Posted by: Judy M. Goodman | January 5, 2009

Challenge

I’ve tried a few times to start the Jane’s Speculative Fiction Circle and it just hasn’t happened yet. I can’t help wondering if it is less a function of techno-paranoia than a question of guilt. It’s one thing to crawl under the blankets to read about time travelers and magicians by the glow of a flashlight. It’s still another, to openly read and write Science Fiction and Fantasy when you’ve been proselytized into believing they are the bastard children of hack writers who don’t care how their work is presented.

Perhaps, you are reading Asimov and Tolkein or partaking of the smorgasbord provided by current SciFi and Fantasy writers; yet, as I did, you think you need to know all about science and magic to write effectively in those genres. Or worse, you may have bought into the fallacy that these genres, like Harlequins and the kind of books in yellow and brown paper covers you used to be able to buy at airports, have no pride in presentation. If the industries in which you’re most interested seem to have low standards of publication, our hope as Janes is to help raise those standards.

Nothing can be farther than the truth. If a book has typos or the style is awkward or confusing, modern genre readers rail! They like a good story, well-told even if it addresses the sexual habits of vampires or the creation of sex demons. Though in more and more cases it may seem that it’s because of those themes, wonderful books are still being written like the Dresden series about the only private detective in Chicago who happens to be a wizard and Rollover a medical science fiction piece about a couple in their eighties who are treated to a rejuvenation process so the wife, a scientist, can continue her work and she won’t “rollover” without her husband. What drives this story is that the process works on the husband and not the wife.

If you were writing about a baker, would you go to a bakery or take a degree at the Sorbonne? If you were writing a short story about the Amish, would you go to the library or move to Pennsylvania for a couple of years? So, if you’re writing about quantum physics do you need a PhD? Nope! You talk to physicist or a librarian? Believe me, physicists love to talk about their work. All you need to know is enough to keep from falling down the black hole onto Never Never Planet The science and the magic are not the engines of the stories. They are, well, not completely incidental, but at most they’re a large part of the setting. At least, they are the jumping off point.

Genre casts no shadows on the basic elements of storytelling. Character, setting, plot, story, convergence, result are the driving elements. The best Science Fiction and Fantasy storytelling is character-driven. As style changes in mainstream, so it does in genre. Yet, the classics themes remain in all writing. They say there are no new plots – only new perceptions. For all the vampire love novels I avoid, there are still five novels on classic themes that I wish I had time to read. That’s why, if we hear it once we hear it thousands of times: write what you’re passionate about and if that’s character – give speculative fiction a chance.

Below, you’ll find a challenge for Janes who have yet tried Science Fiction and for those who have and just like it. Two plot outlines which could grow into shorter (not flash fiction) or longer pieces have been added below. Included are a situation, a problem, and an incomplete main character study. I challenge you to choose one and write the story. What’s already written is just a jumping off point. If you don’t like a name – change it! If part of the character doesn’t work – fix it. If any element of the story doesn’t fit speculate another. Just stay within the genre parameters. How different are those basics from the basics of mainstream or other genres? I guarantee that if a hundred authors were all to choose the same outline, we’d end up with a hundred different stories.

What will yours be?

1) Elaine Charles, 43, is a Spiritual Physicist. If archeologist and historians look for evidence of Noah’s Ark, the Garden of Eden, and other Bible stories, why can’t a physicist notice the similarities between The Big Bang Theory and the Kabbalistic description of creation – at least she can in Elaine’s world. Elaine Charles studies the relationship between String Theory – quantum physics has discovered that our world intersects with 10 different string-like phenomena, or at least, it used to be 10 – and the 10 Sifrot – the ten layers of human existence according to Kabbalistic dogma. In “plucking” (don’t worry about the metaphor) one of the strings, she is catapulted either by sound, force (like an arrow,) or by some twitch of your imagination into another dimension. [Science Fiction readers tolerate a few, but only a few “coincidences” or lapses of known science and are satisfied if what follows is logical.] Though her immediate desire and responsibility are to find a way back, she finds herself wanting to stay more intensely the longer she is stuck there.

2) Jeannette Johnson, 68, just forcibly retired from nursing, is finding it difficult to deal with stress without the strategies she’d built into her work day during forty-years in the profession. Her husband, 67, retired two years earlier from dry cleaning, tries to drag her into all the activities that he loves, yet bore her silly. Her five-year-old grandson wants to make her his new best friend and permanent minder, but her daughter, 29, still holds very strong grudges and won’t have her in his life at all. Suddenly, Jeannette becomes aware that time is slowing down. She continues to move normally, but everyone else seems to be going into a standing coma. Eventually, she learns she can control time and do what she wants, with whoever she wants, whenever she wants and no one else needs to be any the wiser. When she realizes her mind completely controls time without any bodily effects – deleterious or otherwise – what does she do? Caveat: Do not worm out of the exercise by implying she’s having a nervous breakdown unless you have a twist.

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Responses

  1. Great ideas, I like the first one especially, but then, you know me and my love for all things magical realist or speculative!

    LOL, last night the power went out and so did my Kindle battery so I had to turn to paper books to get my reading time in before bed, and Lo! I picked up the first book in the Dresden Files series, and am hooked!

  2. Challenge is the right word for it!

  3. Thanks, Tamara!

    Given that Mercury reverses everytime I logon, I still prefer paper books! Harry Dresden has that certain charm lacked by the robot detective in the American Noir tradition currently selected by my book club and a great deal more!

    I hope you’ll join our Speculative Jane Circle (provisionally titled Watch This Space Janes) when the invitation comes around again.

  4. Janesstories: Here’s a hint that might ameliorate the challenge: The themes are simple: 1) a fish out of water 2) taking control of your life. We Janes are very resourceful. We can handle anything!

    If it’s easier to think of them as dreams, then by all means, do so and write one of the stories in the First Person. Just remember, neither Main Character is NUTS!

  5. PS Forgot to mention: Dresden author Jim Butcher will be the Literary Guest of Honor at DucKon, one of the larger Midwest regional SF conventions, the weekend of June 12th. Check out http://www.duckon.org for details.


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