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Articles about the genre of fantasy, including published works and gaming, especially Dungeons & Dragons.

Ohlen’s Arrow: Part II and the introduction of a new character

I have started to write the second part of my book which introduces the reader to a second main character, Daena. This woman had been banished from the village of Tarun 30 years prior to the present time for abducting the twin sister of another main character. Daena is a troubled woman, tormented by visitors and voices, and writing her is a fun experience because her perspective on the world around her is so unique.

Whereas my main character, Ohlen — the focus of part I — is somewhat straightforward, Daena is complex. By today’s enlightened perspective she is clearly mentally ill, but in the age of the story she is visited and controlled by sinister forces. Daena is also an extremely tough woman, demonstrated by just how much crap she goes through in her life and still comes through alive; severely scarred, both physically and emotionally, but alive nonetheless.

The challenge I’m facing now is which writing god do I serve in my approach. Do I write in a way that is a purely creative expression of myself? Or do I write in a way that fits the formula for what will sell? Great artists and musicians and authors are not commended for their ability to masterfully fit a known formula that everyone finds familiar and comforting. But at the same time they don’t deviate from familiar patterns so drastically that they cannot be understood. I am facing a fork in the road and I am torn deciding which path to take. To the left is the path my creativity urges me to follow, my own path. To the right is the path prescribed and documented and mapped out by countless others, a relatively sure thing but not a path that appeals to me.

It will be interesting to see which one I take. Even I don’t know at this point.

The temptation to quit

My book began simply and without grand ambition. Writing creatively has always been a source of joy for me and has rarely felt like work, even when it was to meet a scholastic or occupational requirement imposed upon me by others. The first three chapters saw their genesis in Sunday morning sessions on my laptop, writing in the quiet early morning hours with a cup of coffee and a comfortable chair, simply for the joy of it. Without any long-term goals, I merely wrote what I wanted to read. The main character is not based on any person, alive or dead, fictional or factual; he is what my hands typed almost at random, nothing more.

I learned about the main character the same way the reader does, word by word, sentence by sentence. His personality unfolded to me as I wrote him. Once I was introduced to him, ideas and inspirations began to form in my mind about interesting things that could happen, so I had to equip him with the skills and experience necessary to survive and thrive. He needed friends and family, so they came next as well as the world he lives in.

It wasn’t until I finished the first three chapters that turning it into a bona fide book began to seem plausible. I re-read everything I had written so far and found myself eager to read more, wanting to know what happens to him next. Up to that point I had simply written what I would want to read, so I made the audacious assumption that what I liked might also appeal to others. I made the decision to keep going with the explicit intention of making a book out of it.

At that point I stopped writing and began to read everything I could about the business of writing; how to write, what to write, and how to make it sell once the writing was done. I almost ended the entire project because the odds of getting it published and sold at anything resembling a successful level seemed nearly impossible.

I began to doubt myself. I let my wife and a few close friends read what I had so far and they were very enthusiastic about it, eager as I was to see what happened next. I contacted Michael J. Sullivan, a rising star in the epic fantasy world, who had become an overnight success that was more than 10 years in the making. A conversation began via email; questions were asked, answers were given, and ideas were discussed. After several weeks, Michael offered to read my work and give me an honest and professional critique.

Sullivan’s feedback was perfect because it was both encouraging and constructive. He admitted that my gritty writing style wasn’t exactly his cup of tea, but that aside, he gave me some pointers describing how he might change things. He added the caveat that there isn’t always a right or wrong way to do things, just different approaches to solving the same problems.

I took his advice into consideration, which basically means I contemplated scrapping the whole thing and starting from scratch purely out of frustration. At this point I had four fairly long chapters written and the idea of reworking them to the level he suggested seemed like more work than it was worth. Starting over seemed easier.

Writing for fun is one thing. Writing for profit is an entirely different enterprise. The scale of what you write varies, of course, but there are many other concerns that I quickly discovered would influence how I wrote the story. Just like pop songs and blockbuster movies, there are formulas that govern how top-selling books are written. I found myself in a state of mind focused on the mechanics of writing a fantasy novel rather than being driven by the passion to create. It was this loss of passion that tempted me to give up.

Then I realized something. Books, like art, are very subjective things. Even non-fiction can be subjective. Three different authors can witness the same event yet they will write about it in completely different ways. Readers will like one version and dislike the others. It’s all subjective. I wasn’t overly worried about spelling and grammar, but if I made sure I didn’t have any plot holes or reference things or characters that weren’t previously introduced to the reader, I could continue writing what I would want to read and just let the book unfold and finish the same way it started.

I now find myself eager to keep writing because I really want to find out what happens next. Stay tuned…

Writing to an outline vs. freestyle

Something unexpected happened to me as I’ve been writing my book. The first three chapters were a stream of consciousness, everything just came out of me as a pure expression of my own creativity. At the end of those three chapters, I read what I had written and thought, “This is pretty good. I’d like to carry on with it and see where it goes, but take it seriously.” So instead of just writing for fun, I decided to make it a formal effort.

As a web developer, I have worked on some very large projects in my career, and have had to use a lot of project management techniques to stay on top of things. Otherwise the project would be too large and I would become overwhelmed. So I outline what needs to be accomplished at a high level and then go back in and fill in the details. I decided to do the same thing with my book. After the first three chapters, I spent several days coming up with the overall plot line and main events. This, too, was a purely creative effort.

The problem came when I tried to sit down and continue writing the additional chapters. I had to fit my writing to the outline that I had created. Without realizing it, I had inadvertently constrained myself within my own boundaries. My creativity was no longer free, and I found it very difficult to write.

It seems counterintuitive; having a guideline of what I’m supposed to create should make the creation process easier. But for me, it doesn’t.

If I write freestyle without any constraints and just let my creativity flow, I think I produce good works but I have no idea if I am going to write myself into a plot hole or create inconsistent character descriptions, etc. in essence I am only looking at the ground immediately in front of my feet. I have no roadmap or destination in mind. If I work with a map (my plot outline) I have a clear idea of where I am going and how to get there, but I lose my creative motivation to take each step necessary to make the journey.