From the author: Thoughts and inspiration regarding "Hunters of the Dead," this week's dark fantasy story for my subscribers.
I'm a huge fan of tabletop gaming, and oftentimes I make a character that is based on a character from my fiction, but occasionally, it happens the other way around. I make a character that seems interesting to me because of the game's setting or its mechanics, so they have no basis in my fiction at all.
But then, being a writer, I import that character into my writing because I discover I love them and I don't want their life to be over just because the game is done.
Jan, from "Hunters of the Dead," is one of those characters, though with a bit of a twist.
He was created out of leftover gameplay ideas for a different character who was a fiction -> game import, making Jan sort of a weird fiction -> game -> other game -> fiction monster. And because of his odd creation, I didn't really have an idea of how I wanted to play him. Who was this guy? Why did he want to fight the undead so bad? He needed to be distinct from the original idea.
In the week or two downtime between character creation and the game getting started, I wrote a short story called "Hunter of Dead." It wasn't very good, but it my first outing with Jan, so I could get a feel for his personality.
I ended up doing four revisions to that story before leaving it to rest, and it was rejected many, many times.
As I got better, I stopped following Heinlein's rules about submission so religiously and let my submissions lapse. I was afraid that I'd gotten so much better that I didn't want to be submitting stories I no longer believed in. I tagged which pieces I wanted to take another look at, and which I would in all likelihood trunk for eternity.
"Hunter of Dead" was tagged for a second look, and I printed out a copy to revise, thinking it would be quick work.
As I edited I realized how much was wrong with the story, and it wasn't that the character or the concept of his world was bad. It was that there wasn't any plot. It was just a day in Jan's life, and I realized I needed to show the reader why this day was important.
Out went the extended flashback. Out went the original ending. I threw out about half the story, and wrote in its place at least another 75%, which meant that less than 25% of "Hunters of the Dead" came from the original story.
This version benefited from not having been touched in years. Since its original conception I had written other stories set in the same world, so there was more worldbuilding and a better understanding of history of the borderlands. I knew more about Jan himself since I'd been planning a prequel story at one point.
Thought the story wasn't perfect, but I sent it off to a few more places that opened in the interim between when I retired it and when I did the revision. It still got kicked back, but tended to make second rounds, and eventually I got a rewrite request from Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores.
By this time I had several professional sales under my belt, and Jan has been with me for fifteen years (no one ever said that it was fast becoming a professional writer). He's been my player character in two different tabletop RPGs, my ranger in Bioware's Neverwinter Nights, my Hawke in Dragon Age II, and more recently my avatar in Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright.
When I was asked to do the revision, I took a hard look at my work and cut it down from 9000 to 6100 words, making it tighter, stronger. I was a better writer, and I knew I could do this.
Novice writers are often told to not write their game characters into a story, but I think that's a poor piece of advice. It's not that writing your character into a story is bad. It just comes down to whether the story itself entertains.
Most of this post originally appeared on my personal blog: The Rat's Den