When editor Marc Tassin invited me to write for the anthology, Champions of Aetaltis, I was ecstatic. Not only was it heroic fantasy, which is one of my favorite genres to write, but it was a shared world project, an anthology that tied in with Tassin’s role playing game world. There were a ton of authors involved, many of whom I had admired for years from both the fiction and the RPG community: David Farland, Erin Evans, Ed Greenwood, Richard Lee Byers, Elaine Cunningham, Cat Rambo, and more. I’d never worked on tie-in fiction before, but it’s something I had always wanted to try. This was a great opportunity to break into this part of publishing.
Mind you, the anthology is called Champions of Aetaltis. While I love a good knight in shining armor story, it’s not exactly what I write. My “heroes” are usually of a quieter, nerdier type. Folks with mightier pens than swords. But I’m a pretty imaginative person. I was certain I could come up with something.
I read through the top-secret world bible for Aetaltis, that had all the info about the world, its history, the races and classes of people, the gods, and so forth. Almost immediately, a character popped into my head. A young female halfling.
Um… not exactly what people think of when they hear “heroic.”
I tried my best to come up with something else. There were so many cool ideas, I was sure, waiting in that world guide. There were a couple races in particular that fascinated me, including the reptilian-like Scythaa. But my halfling girl wasn’t just a girl now. She had developed a personality and was now joined by a whole village of halflings in my mind. “No, no, no,” I said to myself. “You’re doing this wrong. You’re supposed to be writing about heroic people. Elves with legendary bows and majestic men with swords bearing magic runes! Not halflings with… what? Frying pans??”
By this point I knew better than to fight it. My story would have halflings in it. But a wandering hero could come in, find them in the clutches of an ancient evil force, and rescue them. The halflings would celebrate him and he would rise to glory once more!
In my mind, my halfling girl looked at me, raised an eyebrow, and said, “Really?”
Well, enough was enough. “Fine,” I said. “If you’re so heroic, prove it.”
And I’ll be damned, she did.
“A Whole-Hearted Halfling” is possibly my most favorite story I’ve written to date. Why? Because it proved what I had always thought, and why the smaller races of fantasy have always appealed to me. People are different and have different ways of handling situations. Sure, a human paladin could rush in and smite a vicious ogre with his holy sword. Having a halfling do that wouldn’t be believable. Halflings have a completely different skill set from men or dwarves. But they do have a skill set. They have their life experiences and their own set of tools. Instead of fighting to force their story to fit a set of ideals, I let my characters have enough rein to show me where their strength was. I let them show me how they would defeat not just one, but two villains in their story. And they did it as only halflings could.
If I had forced my character to do things that weren’t natural for her, it would have seemed fake, contrived. If I had had someone else come in to rescue them, the story wouldn’t have been as satisfying. Who wants to be in someone’s head as they are being saved? Wouldn’t you much rather be the hero?
This is why the advice to hold your story loosely, and let your characters–to a point–act things out, instead of you the writer inflicting how things “should” be upon them. My story developed in a more organic, natural way because I let this happen, and I think has a very satisfying end.
But in the words of LeVar Burton, don’t take my word for it! Go forth and read it yourselves!