Thought of the Week: Making Music

Apologies for the delay in this week’s post—and even more apologies, because I have an admission to make: I haven’t done any (any) writing in the past two weeks.


I have, however, what I hope is a reasonable excuse. Instead of devoting my time to words on paper (or computer screen), I have instead been trying my hand for the first time in many years at writing music:


Did you know that I wrote music, once upon a time? Ahem … of course you knew—you’ve checked out all of my website, haven’t you? I have a degree in music composition from the University of Sheffield, and for quite some time in my youth thought I might be a professional composer.

Well … life got in the way, of course, and that particular dream never happened. Then, a few years ago the creative juices started flowing again, but what came out were not notes, but words. So The Redemption of Erâth was born.

But deep in the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted to return to writing music, and with the advent of advanced notation and recording software, I decided to revisit one of my earlier works: a symphony for full orchestra, first written when I was about fifteen.

Inspired by the likes of Beethoven and Dvořák, I had come up with a couple of melodic ideas that seemed to fit better in an orchestral environment rather than solo piano (which was my medium of choice up to that point), and so with all the enthusiasm of gusto of youth I set about writing a symphony. Full, four-movement piece, which would have totaled nearly an hour in length—had I ever finished it. I ended up with first, third and fourth movements, but never got around to writing the second (slow movement). What I accomplished was, for my age and relative inexperience, phenomenal; however, it was most certainly not publishable, never mind performable. I didn’t have the understanding of the immense variety of instruments in a full orchestra at the time.

But that’s what I went to university for. And now, with a solid background in composition and a shorter orchestral piece (that I’m actually quite proud of) under my belt from my final dissertation, I’ve decided, while the mood strikes me, to open up Logic Pro X and Finale 2014 and start making some music! It’s tedious, long-winded and thankless work—in two weeks I’ve managed to write approximately seven minutes’ worth of music. In the first movement alone, I have another fifteen to go.

But the joy of creating is the same as it always has been, and fret not—though Brandyé and Elven have taken a (very temporary) back seat, I will return to them and their adventures in Erâth.

For now, here is Symphony in F minor—so far!

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Thought of the Week: Character-Driven Fiction

I spent some time today (possibly wasted time—hard to say) going back through books one, two and what’s finished of three and counting the number of named characters in each book. Total so far? Ninety-three.

Nearly one hundred names in two and a half books seems pretty extreme; it means at least two newly introduced names per chapter, at least. Of course, not nearly all of these characters are important, and sometimes they are named merely for the sake of convenience (e.g. keeping track of who’s talking in dialogue). Of these ninety-three characters, twenty-four of them I’ve counted as ‘primary characters’; that is to say, characters without whom the book or the events within could not exist. Among these are:

  • Brandyé Dui-Erâth: the primary protagonist and hero of the story
  • Elven Dottery: his closest friend, and secondary protagonist from Exile onward
  • Elỳn: an Illuèn (race of Light), who features primarily in Brandyé’s dreams in the first book
  • Sonora: Elven’s sister, and catalyst for many of the events in Consolation

I ended up creating a mind map of all the characters, because I’m at the point where I’m starting to reuse certain names, simply because I forgot that I already used them before. This is what it looks like at the moment:

Mind map of the characters in The Redemption of Erâth, with partial connections shown.

Mind map of the characters in The Redemption of Erâth, with partial connections shown.

This is something I actually had to separate off from the mind map I’d created for the entire book series, which included a lot of other information such as races, themes, locations, etc. This mind map is actually so large that I feel it’s now less than helpful:

Mind map of the entire book series!

Anyway, the point of this is to say that I’m starting to feel a little overwhelmed by all these characters rearing their little heads and telling me their names. It makes me realize, though, that not all great fiction necessarily relies on a great number of characters. And that makes me despair, slightly.

How many people were in The Lord of the Rings?

How many people were in The Lord of the Rings?

Now when it comes to characters, there exist absolutely phenomenal stories with very large numbers of characters. According to Middle-Earth in Statistics, there are nearly 1,000 named characters throughout Tolkien’s extended worlds, including The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. A huge number of these are there merely in passing, but nonetheless exist and were created by Tolkien at some point. Similarly, according to (the wonderfully reliable) Yahoo Answers, there are 772 named characters throughout the Harry Potter seriesWar and Peace purportedly has over 600 in a single novel.


“Without Pip, Estella, Joe, Miss Havisham and the others, there would be no story at all.”


Miss Havisham—one of the most unforgettable characters in literary history.

Miss Havisham—one of the most unforgettable characters in literary history.

However, one of my favorite works of fiction ever, Charles Dickens’ masterpiece Great Expectations, has only eighteen characters worth mentioning (according to SparkNotes). How did an enormous epic such as Great Expectations manage to reach its conclusion with such a comparably small number of characters? How did Dickens manage to keep the reader interested in so few people over such a long novel?

To my mind, the answer lies not only in the development of the characters, which Dickens does masterfully, but in the narrative itself, and the fact that in Great Expectations, the entire story is the story of the characters. It’s a life tale. Without Pip, Estella, Joe, Miss Havisham and the others, there would be no story at all. No one of them could be removed without severely affecting the outcome of the story, or potentially rendering it utterly impossible.

As much as I love the Harry Potter series, the same can’t truthfully be said, and this is evidenced by the film series: so many characters from the books were excised, condensed or changed that in some places things seem almost utterly different. Did Harry really need Hermione and Ron? Arguably not—the relationship between the three central characters, whilst important, doesn’t necessarily drive the story. Harry could have been attributed the characteristics of his two friends, and the battle against Voldemort and evil would have remained relatively unchanged.

Frodo and Sam—who really needed the other more?

Frodo and Sam—who really needed the other more?

To a lesser extent, the same could be said of The Lord of the Rings. Did Frodo really need Sam? Arguably, Merry and Pippin were more crucial to the plot than the relationship between these two main characters, for they encouraged the Ents to war, without which Helm’s Deep likely would have fallen.

And it makes me wonder about the direction of my own story. In some ways, The Redemption of Erâth is, like Great Expectations, the story of a single man’s life, from childhood to old age (much of which we have yet to see). But I’m starting to wonder if the story is too plot-driven; how much does the plot rely on the relationships between the various people of the world I’ve created? As far as I can see (and bear in mind, I can see a little further than you, the reader, at the moment!), there are only three people in the entire story that absolutely must exist for the story to be; much like Harry Potter only ‘needs’ Harry and Voldemort, or The Lord of the Rings only ‘needs’ Frodo and Sauron. At least I have more than that, but when I think about a masterpiece like Great Expectations, I realize that every one of those eighteen characters absolutely must be there, or the story fails. And it makes me wonder—where does my own story lie?

Which do you think is better—character- or plot-driven fiction?


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The Redemption of Erâth: Book 3, Chapter 7

Chapter 7: The Place of Men

White towers and spires of glass—countless and reaching to a one for the sky, the majestic edifices of Viura Râ cast sweeping shadows in the early morning sun, proclaiming this city above all others the home of wonder and invention for all of Erâth. Light glinted everywhere, so that the city seemed to sparkle and shimmer, and Brandyé’s heart lifted at such a sight of beauty. It seemed to him there could be no place in the world that spoke of such calm, of such wisdom, and such infinite grandeur.

And yet the city was not the only wonder to behold, for it sat on what seemed to be the very edge of the world: not two miles distant to the east, the ocean seemed to falter and end, tumbling eternally into a white abyss from which rose a obscuring mist and permitted no further view in that direction. Yet through this mist shone the sun nonetheless in all its glory, and its warmth combined with the cool sea breeze served to invigorate and refresh, and Brandyé thought that there was nothing that could possibly go wrong in a place such as this.

So he arrived at the city on the edge the world, the Eternal City, and his excitement could hardly be contained. He and the other ship’s laborers were the last to disembark, of course, and he spent their time waiting and shutting down the furnaces in endless conversation with any who would listen, talking of how he would find this Ermèn, and how he would find his place in the world, and all would be well. He felt that this was something he had been long awaiting, despite his lack of memory prior to the forests of Golgor, and when he finally stepped onto the solid earth of the city’s outskirts and away from the gently swaying decks of the ship, he was certain his heart would burst for sheer joy.

His euphoria was not long-lived, however, for once he left the ship he found himself very much alone in the busy and bustling crowd of the port, and knew not where to begin. His excitement gradually faded, and first confusion and then concern took its place. For a while he allowed the tide of the crowd to take him where it willed, past many enormous vessels equal—and even greater—in size than that which had borne him hither, and chaos reigned all around.

After some time Brandyé spotted the unmistakable sign of an inn, this one bearing the title of The Bottomless Flagon, and he pushed his way through the crowd to arrive at its front door, held wide by the many folk passing in and out of it. It was near lunchtime, as far as his nose could tell, and he rested his hand momentarily upon the small purse of coins Yateley had given him, now greatly depleted. He hoped it would be enough at least to buy himself one last meal, and entered the inn.

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