When I began writing The Blackfire Chronicles, I made a vow to myself to try my damnedest to create a world that was as original as I could make it. There are so many fantasy stories these days, most of which I haven’t read. The big ones for me are The Wheel of Time and The Sword of Truth. I love them both! My thanks and admiration to the late and lamented Robert Jordan, and to the still-writing Terry Goodkind, with a special thank you to Brandon Sanderson for finishing TWOT. He did a masterful job!
Stories are by nature derivative; there will always be similarities between new stories and old stories. Basic themes will repeat themselves, characters will have similar or identical traits or personalities. Writing something that is comparable to something else is an inescapable fact. Its going to happen, and as a writers and creators, we just have to accept it. Of course each one of us has his or her own identity, as it were. That’s what makes a reader either like or dislike a writer’s work. I’m speaking really broadly here, and these statements could be applied to almost any artform – music, painting, cooking, etc.
I’ll never criticize anyone who takes the time to sit down and write a novel or short story. The simple act of writing, whether it gets published or not, is difficult. Anyone who writes (or creates things in general) has my respect.
Now that the introduction is out of the way, here’s what I really wanted to say. I will never use a real name in a fantasy story. In fact every name, every creature description, and a host of other things were completely fabricated by me specifically for the BFC. I tried very hard to make this story as original and unlike any other fantasy story as I possibly could. But as I said before, I’ll never criticize anyone for creating something. What they create and how they do it is completely up to them. I’m speaking here strictly of my own notions about writing, and specifically about the BFC.
Here’s the paragraph where someone out there will surely decide that I’m arrogant. I hope that isn’t the case, because I don’t think of myself as arrogant, but I do have definite ideas about my story and the things I created for it. That said, here goes: There are no dragons, elves, orcs, wizards or any other race/creature/monster/thing in this story that was created by someone else. All those things have been done by others far better than I ever could. If you are a fantasy writer and you want to put a dragon in your story – do it to it! If you’ve got a good idea and can work a dragon(s) into it in a way that’s engaging and new, then have at it! I totally support that! What I don’t support is not even trying to come up with something original and just using someone else's creation because it sold books in the past, is recognizable, or you had a picture/poster of it on your wall as a kid. I picked up one fantasy book recently, and within the first three pages I read about dragons, dwarves and elves. I put it down less than twenty pages in. The writing was fine; the author seemed to have a solid voice, but it was so derivative I just couldn't read it. I refuse to use the creations of others in my story. Even the names of creatures, people, places and things are completely my invention. Obviously I wasn’t going to come up with a new name for something like a castle or a river. Although I did strongly consider doing just that for a minute. But in the interest of clarity, I used words for common things that any reader should/would recognize.
And that brings me to the reader portion of this confession. If you don’t like my stories because of these unfamiliar things – I get it, truly. People like things that are comfortable, known. Its easier to form an image of something in your mind if you’ve already seen it in movies or on tv, or read about it in another book(s). There is a lot to be said for familiarity. For the BFC, I sometimes wish I’d kept track of how many minutes I sat at my desk, staring at my computer screen, while I imagined and discarded ideas for a new character name or the appearance of a new creature. That shit is hard! I mean try it yourself – imagine a creature that looks nothing like some creature you’ve seen somewhere else. Or at least try to make it as unique as possible so as to differentiate it from that creature in the horror movie you watched on Netflix the other night. Does it have tentacles? Five hundred eyes? Is it enormous? Small? Is there more than one row of teeth? No teeth? Is it green, brown, black, red, purple, polka dot? Hard to do isn’t it, to come up with something that you can’t think of and say, “Oh, that thing was in that one movie”. Of course the creatures I created for the BFC will bear some resemblance to something else. I couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t have features that already existed on some other creature. What I did do is try to arrange and combine those features in a new way. Or at least a way that was new to me. And the names are complete fabrications. Most of them are based on nothing other than combinations of letters that I put together in my head.
And that brings me to the ‘other authors’ part. As I said toward the beginning, I haven’t read most of the fantasy series out there. In total I’ve probably only read ten or twelve fantasy series in my life. So to all the other authors who’ve written a fantasy story, or any other story for that matter, if I’ve duplicated a name in the BFC that you’ve already used – I am truly sorry. Every item in my story that required a name got one that I came up with myself. If one of mine is the same as one of yours – it was completely unintentional.
Mark Sowers, author of works of fiction. He writes fantasy, action/adventure, loves life in Alaska.