Why We Write

“Writers start writing either because they see something in print and think, ‘if that got published I could get published!’ or they see something so amazing they say I want to be able to write like that.”

Roughly quoted from memory, the above is Orson Scott Card talking about why writers first devote themselves to the craft. Although Orson Scott Card told many people that he started writing for the first reason, it was actually Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy that convinced him to devote himself to writing. He wanted to make people feel the way that series made him feel.

I think most writers have both of these experiences – more than once in fact.

I also think we can experience both responses to the same book, or series. For example, I can trace my first book, The Grey Heir, to my love of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon. As an eighth grader, I devoured that book. It was one of the first that I binge read, finishing it in two blissful days.

Yet, as the series went on, I grew older, more discerning, and (quite probably) more snobbish. I started finding fault with what I felt were needless tangents and (what I saw as) clunky prose.

I thought, “If that book was published and became enormously successful, mine can too.”

In a way, I still believe that. I still think that my book has some merit and certainly has the potential to strike the same chord in its intended audience that Eragon struck in me. At the same time, however, I believe it’s equally open to the pitfalls that attend sequels, which is one of the reasons I still haven’t finished the second book in that series even though I’ve written several other novels in the interim.

As much as I still admire Paolini as a cool guy, and a supporter of new writers, I needed new inspiration.

I found that inspiration in Brandon Sanderson’s series The Stormlight Archive, which I view as a masterwork of epic fantasy.

There are many things to admire about Sanderson’s work, from his fresh, incredibly visioned fantasy world, to the quality of his prose and characters. However, what really distinguishes Sanderson’s world, at least for me, is his incorporation of philosophy.

In The Stormlight Archive, Sanderson describes several ancient orders of knights, known collectively as The Knights Radiant, who lived by different ideals. The first ideal, however, was the same for all the orders:

Life before death; Strength before weakness; Journey before destination

Let’s take these one at a time.

Life before death

This could be a simple statement of fact, life comes before death, or an injunction to really live before you die. Seems like a good, if bumper sticker worthy, piece of advice.

Strength before weakness

This seems like fairly standard chivalric fantasy fair – defend those who cannot defend themselves!

Journey before destination

Now this is where I really geek out. The characters discuss what this means throughout the two books available thus far at length, but, essentially, it means that everyone dies eventually, so the destination is set, what really matters is the journey (ie how you live your life).

How F-ing amazing is that!?!? To have an this question of journey vs. destination so central to the book, to have characters debate whether worthy goals are worth unsavory means in those terms, to have an entire marshal order founded around something so…Buddhist.

It just blows my mind.

It invites questions and analysis.

It makes me want to write.

Before reading this series I was having trouble with the second book in my series, The Exile. I wrote nearly an entire first draft before realizing that I didn’t really like it. It felt like I was forcing my characters through the plot I’d already designed instead of allowing things to occur in a way that made sense. Thus they had no real impetus.

Now, I think I’m going to explore what it would be like if a mage, my protagonist, decided he didn’t want to kill people anymore. He will still be hunted, still facing a world set against magic, but I want to write a fantasy book that actually values life.

What would that look like?

Is it ethical to leave a world in the thrall of an absolute, unjust authority?

Is non-violent (or at least non-lethal) resistance possible in this kind of fantasy world?

These are question that are worth exploring, and THAT, I think, is why we write.

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