Friday, January 29, 2010

Burning Complications

In a recent I Should Be Writing interview with Gail Carriger, it was revealed that the author's debut novel, Soulless, was written entirely as an exercise in trying something new. Carriger sat down to write urban fantasy because it wasn't something she'd ever done before, though she did make it a Victorian steampunk story just 'cause. Carriger suggests the exercise as one that we all might enjoy, and frankly, I'm intrigued.

The trouble is (isn't it always), what to write?

I'm profoundly not in the mood for urban or modern fantasy, nor do I feel like writing science fiction right now, yesterday's mad idea aside. Horror has never really done it for me - I'm too into heroism and good ends - and besides, it's just too hard to do well. Similarly, comedy is just really difficult. If I tried to write something literary ("conventional"), it would probably be about teaching in a high need school, and while I'm living that experience every day I don't want to be writing it every evening.

Thinking back to what I've been reading and listening to lately, I see that I've been getting into a lot of very complex political fantasy, from Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series to Abigail Hilton's equally awesome (and significantly less, ah, porny) Guild of the Cowry Catchers and the Prophet of Panamandorah. Complex political fantasy; maybe I'm on to something here.

Both of my novels (and most of my short stories) are fairly straightforward fantasy fare: sympathetic characters, epic plots, high magic, and lots of swordfights. That's not to say I don't twist the occasional plot, fake a death or two, write in the occasional betrayal, or generally play with the readers' expectations. However, it would be incorrect to call my work political. So, political fantasy it is.

The first question is what are my potential problems and how can I solve them?

My biggest hurdle is that I don't generally do a lot of prep work before I write. I build huge settings, but I tend to keep them in my head rather than laying them out on the table to look for interrelations and inconsistencies, both of which are vital in more complex plots. I certainly don't outline - I never have outlined fiction and I'm not even sure how to go about it.

Of course, there's also the story itself. I've got some ideas, and I'll post more on that when I've got more to say.

Before I move on to my usual discussion questions, I want to briefly discuss the appeal of low magic, smaller scale political fantasy. This subgenre's super power seems to be putting large - but not too large - events into the hands of small characters who it is easy to empathize with. When the story is about the fate of nations, not the fate of the world, and the story is told strictly from the point of view of a small number of individuals (or even just one person) who find themselves wrapped up in events, it's possible to combine the best aspects of big and small stories. The stakes are big, but not so big that individuals cannot partake of them. The focus is tight, but not so tight that the larger world falls off. It's a perfect combination of themes, and in my experience, very hard to pull off.

And me? I want me some of that.

* * *

  • What suggestions do you have to help me achieve my goal of writing a complex political fantasy?
  • What genres or subgenres do you find interesting but have never explored yourself?

1 comment:

Scattercat said...

I'd suggest talking to Angela, actually. :-D She loves this stuff; it's her preferred genre, in a lot of ways, and her one abortive Big Writing Project was centered on just such a premise. (Featuring Mikhail the Asshole, ambassador from Russhar, and his semi-sociopathic best friend.)

I'd recommend a relationships web. Angela's story was based on a game I ran for our group, and when I was doing the plot, I actually did one of those bunch-of-circles-with-lines thing, with different colored/textured lines for hate, love, ally, opponent, etc. It helped me crystallize the starting political structure so that I knew how each character would react to the other characters.