The original hero of what would eventually become The Black Ring was male, super-competent, brave, and strong. I wrote a long novel and, with the idea of doing a series, I drafted two sequels. I was going to do a third when I realized that my hero was boring. Everything was too easy. He was like a weight-lifter on steroids, a martial arts grand master, and he never made a mistake. Overdone, implausible, unsympathetic, and boring.
I had spent years telling myself stories and tales and episodes about this hero. I never wrote any of them down. They all started from a dream I had, when I was about thirteen, with myself as a hero. I had never been a hero in my dreams, and have never been one again. My youthful wish-fulfillment fantasy, inspired by that dream, grew from being something like me at that age. He gained super powers, and physical augmentations, and became a kind of heroic monster.
Those stories failed because of that character, who was not a living hero after all. The stories didn’t work, and they never would, no matter how much I tried to rewrite them. In fact, after a while, I couldn’t force myself to read them, even to harvest plot ideas. I threw away something like three hundred thousand words.
I had filled notebooks over the years, with ideas about fantasy weapons, carriages and ships, strange races, stranger worlds, groups of good companions, and hierarchies of dangerous enemies. I didn’t want to throw those away, so I asked myself, What about a hero who was the opposite of the boring one who was never challenged by anything? What if my hero was like, say, a young Sally Field….
In that instant my hero became clear to me. She would be small, young, over-protected as a child, never independent a day in her life. Everything would be a challenge for her. Nothing would be easy. She would have to grow, and learn, and change, and slowly become a hero, in order to serve the story I wanted to tell.
The writing was so easy that it almost wrote itself. It was as if I was an actor portraying my character. I felt with her when she found herself in a strange place. I let her, as if she were a real person, try several times to solve a problem. I didn’t interfere when she made mistakes, and knew how she felt about it when she when she did.
I didn’t do what I would do, but I played the role as if I were she. That’s very different. I followed her as she learned and grew, as she discovered her strength, her courage, her intelligence, her leadership, her sense of duty, none of which had ever been tested before. And more than once I was surprised — I didn’t know she could do that!
I let it be that way with all the other characters, though less deeply. They each had their own part to play, and I didn’t interfere, I let them make their own decisions. I got to know them as they carried the story for me, and some of them surprised me. And some of them died.
They were all, of course, only figments of my imagination. Or, you might say, products of my muse. I have learned, though it wasn’t always easy, to trust my muse, and to not let my intellect interfere. If I made my characters, major or minor, do something that was against their nature, the story died. I still sometimes forget, but I’m getting better at that as the years go by.