Friday, February 22, 2008

Inspirations, inhibitions and fluff - Linda

A couple months ago, the group was sitting around talking about what we each do and don’t write. It became clear that we were all in self-imposed ruts. We each had one or two genres that we were comfortable writing in and several that we were just a little bit intimidated by.

That’s when Theresa came up with the idea for a letter exchange. Each of us would write a letter and put it in a pot. Then everyone would draw one of the letters and write a story inspired by it. The suggestion was that the member would choose a genre or style that was outside their comfort zone.

I had decided that the genres outside my comfort zone were spy novels/thrillers, mysteries, sweet romance, and science fiction. I decided to give science fiction a try. It’s my favorite genre to read, so why not try to write it? I had visions of space battles, star ships and terraforming in my head.

Then I got my letter. It was a birthday card from a child to her father. A little note tucked inside made it obvious that the parents were not married or on good terms. And it inspired absolutely nothing in the way of science fiction for me. So, I put it on my desk where I had to look at it every time I sat down.

It was very frustrating. I just could not figure out how to turn that letter into a space opera. I tried and tossed away several ideas. I came up with a great idea for a science fiction novel, but that didn’t help me with this project, and I realized I’m nowhere near ready to tackle a novel.

Slowly but surely, my mind dredged up some advice that I’d read somewhere. Stories, no matter what the genre, are about relationships. The relationship could be between a girl and her blind pony, a teen and his hotrod car, a young couple, a mother and her children, a man and his fellow soldiers. Science fiction stories aren’t about space ships, FTL drives or aliens. They, just like every other story, are about the relationships between the characters. The rest is just fluff.

I had an idea.

Then I had to decide whose point of view to tell the story from: the dad, the mother, or the child? For over a week, I was stuck. None of them seemed to work. Every idea felt horribly contrived. Then one afternoon I realized that relationships are never limited to just the immediate suspects. There was someone else involved in this story, and that’s who was telling it. And a new plot unraveled before me.

The dad is a Marine in the not so distant future. He’s a young guy who hasn’t figured out how to be a dad or a husband yet. But that’s not the important part. The important part is that he has these buddies, especially his Sergeant. And the sergeant is sitting beside the unconscious dad’s hospital bed, reading the card out loud. But why? Because the sergeant, his best buddy, feels horribly guilty.

The first draft showed me that I have a very good idea, but that I’m no where near done with the story. Writing science fiction is very intimidating. On my five bookcases, all stacked double deep, I have more science fiction than anything else. Just glancing in that direction fills your eyes with the names of masters and mistresses from the days of pulp to today. I have worshiped these authors since I was eleven years old. They are my heroes. How could I possibly think to attempt to keep their company?

This is way outside my comfort zone, and I don’t like that. It shouldn’t be. I love this genre. It’s what I read. And I can tell a story. I can make readers feel things about characters and care what happens to them. All the rest is just fluff.

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