Says Mr. Card:
However, in my experience, one thing is constant: Good stories don’t come from trying to write a story the moment I think of a good idea.
That would seem to be the antithesis of what I’m trying to accomplish with First Million Words. Blood From the Mountain is a case in point. I conceived the idea about two weeks ago, feverishly read the first half of a biography of Genghis Khan in the subsequent week, spent a few days pouring over the Swiss Alps in Google Earth, and then, in a mild state of panic (quite tepid), I wrote the first 2,739 words last night.
Mr. Card goes on to say:
All but a handful of my stories have come by combining two completely unrelated ideas that have been following their own tracks through my imagination. And all the stories I was still proud of six months after writing them have come from ideas that ripened for many months–sometimes years–between the time I first thought of them and the time they were ready to be put into a story.
Further reflection on Mr. Card’s words however reveal a different version of the origins of Blood From the Mountain. Two weeks ago several ideas collided, fused, and formed the nucleus of what I’m writing today. But the disparate elements that I’ve combined have been knocking around in my head for some time.
Case in point: I’ve been thinking about the nature of orcs and how unfairly, or two dimensionally, they’re portrayed ever since I read China Mieville’s early essays on the racism in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Elves are good because they’re elves, orcs are bad because they’re orcs, and the individual has little say over the matter. This got me to thinking: what societal, environmental and biological factors could give rise to an orc, such that his tendency toward violence, cruelty and war would be a logical consequence and not a fait accompli imposed by the author?
Further, I’ve been curious about Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes ever since I read about the Nadir in David Gemmel’s Drenai novels when I was young. Tenaka Khan, Ulric Khan, the Nadir besieging Dros Delnoch, these characters and battles were laid down early in the sediment of my mind, so that it feels natural to go back to the Mongols, to look carefully at how they accomplished what they did, and understand how easily those 14th century conquests can be translated into an epic fantasy setting.
Then there’s the part in which Tharok, my protagonist, comes across an artifact that artificially raises his intelligence, giving him the reverse of a Jekyll and Hyde experience. This idea interposed itself between the others in a flash of inspiration, but in reality it’s another old notion that I’ve been aware of for years. Jekyll and Hyde, Flowers for Algernon, the Crown of Command from the tabletop game of Warhammer; these inspirations bore fruit when I asked the simple question: what could cause a common orc to suddenly rise in stature, power, and charisma such that he could unite all the orcish tribes?
So perhaps Mr. Card would not disagree with me quite as much as I thought. Three old ideas crashed together and fused into the seed of a novel a few weeks ago, and while I bet Mr. Card would urge me to spend more time on world building (what are the names of characters? what are the names of the tribes? what human language is orcish going to riff on? what is the history of the area, the tribes, the orcs? what are the details on these nebulous human empires? how does magic work in this world? is there magic? are there dragons and ogres, or just orcs and humans?), I unfortunately don’t have time to figure everything out.
So, I’ll just have to settle for a rough first draft. Will there be inconsistencies, glaring holes, hasty improvisations and perhaps even a lack of desired depth? For sure. But that, cats and kittens, is what a first draft is all about.