Focusing on the emotional moments between insanity

Whenever I read about the writing process of science fiction/fantasy authors, I see them talking about the human moments” that happen in between all the otherworldly zaniness. I agree that it’s an important element of fiction to ground the plot and characters in real-world conflicts and circumstances. But it also seems a bit like the writers would like to discard the human element entirely. They’re not really interested in telling a human story in an alien world. They want to write about a cool alien world, and the relatable stuff is just there to help keep the reader from getting too lost.

The human element in these stories are really the only things I like about them, though. I only ever get invested in a story when principles get tested in a way I understand. Common enough tropes in fantasy writing are those of strength (not having enough), trust, loyalty, and adherence to an individual’s principles. Okay, these are tropes in most fiction, but they get pressed on in fantasy fiction because it’s often how to tell who we’re supposed to care about.

I’m writing a new version of Corona Gale, and I’ve thought a lot about what I want to have happen. I don’t particularly like how I wrote the mission” Kate Foley went on, to stop (and fail to stop) a madman bent on sailing a cruise ship directly into a tornado (that may or may not have time traveling capabilities). That’s a lot of plot in one sentence, and it played out clumsily. In the new version, almost none of that is going to happen. Instead, I’m going to focus on the human element I baked into it: whether or not she would give up on a budding relationship.

Kate Foley has a strange job that sends her on missions for long periods of time. She can’t talk to anyone about it, but it’s not clear (and I’m not planning on making it clear) if she isn’t allowed, or can’t bring herself to. I’m not really planning on revealing too much about it. It worked as a mysterious token in No Chinook and it can work here (so long as I tear away just a little of the edges). What she does isn’t the point. That it gets in the way of her having the kind of life she might want is.

In a way, it’s a little bit of a can she have it all?” story. There’s a negativity to those stories, because it’s often looked at as anti-woman (men don’t seem to have trouble having it all” in popular fiction). But I don’t think it’ll turn out that way, anyway, because Kate is a bit of a villain (read No Chinook if you haven’t). She doesn’t have many troubles, and she mostly always gets what she wants. But who is she? What does she actually want? Is Ollie it? There’s a lot to unpack in ten chapters.

This isn’t a story about a regular person in a regular world. There’s definitely stuff just off screen. The monster under your bed is always scarier than the monster in front of you. What I like about taking that approach is that fear becomes a roving metaphor for every road not taken, every choice about the future.

July 13, 2015