Probably as a result of my involvement with Edinburgh Skeptics, I had a story idea for a sceptical fantasy adventure. Inspired by Gulliver’s Travels, I wanted to create a story in which the protagonist was led by a Gandalf/Obi-Wan Kenobi archetype who wasn’t a wizard, but the complete opposite: someone more like Christopher Hitchens, portrayed by Ray Winstone (if you can imagine such a thing).
For Dogmagic I came up with a world mirroring our own, in which wizards and mages of various factions all competed and fought to gain adherents and followers for their particular brand of magic (their opponents were ‘anti-magical’, ‘unmagical’ or ‘dark magic’). Trouble is, their magic wasn’t real – their power didn’t come from magic, but warfare fuelled by zealotry and belief.
The story was a barely-veiled swipe at magical thinking and political dogmas around the world. It’s just a shame I hadn’t really worked out any of the character stuff that would make it more enjoyable to read. A writing/crit group I had joined pointed out a lot of these problems. Sure, I was an equal-opportunity offender, but the protagonist just bobbed along, swept away by events instead of controlling the story. And some of the issues I based the adventures on were too dark to include in what was meant to be a story for tweens and early teens; but the tone was too light for a young adult audience. Who was I writing for?
The first draft was written during NaNoWriMo in 2010, and the quality probably reflected this. I’m loath to abandon creative projects, so I let the ideas fester for a long while. The protagonist had no real reason to go anywhere. She’d escaped an orphanage, but had nowhere to escape to – her journey was meandering. The Hitchens-style mentor wasn’t telling her how to think, but what to think – and that was the complete opposite of what I intended. I was editorialising.
I decided to rework the setting, so that instead of taking pot-shots at every religion and political view I could think of, I would keep it general, rather than specific. For a storyline, I found a hook by imagining Star Wars set in a pre-renaissance world of islands instead of space; was there an evil empire? How did the protagonist fit in? Why was she on the run? What was she hoping to achieve, and what would happen when she couldn’t achieve it? How would she change and grow?
Again, by concentrating on character, and making that the focus of the story instead of the world or the things that would happen along the way, I hope I’ve been able to come up with a more compelling story – to write, as well as to read. Maybe I’ll return to it for NaNoWriMo 2014?