Note: I wrote this in February 2015, but thought it was worth finally posting.
This past year (editor’s note: this was 2014), I’ve hit dead ends on every story I started. I tried to write a sequel to The Dragon’s Curse. My characters didn’t cooperate, and getting words on the page was like pulling teeth. I gave up after a month of sitting down dreading the keyboard, battling with my characters to try to make them do what I wanted.
Then I tried a short story about a knight falling in love with an angel, and it was DoA. I was writing a romance story where I didn’t care about either of the characters.
By December I was getting pretty dispirited, but more than that I started to wonder what I was missing. I had loved writing The Dragon’s Curse. Why didn’t I love the other stories?
I realized I had never sat down to think about why I wrote. I don’t do it for the money, or the ability to call myself a ‘writer’. So why do I do it?
I think I finally figured it out. This answer may change down the line, as I grow and evolve as a person; but here’s my answer for why I write today:
Creating Cool Stuff
Partly, it’s the creative process: there’s something fascinating about coming up with new ideas and new elements of a story on a daily basis. Because of how I write, I rarely know what these will be. In The Dragon’s Curse, for instance, there’s a scene where Parius confronts a witch. I had no idea what a witch would look like in my world. Would she be young? Would she be an old hag? Would she be clearly human, or marked as something else?
As I started writing, I typed out three ‘marks’ of a witch that Parius eventually uses to trap her. Each of the marks was a surprise to me, as it hopefully will be to you. I didn’t know what a witch was until I wrote her, and I didn’t know how Parius could use those marks until I watched him do it.
The reason for this is that there are two sides of your brain. There’s the left brain, which is you—your actions, your memories, your conscious mind. Then there’s the right brain, which is creative, strange, and comes up with all the great ideas. The two sides don’t always communicate. So when my right brain injects an idea into the story, my left brain is as surprised as anyone.
There’s something beautiful about creating something new, that even I don’t see coming. I sometimes wonder if other writers go through this. In Stardust, for example, there’s a great scene where the heroes are stranded on a cloud and rescued by an airship. Did Neil Gaiman plan that, or was he simply going along writing when suddenly an airship showed up in his story? Was he as surprised as I was by the massive ship and its mysterious captain?
I Write My Struggles
But that’s not why I write. Or at least, that’s not the whole of it. Just coming up with cool new toys and ideas every day is fun for a little bit, but it gets old. It’s the same reason I never really enjoyed ‘sandbox’ mode in computer games like Stronghold: sure, building is fun, but what’s really exciting is having a mission.
That’s closer to the mark of why I write. I don’t just sit down and write a story because it sounds fun. I write the ones that I need to write. I take the issues I’m working through, and spin them into a larger-than-life format in the story. Then I have to finish it for my own peace of mind, so I can come to a good outcome.
Writing The Dragon’s Curse, I was struggling with the idea of fate and free will. Do we choose our destinies, or are they chosen for us?
I could have written an article or a blog about the subject. Or even a series of them. I could have discussed the ideas in the real world, talking about how it could relate to desk jobs and girlfriends and career success.
God, would that have been boring!
Instead, I took the core idea I was struggling with and added to it. I removed myself from the concept, and centered it around a gorgeous princess with powerful sorcery. I added dragons. I threw in an angry God and a castle in the clouds. I made the stakes bigger, more meaningful, than they ever could be for me.
I was struggling with an idea of Fate that seemed to be pushing me to date a girl. Esmerelda struggles with a Fate that wants to shatter her kingdom and destroy her life.
Tied into this, for me a story turns on internal conflict and irreversible change. In The Dragon’s Curse, Parius changes as a person. He learns things I needed to learn, and develops in ways I needed to develop. His internal change drove his part of the story, much more than the cool sword-fights and snappy dialogue did. I was writing my characters out of their own problems, and I wrote myself out of them too.
If I’m not wrestling with an issue, there’s no story to write.
At its heart, that’s why I write. At least today, at least right now. I take issues that I’m working through in the real world. And then I add to them. I keep the core, but add higher stakes, bigger conflicts, more exciting surroundings. I twist them into the stuff of heroes and monsters instead of desk jobs. Because if you have to wrestle with ideas, you might as well do it in a format that lets you add dragons.
Why do you write? Or, if you’re not a writer, what makes you read?