Forming a party: Lessons from the greats

The fantasy genre is exploding. With modern hits like Game of Thrones gaining a foothold in pop culture, we are poised to see a spike in young author interest.

In the fantasy genre, few events are more important than the party formulation. The beginning notes of a work set the tone for what is to come, and if the beginning isn’t right what comes next doesn’t matter.

Fans of the fantasy genra will know that Robert Jordan and J.R.R Tolkien are quite possible the greatest two writers in recent history. As such, it is no coincidence that the Wheel of Time epic and Lord of the Ring have two of the most famous party formation sequences in fantasy.

Forming a group requires great care. One cannot simply throw the characters together and have them be upon there way. Motivation must be established, and a link to the characters must be formed. Many young authors make the fatal mistake of introducing a group before care for the individual characters is established. Robert Jordan’s “Eye of the World” is one of my favorite first books in a series due to his great care.

It is not until halfway through the book that Jordan forms his “party”. At this point, we have come to know each character in some way. We understand their motivations, there fears, and their desires. We know what is driving them going forward. Yes, they are fated to join, but they are not forced — they choose. The process is genuine and seamless with each character falling in as if by chance. No one is out of place, and at no point does the reader question why.

Tolkien similarly forms his part halfway through his introductory piece. That characters are known, but the players are surprising. We are thrown into a greater world with a limited perspective desperatly seeking truth. We come to know the characters as they struggle to reach Rivendell. We want them to succeed, to survive. And it is only as they reach their destination, as the reader begins to take a breath and relax, that the greater plot is revealed and one of the most memorable formations in fiction takes place.

So, when writing a party don’t throw together characters in a desperate bid against the greatest evil. Create emotion, then create sacrifice in the form of a classic “and my axe” merger.

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