With any story the entry point for me isn't the concept but the people. I can't write a story if all I have is a gimmick; it means nothing unless there's someone for that gimmick — and that story — to happen to.
Welcome To The Fold has a cast of characters unlike any other prior work I'd done. The majority of the characters exist twofold: in the real world, and with a matching character from the story-within-the-story that they portray/embody. The lines between the two waver and blur throughout.
First and most significant is Annika ("Ann"), a young woman who feels, as many do, unfulfilled by our moment in time. She wants to be someone else, somewhere else, and the Sunderlands books offer her that. Not just in their story, but in the people within — especially the protagonist, Kijé. She rose from the gutter to a position of power, then chose to go on the run with her lover, to join the ranks of the outcasts and the criminals, rather than have her power used to crush those already crushed by the world. What better way to deal with a world lacking in heroes than to embody one — to take on a ready-made character of heroism and bring it out into the world?
To anyone not also entertaining those feelings, it's a baffling choice. Renton, her boyfriend at the time, happy in his career and having made what peace he can with the world not being ideal, sees Annika's transformation into Kijé with growing unease. Eventually, he decides the only way to pull her out of that swamp is to wade in himself — to read the books, to find a character he can play too, and to use that character as his connection back to her. His choice of character is Berardinis, the young craftsman Kijé falls for and forms a pact with.
Ann/Kijé did not enter into Sunderlands on her own. She was drawn in by way of Brian and Natalie, the couple (he a frustrated actor turned visiting nurse, she a property manager) who started the game that uses the Sunderlands books as its source material. They in turn play Radharc and Ondine, the bandit king and queen (she formerly of legitimate royalty) who are determined to make a land for themselves when no one else will give it to them — and at any cost.
The biggest obstacle to the realization of their mutual dreams, though, is not anyone within the books. It's the books' creator, William Hayden, still rather amazed that his three fantasy books (with a fourth on the way) blew up as big-league in popular culture as they did. But now there's talk of a TV deal and other things that could allow him to write off his day job and focus on creating, and having these folks running around using his work for mischief isn't something he can sanction anymore. What he's not prepared for is how this band of players is prepared to do anything to defend their continued use of his creation — including having the creator itself finish the work in the way they want it.
Next time around I'll talk about the supporting characters, and the way they further complicate matters.