Next comes the practice writing. I started on contemporary novels--High
Hunt and The Losers. (The publication date of The Losers is June 1992, but I wrote it back in the 1970s. It's not strictly speaking a novel, but rather is an allegory, the one-eyed Indian is God, and Jake Flood is the Devil. Notice that I wrote it before we started the Belgariad.) If you're serious about this, you have to write every day, even if it's only for an hour. Scratch the words 'week-end' and 'holiday' out of your vocabulary. (If you've been very good, I might let you take a half-day off at Christmas.) Write a million or so words. Then burn them. Now you're almost ready to start.
This is what I was talking about earlier when I suggested that most
aspiring fantasists will lose heart fairly early on. I was in my mid-teens when I discovered that I was a writer. Notice that I didn't say 'wanted to be a writer'. 'Want' has almost nothing to do with it. It's either there or it isn't. If you happen to be one, you're stuck with it. You'll write whether you get paid for it or not. You won't be able to help yourself. When it's going well, it's like reaching up into heaven and pulling down fire. It's better than any dope you can buy. When it's not going well, it's much like giving birth to a baby elephant. You'll probably notice the time lapse. I was forty before I wrote a publishable book. A twenty-five year long apprenticeship doesn't appeal to very many people.
The first thing a fantasist needs to do is to invent a world and draw a
map. Do the map first. If you don't, you'll get lost, and picky readers
with nothing better to do will gleefully point out your blunders.
Thendo your preliminary studies and character sketches in great detail.
Give yourself at least a year for this. Two would be better. Your 'Quest', your 'Hero', your form of magic, and your 'races' will probably grow out of these studies at some point. If you're worried about how much this will interfere with a normal life, take up something else. If you decide to be a writer, your life involves sitting at your desk. This is what you do to the exclusion of all else, and there aren't any guarantees. You can work on this religiously for fifty years and never get into print, so don't quit your day-job.
It was about the time that we finished Book III of the Belgariad that we
met Lester and Judy-Lynn del Rey in person. We all had dinner together,
and I told Lester that I thought there was more story than we could cram
into five books, so we might want to think about a second set. Lester
expressed some interest. Judy-Lynn wanted to write a contract on a napkin. How's that for acceptance?
We finished up the Belgariad, and then went back into 'preliminaries'
mode. Our major problem with the Malloreon lay in the fact that we'd
killed off the Devil at the end of the Belgariad. No villain; no story.
The bad guys do have their uses, I suppose. Zandramas, in a rather obscure way, was a counter to Polgara. Pol, though central to the story as our mother figure, had been fairly subordinate in the Belgariad, and we wanted to move her to center stage. There are quite a few more significant female characters in the Malloreon than in the Belgariad. Zandramas (my wife's brilliant name) is Torak's heir as 'Child of Dark'. She yearns for elevation, but I don't think becoming a galaxy to replace the one that blew up was quite what she had in mind. The abduction of Prince Geran set off the obligatory quest, and abductions were commonplace in medieval romance (and in the real world of the Dark Ages as well), so we were still locked in our genre.
We had most of our main characters--good guys and bad guys--already in
place, and I knew that Mallorea was somewhere off to the east, so I went
back to the map-table and manufactured another continent and the bottom
half of the one we already had. We got a lot of mileage out of Kal Zakath. That boy carried most of the Malloreon on his back. Then by way of thanks, we fed him to Cyradis, and she had him for lunch.
I'll confess that I got carried away with The Mallorean Gospels. I wanted the Dals to be mystical, so I pulled out all the stops and wrote something verging on Biblical, but without the inconveniences of Judaism, Christianity, or Mohammedanism. What it all boiled down to was that the Dals could see the future, but so could Belgarath, if he paid attention to the Mrin Codex. The whole story reeks of prophecy--but nobody can be really sure what it means.
My now publicly exposed co-conspiratress and I have recently finished the second prequel to this story, and now if you want to push it, we've got a classic twelve-book epic. If twelve books were good enough for Homer, Virgil, and Milton, twelve is surely good enough for us. We are not going to tack on our version of The Odyssey to our already completed Iliad. The story's complete as it stands. There aren't going to be any more Garion stories. Period. End of discussion.
All right, that should be enough for students, and it's probably enough to send those who'd like to try it for themselves screaming off into the
woods in stark terror. I doubt that it'll satisfy those who are interested in an in-depth biography of their favorite author, but you can't win them all, I guess.
Are you up for some honesty here? Genre fiction is writing that's done for money. Great art doesn't do all that well in a commercial society. Nothing that Franz Kafka wrote ever appeared in print while he was alive. Miss Lonelyhearts sank without a ripple. Great literary art is difficult to read because you have to think when you read it, and most people would
Epic fantasy can be set in this world. You don't have to create a new
universe just to write one. My original 'doodle', however, put us
off-world immediately. It's probably that 'off-world' business in Tolkien that causes us to be lumped together with science fiction, and we have no business on the same rack with SF. SF writers are technology freaks who blithely ignore that footnote in Einstein's theory of relativity which clearly states that when an object approaches the speed of light, its mass becomes infinite. (So much for warp-drive.) If old Buck Rogers hits the gas-pedal a little too hard, he'll suddenly become the universe. Fantasists are magic and shining armor freaks who posit equally absurd notions with incantations, 'the Will and the Word', or other mumbo-jumbo. They want to build a better screwdriver, and we want to come up with a better incantation. They want to go into the future, and we want to go into the past. We write better stories than they do, though. They get all bogged down in telling you how the watch works; we just tell you what time it is and go on with the story. SF and fantasy shouldn't even speak to each other, bu
t try explaining that to a book-store manager. Try explaining it to a publisher. Forget it.
One last gloomy note. If something doesn't work, dump it--even if it means that you have to rip up several hundred pages and a half-year's work. More stories are ruined by the writer's stubborn attachment to his own overwrought prose than by almost anything else. Let your stuff cool off for a month and then read it critically. Forget that you wrote it, and read it as if you didn't really like the guy who put it down in the first place. Then take a meat-axe to it. Let it cool down some more, and then read it again. If it still doesn't work, get rid of it. Revision is the soul of good writing. It's the story that counts, not your fondness for your own gushy prose. Accept your losses and move on.
All right, I'll let you go for right now. We'll talk some more later, but why don't we let Belgarath take over for a while?