I have wanted to write an epic science fantasy story for quite some time. On Wednesday, I got a significant amount of work done on a character sheet. I wrote away happily listening to public policy videos from my Youtube watch later list. I felt a euphoric sense of accomplishment. And then, the next day, it hits me. . . the story developing from the character sheet doesn’t work. Damn it all to hell. But all is not lost. Most of the plot elements work better in other places.
I have waffled between a real world or a secondary world setting for the magic project. This specific epic science fantasy had, as its protagonist, a sorcerer. But as I worked on the characters, I realized that this is not what I mean by magic project. A magic using protagonist, and antagonist, isn’t enough. A magic project implies (and freaking calls for) the work to focus on magic as its main subject.No matter how much magic I throw into this setting, the story isn’t going to be about magic. And that is not what I want.
(I’ve obviously changed my mind as to the setting of the magic project. I’ll write about that in my next post.)
The plot developing from the character sheet works, annoyingly enough, far more satisfactorily in my portal fantasy project. So, it won’t be so difficult rolling these characters somewhere into the portal fantasy. Or should I call that epic portal fantasy project?
I opened this post stating I have wanted to write a science fantasy project for some time. I wanted this project to be separate from the portal fantasy project. But the more I think about it, the harder it is to ignore the fact that the portal fantasy presents a greater opportunity to have a world that mixes science fiction and fantasy. So, there is a good chance this world gets merged with the portal fantasy universe (or I break it up and add bits of the world to other, newer worlds).
Finally, even the historical inspiration fits better being the basis of a different project. As I read on this period, the early Macedonian Empire and the Wars of the Successors, the more I want to tackle the subject head on, rather than obscuring it through the filter of a secondary world narrative. How I’m going to do that I don’t know. I’ve got so many other projects I want to work on.
As I write, I discover that the creative process doesn’t always proceed in ways that I expect. Sometimes work on one project works far better on another. Sometimes a project does not work well on its own. Sometimes I discover that I am wholly uninterested in a project and must, despite my reluctance to do so, abandon a project to the depths of my writing journals. No matter where my writing takes me, no matter how the final story reads, the process is always fun.
In my last post, I wrote, much to my annoyance, that I find it easier to generate ideas for fantasy projects compared to science fiction. Over the weekend, I took the time to contemplate this state of affairs. Why do I find it easier to come up with fantasy ideas rather than science fiction? Does this equate a “natural” calling or will the harder genre be more fulfilling?
When I read J.L. Laynesmith’s The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445-1503, I immediately began to think up ways I could use that in my own fantasy world building. It has been a few years, but I was thinking of having a subplot where the queen is either especially litigious or is the victim of an overly litigious neighboring magnate. In fact, I wonder if that could not be married to my (currently) discarded medieval fantasy project. Could a lawsuit of some kind be the spark that lights a revolution (I’m thinking along the lines of lawsuits to rebind peasants to the land after decades or longer of freedom). See? Boom. Idea. And incorporate either prophetic dreams or local witchcraft traditions. Again. Boom. Idea.
I recently completed George Chauncey’s Gay New York. While the book is, unfortunately, very repetitious, it is an eye opener in regards to how the gay subculture of New York developed over the half century before World War II. I had originally planed to read the book for research for a historical fantasy set during the 1920s. But, as I read the book, numerous ideas came to me. Take a great, new metropolis like New York. It has to be a magnet for immigration. It has to be new and brash. One of those immigrant groups have a shamanic tradition little understood by the dominant culture. Start of an idea.
I think two examples will suffice.
But when it comes to science fiction, that ease of generating ideas isn’t there. I have to work for it. I have to think.
The reason why, I think, is that I have to extrapolate. I have to take inspiration and project possibilities.
The postapocalyptic project has been bugging me for years. The biggest headache has been trying to figure out what type of apocalyptic event occurred to destroy civilization. The plot would revolve around the actions of a group of activists committed to rebuilding a new civilization out of the chaos of what used to be the U.S. has descended into.
The reason why I need to figure out the apocalyptic event is because I need to know its effects. What will Earth be like fifty years after the Fall? A hundred? Two hundred? How much of the previous human civilization is left? How much has decayed? What knowledge has survived?
You get the idea. I have to work on it. I have to ask and answer those questions. Though I have to work harder, that does not mean that the process is any less fun. In fact, I am more engaged in projects that I have to struggle with. My attention remains focused while I tend to wander when things come too easy.
Fantasy, given its typically historical settings, has a ready made world building scaffolding just waiting to be used. Science fiction isn’t like that. The science, and everything else, has to be extrapolated. And gotten right. While a wizard may be a useful hand wave in fantasy, such shenanigans don’t truck in science fiction.
I think I’ve answered my questions. But, to make matters more complicated, why am I so concerned with making a binary of science fiction and fantasy? I want to write both. So what if one genre is easier to generate ideas for while I struggle mightily with the other. In the end, as long as I’m doing what I love, why obsess over these things?
But that is, I’m afraid, a question for another day. (And likely relates to my inherent “armchair literary critic” complex).
I’ve written a few times about my desire to write science fiction and the troubles I’ve encountered brainstorming ideas. I haven’t really discussed reading science fiction as much as I should, but I find the same troubles plaguing me when I do read science fiction. And that is a bad thing.
The problem is that I’m as caught up in pointing out scientific problems in science fiction as many other fans. I am a harsh critic. If there are plot holes, world building hiccups, or writer’s brain farts, I’m going to catch it and give hell for it. And truth be told, I’m far harsher towards science fiction than I am fantasy. Because I hold science fiction, even if it is fantasy, to a higher standard.
And this high standard causes me problems as both reader and aspiring writer. As a reader, I’m too concerned with catching flaws to appreciate the work. And as a writer, I feel that I do not have the credentials needed to make a credible effort.
Is this stupid? Yes, yes it is. Many of the great science fiction writers have a strong foundation in science, if not having day jobs in the sciences. But not all of the greats have such strong grounding to include advanced degrees. Many great science fiction writers are as relatively ignorant of science as I am (that’s not to say I’m science illiterate, but I’m not at the level of a degree or even a passionate lay person).
I’m, understandably, troubled by this tendency in myself as a reader. How can I enjoy a work if I’m obsessing over how dated it feels? How can I write a space opera or a cyberpunk story if I’m crippled by the fear of making a fool of myself?
(Maybe, as a writer, I should just stick to fantasy. I am, arguably, a fantasy idea machine).
But let’s, for a moment, extrapolate out from me to looking at science fiction as a fandom. I’m not the only sf fan who obsesses over these issues. And I’m not the only one likely to be crippled by these troubles.
Is this tendency, increasing over the past few years, a good thing or a bad thing? Unfortunately, I don’t think it is a good thing. Largely because I fear this attitude shrinks the genre to a small die hard community that reinforces itself. And this, I think, partially explains why science fiction has lost popularity over the past decade or so, though science fiction is by no means dead.
Whether this attitude is enduring or a momentary fade, hopefully science fiction will endure.