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Two things on my new story

Thing the first: I have been following a blog series on dealing with matters of faith and religion in fiction, and it's made me pause to think about how I am handling it in my new story. Most of my characters never talk about religion and don't seem to have any. I have one devout Christian who is a peripheral character and probably not a sterling example of that faith, and then I have my main character, who is a scientist and an empiricist in a way that is devout enough to call it a "faith" of a sort (she is not an atheist, though, her belief system would pretty much demand she be agnostic).

Her belief systems are her own and not really a problem, per se, the problem is whether my novel is espousing a point of view in a soap-boxish way both through her and in the mythology itself.

Last fall during NaNoWriMo, I was struggling with the lack of a fantastical, magical allure in my "urban fantasy" story-world, and quickly realized it was because it was a novel with every appearance of being urban fantasy, when it is in actuality science fiction. That is to say, there are apparently supernatural creatures, but in the underlying reality of the story world, they are not supernatural at all, but natural, just really, really off the beaten track of contemporary science.

Because, when you get right down to it, that's what I need them to be. Or, to put it another way, I need them to not be supernatural. Because in a very non-trivial way, I don't believe in the supernatural. Doesn't mean there aren't vampires and demons or what have you, just that their existence doesn't break any natural laws, or it only breaks the inaccurate "laws" of nature as we understand them in this day and age.

That is my "faith", my belief system, and I worry I get preachy about it through my characters. Because, as I said back in November, "there is something I want to say with this story that makes taking this approach important to me." And it's when you have something to say you run the risk of getting preachy. But "having something to say" is what makes us write in the first place.

Thing the second: I am reading old LJ entries and came upon this description of story series that I love: "[It has its] own fully-realized, ever-expanding and detailed World, complete with its own metaphysical rules and social customs which it sticks to with fair consistency. Along with an entertaining story, an intelligent story, and likeable, complex characters. It has heroes and villains and folks in between with real motives and flaws, causes worth fighting for, and a fair bit of action and fun."

I wrote at the time that that is what I wanted to emulate: the Buffyverse, Dresden Files, Harry Potter. But so far, the metaphysical rules of my story-world, or "mythology" if you prefer, have been a lot of hand-waving short cuts. Which is just not good enough for one who deigns to call herself Masquerade the Philosopher: I know how to world-build a Metaphysics, goshdurnit. I suppose a big part of the reason it is currently in a cursory state in my story is the same deal as above: I am writing science fiction that *looks* like urban fantasy. So my characters are doing what appears to be old-school magic, and I have not thought through the way in which it is *not* magic.

I think I am procrastinating that because I don't want to take the sense of wonder out of my story that I get when I absorb myself in a genuine magical world like the above story series.

Time to emulate Trek somehow?


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 18th, 2012 03:17 am (UTC)
very interesting

Of course, I have no idea if it's overly preachy or not but as you said sometimes there's a point you need to make.

May. 18th, 2012 03:39 am (UTC)
I guess I'm just making a note here in order to keep myself accountable - keep an eye out for if I start veering that way.
May. 18th, 2012 03:54 am (UTC)
not a bad idea. I have the same fear with my one novel which is the most political thing I've ever written for all that it's not even set in this world
May. 18th, 2012 04:21 am (UTC)
Oh, other-wordly stories are infamous for having political subtext. That's what sci-fi and fantasy are good at, allowing you to take a position on something *without* it seeming too preachy because it's crouched in metaphor or alien disguise.

I realized I am someone who is always going to try to take a position in my writing. I'm a philosopher, I can't help it, it's what we do--explore different people's belief systems and our own.
May. 18th, 2012 04:23 am (UTC)
this is very true (though it could be argued that the original Trek failed to not be too preachy)

yes, I could see why that is something you need to work with.
May. 18th, 2012 12:10 pm (UTC)
The original Trek was mega-preachy! Of course, a lot of that might have been Shatner's bombastic delivery.
May. 19th, 2012 03:19 am (UTC)
that certainly didn't help
May. 20th, 2012 06:02 am (UTC)
My synagogue had a discussion series a few years ago on science & religion. A fair number of members are scientists, & at one point somebody (who I think wasn't one) asked, don't you lose the sense of wonder & awe, doesn't it become prosaic once you know how things work?

I said it was just the opposite, that the more we found out about how the universe & the things in it worked, the more awe we felt at it...& across the room I saw one of the scientists (a professor of genetics) nodding & smiling. She spoke next to agree. I wonder if that's the sense in which your empiricist scientist could have it as her faith, or a source of wonder that contributes to her faith?

And at a science fiction convention last year(? I think), I went to a talk on the sf & fantasy of Mark Twain. There was some discussion of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, which led to the question of whether the same time-travel story would be fantasy if the time travel was caused by, say, a spell but would be science fiction if the characters used a time machine. I'm not sure the question was resolved, but I think a story that appears to be fantasy & turns out to be science fiction could be really cool!

I have a button that says, "The larger the island of knowledge, the greater the shoreline of wonder" (& I had occasion to wear it yesterday...gotta post about that). Seems relevant here!
May. 21st, 2012 05:13 pm (UTC)
That's why I want to study how Star Trek manages to keep that sense of wonder in their stories. Even though much of their science and technology is fictional/futuristic, it's still presented as science, not the supernatural--ESP, body-swapping, "energy species"--all have been explained by 23/24th century science and there is even techno-babble dialogue that details how.

And yet, we gobble all that up with eager spoons and child-like wonder.
May. 22nd, 2012 03:28 am (UTC)
I guess that shows Clarke's Law cuts both ways. That may be the reason claims of violation by incubi & succubi were replaced by claims of alien abduction in a more technological age. (It seems strange to me now that Clarke's Law didn't occur to me when I wrote the reply above.)

That's a great icon.
May. 22nd, 2012 09:53 pm (UTC)
Clarke's Third Law is actually at the crux of the matter for me, because the canonical take on my "fantastic" characters and mythos is going to be that they are natural creatures, just natural creatures that contemporary science isn't (yet) equipped to understand.

Because that canon point of view is lurking in the background, any human character who is awed by my non-human characters or their existence, any human character who believes the non-humans to be "supernatural" will be undercut by that fact.

I just need to figure out how to make sure that undercutting doesn't let the air out of my balloon.
May. 23rd, 2012 01:04 am (UTC)
See, to me they don't have to be supernatural to inspire awe. There's plenty of stuff in reality that's awesome enough. And a lot of it is in science. There've been times I'm reading something for work, & I come to a description of...it can be a lot of things, I don't think I can even give a general characterization...& I just think, Whoa. That's amazing. And I marvel at it. So to me a scientific explanation doesn't undercut anything.

Third Law? I didn't even know there were more than 1! Plenty of variations (1 of my favorites: Any civilization that can't distinguish magic from technology is insufficiently advanced), but I didn't know Clarke himself had other laws.
May. 23rd, 2012 01:13 am (UTC)
Trek managed to invoke awe without the supernatural. And I don't think the "supernatural" element is what really brings about the awe/appeal in BtVS, Harry Potter, or Harry Dresden. But the "fantastical" elements, supernatural or not, are a big part of it.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )