Whenever I think about what fantasy means to me, I look back to Michael Ende’s classic, The Neverending Story. I put my hands on the keyboard and I ask myself, What do I want to see? If I don’t have an answer, then I’m in for a lame session filled with cold fingers, blank stares, and plucking at nose hairs. If I do have an answer, my next question is, What is happening? If I can’t answer that, I wind up spending most of the session going back and editing things I’ve already written. But the last barrier I have to pass before my fingers finally zip with lines is, What am I doing?
The inscription behind the talisman of AURYN reads, “Do as you wish,” which is a play on logic. The “wish” is not an indiscriminate exercise in self-fulfillment but a hidden desire you possess, and for me, the writing process is a journey of realizing the kinds of experiences I would like to create. Hypothetically, let’s say I decide to open a scene with a sword fight. (Yay!) I proceed to describe the gear, the environment, conditions of the fighters, maybe even their battle movements as the scene plays out – description, description, description.
But even with the most vivid language poetry, if all I do is describe what I see, I won’t achieve a sense of context that the scene takes place in, and the circumstance will change from being mysterious to the reader asking, “So what?”, and that’s no bueno. But as soon as I decide what’s happening, that this is a training session for a big tournament, I can begin to deliver details to offer that suggestion – wooden weapons, taunting jokes, a nearby clothes hangar with tabard crests. Now a reader has a puzzle to piece together and can begin to develop expectations (which is critical for an interactive reading experience).
Now that we have a context, let’s presume that the combatants are related. Let’s make them brothers. Even though this might be a practice session, they are putting everything they’ve got into winning. One of the brothers yields, but the other kicks him on the ground and forces him to continue. Now we are creating a mystery within the context of the story. Is there something more at stake than the narrative is letting on? Do the brothers actually hate each other?
An answer to my third writing question might be that I want to show how two brothers who hate each other learn to love and respect one another – that would be something I’d wish to accomplish. All of a sudden, the story can be conceived with a beginning, middle, and end. Solving the mystery is what leads us through the plot and into learning what the story is about without simply being told, “The brothers really hated each other, but after a while, they got along.”
Speaking from experience, it is a good idea that you have an answer for that mystery before you start writing. It avoids so many complications later.
Leif Carl Behmer received his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Texas–Pan American and his Bachelors in English at the University of Houston–Downtown. His passion for fantasy fiction stems from his exposure to fantasy in both classic fairytale literature and the fantasy role-playing genre of the video gaming industry. His pursuit of the discipline of writing led him to take courses in technical writing and dramatic writing, as well as studying tutor theory. Leif writes dramatic scripts for pop-culture conventions. He is currently a composition and literature instructor at Houston Community College and Lone Star Community College in Houston, Texas.