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Answering an Aspiring Author: What I Loved

A friend o’ mine is about to embark upon a program of self-loathing and torture a bit of sci fi writing. He turned to me for advice. A few questions have been asked, and I figured answering in public may perhaps be useful in case anyone else in the cantina plans to embark upon the same soul-destroying madness career.

"This artist concept illustrates how a massive collision of objects perhaps as large as the planet Pluto smashed together to create the dust ring around the nearby star Vega." Alternatively, it describes the brain of a speculative fiction writer. Image and part of the caption courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

“This artist concept illustrates how a massive collision of objects perhaps as large as the planet Pluto smashed together to create the dust ring around the nearby star Vega.” Alternatively, it describes the brain of a speculative fiction writer mid-novel. Image and part of the caption courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

One of the questions was this: “What kind of stuff do you like to write?”

Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say like. Love is a safe word. It’s the right word for the kind of tempestuous, tumultuous relationship a writer has with their fiction. Like is too mild, too constant a word for this passion we share, this rollercoaster of high and low and in between emotion. So. What do I love to write?

I don’t actually know.

"The planet GJ 1214b, shown here in an artist's conception with two hypothetical moons, orbits a "red dwarf" star 40 light-years from Earth.... Astronomers have confirmed that this alien world has a thick atmosphere, but can't yet determine whether the atmosphere is primarily hydrogen or a steamy soup of water vapor." Rather a bit like my fiction writing feels at the moment, that is.  Image and part of the caption courtesy CfA/David Aguilar (NASA)

“The planet GJ 1214b, shown here in an artist’s conception with two hypothetical moons, orbits a “red dwarf” star 40 light-years from Earth…. Astronomers have confirmed that this alien world has a thick atmosphere, but can’t yet determine whether the atmosphere is primarily hydrogen or a steamy soup of water vapor.” Rather a bit like my fiction writing feels at the moment, that is. Image and part of the caption courtesy CfA/David Aguilar (NASA)

We’ve been experiencing a separation of over a year now, fiction and I. I’m shacking up with non-fiction at the moment. It was a polyamorous relationship, but we got a bit exclusive and froze fiction out. I haven’t time to devote to both. And when that changes, and fiction once more returns for some smouldering nights of amore, it won’t quite be the same, as we’ve both changed.

So, to rephrase the question along the same lines, but this time answerable: “What kind of stuff did you love to write?”

Um… things… and stuff…

I loved to write things one might classify more as fantasy than science fiction, but although it contained things like special powers and beings like unicorns and dragons, I did try to ground some of it in science. (Hence the current freelance career as a science writer. Research rather took over there. Heh heh heh whoops.)

"Dear Moon" by Haflinger-Sama.

“Dear Moon” by Haflinger-Sama.

I loved to write about trying to save the universe. Well, don’t we all, right? Few things more exciting to write about than the universe in peril and the plucky people trying to save it.

I loved to write about good and evil and how you can’t tell them apart at a glance sometimes.

I loved to write about how things got to be the way they are. I loved delving the past of my story worlds, searching for the origins of civilizations and relationships, and conflicts and such.

I loved to write about people. Sometimes they weren’t human people, but they were people nonetheless. I loved to write about good people trying to do the right things, and bad people bad ones, and just when we thought we knew them and could figure out what they’d be up to next, I loved watching them do something unexpected and sometimes seemingly out of character. Because people and situations are complicated, and you can’t always predict them, and you haven’t always got them right.

Dragon Sphere. Image modified from Sneinton Dragon by N Harrison.

Dragon Sphere. Image modified from Sneinton Dragon by N Harrison.

I loved to explore relationships: between people, between civilizations, between enemies and friends, between folks and land, and folks and objects.

I loved finding out why things were the way they were, and people were, and worlds were.

I loved exploring worlds, and showing their wonders, and why they might just be worth dying for. I loved speculating about what different worlds would look like, and what relationship people might have to their universe when their sky had two (or more) suns, multiple moons, a different hue.

"This artist’s impression shows a sunset seen from the super-Earth Gliese 667 Cc. The brightest star in the sky is the red dwarf Gliese 667 C, which is part of a triple star system. The other two more distant stars, Gliese 667 A and B appear in the sky also to the right. Astronomers have estimated that there are tens of billions of such rocky worlds orbiting faint red dwarf stars in the Milky Way alone." Many worlds - many civilizations? Image and part of caption courtesy ESO/L. Calçada.

“This artist’s impression shows a sunset seen from the super-Earth Gliese 667 Cc. The brightest star in the sky is the red dwarf Gliese 667 C, which is part of a triple star system. The other two more distant stars, Gliese 667 A and B appear in the sky also to the right. Astronomers have estimated that there are tens of billions of such rocky worlds orbiting faint red dwarf stars in the Milky Way alone.” Many worlds – many civilizations? Image and part of caption courtesy ESO/L. Calçada.

I loved asking hard questions, like what is good, and what is evil; what’s right and wrong, real and unreal, and all sorts of other things that may seem black and white and simple, but turn out to be grayscale and fiendishly complicated.

I loved writing about art and literature and wine and wonderful things that make life full and rich and amazing.

I loved writing about things I didn’t know about, because learning them was a majority of the fun.

I loved writing about myths, and things influenced by myths, and putting a twist in the myth.

And all of these things, I’m sure, I’ll love writing still. But I’ll certainly love writing about science more. And some of the things I assumed, I’ll have to question, because my perspective on a great many things has changed.

But above all, I’ll love the speculation, the what-if and could-be and not-utterly-impossible-but-very-improbable; and I’ll love the fantastic characters; and I’ll love the raw power of writing worlds into being. Which is rather what SF is all about.

The pulsar planets PSR B1257+12 b, c, and d are all that remains of a dead solar system. They are constantly beamed with intense radiation. (Artist's concept) Image and caption courtesy NASA.

The pulsar planets PSR B1257+12 b, c, and d are all that remains of a dead solar system. They are constantly beamed with intense radiation. (Artist’s concept) Image and caption courtesy NASA.

 

Comments

  1. rq says

    Inspirational. I hope you have the time and the spare passion to get back into it soon (I know, I know – winter and research and science…). That would be awesome (apologies if I sound like I’m putting pressure on… really, I’m not trying to, because I love volcanoes and geology and equal rights and unidentified natural [items] and your style of writing as is, don’t you worry, I don’t need more… ;) ).
    I love(d) (used to love?) writing snapshots of people in situations or just situations – no lead-ups or explanations, just this is now, and see what happens. Mundane things with a small, small twist. Sometimes larger twists. Sometimes no real conclusions, just small epiphanies of the moment solving some smaller issue but not resolving the larger one. Stuff. Unicorns. Ocean. Quest. You know, stuff…
    Can’t say I was particularly successful, but there’s still one story out there that I have to finish. It’s been eating at me for years. One day, though. One day.

  2. ttch says

    My sorta definition: “Speculative fiction: Illuminating the human heart through contact with the fantastic.”

    But the fantastic is not only dragons and rocket ships but can also be the full range of things that really happen to people, from world war to simple friendship.

    War and disaster are distressing and uncommon in any one life, thus are fantastic. Religions and superstitions are frightening and false, thus fantastic.

    Even science itself, our minds pursuing and discovering the hidden order all around us — and it’s actually there! — is fantastic. A tiny pencil of light in the chasm of dark that is human history.

    But on the other side of the spectrum, how can a just a smile from the right person at the right moment move us so? How can just the flicker of a frown destroy us? How can such things be? How is that not “fantastic”?

    It’s a rather broad definition, and human-centric. But if what happens isn’t seen to touch a character’s heart beyond shock or fear or even awe, why should it touch the reader’s?

    That said, I’m personally interested in writing fiction set in a place and time that is welcoming or comforting rather than just a background. So one question would be that when the story is over, would I want to remain in that world? Would I want to revisit it?

  3. says

    For all the loves you mentioned (I had some of the same when my brother and I wrote our book), I hope your friend likes sending out queries to agents and never hearing back, or if they do read the first 50 pages tell you that they like what you’ve done, but do you have something like (current best seller of the genre.)

    If your friend goes the indie route like we did you can add trying to drum up buzz without annoying your friends or coming off as a spamming a-hole on social media. All this can be frustrating.

    On the plus side, getting reviews from people you’ve never met saying how much they like your book is rewarding, even if it doesn’t pay for lunch.

    I hope your friend is successful but there are times I think writing the book is the easiest part of the process. Now I’ll go back to writing another book because it’s just something you do.

  4. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Shared. Great article and love the illustrating space art here. Cheers.