Notes & Notables from the Panels I Attended
Apologies for the delay in this second installment for Day 2. Busy week with work and events, some of which I will share in upcoming posts. 🙂
On with Creative Ink Fest’s Day 2 continuation…
While Collins defines speculative fiction (or spec fic) as “a broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements,’ I learned that broad is certainly broad. In What, Exactly, is Speculative Fiction?, Katherine Wagner, Kristi Charish, Claire Humphrey, Trevor Melanson, and TG Shepherd shared their experiences as writers and readers with the encompassing term that includes genres and subgenres such as magic realism, bizarro, and new weird. We normally associate spec fic with science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but these newer categories are hybrids, mashups and everything in between.
Some examples of magic realism are One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez), Like Water for Chocolate (Laura Esquival), The Girl Who Chased the Moon (Sarah Addison Allen), The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman), and The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern). I haven’t read any of these yet, but they’re on my ever growing TBR pile. Bizarro fiction is a genre I haven’t delved into yet, and a lot of the titles I looked up are NSFW, so I’ll put some that are: Angel Dust Apocalypse (Jeremy Robert Johnson), Shatnerquake (Jeff Burk), Zerostrata (Anderson Prunty), and John Dies at the End (David Wong). New weird is also new to me. Here are some examples: City of Saints and Madmen (Jeff VanderMeer), The Etched City (K.J. Bishop), Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman), The Year of Our War (Steph Swainston), and Viriconium (M. John Harrison). Nowadays, I think anything out of the “normal” parameters of literary fiction can be classified as speculative fiction. I’m not one who likes to stick to a particular genre, so a great story is a great story, no?
Speaking of genres, one of my WIPs has a Steampunk element, so listening to Katherine Wagner, Melanie Dixon, Adam Dreece, Holly Schofield discuss their take on it was informative. Another of the umbrella terms, steampunk originally had a historical setting that used steam-powered machinery over more sophisticated technology. However, there are hybrids and mashups now that include post-apocalyptic stories that rely on old-tech due to the destruction of the advanced technology society had grown accustomed to. There are also parallel universes, alternate histories, etc., that show the advancements and delays in technology because of certain events in the story’s history. The panel shared that steam tech needs to be elemental to the story. It can be amplified or miniaturized, but exist in concrete form. These limitations can cause interesting conflict for the story’s characters. Punk, in general, makes society a character in the book, as well. Steampunk, clockpunk, cyberpunk, basically Punk and all its derivatives are in a whole other Pandora’s Box of story ideas waiting to be unleashed.
Because of all the technical intricacies when it comes to certain genres, some people shy away from trying to write in that area. In Putting Science into SF without Putting the Reader to Sleep, Tom Wright, Kristi Charish, Randy McCharles, Lynda Williams discussed ways to get the info as accurate as possible without being too info-laden as to pull the reader out of a story and into an instruction manual or textbook.
Important tips included putting information that can be justified and can help the story move forward. Consistency is key (especially in a series!) and explanations should be used that matter to the plot. I recall editing a space opera and inconsistencies or writing scenes that go against what we know of the law of physics can really halt a reader’s enjoyment. However, if in a fictional universe the rules have been established early on and these new rules are used consistently throughout the story, it becomes accepted as the norm for this particular reading experience.
Earlier I mentioned that sometimes society can become a character, but what about the setting itself? Brenda Carre, Neil Enock, Chadwick Ginther, Jo-Anne McLean, Katherine Prairie teamed up to talk about When Setting Becomes Character. Katherine said that there’s a psychological connection or effect of an environment on a character. Chadwick added that every location has a personality; some places choose you while others are chosen because they suit you. In terms of conflict, Neil said that the clash of setting drives the characters to action and may give them strength. Chadwick shared that who is interacting with the setting is how the setting is portrayed. For instance, a busy marketplace is different to each character in it.
Sometimes subtle description gives the reader a better sense of place while also telling us a lot about the setting as character. Chadwick’s example: “One of the three moons was full tonight…” Neil’s example: “As the trio of suns set one after the other beneath the purple pool of gas…” Chadwick goes on to say that “Character and setting are inseparable. Story always begins with it and they interact and engage the reader from the start.”
It was a nice coincidence that this grouping of back-to-back talks meshed well together in content. What better way to wrap up this info-filled day than with an interactive session with Matt Hughes on The Elements of Story. For those who are story structure junkies and/or have taken writing classes on the subject, you might be familiar with the set-up diagram that has plot point #1, conflict, plot point #2, resolution, etc., all to answer the dramatic question. Matt told us that story does not equal plot. Story is the underlying structure. The first plot point is the initiating or inciting incident that is the character’s break from normalcy. The second plot point is the choice the character makes; what the whole story is moving towards and will resolve the conflict from the first plot point. There may be internal or external conflict and it can be defeated in a single act.
Of course, this is a simplified version of story structure and within the time frame we had to work with, the group came up with some simple info as a jumping off point for a possible story: Bob, female, 43, single, job: truck driver, hobby: rock climber, dope is found in the truck. Using these bits of information we brainstormed many possible scenarios of how Bob would handle the situation. Does she turn in it? Does she investigate how the drugs got in there? Is she a smuggler? Was she framed or was it a mistake? What’s her backstory? Using these bits of info as well as her hobby as a rock climber, we could extrapolate that she’s a risk taker, athletic, she may or may not take matters into her own hands. Her agility could come into play later in the story. While we didn’t get to draft a structure in its entirety, the principle of the exercise proved to be great for generating multiple scenarios from an initial inciting incident.
What a whopper of a day! Join me next week as we tuck into Day 3 of the event. There were seven panels I attended. I’m debating on whether splitting that one up, as well. Stay tuned!
Until next time…