Monday, May 23, 2011

"Finding my Way into Fantasy" - Guest Post by Author Darcy Pattison

Today we have YA and childrens' book author Darcy Pattison here for a guest post on writing fantasy and the process of writing! Among other books, she's the author of The Wayfinder.

The Wayfinder by Darcy Pattison
(Amazon / Goodreads)


Young Winchal Eldras is a Wayfinder, one of the gifted few of G'il Rim who have the ability to locate anything: a lost ring, the way home, a blue dress in the marketplace, a lost child. "Finding" is a valuable talent in this city that sits dangerously close to the Rift, a mysterious, unexplored chasm. When the Rift claims his little sister in a bizarre accident, though, Win is reduced to a Wayfinder who's lost his way.
But suddenly there's no time for grief—the plague has come to the Heartland. And only healing water from the Well of Life, on the other side of the Rift, can stop it. A prophecy commands that Win must make the terrible journey to seek the Well. But no one has ever braved the dangers of the Rift and returned to tell about it! To make matters worse, Win suddenly has a traveling companion in Lady Kala, a prized-and royally stubborn—Tazi hound with a few gifts of her own. A Wayfinder with no direction can't possibly manage this imperious creature from the King's kennels, much less save a civilization on the edge of destruction.
Or can he?

So here's the guest post!

Finding my Way into Fantasy

“What is a ‘way’? If you don’t know where you are, it is something you have lost.  If you don’t know where you are going, it is something you are looking for.  And if you do know, it is something you can show someone else.  One of the most ancient skills that we possess is the ability to find our way from one place to another: wayfinding.”

That is the beginning of Vicki McVey’s book, The Sierra Club Wayfinding Book.  It was, in part, the inspiration for my book, The Wayfinder. After I finished writing The Wayfinder, I started thinking about how well the metaphor of wayfinding works for authors, too. 

Wayfinding for Authors

In my story, “wayfinding” is a special skill you either have or don’t have. If you do have the skill, then it can be developed and trained until the Finder is capable of finding anything.

Authors have a talent for Finding  a Story. It’s a skill that can be developed and trained. How does an author know where to go to Find a Story?

When authors get a Finding for a story, there are only two directions: toward the story, or away from the story. There may be false starts in the story, but sooner or later, the author recognizes that they were false starts. The truer the Finding and the more skilled the author, the stronger the story.

How I Find a Story

The first step in writing fantasy is the exercise of the imagination.  If you know the process of writing, this is the pre-writing stage.  My imagination tends to be stimulated by the combination of odd things. Just bits and pieces of things that strike me as important or unique or simply memorable for some reason.

Darcy Pattison

The question of how do we find our way around is fascinating to a person writing fantasy, because in fantasy, the setting of a story determines much of the story.  Many authors start with a strong character and build a story from there.  I tend to start with the combination of an idea and a setting.  For The Wayfinder, I knew that I wanted a wayfinder who would find his way through dangerous lands.  Ah–dangerous lands.

Already the setting is important to me. The Wayfinder takes place in the city of G’il Rim, which is located on the edge of a great rift–something like the Grand Canyon, but maybe even grander.  How would this location affect their lives?  What does it mean for a person’s life to live on the edge of something like that?  Would they be scared of heights?  What sorts of animals would live there, what sorts of plants would there be, what sort of climate? How would all those things affect the community living there?  What would they build with–stone, adobe, wood? What would they eat?  What traditions would develop?  What myths would mothers tell their children?  I make lots of notes, sometimes scribbling in notebooks that I never look at again, but it’s necessary for me to start to build up an idea of the lands where the story will take place.

In every good story, the main character has to have an important problem. What sort of problem could be dramatically played out in this type of setting?  What dramatic moments could I envision in this setting?  In other words, the setting and the character and the character’s problems are intertwined.  The story I tell could only happen in this particular setting–changing the setting would change the problem and the story.

Even at the early stages of pre-writing there is the addition of some question, some idea, some struggle with the larger questions of life–the theme.  And again, it affects the overall shape of the story.The Wayfinder’s theme is about the process of grief. In the story, Win (the main character) blames himself for his sister’s death, but must put aside his personal grief to go on a quest for a cure for the plague which is sweeping across his land.  Other themes are trust and loyalty, and wild vs. free.  By the time I’ve added odd ideas, setting, character, and themes, I’ve probably got a good idea of what the plot of the story will be.  And in fact, I do a lot of outlining in the beginning. 

Finally, the actual writing begins.  I can’t start before this because you don’t just tell a story with any collection of words. The images must fit the entire collection of ideas, it matters how you say something more than it matters what you say.

The Wayfinder begins: “The city of G’il Rim lay swaddled in f’giz, the densest mists of the year, they swirled up out of the Rift at the city’s back, covering everything with a thick blanket of damp fog.”

It matters that the city is swaddled in mists, not covered in mists, but rather covered with a “thick blanket of damp fog.”  What I want is to build an atmosphere and feeling about the city, and the specific words matter a great deal.  One of Sondheim’s songs says, “Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell.”  I want to weave a spell around the reader, so I must be very careful how I tell the tale.

So – the writing progresses. Throughout all this–the thinking and the research, there is a confidence and surety, or maybe a recognition of the fitness of this thing or that for the story.  The Finding for the Story is leading me surely toward the story.  When I wonder about adding this element or that, the only judgment that matters is this: Does it lead toward the story or away from the story?

Sharon Creech, the 1995 Newbery Winner for Walk Two Moons said, “Only after the book is completed can I begin to identify some of the seeds from which these seemingly arbitrary characters and situations come, but I am reluctant to dig too deeply. . . . The truth is: I don’t want to know the explanations for the mysteries of dreams . . . .”   Her stories remains a mystery even to her.  It’s an attitude that I don’t understand.  While I’m always surprised by what happens or by details that creep into a story unbidden, I want to understand my stories.  Only then can I control the images and produce the emotions that I want in the reader.

Thanks for the guest post, Darcy!

Darcy Pattison (visit her website or Facebook site), author and writing teacher, created the Novel Revision Retreat, in 1999 and now teaches across the nation. Translated into eight languages, her picture books and fantasy  novel  have been recognized for excellence by starred reviews, Book of the Year ards, state award lists and more. She is the 2007 recipient of the Arkansas Governor’s Arts Award for Individual Artist for her work in children’s literature.

Tomorrow I will host a giveaway of a signed copy of Darcy Pattison's YA fantasy The Wayfinder - make sure to check it out and enter!


  1. As an adult steeped in middle-grade fantasy fiction, I greatly appreciate how the plot, characterization, and, especially, the writing of "The Wayfinder" bridge the distance between M.G., YA, and adult fiction. Lisa D.

  2. Great review. The author obviously cares about her characters by giving them an awesome world to live in. I love the term wayfinding too. Is this book an apocalyptic or fantasy novel?

    And I found your link through YA Addicts Comment Exchange. Great blog by the way, I followed you.

  3. @Lena: Thanks! I actually haven't read this book yet, but it's classified as fantasy, as far as I know!

    (Sorry if my name doesn't show up - the Blogger comment form is kind of messed up, but I'm Hannah @ Paperback Treasures)

  4. I really enjoyed this book. It's very original and allegorical...glad I "found" my way to it!


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