April 15th, 2007

#362: Writing Philosophy

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the subject of some kind of fictional work. Heinlein inspired this idea; it came from his latter novels, the ones he wrote when he came out of retirement: The Number of the Beast, Friday, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, etc.

Multiple Pantheistic Solpsism: there are a myriad of universes, and each of them is the result of someone who wrote a story. There is no beginning and no end, no "first author".

Anyway, after I got into anime and manga this little paranoid fantasy thought experiment became manga, rather than prose.

But Christ would it be a boring story.

Mainly I do this because it gives me, as a writer, some badly-needed perspective on how to write a story. While this mental exercise is useful for honing my art, a lot of it makes me look bloody insane when I talk about it, so normally I don't.

Still, it's important to give the reader a feeling of continuity. The character doesn't just pop into existence when the story begins, nor does he disappear when it ends; he is a living, breathing person about whom we are reading a story based on a portion of his existence. The writer may skip the boring or dirty bits, but the character must live them.

Heinlein is the major influence on my writing. I tend to favor the first person voice because of him. If I ever get around to finishing Singularity and starting on Methuselah, the latter will be in first person. That's how I roll.

Of course, if I am the subject of someone else's story, 90% of my life comes before "once upon a time", and/or trails "...and they lived happily ever after." The trick is knowing what part is the actual story.

There is a genre of French prose in which the novelist writes a story about nothing--nothing happens in the story--and my life could be an example of that kind of thing.

Not that I'm complaining. I don't mind living a boring life. I like routine. I like routine a hell of a lot better than I'd like to live like an adventurer. Being shot at, captured, getting hurt, etc, etc--it's always useful to remember that "adventure" means "dealing with hardships and mortal danger far from home". It's fun to read about; it may be fun to remember--but it's not fun to experience.

Still, I have to wonder who would read a story about me.

Well, who would read a story about Yuusaku Godai? He's a college student, struggling to pass his classes and win the woman he loves. He has a pretty routine life, doesn't he? Yet I've read that story plenty of times.

Stories are about conflict; and "conflict" doesn't have to include mortal danger to make an entertaining story. The antagonist in a story can be anything: it can be nature, or a person's own failings, some dastardly man with a handlebar mustache--or a myriad of other things.

Checkhov (I think it was Checkhov) said that there were only about 400 plots in existence. A friend of mine once distilled it down even further: "A did B." But considering that the generation of "unique" stories grows every year, I don't think we're anywhere near exhausting the possibilities yet.

My only fear is that I'm just a supporting character in some story where I have exactly one line.