Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sources of Inspiration

Weird news reports more imaginative than anything you could imagine.  I remember hearing a famous personality (singer, actor, politician, whatever) say that they never read fiction, they read biographies and documentary non-fiction exclusively – fiction wasn’t nearly as entertaining and engrossing as real life.  I recall my initial thoughts were “How narrow-minded.  Fiction is a way to escape and let your imagination take flight.”  As an aspiring novelist, I now fully realize just how exceedingly short-sighted and paradoxical my original opinion was.  One of the things I’ve been striving to accomplish is a clear sense of realism, insofar as it is set in speculative fictional serttings.  What I mean is the reactions and emotional drive of the characters should match their personality, given the choices they have and resources at hand.  Personally I find nothing worse than seeing a character saved from the frying pan by some magical stone they just happened to pick up, or some mega-character swoops in and saves the day.  The tropes that have permeated fantasy and science fiction novels are many and often repeated.  How to make it different?
A prime example might be George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire.  The magic is minimalistic, the dragons number three total, and not until well into the series.  The majority of the action is based on high political drama set in a medieval setting, with a brutal war ravaging the main continent told by about 21,238 different points of view (I exaggerate, but maybe we could round down to 21k).  Don’t get me wrong, this series had me hooked and I can’t wait to see how it and the television adaptations develop.  What had me hooked were the engrossing (in some cases just plain gross) character developments and the way he shows them adapt and react.  There are winners, there are losers, and the losers are typically given the dubious reprieve of losing their heads.  Whatever the case, it appears that most reactions are based on what a person would reasonably come up with, given the scenario.  There are tropes to be sure, yet it is political fantasy that grips the reader like the snappy dialogue of the television programs the West Wing, Battlestar Galactica and other high calibre shows.  I suppose GRRM’s background writing/producing for television might be something of an influence.
So how does one escape the trap that is fantasy tropism?  One method typically pushed is to read widely in your field.  I read reams of science fiction and fantasy, which provides a gauge for what the industry would or would not accept; at the very least, how to differentiate myself.  Another method would have to be reading outside of your field, to get an idea for different ways of showing a reader what you wish to explain.  Reading non-fiction and auto/biographies certainly gives another basis from which to draw upon.  Finally, just plain real life in general can provide some invaluable clues or triggers for a story.  Some of the really bizarre news articles are you just couldn’t come up with yourself.  I know, I’ve tried it, and I’ve got a particularly vivid and flourishing imagination.  Cases in point:

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