Here’s a question for you: what do you use for inspiration when writing SFF?

Modern news? History? Family squabbles?

I get the impression that some writers can — actually — invent characters and then chase them around in a world that’s almost entirely fabricated around the characters and their various goals. The process sounds sounds wonderful. I imagine taking careful notes of people and situations and putting them on a cork board connected by lines of yarn.

I don’t have the kind of imagination that lets that happen. I suspect it’s my overall lack of a profound level of empathy or my lack of deep understanding of other people. Maybe I’ve read too much advice to evil overlords.

Becoming a better person takes time. To get the books done quickly, I’ve developed some hacks that let me create situations that I can then tweak and adjust into fun story-telling.

The idea is to give me focused reflection time on things that didn’t pop up in my own, limited imagination. I can them bracket the hacked material to with the “what’s at stake?” questions that the story will pose and then answer.

The essential hack is modeling. I create a model — with details elided — and then fill in the eventual details using random choices.

Yes. Random. Choices.

Dice rolls. Cards. Computer simulations. Computer simulations of cards and dice rolls.

I like using the Rider-Waite tarot deck. See Over-Engineering for a quick note on this technique.

Today I needed some long-term history. Specifically, a millennium of Great Mages from the Main Temple of Cythan. According to my model of transfers of power, that’s 156 Great Mages, omitting any consideration of the inevitable gaps coming from schisms and political upheavals that arise over that span of time.

Looking over the list durations, one lasted four days. Someday I may have to write a book about that tumultuous period. The longest-serving was able to last thirty-eight years. It looks like 26 of the Great Mages served less than a year each. Now I’m starting to wonder why.

Some useful portions of the backstory have started to take shape around this little bit of (random) data. I see thirty years of steady turn-over with five different Great Mages serving between two and seven years each. After there there’s an extraordinary thirty years under one Great Mage. Then 144 days of the 155th Great Mage. And the 156th Great Mage had a more typical six year reign. Those 144 days will have to be a small part of the backstory, as soon as I figure out what happened.

The whole point is to provide essential color when trying to personify the Mage’s problems in the Temple.