When I started writing Wizards I spent some time trying to figure out what sort of genre it fit into. I mean, okay, it’s science fiction, borderline fantasy but I needed to know more specifically than that. Because — wizards, okay? But we’re not talking epic fantasy wizards. There’s no great quest or universal do-what that they’re facing. There aren’t heroes and villains in those kinds of broad brush strokes. So what do my wizards do?
I knew the framework I wanted for my characters but… My wizard works for the government, okay? And there’s a lot more to that. And there’s a lot of ways where it’s not really true but… Just take that to start with. He works for the government sometimes. So what? He’s a cop? A spy? An action hero? (Well, okay, yes, action hero, I think that’s rather built in. Although less action hero more action hello-did-I-set-that-on-fire?)
But this story was just never going to be a police procedural. So I thought — detective story? But just — no. I mean, I admit I started dreaming about my wizard while reading the Dresden Files books but I don’t actually want to go there. I enjoy detective stories and mysteries and other crime-solving things but I don’t really want to write them. (That being said, the first book-like-thing I ever wrote was a thriller and I barely even read those. So.)
But anyway, I was rolling these ideas around in my head, trying to get a handle on how these characters work in their world. And then I figured out where I was going wrong. I was looking at it from the wrong side. They’re not solving crimes, they’re doing crime. And everything just fell into place. Apparently I am much happier writing an active rather than a reactive role and being devious and weaselly rather than saving the damsel in distress and punishing the guilty. (Can’t go around punishing the guilty. Where would I end up? Honestly, always beg for mercy not justice.)
And okay, there’s a level of conflict in all of that. Because my wizard sort of works for the government but he’s not doing crime for the government. (Except maybe sometimes if it lets him manipulate the situation to get him out of trouble. But then it’s not crime technically it’s minorly-illegal-acts-in-the-pursuit-of-a-larger-end. Or at least that’s the way he phrases it when he’s called on it.)
Chris G: What are you guys up to?
Me & Paul M: Fighting crime.
Chris G: So, how’s that going? Killed any villains?
Paul M: No, we kind of made one.
Me: We’re not very good at it…
So it turns out my heroes — well, they’re not villains, but they’re criminals. Well, a bit. Well, some of the time. Well, from a certain point of… yeah, no, they’re pretty much criminals. Most action heroes are, really. They go about endangering lives, destroying property, making ordinary citizens aid and abet them in ludicrous, thoroughly questionable acts, imprisoning people against their will… (Even if they’re bad guys, they’re supposed to be arrested properly. There are rules. Heroes never do it right.)
Not that I’m justifying it or anything. I’m just saying, as action heroes go, mine are simply more up front about which side of the law they’re on. Unless they’re talking to their bosses. In which case they’re absolutely acting within the appropriate guidelines and only responding to the situation and have no idea how that caught on fire and they were nowhere near it anyway and they really need a drink now and possibly some bandages for no reason at all, why are you looking at me like that?