Writing Journal Part 1: The Source of Conflict
Surprised? I bet you weren’t expecting to see this old posting update any time soon.
Well, believe it or not, this novel is actually very important to me. And to prove it, I’m going to start posting here more regularly about my work on the novel, and my thought process on developing it.
As my first novel, there are numerous challenges to writing it that I didn’t anticipate. Coming up with the story is the easy part in many respects. But to build a satisfying word, there are so many other fundamental issues and considerations that can make or break a novel. Making the protagonists relatable, pacing, sequence of events, world history, the source of magic, and so many more. I expect I will address many of these in the coming weeks, along with previews of the actual novel for those of you who have been kind enough to express interest in it, as a reward for your patience.
The first thing I want to talk about is the protagonist of a fantasy novel and the common tropes of the genre where they are concerned.
It must be awful to be a fantasy world protagonist.
Usually, you start off as someone of little or no import. Nobody pays attention to you. You probably work on a farm or as an apprentice of some trade. You are probably an orphan. You might have a mark or a scar that strongly looks like something specific.
And then someone comes along and explains that everything you thought you knew is a lie. Your parents aren’t who you thought they were. You were probably hidden away as a measure of protection and lied to for your entire life.
And now there’s some great ominous eternal evil that needs vanquishing. Except even though it’s eternal, it specifically needs to be vanquished now, at this specific time or in the very near future. Otherwise, it’s too late. And even though you’ve probably never even heard of this evil before, everyone is looking to you to save the world. Because you’re destined to do it. Or there’s a prophecy. Or because you possess a magic weapon or piece of jewelry.
And your only option is...to do it. There is no alternative. There is no backup plan. There is no substitute to go in your place. If you don’t do it, everyone just shrugs their shoulders and waits for the end of the world, or next Friday, whichever comes first.
So you go on a quest, and make friends to help you--best to limit these to two or three, tops or odds increase exponentially that one or more of them will die and/or betray you--and inevitably you will find love along the way., That part’s not so bad. But it still seems like a bum deal overall.
Could you imagine someone you’d never met coming into your place of work, telling you that you were the direct heir of some ancient god-king, and the only one who could stop the earth (which is actually a giant egg) from hatching into a ravenous monster and destroying everyone? So, you’ll need to call in sick tomorrow or the world is toast. Really think about how you would respond to that.
The tropes can certainly be fun and have made for many fine novels. But when you write fantasy, (hopefully) there is an urge inside you to do something that you feel hasn’t been done, rather than filling the blanks in Mad-Libs style on the Tolkien template.
One of the key differences in The Other Apprentice, is the source of conflict. My goal is to make most of the conflict internal rather than external.
One of my favorite novels is the amazing Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Among other things that Card did amazingly well, he created a typical story of humans fighting horrifying bug monsters that was secondary to the true conflicts of the story. Those within Ender himself, creating blocks he needed to break through, and the pressures being placed upon him by other students and faculty. The greatest fights were purely mental. The space war was a backdrop and served nearly as an analogy for the mental.
That’s my goal. A fantasy world where the protagonists—who are not orphans, or the bearers of strange birthmarks--have internal issues to deal with before they can even hope to address the external ones. Yes, there will be villainy, and danger. But in the stereotypical fantasy novel, the protagonists bear no responsibility for the danger they face. That will not always be the case in my world.
Intrigued? I hope so.
There’s a lot more I could tell you, and I will in time, but one of the characters of my novel is running out to greet you. See him over there? He’s that fat banded ferret like creature clumsily scampering his way over, barely in control of his own feet as he comes down the lane. His name is Widdershanks. And he wants to introduce you to some of his friends. Let’s follow him and see where it leads.
Next: The Protagonists