As many know, I began writing in the fantasy genre at the young age of eleven. I was completely taken by Middle Earth after watching The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. I wanted to recreate the feelings the movies (and later the books) had given me.
Of course, looking back, all these works were incredibly cliched and developmentally weak, but hey–I was eleven. I can forgive myself.
As I got older and read more urban fantasy and contemporary books, I found my writing calling in those genres. I latched onto contemporary especially, and since then I’ve been a contemporary writer through and through.
In all these years, I haven’t forgotten about my first love in fantasy. I still love reading fantasy and often get little snippets of ideas for my own projects. But I always tell myself I need to let these ideas rest for a while, that I need to properly build the world before I can begin drafting. This has resulted in me just leaving those ideas to rest and never returning.
I’ve been watching more fantasy TV shows, including Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Untamed, and The Witcher. Each of these shows has different levels of world-building, and each story remained memorable. I’ve not only enjoyed watching these shows, but watching them also brought new ideas to the forefront of my imagination. Things that I had been “letting rest” were resurfacing with new details. I was suddenly very drawn to begin writing the ideas I’d been sitting on for so long.
But…I hadn’t built the world properly. How could I start?
At the same time as these thoughts were occurring, something else happened to me. A friend shared a video with me about JRR Tolkien’s writing process. What stuck out to me the most in this video was the fact that whenever Tolkien ran into a narrative problem, he would brainstorm until he had “written his way out” of it. Then, he would simply restart writing the entire novel up to the point he had originally gotten stuck, and write his new solution.
What surprised me the most about this new to me information was the fact that Tolkien didn’t know everything when he was writing his magnum opus. He didn’t have it clearly mapped out and precisely planned. A lot of the world-building stuff was created in order to facilitate his plot. For example, in the scene where Frodo and his friends meet the Nazgul, Tolkien quickly realized Gandalf couldn’t be present in the scene–he’d be able to quickly dispel the Nazgul with his power. So where was Gandalf, if he wasn’t helping Frodo? Tolkien found a solution in creating the conflict with Saruman. But, he still needed someone to help Frodo and his friends, otherwise the Nazgul would definitely overpower them. That’s where the character of Aragorn came into play.
I was absolutely astounded at learning this. I’d always assumed Tolkien had created the world first. That he’d written a version of The Silmarillion, and then wrote Lord of the Rings. But, no. His process was messy. In all this time, I had envisioned him having it all figured out from the start.
Knowing this, and being exposed to more fantasy media around the same time set a lightbulb off in my head. I didn’t need to have everything worked out before I began. I could work out the basic fundamentals of the world and then proceed to tell the heroes’ story. The finer details didn’t need to all be there before I began. I was weighing myself down.
I’ve realized that what really matters in writing fantasy is the journey the characters embark on. The world can be fantastically detailed, but if the characters are boring and flat, the book is joyless. The characters are the really what needs care and attention pre-writing.
So now, I think I’m ready to begin working on a fantasy story. I don’t want to make it my main project, but I do want to actually start thinking about it seriously. I need to figure out what each character wants, and how they will change over the course of the story. I can’t allow these characters to be empty pawns in an epic plot. They need to feel real. So, I’ll shift my focus from the world, to them. Hopefully I figure something out.