Thursday, January 17, 2013

Inspiration Through Magic Artwork

As I briefly mentioned in my first few posts, I am currently working on my first novel, a stand-alone adult fantasy novel. I started last summer, made dramatic progress in the early fall, and have made slow but steady progress since then. The first draft is just over 60,000 words long at this point, and given how much of the tale is left to tell, it should reach at least 100,000 words by the time the rough draft is complete. In the weeks ahead, I look forward to sharing more about this work in progress.

But today I want instead to share a little bit about how this particular story was inspired. Specifically, I want to talk about how artwork from Magic the Gathering provided some of the key ideas that came together to form the basis for this tale. Back in May of 2012, the set Avacyn Restored was released to the public. Like most devoted players, I eagerly kept up with the spoilers as they were released, and even wrote an article about which cards in the new set would make an impact for Standard Pauper. The theme of a world of darkness being restored by angelic agents of light was a very compelling world idea to me, and as I browsed through the artwork, I found the inspiration to take the fragmented ideas I had been playing with and turn them into a full-fledged story concept. Let's take a look at four of these specific art pieces.

In this scene, a commander places a token of blessing and protection upon a solider as the sun begins to set. Imagine a world where the members of a holy Order were thrust into a world of darkness, through a ritual that took place as the sun was setting. These brave warriors would need the blessing of their holy god to protect them against the corrupting influences of the evil realm they were entered. Thus, each would receive the blessing from their commander or high priest. But where were they going, and why?

In this scene, angels descend from the heavens to come to the aid of humanity. Imagine a world that had been held captive to this ancient evil, who were then set free by a host of angelic warriors. Perhaps their aid had been obtained by a brave hero, who ventured into an ancient temple and evoked the name of some forgotten god. By entreating this god, these brave angelic warriors descended from heaven to stand with humanity to overcome this ancient evil empire. But if the evil empire was defeated, why did the struggle continue?

In this scene the statue of an angel sits in the courtyard of a city or temple. This inspired the explanation I needed. The angelic warriors were not wholly successful in defeating the empire. Something went tragically wrong. So they were forced to sacrifice themselves in order to banish the darkness away from the world. Now, every so often, this holy Order must reenter into the dark realm where the evil empire was banished. There they must battle to protect a stone statue created as part of the banishing ritual.

But in the end, the Order triumphs. They are able to undo the tragedy that forced their sacrifice, and in one heroic night, they defeat the evil empire once and for all. And in doing so, they restore these angelic warriors to life. As the sun rises, these beings rise back into the heavens, forevermore to protect humanity from the forces of darkness. Whenever evil is found, one has one to call upon their name, and once more light will triumph over darkness.

Obviously, these details alone are insufficient for an entire story, especially since this is little more than world-building and a very rough sketch of major events. Characters and plot would be needed to intersect these details and bring them to life. But the seeds of my story would never have come together in the way that they did without the fantastic artwork from Avacyn Restored.

Of course, inspiration can strike from a variety of different sources. But one of the things I love so much about Magic the Gathering is that underlying this great game, with all its rules and mechanics, is a succession of great fantasy tropes, plots, and characters, all of which can be a rich source of inspiration for a budding fantasy author such as myself. For others like myself who both enjoy this game and desire to write fantasy, I would encourage you to pay close attention to the artwork of Magic sets as they are released. Who knows? You might just find your inspiration for the next major fantasy novel!

So where do you find your inspiration, my readers? I'd love to hear more about what inspires you. Or, perhaps you can share your own thoughts about the artwork that stands behind Magic the Gathering. In any case, your comments are very much appreciated. Thanks for reading!


  1. I totally agree that MTG is an excellent source of inspiration for speculative fiction. Back in 2008, I purchased A Planeswalker's Guide To Alara, the only planeswalker's guide WOTC published in print (nowadays they do them online as part of previews). I still read this slim volume to this day and believe that the Shards of Alara, the subsequent Conflux, and the formation of New Alara in Alara Reborn is the greatest story arc with the greatest potential for a truly epic series of fantasy novels.

    Imagine this: a trilogy for Bant focusing on the hero of the caste of Unbeholden, Lisha of the Azure, being hunted by the greatest warrior on the shard, Rafiq of the Many, and an investigation into what make sigils actually tick...

    A trilogy on the world of Esper, where Tezzeret the Seeker becomes fascinated with the working of etherium and makes his way to the long-lost sphinx who holds its secrets, Crucius the Mad...

    A trilogy set on the hell-hole of Grixis, where planeswalkers from other planes come to aid the remaining Vithians against an assault of necromancers and discover there is an actually tangible element to the coveted resource vis...

    A trilogy taking place on Jund telling the story of the Kresh the Bloodbraided from the Dark Climb of his childhood, his first Life Hunt of a dragon, and the discovery that there is more to sangrite crystals than meets the eye...

    And finally a trilogy on Naya where a Cylian Elf, an Exberant human, and a banished Qasali Nacatl go an on unlikely journey to the discover the true meaning of Progenitus, the Soul of the World...

    These could all lead into a four-part telling of the Conflux, a battle between Nicol Bolas himself, the planeswalkers from Grixis, and the characters from the previous five trilogies banding together to defeat him, and revelation that sigils, etherium, vis, sangrite, and the Soul of the World are all the same substance, the very essence of Alara itself, naturally ending in Bolas' defeat.

    Which would then lead into a seven-part Chronicles of the Knights of New Alara traveling across the newly reconverged plane in an effort to unite the squabbling factions that have emerged and generally fighting bad guys wherever they find them in the grand tradition of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

    Now wouldn't you just gobble those books up if Wizards had the good sense and vision to have them published? I know I would! But more and more each day I figure I might have to do it myself and submit them to the fan fiction forums on MTGSalvation. Obviously I couldn't publish them due to the licensing concerns, but fan fiction seems a perfect way to hone writing skills practicing for a truly original work based in real life.

    As for what inspires me most, I'm on a big political philosophy kick right now, and my dream is to compose a fantasy epic that establishes the basis of a philosophy that synthesizes and reconciles the left-vs-right paradigm that seems to divide humanity when we must become united in order to survive as a species. Much in the same way Ayn Rand sci-fi books have inspired modern day libertarians (though I haven't read her yet, I'm a well-convinced democratic socialist, though I am in the process of challenging that long-held view). That's what makes any work of fiction most powerful I think: a philosophical message. It adds so much to a story. Just by looking at a Wikipedia entry on it (since I haven't gotten round to reading them yet) it seems that Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time saga has much to do with Eastern philosophy like Buddhism. Since I am a Buddhist, I'm sure I'd enjoy it.

    Anyway, sorry for the long and rambling post :-) Very cool to hear about your project inspired by AVR. Keep plugging away at it, I have no doubt it will come out great and marketable.

  2. Thanks for posting. Love the ideas about stories for Shards of Alara! While I don't really think Wheel of Time is very true to Buddhism (more of an idealized Western version) if you are interested in the fantasy genre, it's definitely a must read.