Paul Welch

On Fantasy, Writing & the Journey to Publication

A Journey to Storytelling

I have been a writer – a storyteller – since I was 13 years old.

When I was younger, I struggled at school in English. It was never my forte. In fact, in grade 5 I believe my grade in English might have been a D.

I never had much interest in books. In a heated spar with my 15-year old sister, she once lobbed the word “illiterate” at me because I only read Calvin & Hobbes. (Note my surprize when, after obtaining a degree in Psychology and Philosophy and re-reading Calvin & Hobbes, I was blown away by the profundity of Bill Watterson’s work. It likely had a major influence on my post-secondary academic pursuits.)

At my family’s cottage on the 13th summer of my youth, I was introduced to the world of Fantasy by a neighbor. He spoke to me of fantasy books and of these incredible on-line, text-based roleplaying games called MUDs – Multi-User Dungeons. We were playing badminton on the green grass, overlooking the blue waters of the lake, and my world exploded with the possibility of playing an elf, dwarf, orc, or troll, a warrior, mage, thief, or cleric.

It changed everything.

I began playing MUDs that September, logging on to the local FreeNet through our old 2400-baud modem. My parent s were worried, for their only son was beginning to explore the mysterious “cyberspace,” and these MUDs weren’t the typical pastime of 13-year-old boys.

If you’ve never played a MUD before, allow me to give an overview.

MUDs are 100% text-based. There are no graphics, no special effects to seduce and entertain you. Sometimes, you’ll find color (and at the time, this was the most impressive aspect of some MUDs.) You would create a character and decide what race, class, and moral alignment that character might have. You’d pick your skill sets and your preferred weapon, and you’d be thrown into the game full-force. You created a character – a role – that you would play in the adventures and storytelling – the role-play – that you’d encounter.

Rooms had descriptions, with objects you could obtain and equip. There were channels to chat on, areas to travel through, and guilds to join. There were players from around the world, sharing in the game at any given time. People and monsters were strings of texts you could look at, interact with. If you felt bold, and if the MUD allowed it, you could even fight them.

And to me, it was incredible.

I jumped head-first into the realm of MUDs, beginning originally on a mud called MadROM (because the neighbor at my cottage played there.) It was here that I met one special woman whom I am still in correspondence with today. Indeed, she is the sole inspiration behind the character of Ischade in my first book, In the Shadows of the Dawn.

My parents were understandably concerned. Their son was suddenly a full-time online “gamer.” I spent anywhere from 3-14 hours a day playing on MUDs. My parents tried to limit my online time, but when faced with my logic – “Would you rather I sit in front of the TV for 14 hours?” – it was a near-impossible task to persuade me otherwise. I claimed my homework was always complete, and that it wouldn’t get in the way of my schooling. My report card would ultimately be the deciding factor.

Fast forward to midterms and an A+ in English, and I was victorious.

MUDs also launched me into a world of exploration. Philosophy and religion became avid interests of mine. I was introduced to the world of Fantasy, and the “illiterate” 13-year old was suddenly reading Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan, Mercedes Lackey, and Terry Goodkind.

It also introduced me to the world of storytelling and roleplaying. It is here, I believe, that my passion for theatre – for the performing arts – and for writing – the telling of stories – was born.

I am grateful for MUDs and for summers at the cottage.

They have undeniably shaped who I am.

Why did you first begin telling stories? What form did they take, and with whom did you share them? Did your passion for storytelling dictate aspects of your life or career? Share your journey in the comments below – I’d love to hear about it.

5 responses to “A Journey to Storytelling

  1. dmmaster42 January 31, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    I started dreaming up ridiculous stories when I was young, before fourth grade maybe, and before then I was role-playing and making stories with my toys. So I’ve really always been a story teller. It probably partially comes from listening to books on cassette tapes going to bed when I was really young. I have always loved telling stories, but I really started writing after I started reading Harry Potter. It made my imagination run wild.

    Then I started playing D&D, and I never looked back. I was dedicated to being a writer from that point on. I couldn’t be happier with that choice. I believe you have to do what you love and I love writing and creating stories to tell people.

  2. Paul Welch January 31, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Ah, there’s that as well.. I used to entertain myself for hours playing on my own.. in the woods, in the lake, or in the basement. Creating imaginative scenes and playing them out. Vivid imagination.

    Kids don’t seem to do that much any more. Everything is given to them through the media. Some colleagues have noticed it with teaching aspiring theatre actors.. it can be a challenge sparking that imagination and setting it aflame.

  3. Siân February 1, 2012 at 5:00 am

    I don’t remember learning to read, but I do know that whenever I read something, I would make up stories in my head about it, complete self-insert, but not of the romantic kind; I was too young.

    My grandmother was a superb storyteller. She wrote poetry, but in the old days, she would have made a spectacular bard (except there were probably no female bards). She was a beautiful orator, whether declaiming Shakespeare, Milton, Coleridge, or telling stories from her own eventful life. It enthralled me, and I wanted to tell stories too, but being very shy, could not imagine speaking them aloud to any-one save my younger siblings. (I would do that when they went to bed.)

    I wrote my first story at about nine or ten, for my brother and sister. They became heroes when some kind of time-warp allowed dinosaurs to return to the modern world. Usually I wrote poems about nature, the seasons and the weather, but then got a pony and started writing ‘girl-and-pony’ adventure stories. Don’t judge me! d;-)

    One cannot control many of the events that happen in one’s life, children even less than adults, and I realized that at age ten, when something happened that truly opened the world of writing to me. I could escape into books of course, and did, but writing gave me complete control. When I wrote, I realized, I could create worlds and people who did what I wanted them to do. I was not at any-one’s mercy. I began to write to take myself away from the real world. It was like climbing through a secret door, and closing it behind me.
    From about twelve to fifteen, if I happened to leave some writing around, I would frequently come back to it to find that my grandmother or one of my uncles, an English teacher, had quite automatically ‘red-penned’ it. If it had been schoolwork, it would not have mattered, but it made me almost hysterical to think that any-one, even people close to me, were entering my private world without my permission, so I began to hide everything I wrote.

    When I was about twelve some-one gave me a book on British castles, and I began reading history (both novelized and non-fiction). My interest turned from ponies to history. I began writing stories set in the time of the Crusades or the Wars of the Roses. After, at about 16, when I read Tolkien, I knew that I desperately wanted to write fantasy — and for years I did creating worlds and galactic empires, though I continued working on one particular 12th Century historical adventure for many years off and on. (I finished it, then promptly lost the last six chapters on my old computer, so I never count it as finished.)

    It was always books that inspired me, or history, not films or television series. Novels contained stories, but there were stories behind and beyond those stories, just as in the real world. I found myself wondering what was happening in one place while the action in the book concentrated on another, or what was the story of that character who makes a small appearance, and disappears from the pages? History piqued me in that sense also. What was behind the stories, what was really happening?

    All my family knew I wrote excessively, and naturally they asked if I was going to write something that would be published. I tried to explain that the act of writing was the point for me; there was no dream of being published. This resulted in many, ‘You’re wasting your time. If you’re going to write so much try and get it published.’ arguments.
    I hid my work even more stubbornly, as it seemed no-one could understand the wonderful freedom I felt in climbing through my secret doors and. Just. Writing.

    Not long after the Fellowship if the Ring was released on DVD, I found a role-play site. It was play-by-post, therefore some-one wrote something and another person replied, creating a story. Since I knew Middle-earth so well by then, I was glad of an excuse to write within it, but was still horribly shy, even though I was far older than most of the members. After a while, there were just three of us, who decided we wanted to create real ‘new’ stories, not just re-enact the films. We made the board private, and I let rip. I wrote male characters, usually amoral and ambiguously sexual ones, created empires, waged wars, dealt with politics and dark sorcery, killed and blackmailed, married, fathered children.
    It was a huge story which lasted for about four years. I have no idea how much I wrote. It was almost like writing a play for the two others to act within, but in about 2004-5, I had a character fall into my head whose story I immediately knew from beginning to end. That’s never happened to me before. He was not a canon character to the Silmarillion or Lord of the Rings, but an Original Character, (An OC, as fandom calls characters you create yourself.)
    I wanted to write his story, and eventually stopped role-playing to do so. By that time, I discovered fanfiction, and realized if I wanted to, I could publicly post the story to see if any-one actually liked my writing. (Oh, good grief! The terror!)
    Role-playing, albeit on a private site with only two other people, had given me a little more confidence in people reading my writing, but still. I was on strong painkilling meds when I hit that ‘publish’ button.

    ‘If you changed the names, you would have an original novel,’ my partner pointed out exasperatedly, after the fourth book of the series was posted.
    ‘No,’ I said. ‘Middle-earth is our world before recorded history, the Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings are a mythological history. It’s huge and epic, and there is So. Much. Room.
    (The Silmarillion, including the appendices, is 365 pages, and covers thousands and thousands of years. It is like writing within history, prising apart the pages to find the untold stories that hide there.)

    Now there are seven novel-length stories in my series, three works-in-progress, one novel that will take place in the distant future and is therefore on hold. I don’t regret using Middle-earth as a place to set the stories, and therefore being unable to publish them, because I believe Tolkien did want to create a legendary history of the world; it’s like writing within Homer or the Mabinogion, even the Bible.
    The most amazing part is that I have readers and reviewers. I get comments on the psychological aspects of power, slavery, guilt, hate, love, responsibility and grief, and that continues to astonish and humble me beyond measure. I am just a useless grunt who spent most of her life reading and writing to get away from real life!

    Would I continue if I had no readers, and no comments, and it just remained on my computer? Yes, and can foresee a time when I will. I am invested in my ‘alternative universe’ and the characters I have created, their long (long) lives, and their struggles. I would still write just for me, because I believe I *am* a storyteller, just…not a professional one. :)

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