In one of my earlier posts, What’s Your Genre?, I contemplated what it might be that attracts people to certain genres. I couldn’t really come up with a certain conclusion other than it being a combination of life experience, luck and in-born taste. I certainly know that the reason I got into sci-fi and then fantasy was because I sought escapism as a teenager, as teenagers often do.
But I have now been on the planet almost twice as many years as then and am happy with an active social life, nice job, good relationships and close ties to my family. I’ve grown up (well, I’m on my way) and am lucky enough to have grown up happy. But I still love being swept off to other places, other universes, other worlds. It’s still escapism, but not because I particularly need to escape this reality, just that I enjoy it when I do.
After all, as Owl City so aptly put it, reality is a lovely place, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
In a lot of ways I am pleased that the power of and the enjoyment I have with my imagination has not ebbed with the years. I can barely look at a landscape, listen to a piece of music or drift off to sleep at night without painting pictures in my mind and seeing stories unfold before me. And it’s always fantastic, epic, Other. Even though The Road Elsewhere is ongoing and I’m determined to make it the best thing I’ve made so far, I already have a couple more ideas of what to do next that are too good to put aside. And, yep, they’re fantasy and sci-fi. I can’t help but take myself off to the other side of possible and explore.
I know the reason for this largely boils down to the indefinable concept, taste, but for me personally with both reading and writing, I always feel that words can take you anywhere, literally anywhere. So why would you be content with the real world?
I have asked this of writers before, wanting to understand, and they have argued that your talent as a writer can be shown by how you explore the real world, the truths of life, pleasant and not, making it engaging and making it real. All stories, after all, fantasy, literary, romance, historical or sci-fi, are just about what it’s like to be human, something literally everyone can relate to. And there’s a hell of a lot of exploring to do in the reality we have be allotted. So writers have told me that your writing can plunge this world to its very depths and raise it to impossible highs and still not break the boundaries of reality but present it to the reader in a way they had not considered before, making them examine who they are and what they know.
So I said…well, yes. Good point.
So whereas I don’t deny stories set in the real world are often powerful, entertaining, thought provoking and/or just damn good…they always just fall short of me wanting to wrap myself up and drown in them. The kind of books that produce that kind of heated devotion in me are always fantasy. I like being taken somewhere that I could never possibly experience in real life, for good or bad.
So which ones in particular do this for me? I have some obvious favourites, the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and Tolkein’s (of course) The Lord of the Rings. And there’s the Farseer series of Robin Hobb and the Novels of Astreiant by Melissa Scott & Lisa Barnett which I have mentioned many times before as sources of inspiration for The Road Elsewhere. I hope that my world-building and character development can at least come close to the levels achieved in these books because it’s the worlds and the characters that inhabit them that make me want to dive in through the pages and walk amongst them, share in their defeats and their triumphs, taste their foods, tread their paths and fight their battles. I’m hoping one day TRE will be for someone what these books are to me and transport the reader somewhere beyond never.
They say after all that you should write the novel you want to read. This is maybe why I think so much about the process and find it so useful to have The Path as an arena for airing my musings. It is very important to me that a reader will one day enjoy my journey in the way I have enjoyed the ones set down by the writers I love the most. In order to do that, the reader should not be able to see the writer sweating away behind the scenes, but only the story unfolding, organic and smooth as a stream flowing down its bed. Images should come effortlessly to the mind; you should be able to see, hear, smell and feel everything to the point where you feel lost in it, wrapped up in the Other and the Away.
The minute you see the writer, either with a clunky sentence, an unrealistic break in character, or a passage that’s been overwritten you’re thrown right back out of that world and into this one, sometimes with a bitter after-taste. Sometimes the shove is so violent it breaks your suspense of disbelief completely and you find yourself unable to return, the contact lost and the way barred. This has happened to me sometimes and it’s been so complete a removal that I’ve never even finished the book, so thorough was the severing of the bond between me and the world they were trying to draw me into.
So this is what I desperately want to avoid and I’ve a long way to go to get to that point. I want my world to be other, far away, beyond never, but real. So real but so unlike reality that the reader is whisked off whether they want it or not, like all my favourite books do for me. There’s nothing quite like being somewhere else, somewhere other, seeing it and smelling it and tasting it and feeling like you’re really there even though ‘there’ is impossible.
After all, if you had the chance, why wouldn’t you want to exchange the real for the impossible, even if it’s just for a while?
This is how I feel about fiction and I know it is taste and character that inform these preferences. But I feel very lucky to have them because, boy, have I been on some adventures.