Friends, I’ve been ruminating on the nature of fiction recently, and on what I expect from my writing. This will be rambly, and I’d apologize in advance, except I’m not sorry, so if you want to read on, do so. If not? Here, have a lolcat:
Thing is, I find myself in an introspective place lately. This has to do mainly with life events that aren’t any of your business, but the point is I’ve been doing a lot of self-evaluation. And self-deprecation. And self-immolation. All of this is usually followed by vodka, leading to self-inebriation. However, thoughts, like, viruses (virii?), cannot be removed from the bloodstream once introduced. So I ruminate.
See, I’m a competent writer. I know this. I use words well, and I know a lot of them. Like ballicatter, schlimmbesserung, and papillionaceous (not that I would ever use those in a sentence). I read novels with an eye to plot and pacing, always subconsciously evaluating what works, what doesn’t, which scenes are necessary, constantly judging the elegance of prose and plot reveals. (Yes, even in your book, if I read it.) It’s a thing, now that I write my own fiction, and I wouldn’t undo it if I could.
But that makes me a lot more demanding when it comes to my own work. As it should.
I read your average UF novel, or your standard bestseller, and I see the formula. I’d already instinctively assimilated the formula. Seriously, if you read over the outlines for the three or so novels I’ve plotted out, you’d be all, “Wow, that shows marked structural similarities to [insert popular book here] by [insert bestselling author here].” I mean, if you were one to point out structural similarities in novels. Which you may or may not be. Whatever.
Just that’s not enough for me, y’know?
I want my fiction to say something more, friends. It’s not enough for me to write something that entertains. Yes, I want my stories to be entertaining; I want my readers to keep turning the pages. But at the end of the day, I want there to be something underneath the narrative that the astute reader can point to and say, “Y’know, on the surface, the book was only THIS, but if you look a bit closer, it was really making a statement about THAT!”
This is what I strive for, people. I want my fiction to matter.
Example: my most recent published short story in Space Battles. I set out to write it with the idea that I wanted to highlight the senseless slaughter of war, and to subvert the expectation of a “space battles” story being a peeoow-peeoow laser-fest with spaceships and underdogs and overdogs. My original story had to be hacked to twitching pieces to make the wordcount limit, but what I ended up with was a story in which, hopefully, neither of the main POV characters was entirely pure, and which twisted the genre in mildly novel directions. Screw you, Mary Sue.
I suppose my recent thoughts have had much to do with the staggering number of human beings on this globe. Each one of us has an internal world, a way of perceiving our surroundings and our ties to the great mass of humanity. We are all different, and yet multiply connected to our friends, neighbors, acquaintances. We relate to a finite number of people in our daily life, but how are we to connect to others with situations far different from our own? I think art is the medium that allows this, and fiction is my art form. Indeed it is the art form par excellence, if you were to ask my opinion.
And so I come back to the stories. Will my work be good, entertaining, fun? I hope so, otherwise my sales will barely be enough to finance a malt liquor habit, let alone the vodka habit I’m cultivating. But I don’t want only that. I want to matter. Like McCarthy in The Road, who was writing about sending a son he loves into an uncertain future. Like Pratchett in Thud!, who, as I read it, was writing about the folly of racism*.
Can I simply entertain? Yes. Yes, I can.
But I want more. I must do more.
Otherwise why bother?
*Also in that book, he wrote about a father’s desperate love for his son. Do I see a theme emerging here? Perhaps, but that’s for another time. Deal.