A couple of weeks ago, I talked a bit about my ambition to write a science fiction/fantasy novel. I’d like to spend some more time on that topic this week. I’m still not going to give any specific details about the project that I’m working on, but I want to talk some more about my tastes and some general themes that I’m trying to hit in this work.
I can’t remember exactly how I got interested in science fiction and fantasy in the first place. I imagine that my mother was involved, because she was an avid reader of both of these genres in her youth. But I don’t remember any specifics.
One thing I do remember, is that when I was in elementary school, there was a whole imaginary universe that I created and inhabited. In this universe, there was a race of…aliens, I guess, called Cute Creatures. Once I got a little older and “Cute Creatures” began to sound a little childish, I changed their name to “Zylixians”. Anyway, the Cute Creatures were locked in an endless struggle with a bad guy who wanted to conquer them. This villain went by the clever name of Dark. And who led them in this epic struggle? Me, of course. I was the Emperor of the Cute Creatures. And here you thought I was just some dude out in the woods.
Eventually, I outgrew the Cute Creatures/Zylixians, but I have yet to outgrow my love of epic battles between good and evil. I can’t imagine writing a fantasy novel without this backdrop. Not that you can’t have a good fantasy book that doesn’t revolve around a battle between good and evil, but I wouldn’t be particularly interested in reading such a book (unless it was REALLY good), and I’m certainly not interested in writing it.
What is it about the dichotomy between good and evil that I find so interesting? Partially I feel that it’s a good reflection of the world we live in. As a Christian, I do believe that there are forces of good and evil at work in the world, and I believe that there is a war going on between these forces, and I think that this war is the most important thing in human history.
I also find that an epic battle between good and evil makes for a great foundation for the conflict of a story. Every good story needs some sort of conflict, and what better conflict than one for the very heart and soul of the universe itself? Granted, it’s a trope that’s almost certainly been overused, but I still think that, if done well, it provides a powerful and effective backdrop to a good story.
But who cares about the fate of a universe if you don’t have any feelings toward the people who live in it? As important as the conflict is, what I’m really interested in and focused on is the characters. I want my characters to be predictable and yet unpredictable. By this, I mean that I don’t necessarily want the reader to always be able to predict what a character will do, but I do want the reader to be able to go back later and think, “Oh yeah. I can see why that character did that in retrospect.” But there’s also nothing wrong with the reader sometimes being able to predict what a character will do because the reader understands that character’s motivations and tendencies. It makes a character feel more like a real person, which is important when so many of your characters are immortal demigods.
Which brings me to another important point. I find characters who have some sort of “super power” to be particularly interesting. As somebody who has often been, if not necessarily bullied, then largely ignored by the world around me, I am always fascinated by the idea of a character with the power to forcefully impose his or her will on the world around them. And yet, power is something that can easily be misused.
For example, one of the main characters in my book is out for revenge. As a child, his parents were murdered, and he places the blame for their deaths on the main villain of the story. So his lifelong goal/dream is to put an end to this villain. And he has been given incredible power with which to combat this enemy, who of course has considerable power of his own. But what this character finds, is that the longer his battle with his enemy goes on, the more he begins to resemble the tyrant whom he despises.
Because, of course, every character has to have a flaw. If every character was perfect and always did the right thing, there would be no story. There needs to be a tension between doing what one knows is the right thing and doing what one wants. How often do we face that tension in our own lives? How often do we feel like doing the right thing will make us happy? How often do we, deep down inside, know that doing what we want will be disastrous for us and the people we love? How often do we do that thing anyway?
Even though my story revolves around a battle between good and evil, good and evil are not always black and white. Sometimes good guys make selfish choices and things turn out badly. Sometimes bad guys do selfless things and save the day. Just because a character starts out as “evil” doesn’t mean they stay that way. And sometimes good guys betray their friends and ideals in order to obtain something that they desperately want.
So there’s some insight into my thought process. I wish I could say more about the details of the story and the characters, but I also don’t want to say too much. I thought about mentioning a pivotal flaw in a certain character, but I don’t want to spoil anything. The fact that this flaw even exists is supposed to be something of a mystery until well into the story, and the consequences of this flaw will ultimately be disastrous and far-reaching and (hopefully) surprising. So you’ll just have to wait.