Sometimes #2

I'm back in Los Angeles. The heat is dry, and the days are long, and there's too much to do and too little time to do it.

I'm still rebuilding the first three chapters of Mabel. They're better, but I wish I could work faster. I love the story, but the content is growing stale for me.

I have started a new story as well. I started at two am and continued writing and thinking, as if in a frenzy until six thirty this morning. Then I went to bed, woke up, showered and continued writing.

It's an old idea. Four story lines.
A little boy wants to make his mother proud. After she is killed, he is orphaned, and as the last member of his family, he wants to make sure they are never forgotten. He wants to be great in his own right. He wants to rule over others.
A girl falls in love with a young man who loves another girl. So she quietly settles for being his best friend and being close to him at the cost of her own romance.
A man who is nearly indestructible fights against injustice to make his city safe for his adopted family. He loves them.
A poor girl with talent sets out to get a job with a powerful organization so she can protect her family and it's business from a corrupt government.

Of all the forms, fantasy is the most indulgent. Building a world allows such freedom and requires such energy. Absolute control in setting the rules of a world. But getting caught up in glorious histories, maps, powers, controls, and the little things can blind you to the most important thing in storytelling.

At the core of every great story is a human relationship, a core emotion that no matter who you are or where you are from, you can empathize with. Caring means you'll watch. Caring means you'll read. Often the thing that can grip an audience is simple, like:
His father doesn't love him, and he never will, no matter how hard he tries.

The setting doesn't matter. Settings are writing level two. First you build the basic. His father doesn't love him. 

Fantasy is just a setting. I barely consider it a genre. Settings exist to create places audiences want to escape to. Settings can be beautiful or horrific, but fantasy has a duty for settings to never be boring. But oftentimes I find that writers focus on the world-building, the setting more than the characters. I have this strange love-hate relationship with fantasy. It's so easy to abandon your characters and their connection with the reader in favor of soaring castles and the history of dragons—so damned easy—and the ugly truth is that most of us, myself included, can not afford to be lazy. We aren't creative enough to create worlds stunning in their own right occupied by bland characters and still have it be entertainment.

We fantasy writers use all kinds of excuses to explain why a reader doesn't have to connect with a character on a human level. Often, they aren't human. We're drugged by building towers and magic, and when the moment comes that a character falls short, we can use our world-building as a shield—he's a dragon, he doesn't have human morals, but this is his culture—aka the culture I'm making up.

It's lazy. It's so easy to forget that we're writing for humans, and we humans love desperately to connect with characters in our stories. When I write fantasy, I have to work hard not to forget that. All my characters have to have a human core in their relationship somewhere. And it's so damn hard, and it's so easy to fail. I fail sometimes.

To stop myself from getting carried away with setting when writing fantasy, I start by writing my core relationships in a simple way that requires no context. I once joked with a writing friend that we should take an empty pizza box and write a whole slew of relationship types on the blank side and tape it to the wall so that when we're in doubt, we can just throw a dart at the box and write the relationship of wherever it sticks.

So above I listed a summary of some core relationships, and I have wrapped a fantasy setting around them. The little boy is a dragon prince who controls lightning instead of fire, the girl falls in love with a young man who will live forever and be beautiful as she grows old and ugly. The indestructible man creates a secret society to steal back taxes from their dragon overlords, and the poor girl joins the city's army, which uses flying horses and guns to defeat monsters. The city floats in the sky, and they walk on clouds, and the dragon princes's fortress is in the eye of a hurricane, but none of that really matters because his mother is dead and he misses her more than anything. He's the last of his family, the last of his kind. It's about what we do when the people we love disappear.

Sometimes I write things down to remind myself of what I have to accomplish.