World Building and Never Ending Stories

It seems today that fantasy has been hijacked by “world builders”—writers so enamored by Tolkien, that their No. #1 priority is to build convincing worlds. While I am all for the establishment of a good setting, I am not all for it if it hinders the telling of a story or takes the place of one. I won’t mention names, but many of today’s most popular fantasists seem to be writing textbooks for their daydreams. I am often left asking myself, what’s the point of this book? Tolkien was less of a storyteller and more a professor of history and linguistics. He translated Old English classics like Beowulf and Sir Gawain & the Green Knight into the modern vernacular—while this brought a unique perspective and a level of expertise to his writing, it did not bode well for the future of writers wanting to emulate him. As much as we may want, none of us can be Tolkien, nor can we hope to achieve the same kind of success. We would have to live Tolkien’s life and study everything he did to match his style, and even then, why would anybody want to? Writers must draw from their own lives and experiences. And most importantly, we must make story telling no. #1. True storytellers, I sometimes feel, are more often found in Sci-Fi. Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke were true storytellers. In the fantasy realm, Ursula K. Leguin and JK Rowling are true storytellers. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, by the way, also builds a convincing world, but it is done in a subtle fashion that services the story.   

Despite my love of fantasy, I more often find enjoyment in a good classic or even in modern fiction; I adored “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaleed Hosseini and I wonder whether I can capture the same emotion in the fantasy genre.

I also hate it when books do not conclude or do not conclude in meaningful ways. What is it about this new trend of books that doesn’t give an ending to a story? How can you tell if a writer is any good if he doesn’t even end it? I may be old fashioned, but a story for me must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. George Martin’s “Game of Thrones” has no ending at all. Bakker’s “The Darkness that Comes Before” does the same. It is for that reason that I have recently started to appreciate Salvatore’s “Dark Elf Trilogy” and the Margaret Weis’ “Dragonlance” series. While they may cater a bit more to the youth, at least they actually tell a story; at least they know how to end in a way that feels satisfactory while leaving enough mystery and intrigue to make a reader want to pick up the next in the series. 

To D&D or Not to D&D?

To D&D or Not to D&D? That is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous hate mail, and take arms against a sea of critics, or quit – – – to D&D and write no more; and by thus to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that a writer’s ego is heir to: ’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished!

OK . . . that’s as far as my Hamlet analogy can go, methinks; but point is, over the years, I am not really sure whether playing D&D is good for my writing or hurting it. Salvatore and Margaret Weis made careers out of turning campaigns into books. My first novel, The Dark Age of Enya, was inspired, in parts, by D&D. The second part, The Serpent’s Eye, was originally conceived of as a campaign. In it, the player finds a dead planet, where a magic gem imparts the memories of an extinct race from an earlier age. At the end of Enya, there is a goblin bridge and a fire-breathing dragon, also inspired by D&D, though that whole plot line has been excised from the revised version. My upcoming novel, the one I am writing after Ages of Aenya, about which I have yet to reveal details, is based off a short game I wrote for my nephews.

On the downside, I find myself often making games instead of stories. My wife complains about it, saying I should stick to writing. But gaming makes me feel less lonely in my creative pursuits. There is nothing like getting that instant feedback when you’re running a campaign.

I suppose it’s all a matter of moderation. I can’t simply devote myself to one thing or another. I can’t forget what made me love fiction in the first place. I have to be who I was in order to become who I always dreamed of becoming. But maybe I am just rationalizing. I’d like to hear what you all think, and if you are over 25, how you balance playtime with responsibility.