Most articles on writing focus on technical skills and discipline – having a schedule and sticking to it, doing your research, having checklists for your characters and plot, etc. etc. Yes, you need all these.
I’m also finding out that there’s one more ingredient that’s very necessary: the ability to write out of conviction. One must not only write what one knows – easy enough when there’s the Internet – but one must also write what one believes.
I’m realizing this as I analyze my own stories, winnowing out the weak ones (yes, I’m planning to put out an anthology), and finding out that the stronger ones, which at first I thought I wrote without a theme, actually do after all. You see, I have a problem with themes: I don’t know what I believe anymore. So when I consciously try to come up with a theme, it doesn’t work.
But as I was re-reading my Snow Leopard, Datu Buhawi and Pandara stories, I realized something: there’s been a core belief behind the better of those stories all along. All three characters are what you would call dark heroes, with troubled pasts or motivations we could call evil – Orhan Timur, the Snow Leopard, will use any means to regain his seat as Khagan of the steppe tribes, Datu Buhawi is animated by hate, and Pandara is a plundering pirate. They are heroes only because they retain, and act on, a humanity that’s at least clearer than in those they consort with.
Which brings me to my realization: the theme that’s been running through my work all along is the futility of evil. The evil schemes of my dark heroes come to nothing in the end, but they end up succeeding at another, more human goal. It’s something I still believe in after all – I don’t think it’s true, but in my gut I know it should be. And that’s where I write from.
(I think I may owe this enlightenment to the spirit of David Gemmell. Hail, Master!)