Since I spent last week talking about an author that inspired me, I felt I should continue the trend with another highly influential author. A longtime source of classic fantasy literature, the work of this particular author was what convinced me that Lightrider would even be possible to attempt. This author is the one and only, Terry Brooks.
Points of Light: Terry Brooks
A writer since high school, Terry Brooks first drew attention in the seventies with his first novel, The Sword of Shannara, above the adventures of the Ohmsford family, last descendants of the Elven house of Shannara in a multi-cultural medieval land reminiscent of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Brooks then turned the novel into a long running series, with each book dealing with a different generation of the Ohmsford family and their allies, usually linked by one of the ancient Druids (first the grim and dark Allannon, then his sucessors) or another character from the previous books. While the series has been a hit, Brooks has also expanded into other series, such as the contemporary fantasies of Kingdom of Landover and Knight of the Word (which has been linked to his Shannara books). Brooks continues to write to this day, currently working on the next volume of Shannara.
The last few weeks on POL, I’ve discussed some out of the box sources of inspiration, but since this is about a book, I felt this week, I should talk about something more book-related. And so I have decided to use the week to discuss an author whom I can claim as my first writing influence- one of the masters of American horror, Mr. Stephen King.
Points of Light: Stephen King
Almost everyone has probably heard of at least one story by Stephen King. One of the most popular and bestselling authors of the last forty years, King is primarily known for his horror stories, which range from the supernatural (Pet Sematary, The Shining, Needful Things), to the mundane turned horrific (Cujo, Christine, The Dark Half), to gritty suspense (Dolores Claiborne, Misery). However, King has penned tales of hope, redemption, and the trials of youth (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Hearts in Atlantis), as well as epic fantasy (The Dark Tower Saga, The Eyes of the Dragon) all spread out over thirty novels, countless short stories, and even some original screenplays. Writing well into his sixties, King remains one of the most successful authors in the world- his work has been turned into various films (though not all successful), and he has received various literary awards over his career.
What I Learned: Description, Themes, Dialogue,
Stephen King was the first serious author I ever read, thanks to my mother’s attempt to wean me from the child’s horror of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. With the impact King had, it was probably the best thing she ever did for me. What I loved the most about my first King book (Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas) was how much of a picture King painted with his words. Just by having the characters talk, I not only got a clear picture of them, but also the world in which they lived. When Red, the inmate narrator of Shawshank describes his life as the prison’s ‘supplier’, you immediately understand not only him, but the dreary, endlessly routine world in which he lives. And by doing that, King shows another skill- his ability to tie themes into his story without letting them overshadow the tale.
Last week, I discussed how a video game gave me inspiration for the worlds and diverseness of Lightrider. And since I’ve already discussed TV and literature, I’d like to discuss another aspect that helped in a particular area of the book’s development- my love of music. Obviously, this didn’t mean I was now writing about rock stars, but as Zelda helped me to create a diverse, rich world, music helped me to create real people to populate it.
Points of Light: Music
This week, I’m continuing Points of Light with a look at a source that was so essential to the book, I would never have been able to write it without it. When I started writing, one thing I very much wanted to avoid was creating a sword and shield style fantasy book. Even though I love stories like Lord of the Rings, I felt there wasn’t anything new I could add to this genre, and that having those elements in modern times was far more interesting. However, one such fantasy book series provided such tremendous insight on concept and character that I found myself compelled to use it. That series was the Dragonlance Chronicles, by Track Hickman and Margaret Weis.
One question every author gets asked is: what advice can you give to young writers? I say there are only two things that young authors can do. One of them is simply to write. Writing is a skill like any other, and no one develops a skill or talent without extensive practice and fine tuning. But there is another practice, that I must put before all others: READ! Because as much as writing is a skill, it’s also something that requires an understanding before you can start. Just like you wouldn’t start constructing a building without learning how, you can’t start writing a story about vampires without first reading vampire stories and understanding the rules and just how the genre works (unless your name is Stephanie Meyers).
But while you should always read if you plan to write, there are many ways to see a story progress and learn from it. Lightrider was born out of books, TV, film, and even video games, so you should be no means limit yourself to one medium or genre. As such, I’ve decided to start a series on this blog about some of the influences that went into the making of Lightrider and how they left their mark on the book (I may also start a series on the reverse). But also, I want to hopefully show how to pick up on themes and concepts from bodies of work in order to really get something that you can use out of it. And with that said, I’d like to begin with a TV series that taught me not only about the mechanics of Lightrider, but also a tremendous amount on character and morality, Avatar: The Last Airbender.
In some ways, writing a book is like constructing a building: it requires planning, time, and a vision of a grand final product. Yet while a building is far more rigid in its production, often requiring several sets of blueprints and designs that must be followed in a set time frame, books are different. Books are freer.
How to Develop a Writing Process
Everyone writes differently (an obvious statement, I know). Thoreau wrote in a cabin in the woods, Stephen King writes for six hours a day and countless others wrote in other ways. Each author has their own anecdotes, rituals, rules or escapes. Yet beyond the method, the biggest question about writing relates to the sort of blueprint a writer follows, rather, the outline they use.
As with everything else, this is different for every writer. Many writers devise extensive outlines, going every detail of the story before they even start putting their pens to paper (or words to a computer screen). Others simply get inspiration and start writing with no real plan. Both ways can work. Stephen King wrote the 1,000 page epic IT after seeing an old, dark storm drain in the woods one day. J.R.R Tolkien spent many years going through several drafts of the Lord of the Rings before finally completing the work, twelve years after its inception! To be successful, every author needs to find out the method that works for them.
Personally, I used a mix of practices for Lightrider. I came up with the main points of the stories (Joe’s human life, the selection some kind of training, and the eventual battle with the Chaos Demons) first. From there, I had no idea how they would all be connected, or how I would move from one thing to another. Rather than sit down and make a more detailed outline, I simply started to write. As I came out with the first scenes, I started to see things: I saw how the Architects would be watching Joe and commenting on his actions; I saw how Joe’s training would impact his actions towards the final battle; I realized how much drama I would get from bringing Joe back to his home during an attack; finally, I saw how Joe and Nightstalker’s relationship would grow enough that the bat would bring Joe back to the fold.
This process didn’t just dictate the major moves of the story, but also minor things; subplots grew out of needing to bridge gaps. For instance, Sandshifter’s character arc, and her relationship with Forester, came into play to fill a hole. As did the antagonism between Wavecrasher and Firesprite – something that can be built in future stories. Even the lightness of Windrider’s comic book know-how was crucial and developed from this technique. By having a moderate outline, I was able to come up with many of character plots and threads that made the story strong.
While I had success with this method, it might not be right for you. So if you like what I’ve described here, then by all means, give it a try! It frees your mind from having to create the whole story at once and allows you to have some fun while being creative as your write. If it feels too loose, then maybe you need an outline with more detail. Or maybe you need a house in the woods. As long as what you’re doing works for you, then it’s the right way to go.
Finally I wanted to share a special treat with you this week. It’s a special donation from my friend Craig – a Lightrider action figure! How cool, right? I’m just blown away by this:
While everyone remembers the escapades of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future, there’s one scene that’s valuable to anyone that wants to write. It’s the scene in which Fox comes across the high school version of his father, a man furiously writing down his science fiction stories, but too afraid to ever risk showing them to anyone; to quote the man, “What if people don’t like them?”
For writers, that is a constant fear. But just to be able to write period, we can’t be George McFly. A writer can’t improve, can’t learn, if he doesn’t have feedback from people around him. What people don’t like may point the way towards improvement and better technique. But at the same time, a writer can’t allow everyone else to change the story, or it loses any touch the writer might put into it. As I’ve continued to write and show my work to others hoping for even the barest criticism, I’ve learned three very real ways to determine whether or not you should take the advice of others on your work.
Even if you never picked up a comic book in your life, there’s been some time where you wished you had some sort of special power. It could be something simple, like warming yourself when it’s cold, always knowing where your keys are, or even just being to vanish to another place whenever you like. But if you’re like me, with a love of comic books and understanding of powers like molecular reconfiguration and astral projection, then you have plenty of ideas as to what you would do in your wildest dreams- and what you could write about in a superhero-esque fantasy novel. But then the question becomes how you make them work, and what the rules are for them.
Writing is a career everyone asks questions about. They want to know what you’re going to write about. They want to you how you plan to support yourself. They want to know everything you know or are finding out about the process or how publishing works. But most of all, they ask one question- Why do you want to write?
For me, it’s simple. I don’t have a grand design to be looked at as the next great American writer. I don’t expect people to think of in twenty years as the new Tolkien or Asimov or other great fantasy/sci-fi writer. When I sat down and seriously began to write The Lightrider Journals, being self-sufficent on writing and getting some credibility was on my mind. But mainly, I was just eager to start creating my own fantasy world, and using it to talk about what matters to me.
It’s that last one that really matters. No matter what it is, everyone wants to do something they like for a living. But if you’re a writer, then you cannot just focus on the act of writing, or the potential rewards. Let’s be honest, everyone knows writing is not a guarantee and plenty of people have to balance it with another job just to stay afloat. And while the love of writing may be enough to sustain you through that, be able to write and having something to write are completely different things. Beyond anything else, you have to look at whatever you have and think, KNOW, that it’s something that needs to be told. And that when you put it down, that whether people agree with you or not, that it’s something that said what you needed it to say.