Ok, so anybody who follows this blog regularly knows pretty well by now that aside from writing original fiction, I also write a very, very long fanfiction called The Thief Dilemma set in the Eidos Thief trilogy (mostly The Metal Age, though, if I’m being honest). This was a story I started alllllll the way back in Junior year of high school, and when I wrote the first scene, it was just to prove a silly point: if I ever actually had to do anything in that game for real, I’d fail miserably. Picking someone’s pocket? Yeah, I’m too nervous and clumsy to pull that off. Blackjacking someone to unconsciousness? Um…yeah…I’m not that mean. Then get into the guilt-trips I’d actually suffer from (via myself) if I actually broke into someone’s home and took their valuables. I know for a fact that pulling a bow string is FRICK hard, and my aim–which has gone unpracticed since elementary, back before I could (or–let’s be honest–even now I can’t) pull the string on my dad’s compound bow–was not so good. Hefting a broadsword? HA. Try again, skinny arms.
The games themselves where a huge part of my life back in mid high school, particularly The Metal Age, which mixed medieval cathedrals, twisting city streets, and a sense of ancientness in with some awesome steam-powered machines. I have always loved the juxtaposition of old-tech with new-tech. Just see my post about the game Riven. The Metal Age not only had awesome design (albeit, computer graphics have come a long way since), but the storyline and the characters were GREAT. Garrett, the thief through whom you see the world, is the snarkiest in TMA, constantly making little snap comments on the side that perpetually made me laugh. The Mechanists were the perfect creepy religious sect with their minion of robots and mechanical Servants (who used to be human, no less). The world-building isn’t extensive–you focus almost entirely on a single city, occasionally venturing out to one or two new locations, though you never see much of your travel to those spots–but what’s there is solid. Plus, the sneaking, creeping,
sword-and-arrow wielding game-play was incredibly appealing to someone like me who typically is not sneaky, and not creeping (much), and certainly isn’t sword-and-arrow wielding, unless you mean a wooden practice sword, and even then, I wouldn’t fear for my life if I was you. I’ll admit it freely: I am (and have always been) a bit of a goody-two-shoes. I think way too hard about consequences, and as a kid, I never suffered from the “immortal” complex. I would admit I’m probably a bit of a coward. I’ve always admired those who could throw caution to the wind and just see where the pieces fell. Me? I’d be too worried about catching all the pieces to even throw them in the first place.
So having a game where I can do pretty much whatever I want (and there are separate philosophies, I’ll have you know, in the Thief community, about killing people in the game and whether or not–as a thief, not a murderer, they say–you should or not), it’s pretty liberating. At the same time, I still managed to worry about the morality of committing crimes against fictional or AI characters just because I know (or think I know) that they don’t feel pain, and are not “really” alive. Is something wrong even when you know there are no consequences? It’s a moralistic dilemma that plagued me in high school (thus leading to the title of The Thief Dilemma, which refers to just that).
With The Thief Dilemma, I’ve been trying to explore that very theme, as well as some other more meta ideas about life/death/souls/etc. I do use characters from the original games, or groups from the original games, as accents. Garrett shows up here and there in all his angry glory, but he’s not a main character in my story. Artemus, a member of the mysterious Keepers, shows up about as much as Garrett does. Basso, who plays a bit of a larger roll in my story than he ever did in the games, is a fun character to work in now and then as a point of maturity amongst a bunch of hot-head teens and twenty(*mumblethirtymumble)-somethings. I’ve made extensive use of the Hammerite (Builder cult), Mechanist (Karras cult), Pagan (Trickster cult), and City Guard (just a bunch of jerks) mythologies. But the vast majority of the story is carried by my own original characters: the two silly seventeen year olds who were originally me and my high school friend D—-, but have since evolved into their own characters as they learn how inept they are at thieving; the amateur, self-centered thief who always manages to get stuck with them; the feisty bar wench who knows the streets and can take care of herself, at least until things get really bad; and the young City Guard’s son, now a protegee Keeper acolyte, who knows Keeper magic upside down and backwards, and is quite pleased with himself.
I’ve had an absolutely blast writing this story, even though I know I will never be able to do much more with it than just leave it up on the web. It’s also one of the longest pieces I’ve ever written, and is proving that it will be the longest still by the time I finish it this year (at long last, after nearly eight years of a chapter every two to six months). It’s provided me with a great sounding board for looking at why I have so much trouble with original novel-length work, and has always been the project that reminds me that writing should be fun. I don’t have to worry about “where to submit” it, because I can’t. I have no pressure on me to write anything but what I want to write in this story. No constraints, save for the rules of the world.
And I think that’s where the value of fanfiction comes in: it’s like writing with training wheels. You don’t have to build a world from scratch (which can seem a daunting task when you’re starting out), and you don’t have to create a whole history for that world. There’s already a cannon, and you have to stick relatively close to it (or at least make it VERY clear where you’re diverging so it’s an “alt-” story). It’s kind of like Jane Austen’s two inches of ivory: you can only do so much, but within that two inches, you can fit the world if your creative enough and have a fine enough brush. It’s safe to write fanfiction; in some ways, you’re preaching to the choir, because those who read your story in it’s specific fan category are likely already fans of the cannon. It means you can’t make gross errors with the cannon, but if you follow the established rules all right, you may find folks really enjoy your stuff. Ideally, of course, through the fanfiction I’m hoping to learn a little about my novel-writing style, to find out what my personal weaknesses are and what I need to do to make an original novel move smoothly forward like TTD does. Hopefully, that will not require me to write one chapter a month, like I’m doing now, though that definitely helps. It keeps my attention span from getting too distracted by other, shorter, flashier projects, and though it certainly creates inconsistencies throughout the main text (like, in TTD, I realized a few months ago that Megan has lost her glasses, and I’m not quite sure where they went…but she hasn’t seemed to have any trouble seeing! XD, but overall I think it has created a story that while, yes, it would need editing if I were to submit it (which I can’t–weee! liberation!), it’s got a good solid bulk of story in it that I absolutely love. Every few months I get an itch to read some particular section, and I’ll go to my much-beaten print-out of all 200 something pages, and I’ll reread and reread and laugh and giggle to my heart’s content, because at the end of the day, I write this fanfiction for me. :0)