Like I said in last week’s blog post that I always assumed writing fantasy would be easy. The reason I thought it would be easy is because you get to make up your own world that has its own histories, myths, and legends.
It wasn’t until I started writing fantasy did I discover how difficult it could be.
One thing that attracted me to this genre was how different it was from the world in which I live. This was, in fact, its most appealing aspect, and yet its most difficult.
When I began Scar of the Downers nearly ten years ago, I did not have a world in which this story took place. As I wrote it, the world around the story began to form.
Ungstah (the city in which the story takes place) is an oppressive city. At one point in an early draft I asked myself, “What are some characteristics of an oppressive city?” The answer – unwarranted curfew.
Who/what would keep curfew in a city such as Ungstah? That was when I developed the Ash Kings.
That, however, was the easy part.
The next part is what makes writing a fantasy novel more difficult (at least for me).
Everywhere we go there are rules.
It’s no different in writing. The world in which live has rules. We’ve learned and observed them all of our life. We are familiar with the way dogs, cats, elephants, and humans act. We know cats cannot fly and why they cannot fly. These are not things that need to be discovered.
But in fantasy, anything you create needs to have rules. Rules that make sense, especially when you are dealing with magic.
Everywhere we go there are rules.
If there are spirits that haunt a particular place, you need to know why. Why don’t they roam elsewhere? How do you fight a spirit, especially when you are dealing with temporal and material things such as swords and clubs?
People refer to stories of having an internal logic or consistency. If I write about my day, that consistency will already be in place. There’s no need to explain it. You know how a car works or why a car doesn’t fly. But if I write about a day in the life of Crik (my main character), then some of that consistency may need to be explained.
Now this topic could be a book of its own, so I won’t go too deep into it. But this is the difficult part. It involves answering the question, “Why?” or “How?” And sometimes the answer isn’t always so clear.
So I had to answer this question – “What weapon can fight the Ash Kings?”
While it hasn’t completely been revealed or explained in the story why Aniel’s sword can fight those phantoms, I had to find the reason. I had to find the logic and history of it.
Some of these answers can take minutes, days, months, or even years to find. Sometimes it’s simple; sometimes it’s more difficult. You can’t rush it. You just have to hope you can come up with the answer sooner rather than later.
But when you do, the world feels right. And it makes the writing all the more worth it.
Before I started writing my first novel, I always assumed that writing fantasy would be easy. What’s not easy about it? You get to make up your own world, creatures, stories, histories, etc… Your world is just sitting there waiting to be created.
Little did I know that the most appealing part of fantasy writing would be the most difficult. How naïve I was!
The next few blog posts will be touching on this subject. Now I’ve written about world-building before in an earlier blog, but there are still more aspects to it that I feel could be addressed. (Frankly, I believe a whole book could be written on the subject.)
The first aspect is in relation to actual world-building. And since this is my blog, I am going to explain how I went about writing it. In my opinion, this is obviously the best way to accomplish building a world.
We’ve all heard the question, “What came first? Was it the chicken or the egg?”
If we really think about it, we all have an answer to that question. It is probably tied in with how you see your world. What is your worldview?
My answer is simple: it was the chicken that came first.
To me, the chicken is the story. I know this is a weird and, probably somewhat, poor analogy. But I’m going with it. Like I said, the chicken is the story. And it is the story that produces the world just as the chicken produces the egg.
When I first came up with Scar of the Downers, I didn’t create a world full of different creatures and races and then sit down to discover what story would inhabit it. No! I discovered Crik and, in turn, discovered what kind of world in which he dwelled. Some of the races I created only came to me when I “met” them as I wrote.
Now that is not to say that you can’t think of a type of world (fantasy, realistic, apocalyptic, etc…) before you come up with a story. But when it comes down to details, it is the story you want to discover first. In fact, I may even say you NEED the story first.
What else would tell you what your world needs if not the story?
If you look close enough, it’s all there. The story will tell you if you need a spaceship and aliens. It will tell you what the aliens look like, act like, and what they want. It will tell you what kind of weapons is in your world. Are there swords, guns, lasers, or clubs? How do you even know who the antagonist is and what he wants without story? That in itself is part of a story.
The story is everything!
I can’t just come up with a whole new world in a vacuum. I need to know who the characters are and what they want before I can tell you anything more about that world.
Why come up with characters and races only to discover that you don’t need them once you find your story?
I didn’t find the Dendron, the Margog, the Rukmush, or even the Downers until I found the story. The world will come from that. The world is the egg. But you need the chicken to get there. What else is going to lay it?
If you find your story, you will find your world!
In the past I have asked myself, “Why are you writing? Why do you do it?” To be honest, I sometimes still ask that question.
After receiving several rejections from agents, the answer became less clear as more doubt seeped in.
Why do I do it? Don’t I have anything better to do with my time than sitting by myself putting words on paper or screen, words that no one other than my wife or children may read? Couldn’t I choose a less masochistic profession, maybe something with a bit more affirmation?
There is a part of me that would have loved to choose something else, something less time consuming. I already have more than a full-time job raising my children and homeschooling them. Do I really want to spend my nights, weekends, and kid nap times sitting alone writing?
Though at times I would love to pick a different career, I can’t seem to break away from it.
But why? Why can’t I?
When the brief feelings of rejection and failure dissipated, the reason I write became obvious – I like it. (I also feel a strange compulsion to do it, but that's another blog post.)
So, in the end, it’s as simple as that.
I didn't start writing to become famous or rich, and I'm not under any delusion that my novel will become the next Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. So it's not really complicated at all.
This may sound weird, but I like to imagine things.
I like stories and adventure, and if the most I accomplish as an author is that my children and wife read and love my books, well, I have to believe that I’ve accomplished enough.
I would love to make a living off of my writing. I would love my book to sell well, and I will do everything in my power to make that happen. But in the end, my purpose isn't riches or fame. It is to create a good story, and when I’ve finished writing a book, I know that is what I’ll have. If I don’t see that before I am published, I will not see it after.
This much I know. Doubts are immune from success, and no amount of money can drive away insecurity. Believe in your book, even if no one else does. Now I’m not saying that your story couldn’t or shouldn’t be edited or critiqued. Nothing is perfect, even our own writing.
But a writer’s view of himself cannot hinge on what an editor, an agent, a publisher, or a critic thinks of him or her.
When it comes down to it, only those who write because they love it will persevere. They will have success, because their view of success will not be dependent upon someone else’s actions.
My point is this. The only reason to write is because you love it. It’s the only way you’ll stick to it, especially once you see the bank account of a writer (and I’m not talking about the rich ones). This career path can be very lonely and discouraging, only the love of it will make it worthwhile.
Scott Keen is the author of three young adult fantasy novels, Scar of the Downers, Rise of the Branded, and War of the Downer King.