||[Jan. 15th, 2010|11:11 am]
Cityish Alt-ish Fortyish
The good point is raised by strange_complex that if I can't bear the thought of being a historian (because I wouldn't be able to just make stuff up), then maybe I should try my hand at some historical or pseudo-historical fiction.|
I am, as it so happens, doing a spot of writing at the moment. And the question of what to write is enormous, and paralyzing. Writing in a reasonably exciting, entertaining style seems quite easy. Deciding what to write about is the titanic black monolith in whose shadow I cower in dread. Even before you get to nitty-gritty like plot and characters you have to decide if you want to:
* set it in the real world. I don't feel like I understand the real world at the best of times: no matter how many times people explain to me that the way a tape recorder works is really simple actually, I just can't get my head around it. I haven't done myself any favours by moving to Victoria, a town I don't comprehend or feel at home in at all, and which is a bit too dull probably to be convincing fodder for a "through the eyes of an outsider" story. I should have stayed in London, a city which I certainly was feeling, and where walking down any street with writerly eyes open was mining a rich seam of people and living history. But if I'd stayed in London, I'd have found myself too busy and/or stressed to write, of course.
* set it in a fantasy world. This feels on the surface like an easy option because I can just make shit up. But this is deceptive because you quickly realise the entire world still needs to be consistent. If I start the story with a few core ideas, and then just make colourful stuff up as I go along, eventually things will stop making sense and be revealed as obvious improv, and I will be loudly hated on in much the same way as Russell T Davies. Of course I could invest some time into building a consistent world before I start, but I don't want to turn into D. M. Cornish, the scoundrel whose book "Foundling" we are currently wading through at bedtime. It's got like a 200-page glossary of terms at the back, and as for the story, the man can spend three pages describing the ingredients and process for making a restorative potion. 200 pages in, nothing of real importance has happened, but the reader has had it thoroughly hammered into them that the world is very well thought out. God, I hate compulsive world-builders, they're the worst.
* set it in history. Historical environments are less boring, at least through the rosy lenses of nostalgia, then the modern world. You get pre-built plotlines and the advantageous fact that, since the reader likely knows the ending already, it's easy to toy with their emotions along the way. (Wasn't the ending of Inglourious Basterds fun, by the way? That's a level of reverence for historical authenticity I could really get behind.) The problem with history is that with the amount of bloody research you have to do, you might as well have gone down the fantasy route, and people will still find things that they don't like, everyone's an expert on everything these days. Also, all the best historical plotlines have probably been done to death, good luck reading through all the competition and making sure you have something new and interesting to add to the mix.
And obviously different people are turned on by different approaches, do I want to limit my appeal to the little enclaves of people who read a lot of fantasy, or historical fiction? The ones I know seem quite scary. Ideally you want something that almost anyone will want to read, maybe something that's a bit fantastical but basically non-threatening, like Harry Potter or Dan Brown or The Time Traveler's Wife. It's very hard! Writing a book is an investment of hundreds, probably thousands of hours of your time, how can you be sure you're writing the right one before you start out?