Every book you read can teach you something to help improve your writing from pitfalls to avoid to examples to follow, and in this series of blog posts I’m going to talk about the authors that have had the most impact on me and my writing, and what I took away from them. First up: J.R.R. Tolkien.
JRR Tolkien is the reason I love fantasy. From the time my uncle gave me a copy of The Hobbit in the fourth grade to when I read the Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales looking for more Middle Earth to consume after I read the Lord of the Rings, I was hooked on fantasy. It was the stepping stone that gave me this wonderful, fantastical world that is Fantasy. Everywhere in Tolkien’s world there is some new magic to find, whether your traipsing through the Old Forest hoping Old Man Willow doesn’t take a dislike to you, or crossing the Dead Marshes and trying to avoid the lure of the candles. I learned the joy of awe and wonder.
But it wasn’t just my love of Fantasy that I learned from Tolkien, he taught me one of the greatest truths: nothing is free, everything truly great from saving the world to saving the shire is paid in pain. Your character’s journey shouldn’t be easy. Things shouldn’t just fall into their laps. They have to reach and struggle to overcome the obstacles placed before them. And those obstacles should have a lasting effect on the character. Everyone is changed in Lord of the Rings, but none more so than our erstwhile hero, Frodo.
Tolkien served in the trenches in WW1, and it shows as Frodo marches into his own literal hell and walks out carrying not only physical wounds, but emotional wounds. And not just Frodo, all the Hobbits were marked, changed, suffering their own PTSD. They return home and find they cannot talk about their experiences to anyone, because only when you’ve gone through suffering can you understand it. Tolkien learned the lesson that nothing is free, and he taught it to his characters.
Do not be afraid to let your characters suffer. Do not be afraid to let your characters be scarred by their obstacles. If it comes too easy then where is the tension? Where are the stakes? How can your readers care if they know your character is going to succeed easily.
And that’s the last lesson Tolkien taught me. If your readers care about the characters you’ve written, the world you’ve created, than you works will be remembered long after you’re dead.