Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Origin Story of SFA

(Reposted from 10/23/08)

So, I don't think I've talked yet about how JLY and I decided to start writing School for Adventurers. Here's the tale.

It was a dark and wintry night in early December almost two years ago. JLY and I were up late discussing what sort of writing project we should embark on. JLY, KM Ricker, and I are always working on something or another -- ever since high school, as a matter of fact -- so we usually have something we're thinking over and writing or drawing for.

We somehow ended up talking about some of our mutual friends from high school... And later, we came across the topic of young adult fantasy books that we loved or hated. We realized that there were two distinct genres that we were interested in for our next project: a high school story or a fantasy story.

And then came the big moment when one of us said, "Why not both?"

The more we thought about it, the more interesting it seemed.

The mission statement of SFA is to answer two questions. The first is "What would a high school for adventurers look like?" The second is "What would happen if all your favorite fantasy characters met each other in high school?"

Answering the first question makes writing SFA particularly tricky. We're not just telling a story, we're building a school. We wanted to fill it with fun and interesting classes and people, but we also had to balance that against the plot line-- which is why you've probably noticed that the main plot is a bit meandering. But, the book is as much about the school as it is about the characters, so it's important to JLY and myself to keep the focus there. We want SFA to be a world that has tons of possibilities, the kind of story that you would want to live in. It's difficult, but I think we've struck a good balance, which we're improving with the revisions of the book for the publication.

Answering the second question was a little bit more fun, for me at least. We started by mapping all of the high school stereotypes onto fantasy stereotypes. Of course, the characters aren't that simple... Or at least, we've tried to show the subtleties for some of them. Admittedly, we didn't have enough time in the first book to get into all of the back story and character development that we'd wanted to, since SFA is primarily plot-driven. Also, we rely a lot on our readers to read between the lines and to be patient as the plot slowly gets to exploring the characters... By the way, the character profiles that we've posted on the website are our "public" notes. The files that we keep on each character are far more extensive, with much more depth, but we don't want to have any spoilers out there, so unfortunately we can't share all of that information with you.

By the way, while we're on the subject of stereotypes, I want to put in a defense for all the stereotypes out there in the world. I've read some reviews of our story that mention the stereotypes as though it's a negative... I can understand that opinion. For some of my other writing, I try to avoid stereotypes at all costs. But for SFA, we consciously wanted to play with all the stereotypes we could think of.

Because before anything else, SFA is meant to be a fun young adult fantasy novel. While the title "School for Adventurers" may go a long way in conveying that, I just want to say that we're not exactly trying to write the next "Madame Bovary", "Grapes of Wrath", or "Villette". Nothing against Flaubert, Steinbeck, or Brontë-- those are all masterful novels-- they're not the type of novel we happen to be writing. We don't want this story to be a character study, and in particular, we -wanted- to try our hand at some stereotypes, and see what fun we can have in playing with them. Besides, when it comes down to it, that's why we're writing this-- because it's fun.

When JLY and I sit down to write a scene, we have a test. If we're not excited about writing it, if we don't think it's going to be fun, then we cut it or change it. Of course, in these changes, we always hold true to the core plot... And more than that, I like to think that being flexible and throwing in new elements is also true to the foundation of SFA. From when we started planning it two years ago to last week when we sat down to write the Rankings scene, if we're not looking forward to writing it, we brainstorm until we come up with something we're both excited about. So SFA might take some unexpected turns, or it might be whimsical at times, but at the very least, we hope it's always a fun ride.



By the way, you can thank JLY for this line: "Fell looked at the little girl in front of him. He couldn’t imagine raising a hand against her, let alone fighting her."

-I- wanted to go with: "Fell looked at the little girl in front of him. He could no sooner punch her than he could punch a kitten."

Other outtakes:

JLY: The top three Warriors will receive…
KL: Can we say purses? Or would it be too girly?
JLY: Yes, purses. They will be in the season’s top colors—blue, purple—
KL: Shut up! The top three will receive..
JLY: Gold?
KL: Moneybags?
JLY: Gold bags?
KL: Yes, gold bags…filled with more gold!


“Maybe he should toss a coin to see who goes first. It can’t be heads or tails. Should it be like... fireworks or wheat-shafts."

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