Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ending the Acacia Trilogy

We're very pleased to bring you David Anthony Durham's thoughts on writing the ending to his Acacia Trilogy.

There are lots of ways that working on the Acacia Trilogy kept me up at night, staring at the ceiling, worrying about what I’d gotten myself into. Six years, three books, 650,000 words, numerous characters each on their own course through a landscape scarred and shaped by its history… A lot to worry about. Lots of potential to screw up.

One concern stayed with me right up until the end - how to wrap it all up.  Yes, I’m going to write about the end of the book. I think I can do that without giving anything specific away. Let me try…

At the start of The War With The Mein - and during the writing of The Other Lands - I didn’t know how it was all going to conclude. No idea. Nothing. I did have a vision for what the last scene of the book was, but I didn’t really know what getting to that point meant. I’d just write forward and figure it out later. Eventually, a vague idea emerged. It was something of a philosophical one. It was also a pragmatic ending, one that I believe occurred to me because it would also occur to the characters too. I let it develop more.

Before long I had my ending, one that I was excited about. It felt a bit different than the way even I expected an epic fantasy to conclude, but that’s a good thing, right? My ending pushes different buttons and postulates a different possible outcome to conflict. It explains the reasons behind this in ways that I found convincing, so I stuck with it. What’s the use of writing so many words if at the end of it I’m not writing what I most wanted to? Thinking such things, I convinced myself to proceed as planned.


One of the early readers of my first draft argued that fantasy readers expect certain things - and won’t be happy if they don’t get them. This is a genre in which - often - the right order of the world is threatened by a force that’s undeniably wrong. Eventually that threat is defeated and the proper shape of things returns. Happy ending. We dress that up lots of different ways, but still the basic structure often remains the same.

If I could end The Sacred Band like that - choice a, b or c, take your pick - I’d make them happier. But my ending, this reader pointed out, didn’t fit the mold. If I went ahead with it I might find my clever antics just disappoint readers.

She had a point.


A, b, and c didn’t really do it for me. They felt like somebody else’s endings. Not mine. Not my characters. I’m not a big fan of conclusions that fix everything for the better. I’ve never found any outcome in real world history - no matter how moral and right it is - that hasn’t favored one group over another. If you’re the one favored the outcome is the right one. If you’re not… well, the story that’s a happy ending for the victors is a tragedy for you. Or at least it’s a more complicated thing than just a happy ending.

It’s pretty easy not to think too much about this with a lot of fantasy because the group that needs defeating is so often monstrous, evil, dark, devoid of anything that we need acknowledge the humanity of. In that regard, fantasy literature often parallels the fantasies we compose to deal with reality. We make demons of our enemies. We deny their similarities to us, and define them as wholly evil for the duration of the conflict. As a person of African descent, I know that my own race (mixed as it actually is) was often considered monstrous, evil, dark, devoid of anything the ruling race need acknowledge the humanity of.

It would be strange of me, then, to replicate in my fiction a construct that I find problematic in real life. This affected how my aggressors took shape, and it affected how they’re confronted. Toward the end of the book several of the characters - one in particular - pushes for an outcome that I believe is something different.

One of the first online reviewers - Neth of Nethspace - wrote very favorably about the book, calling the ending “progressive”. I hadn’t quite thought of it that way, but that’s a decent way of putting it.

Now, having written it, the story is out of my hands. Will readers embrace that progressive outcome? Or will they despise it? Will it ring true - as I hope - or seem false precisely because of the ways it differs from the norm? Will it seem soft and liberal instead of pragmatic and efficient?

I guess I’ll find out.