8.23.2015

Stories To Tell

So I didn't make my two articles a week commitment. Whatever. Last week was busy, I had other things on my mind, excuses excuses excuses.

Anyway, if we go back to my last post, I listed a bunch of different genres stories can take place in that I've previously written in to some small degree. Most of them I've just gotten my feet wet, so to speak, with short outlines or ideas that usually don't pan out beyond that. A lot of times, it isn't because I don't enjoy the genre I'm working in, it's more because I don't have a story in mind that kept me interested. More on that will come at a later time.

For now, I can tell a few things about the stories that have gone a bit further than that, and the elements that kept me invested in what I was writing. Because that's an important part about writing stories like this: if the writer loses interest, or is just doing it to fulfill a contract, it's obvious within the prose. Stories like that might somehow get ground out through force of will, but they almost never turn out well. A writer has to be somehow invested in what they are writing, on a personal level, in order for them to turn out a good story.

After all, since I'm not writing anything for money at this point, there's little other reason for me to be writing in aside from love for and investment for a story.

Blinded me with Science (Fiction)

The genre that's closest to my heart, and the first one I ever wrote for my own enjoyment outside of school. Science Fiction has always drawn me in with the advanced technology and ultra-cool spaceships, robots that act like people and aliens of all shapes and sizes. As I've gotten older, it's been other things that have kept me involved beyond just the pew-pew lasers and stuff. The possibilities of imagination, the ability for a writer to create their own rules within their own world, and the layers of allegory that can be applied, the list might go on for a long time.

The different levels of Science Fiction mean that stories even within the genre can be very very different. It can take place in a universe very much like our own, or one far different. From Dune to Blade Runner, upward to esoteric with C. S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet or down to the nitty-gritty The Martian, Science Fiction tends to dance up and down a scale of how seriously it takes the "science" part of its description. Some stories, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, do a tap-dance up and down the scale, with very grounded and realistic portrayals of things like space travel and artificial intelligence, along with intelligence-enhancing mystical monoliths and a man who is re-born into a space baby.

Yeah. I know. It's weird when you say it like that.

I've written stories along a good chunk of that same ladder. Obviously, doing a more "realistic" science fiction story requires a lot of knowledge of things like the laws of physics and astronomy which I don't have, but I at least try not to make them cry out in protest. My focus on writing Science Fiction is more with regards to the possibilities of fictional universes, planets and races, and I'm really too lazy to put an enormous amount of research into writing something that no one will ever read.

Living in my own Fantasy

Along the same lines of imagination and the possibilities of a made-up universe, we have Fantasy. Fantasy is most commonly codified by franchises like Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons, lands full of elves, dwarves and other such things, where mystical beasts and wandering heroes do battle and magics are not only real but rather mundane. But Fantasy also has a rather wide spectrum, even wider than Science Fiction. Take a look at this list of subgenres from Wikipedia for a few broad examples: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Fantasy_genres .

The Harry Potter books are considered Fantasy, but more of a Contemporary Fantasy, taking place in relatively modern times with modern technology, just with more fantastical elements added. the Game of Thrones books and TV show are also fantasy, though much more of Hard Fantasy, with an emphasis much more on politics than on anything magical. Historical Fantasy is perhaps even better known than the Tolkien-inspired High Fantasy, with stories like King Arthur or even the 1001 Arabian Nights.

For my part, Fantasy stories are more of a recent draw than Sci-Fi. But they also afford many different opportunities for story telling that has a lot of the same freedoms of creativity, but with a smaller-scale setting and different sorts of possible storytelling opportunities. Like Sci-Fi, Fantasy can be a vehicle for allegory and commentary on contemporary issues, it can be an idealized world or one far worse than the world we live in today, and so on. And like Sci-Fi, Fantasy can take place in a world very much like our own, or in a different one entirely.

And yes, Fantasy and Sci-Fi are different forms of the same style of story. The line between them tends to be rather blurry in places.

Not-so-modern Warefare

A very common theme through my writing is conflict. I wouldn't call writing action scenes my forte, but it's certainly some of the writing that I've had more practice with than anything else. Violence is a fundamental part of most of the stories I tell. My characters are regularly thrust into violent situations, regardless of the genre I'm writing in. But writing a war story is something entirely different.

War is more than just a series of conflicts or the fights that adventurers happen upon. War changes a world, it changes societies and it changes people. Writing a descent into madness as a peaceful civilization slowly succumbs to base instincts, or is drawn in by elements out of their control, creates conflict, not only of the shooting and stabbing sort, but emotionally, dramatically and psychologically. Characters thrust into war do not stay the same. War changes people.

Now, I don't want to make light of war for those out there who have actually been to war. I have an incredibly high respect for soldiers, I would never be able to be one myself. It takes a tremendous sort of mental and physical fortitude to actually go to war, neither of which I possess.

I have tried on a couple of occasions to write a historical fiction war story, taking placing during actual conflicts from the past. Both times, I got partway into the story before realizing the same thing: no story I could tell from my own imagination would do justice to all of the very real people who gave their lives during those times. If anything, the stories I tell should be the true ones that already happened.

That's why most of my stories are in fantasy universes, in space or far-away lands, or worlds like ours that are somehow different in fundamental ways. I don't feel I'm a good enough writer to tell better stories about events in our world than the ones that already happened. I prefer to make things up basically right from the start instead. My wars are fictional ones.

Next time, I'll dig more into the idea of a story needing to "hook" both the audience and the author in order to be a success.

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