Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It's not a cliche--it's true!

"I don't believe in ghosts, but I'm afraid of them." --Edith Wharton

Back in January, I dubbed this year "The Year of Science Fiction." I planned to catch up on my reading, play around writing a few science fiction short stories and soak up as much science and technology info as possible. Some of that's been going well. I've read some great stuff this year! But the writing ... nope. That's pretty much tanked. I've written a handful of SF pieces, but there's just something missing in them. They haven't been fun, and they haven't gleamed with the fun, manic energy of a piece that comes together in that just-right way.

And it hit me today: I've been violating the #1 cliched piece of writing advice: Write what you know.

Not that factual knowing, but what you know. Like a belief, something honest and true that you can feel in your bones.

Well, I'm a lot like Edith Wharton. Deep down, I don't believe in the future--but I'm absolutely, positively afraid of it. The other day, I read a really enjoyable story over at Lightspeed ("The Taste of Starlight," by John R. Fultz). It's a great story, full of gore and a highly depressing ending, but for me, it was too cheery. I can't bring myself to believe we'll ever leave Earth. I think we'll wipe ourselves out first. Or devolve. Or something else incredibly god-awful. But space travel and colonization, tropes I've always enjoyed in novels and tried to use in my own pieces, are things beyond the knowing of my inner universe.

What we know, you see, is a system of symbols and emotions and ideas that are leached out of the things we read and do. Our inner universes are built out of our experiences in both the real world and the imagination. The creative endeavors we create are the logbooks of our explorations that those inner worlds.

That's one of the reasons why, when an author finally hits his or her stride, their books begin to sound more alike. They have found what needs to be explored inside them, and it is infusing every word they create. This doesn't mean all their books and stories are exactly the same or even that they're all set in the same places. It just means that the iconographies of the texts begin to hint at each other.

My inner world doesn't include the normal stuff of science fiction, even though I love science and I adore science fiction. Somehow my world gelled around other landscapes. (I'm not giving them away because then you wouldn't need to read any of my future books or stories!)

That doesn't mean I won't write science fiction--and by that, I mean scientifically reasonable futuristic fiction. I just have to write the right science fiction. The bad news for all of you guys? Some of those stories might make "The Taste of Starlight" read like a children's matinee. There's a lot of ugliness in the future I see.

But ugly or not, I think I'll be happier writing science fiction now. It's like I threw out a travel guide someone else bought for me, and now I'm setting out on my own trail.

I've got my helmet light on. I'm ready for the monsters.


Lynda said...

I never thought of "write what you know" like this, but you're absolutely right. I often say that I love reading science fiction and that I wish I could write it--but my brain just doesn't work in a science-fictiony way. I am going to have to think about whether there is a "right" science fiction for with you, it won't be pretty. Thanks for the food-for-thought.

JohnR said...

Wendy, I want to hug you for this post. I've struggled miserably to write two pure-SF pieces in the past few months and I think you nailed my concerns and sentiment perfectly. :)

G said...

this happens A_LOT to me: ie, trying to incorporate others tropes, others guide-books into my creating style, and having it not work so well.

I think there IS something to getting outside one's creative comfort zone as an exercise... but I always find, when I switch back to my familiar creating mode ("my inner universe" is quite an apt description) it is so much like coming home, SO refreshing.

excellent post! and I'm so excited to see your new monsters!

Erin Stocks said...

I can't wait to see those monsters. The dark ones are my favorite.