Writing Update: 30 May 2013

I’ve begun my novel. I don’t know if I’m really ready or not, but it’s time. I found myself losing all desire to keep working on my preparation, and only slightly higher desire to actually write. You’re only a writer if you’re writing, so I decided that, ready or not, I’d better get started before I started finding other things to do.

My motivation for a lot of things is low at the moment. My family is getting ready to go on an extended vacation without me, and the impending change in my lifestyle has me unsettled, I think. I’ve got a looming deadline at work, and though I suspect I’ll make it, I’m too much of a pessimist to expect things to fall into place without some last minute setback to make me scramble. Being about a month behind on my project to replace a downed fence at home isn’t help, either. And my business I started with friends is currently in “wait-and-see” mode over some industry developments that could spell the beginning of the end for us. There’s no one big thing bringing me down, just a bunch of little niggling concerns wearing me down.

But, as I posted on Facebook last night, I’m now about 3,000 words in, and my first scene is complete. Considering this week, I’m marking this down as an accomplishment. Inertia, as I’ve told a friend recently, can be our worst enemy and our best friend. Getting things moving in a new direction is hard, but the longer you do it the easier it gets until inertia is finally on your side, keeping you moving foward.

I’m not sure if it’s a positive or not that both the books I’ve been reading lately, “The Runaway King”, and “The Name of the Wind” are both “Renaissance-era” fantasy instead of “Medieval-era” fantasy, which happens to be the same style as my novel. The technology levels are higher, the culture more advanced, and I’m noticing in both that it’s easy to treat such a setting as “alternate history Earth” rather than a completely unique setting and culture. It’s as if both novels were set in late-Renaissance Europe, only the names and maps have been changed to avoid having to research too deeply.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, although on occasion something will stick out that makes me think “would they really say that?” or “how could they know that when we didn’t figure that out for at least another 300 years?” For example, on earth it was the later 1600’s when Leeuwenhoek discovered micro-organisms. It was 1847 before Semmelweis began to connect germs with disease, calling for hand-washing for medical staff. And yet in a novel that seems in many ways much more primitive in its setting, we have medical personnel washing their hands to avoid infection. It could be easily explained, but it is not–it’s treated as common knowledge. It doesn’t bother me that much, but it does push me out of the story a bit when I come across things like that. Certainly there is no reason why an alternate world would develop the same levels of technology at the same rate we have. But a little more explanation or setting development might help reduce the shock of such revelations.

Anyway, it presents an interesting challenge for my novel: how to establish the level of development of my culture so that readers don’t find it jarring when something doesn’t jibe with their expectations. Or, put another way, how to set things up so that when readers encounter such a point of divergence they trust that the writer thought it through, and that it fits, and not simply that the writer hadn’t given the matter enough advance thought. In “The Runaway King” the author gets away with it through keeping the setting purposely vague. Not much detail is given to technology–the most complex item we’re shown so far is a pocket watch and the concept of disinfecting wounds with alcohol, but both pricked my anachronism sensors.

Of course it’s entirely probably that different people interpret clues about time period and technology levels differently. Some may not even worry about it. But being citizens of our own world, it’s entirely natural to compare everything we read against what we know of our own world to help establish both aspects of setting. In lieu of the author giving specific clues to indicate we can’t really make that comparison, we’re bound to supply our own frame of reference instead, regardless of its accuracy (I, for example, figured that the use of sutures predated hand-washing, but I didn’t realize it predates it by nearly 4000 years).

So it’s probably a good thing I’ve got these two books to warn me about the dangers of creating fantasy settings with levels of technology approaching our own. People approach fantasy with preconceived notions, and the author had better be aware of them and prepared to address them. And to be honest, I’m not prepared. It is, however, something I can likely tackle in subsequent edits.

Anyway, I’m off and writing on another venture. Look for updates as I go.

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