A Sense of Adventure

The best thing about writing—and especially speculative fiction writing—is the places you can go, writes Carl Bayley, author of The Souls Series. He shares his tips for creating adventure with the BFS.

I remember in the dark days of the Covid lockdowns, a friend of mine was lamenting how awful it was not being able to go anywhere. I responded that I had been to Mars, Ganymede, and the Moon. I was, of course, referring to the book I was writing: it was taking me on an adventure that no virus and no politician could stop me from enjoying.

And therein lies the first secret of creating an adventure. As the writer, you have to be going on an adventure too, it has to excite and thrill you, because only then can you pass on that same sense of adventure, that same thrill, to your readers.

But there’s a key difference between you and your readers. You may know exactly where you are going, or you may only have a vague idea, but you will have a sense of control to some degree or other. The readers must not: to them, the twists and turns you take must be unpredictable. You can tease them, drop a few hints, let them guess some of the path ahead, but you must never let them feel they are in control—or the sense of adventure is lost.

Staying unpredictable can mean making sacrifices. Often, I have had to let a well-loved character go, sometimes killing them off in some horrible way, or giving them a heroic end, for the sake of the greater good: to keep the reader guessing, to keep that sense of adventure.

It’s no sacrifice if the reader doesn’t care about the character, though. I have been a Star Trek fan since I was a little boy, but one thing I remember about the original series is how the main characters always survived, no matter how much peril they were in, whereas almost every episode would see the introduction of a red-shirted security man we had never met before who was soon killed off. Contrast that with something like Game of Thrones where main characters fall by the wayside at every turn, or the Torchwood TV series where people you have truly grown to love meet terrible ends, and you can see how heightened the sense of adventure can become with a few meaningful sacrifices.

But, while a few sacrifices are a good thing, whatever hardships befall our protagonists, our readers must still have a sense of hope, a belief that the characters they are rooting for may get through this. That they have a chance. By all means, you can snuff out that hope on the last page if you want to write something dark—but snuff it out in the middle of your story and your adventure is gone.

Remember, you have passengers on this journey

Although we need to stay unpredictable, we need our twists and turns, and our sacrifices, we must not forget we are carrying some passengers on this journey: our readers. And they are the ones we must never lose. That’s a tricky balance to find. For me personally, two examples spring to mind: one good and one bad.

My good example is the 1996 film From Dusk Till Dawn. I was lucky enough to watch it the first time without knowing anything other than the fact it starred George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino. So, I settled down to watch and soon thought, ‘OK, so it’s a gangster film/thriller with a kidnapping, and so on.’ Then, BANG, all of a sudden, it was a vampire film! I loved it!

My bad example is the 1983 film Superman III. To me, it seemed to mix too many different concepts and, somewhere along the way, it just lost me. I stopped caring what was going to happen next because it all seemed too ridiculous.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate of mixing genres, blurring boundaries, and introducing the unexpected; it can work very well sometimes. But, go too far, and you lose the reader/viewer, they stop caring, and it’s not an adventure anymore.

As I said, it’s a question of balance. As a writer, you need to ask yourself how far you can stretch the premise you’ve set for your story, how many other elements you can mix in. It’s also a question of pace—not just about how much of the unexpected you throw in, or how bizarre a tangent it represents, but also how well you do it. New concepts need to unfold at the right speed for the reader: too fast and they are lost; too slow and you may lose their attention. It needs to be just right to give the reader that thrilling ride you want to give them, but without losing them somewhere along the way.

So, there’s my advice for what it’s worth. But what do I know: in this game, there are not, and never should be, any rules; it’s an adventure, after all!

A historical fantasy adventure-thriller, Trinity of Souls by Carl Bayley is out now through Troubador Publishing.

Photos by Marko Horvat and NEOM on Unsplash.

Meet the guest author

Tax writer turned storyteller, Carl Bayley moved to Scotland in 1997 and fell in love with its landscape and history. The country ignited his creative passion and a desire to tell timeless stories that weave together the past and present. Pausing a mere quarter of a century to write a series of popular tax guides, he developed a skill for explaining complex concepts in simple everyday language. Now, he combines skills and passion to produce a series of fantasy novels unlike any other. And, don’t worry… tax is only mentioned once!

For more writing by Carl Bayley, plus lots of information about Carl and The Souls Series, head to his website.

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