. Unfortunately, the situation did not resolve itself in our absence.

A few days after we got home, a friend of ours brought us lunch. After learning about our ant issue, he kindly went out and got us the perfect thing, a plant-based ant-killer that was both kid and pet safe (so we assume it is safe for food prep as well). Anyway, it’s been working well so far. We spray, ants die. Nice and clean.

Anyway, I tell you that little gross story to tell you this. Even before I saw the ants in our kitchen, I saw tons of anthills in my yard. And my thought wasn’t “I would like to kill these ants with pesticide” like a normal person. My first thought was “I would like to kill these ants with magic.”

You see, there is a scene that I read once in Eldest, the second book in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, where the main character, Eragon, is learning to control and use magic. The rules for magic in Paolini’s books require the spell caster to use a certain amount of physical energy in order to cast a spell. The harder the spell, the more energy the cost. The scene is of Eragon opening his mind to the living things around him, tapping into their natural energy, then using that energy to cast a spell. Well, Eragon inadvertently uses too much energy and ends up wiping out a swath of smaller wildlife and insects with the power of his spell.

If I were a magic user in Eragon’s world. I would use my skills to be the ultimate exterminator. Maybe that’s a poor use of magic, but let’s be honest, no one likes little bugs where they don’t belong (like my house).

Now, I haven’t read Eldest more than once or twice, but that scene has stuck with me. It wasn’t a pivotal scene. I mean, it was necessary to the story and the character’s development, but it could have been written differently.

That got me thinking, what scene have I written that will stand out in my reader’s minds and memories? And how do I craft such a scene?

I don’t have answers in this post, but stay tuned, because I’m still thinking about it.

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