The Cult of Yex Saga is a seven novel fantasy epic by C. Parker Garlitz & Jason F. Smith. We are in our 15th year of working to perfect this fantasy story.
The Cult of Yex saga is a multi-part fantasy epic:
The Cult of Yex saga as a fantasy series came about as an afterthought. The Third Edition of Dungeons & Dragons™ was released in 2000 and it changed everything. It completely revitalized the game. Jason and I had been avid D&D™ players since about age 10 in 1978. We completely wore out our old 1st edition rule books. We lost steam during the 2nd edition era, but maybe it was a phase of life issue for us. School, jobs and family made gaming difficult. Either way, we didn’t play as much as we used to back in the good old days.
Enter 3rd edition. We were blown away by how elegant the rules system was, and how it managed to completely preserve all that was great about the game and at the same time fix all the stuff what was really problematic. We returned to the game in full force. One of the real game changers was the fact that D&D3e was released with an open game license. This basically meant that 3rd party publishers could write and produce supplements for the game. It didn’t take us long decide we wanted to try our hand at writing for the game as freelancers. The smart thing to do would have been to try writing a simple straight forward D&D module, but we have this habit of pushing things to extremes and before long, we had mapped out a complete fantasy campaign designed to take a new party of adventurers from level 1 to level 20. It would be a campaign consisting of 8 full length modules, and in writing terms near half a million words.
We meticulously plotted the entire campaign and wrote all 8 modules, and support materials. We spent so much time and effort on creating and polishing a perfect plot that we couldn’t keep up with the evolution of the game. The bottom line is by the time we got a publisher, Troll Lord Games, the game had evolved to Edition 3.5 of the rules system and the market had become so saturated with 3rd party published product that the market was basically collapsing. The Troll Lords published the first module (Bystle Vale) anyway, but by then there were unsettling rumors that a 4th edition of the game was on the way. And we didn’t want to adapt it again to a new rules system (and it would turn out that 4th edition, which we hated like death, was so completely different that it wouldn’t have worked anyway). So we were at a loss as to what to do with this carefully plotted fantasy story. At the time it seemed that our timing was bad, but it would turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Over lunch one day as we were pondering what to do, Jason recommended we abandon publishing for the game industry and instead turn the story into a series of fantasy novels. Among the significant challenges with this were coming up with compelling characters and “un-d-and-d-ifying” the story. It would be a huge amount of work, but we were confident because we believed we had a story that was perfectly plotted from front to back. Each novel would have it’s own tight plot, nested within a larger and equally tightly plotted series story arc. It may be serendipity that we plotted the story first as an RPG adventure. In that approach, main characters are completely ignored, because of course the players of the game supply the characters. So writing an RPG campaign forced us to continually refine the plot until we felt it was strong enough to stand on it’s own with no characters. We felt that with a rock solid and exiting plot in place, if we put in the requisite amount of work building out truly compelling characters and anchored them deeply into the setting and story, we’d really have something special. We have literally been polishing and refining every aspect of this story for almost 14 years now.
Having spent so much time on a single story, we have had the opportunity to really develop a philosophical approach to how we wanted to tell the story. Once you start down the path of being a storyteller, you find yourself mercilessly dissecting other stories for their strengths, weaknesses and how the storytellers used different storytelling techniques to propel the reader / viewer. We carefully picked the storytelling techniques we liked from novels, movies and television.
Plot: As mentioned above, the Cult of Yex Saga started with the plot and we have been obsessively focused on refining the plot until it is true. We were heavily influenced by two of the most solidly plotted books we have both read. Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling. Season 1 of Dexter, The Back to the Future movies and Star Wars Episode IV could also be added to the list. These stories have lots to recommend them, but for us it is the incredible plotting that pushes these stories into legendary status. As a quick elaboration, look at Star Wars IV: A New Hope, compared to Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace. Episode IV is as near perfect a movie as you could ask for, but watch it again and focus on the plot. Notice how the movement of the plans for the Death Star draw an elegant straight line right through the story and drive all the action. It’s completely logical, with the perfect mix of simplicity and elegance to make it comprehensible on the one hand, but requires investment on the part of the viewer on the other. Compare it to the nonsensical, convoluted plotting in Episode I. Don’t even get us started. Plot for us is primary, not secondary. We attended a writers workshop together conducted by a famous author. His primary foci were characterization and story telling technique. Important to be sure, but plot for him was almost an afterthought. His only advice on plotting was “when you get to a pivotal point in the story, just have the characters do the opposite of what common sense dictates they would do.” Um… no. The Walking Dead, for example clearly takes his advice, as the action is driven by characters who make the stupidest possible decisions. It’s maddening and frustrating as a viewer and it gets old. A perfectly plotted story is so rare that when you find one, it’s a real treat. Plot matters to us and we have worked on it obsessively. Our feeling is that no matter how awesome other aspects of a story might be, they simply cannot compensate for weakness in the plot.
Peeling the Onion: Lost and the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft are huge influences here. In these stories the reader / viewer gets the immediate sense that there is much more happening in the story than what is apparent on the surface. This has the effect of hooking the reader and not letting go. The reader is propelled along in the story as the onion gets peeled, and every newly uncovered layer makes it clear that there are more layers to peel than previously thought. We suspect that the writers of Lost were fans of Lovecraft and perfected his onion peel storytelling technique. We both binged on Lost precisely because of the onion peel technique, but don’t get us started on the ending and the catastrophic problems with the plot, including the multitude of orphaned loose ends. The biggest problem with Lost is that the layers of the onion were illusory all along. They made you think there was this underlying narrative that would explain everything after you peeled away all the layers. Truth is, there wasn’t any “there” there. Imagine if they had plotted it well and there was an amazing resolution to the story instead of copping out with a recycled Newhart ending. Sheesh. We have worked very hard to make the reader feel the true depth of the onion in the Cult of Yex from the very first chapter… and trust us, there is a “there” there.
Characters: We love compelling characters and there are so many influences here, we couldn’t possibly list them. Let’s cover the basics. David Eddings’ approach to deliberately using character archetypes. We didn’t do do it in as straight forward and deliberate a manner, but certainly we paid attention here. Dean Kunz is for us the master of the compelling character, and was a big influence here, especially in the realm of villians. We love the Kunz villians and have worked very hard to write villians you love to hate. The character dynamic in Arrested Development was also very interesting where all the eccentric characters orbit the ‘normal’ character. More recently, the techniques used to develop characters in Breaking Bad were very interesting and helped us make some refinements. The bottom line is that while we developed the plot in a vacuum without any characters, we have spent just as much time developing and refining our characters. Our goal here is to develop characters so interesting that you’d be glad to spend time with them regardless of plot, setting or story.
Beginnings: Little else drives us as insane as a book that doesn’t “get good” until you are fifty or one hundred pages in. To hell with that. Life is to damn short to be giving your money or more importantly, your time, to an author who disrespects you by not putting effort into the first page of their work. The first sentence, the first paragraph and the first page should grab you by the throat and jerk you into the story. Every time. Period.
Moments: We have all experienced a moments in great story where the great story gets even greater. Parts of the book you love so much you never forget them, you re-read them, and you talk about them with your friends. Moments so awesome that you couldn’t put the book down for love nor money. One of our all time favorites… spoiler alert… is the moment in Glen Cook’s Shadow’s Linger where Marron Shed beats the hell out of Krage and then sells him to the black castle while he is still alive. Absolutely awesome moment! Any book that delivers a moment that great is a good book. Any book that delivers many such awesome moments… that’s a truly great book. Our goal as writers is to deliver many such moments in every book.
Point of View: We tell the story of the Cult of Yex saga in a style we call “Convergent Points of View” or CPoV for short. We are telling a huge epic that spans eons and involves many crucial characters. While we certainly have a primary character, Cael, there are many other integral characters from whose point of view we write. In some cases, the same event is told from the point of view of two or more characters where new information is revealed in the telling. In some cases we have had to manage minute by minute synchronization of character movements and actions to really nail the CPoV. This creates little mini-onions with their own layers which get completely peeled within a few chapters or a few novels. Scenes which are told from the POV of one character turn out to have much more going on in them than you expect, and the true events aren’t revealed until additional points of view are added.
The Itch: The itch is what we call our most fundamental quality control measure. Our desire to create a perfectly plotted epic is all consuming and when in the process of story boarding or writing something doesn’t feel right, we call it an “itch”. It’s an itch in your brain that says something here isn’t right and we have to scratch away until we figure out exactly what is causing the itch and then adjust the story until it all fits. We have had itches that took months and even years to solve, and others that were identified and fixed quickly. The point is we aren’t going to settle for settling. We want our readers to know: you are safe with us. We aren’t going to read you into a corner where we we don’t have a solid or plausible resolution, our characters aren’t going to make stupid decisions for the sake of advancing the plot. If they do make what appears to be a stupid decision, there will be a damn good and logical reason why they did it, and you will discover it in time as the story unfolds. We won’t leave loose ends, we won’t flub the endings, we won’t compromise common sense, we won’t do things that don’t make sense for the sake of effect and we damn sure won’t leave plot holes you could drive a truck through. Itches, after all, must be scratched.
The Punch Up: Both of us have have particular strengths and weaknesses as we write. It turns our we compliment each other well in this regard. Where one might be inclined to gloss over a spot or take a short cut in an area, the other notices that it is not as strong as it should be and it can therefore be addressed. We refer to this as the “punch up”. As it turns out, some of the weakest sections of first drafts have ended up being the strongest moments in the final draft because of repeated punch ups. Writing alone, we might have simply moved on to other aspects of the story we identified with more, and thereby left a diamond in the rough undiscovered. If a part of the writing is weak, the one will tell the other; punch it up. Once re-written the other will take a stab at punching it up even more. In some cases we have re-punched a piece of writing countless times until it is where it needs to be.
Goldilocks Descriptions: The biggest challenge for fantasy is the inability of the genre to escape swimming in a sea poured by Tolkien. Given that its a beautiful sea filled with warm water, it’s not really that much to complain about, but when you find a great fantasy story that is outside the Tolkien mold, it’s a real treat. Aside from the inescapable influence of Tolkien, we feel that many fantasy novels suffer from abusively long and unnecessary descriptions. Glen Cook’s Black Company Saga is a real departure from excessive descriptions. Glen uses amazingly sparse descriptions, even going so far as to rarely tell you who is speaking, leaving it for the reader to infer based on the context. A Glen Cook dialogue can go on for pages of discussion between multiple characters without so much as a “said Croaker” to ground you. Cook leaves it to the reader to fill in virtually all the description that would normally be included by any other author. You’d think it would be unpleasant to read, and it certainly takes some getting used to… but it is amazingly refreshing. We can’t tell you how many books we have put down because the descriptions are soooooo overbearing and unnecessary. Our focus is to hit the Goldilocks Zone of descriptions, neither too little, nor too much. As governing principles, we use descriptions to either ground the reader in the story, or to create and enhance an atmosphere. Ideally the descriptive text is brief, and accomplishes both major tasks in the same stroke. Read the first paragraphs on page 1 of Demon Lord of Karanda by David Eddings for an example of effective atmosphere and grounding. J.K. Rowling does a spectacular job of creating atmosphere in all seven Harry Potter books, without over-doing descriptions. If a description doesn’t ground you or create atmosphere it will be punched up or cut out.
Delivering The Goods
To have a philosophy for writing is one thing and executing that philosophy is another. We know exactly the kind of epic story we want to deliver but we are unable to judge if we accomplished it or not. That is for you to decide. If you have comethis far why not take the next step and start reading? As stated above, if the first page hasn’t grabbed you by the throat and yanked you into the story, then by all means… do not read further.