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.
Thus far on points of light, I’ve discussed two of my influences from television and literature. As many people can tell, these are mediums rich with inspiration and ideas to inspire the imagination. However, as writers, we should try to look for inspiration anywhere we can find it. Great books can come from anything; as I’ve mentioned before, Stephen King wrote the epic IT after seeing a sewer drain in the middle of a forest. So I’ve always tried to take something from any sort of medium I’ve found, and one particular source has been a source of great inspiration- Nintendo’s classic video game series, The Legend of Zelda.
Points of Light: The Legend of Zelda
Zelda’s first game was released back in 1986, and has spawned several sequels across various consoles. While the general plot has varied between games, the general concept is usually the rescue of the Princess of Hyrule Zelda by the game’s hero Link, and the exploration and redemption of the medieval land of Hyrule (or another land in some games). In particular, I have taken influence from the games Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, and the most recent game, Skyward Sword. However, one game more then any other was influential in the development of Lightrider- the gaming classic Ocarina of Time.
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.
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.
Face it, the plot of any story is secondary to the characters involved. If you or your readers don’t care about the characters involved in your story, then it doesn’t matter how many plot twists, crazy action scenes, or other little tricks you throw in (watch a Micheal Bay film; you’ll see it). It might entertain people for a while, but all the stunts in the world wear out if they’re done by faceless nobodies.
So what does make a good character? When I started the Lightrider Journals, I worked hard at not only having the Knights as a diverse group of beings that would be unique in a group format, but also have real motivations and drives that people could relate to. And while everyone was unique, there were a few characters that really challenged me to make them excellent.