It’s common knowledge that authors are told to write what they know. For instance, in the beloved Anne of Green Gables series of books, a constant thread involves her literary efforts while a teenager. They are melodramatic, romance soap operas that read like silly fanfiction about Camelot. Her characters, as she frequently resents being told, are essentially unreal, stylized fiction personalities that are too high-strung to make any sense to people. In fact, one of her stories was so—well, not exactly literary in quality—that it was chosen as winner for a contest advertising baking powder. (Probably because after Anne’s friend Diana made little awkward additions to an originally full-of-itself fiction effort, those contest judges thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever read.)
Readers want to hear about situations they’ve seen in real life. Anne is told this many times. But if we’re going to talk about “write what you know,” people who write fiction do not write biography or memoir, so they can’t just record what they’ve seen in their lives by putting friends and neighbors into books. Such actions can easily come across as simply uncreative or even spiteful and tasteless if anything critical is said about the characters based on real people. And does this idea even apply to speculative fiction, like sci-fi and fantasy, at all? If it's best to stick to what you know, how exactly can you write about a far future or a world with dragons when you’ve never seen those things? People must think authors really have the power to go to the places they talk about. 😊 I feel that this phrase does indeed apply to speculative fiction too, because you can know about things in life besides physical locales and personal acquaintances. Science fiction often requires a lot of understanding of scientific possibility and fantasy explores philosophy and morality—all things that people can be expected to know about. But in two of my more realistic stories--Movies at the Beach and A Year with the Harrisons--that pretty obviously draw from some real life experiences, I tried to navigate between the scenes that I knew from life and characters that were fictionalized so that the story could be told a lot better.
For instance, the characters in Movies at the Beach attend a dance school because I did that at their age. I wrote about what I knew. But some of the actual people at the school are altered for the story. The dance teacher’s sons in real life were both very lovely young men and I remember them fondly. But they weren’t funny. Not only would it be rude to put them in fiction without their permission, they wouldn’t make good comedic antagonists at the school—unlike the fictional Dylan Dupree in the story. Similarly, Letty Harrisons' extended family is much more dramatically different from hers than happened to me in my real life, but I kept a lot of the details of the world of Texas that I knew about fifteen years ago. Substituting other relatives that went better with the story—a story about growing up and culture shock—turned it into what it really is, a work of fiction. Fiction blends reality that you know with characters native to the genre you’re writing, often replacing real people who came and went and didn’t really create a story you could tell.
So the advice, I found (and I think every author has found), should be amended to, “Write what you know—but not literally everything you've ever seen. It's OK to fictionalize at times, because some things don’t add anything to the story even if they really happened to you.”
And there will be more updates.
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Halfway through the 4th Palladia book, I took a break to go back into Celestine Princess and start some minimal editing--finding some overly long paragraphs to be trimmed and some dialogue to be clarified. All basic stuff for a second look at a book before getting it on to the next phase. The more I write Palladia books, the more of them keep coming. It seems there’s always more to the story when it comes to this projection of the future 300 years from now. And over time, the “always more we need to explore” aspect has spread beyond Palladia into my other sci-fi and fantasy work.
Aside from Ryan and Essie, my other SFF books are unrelated novella and novelette collections, since I got a lot of short fiction ideas early in my writing journey. That was all well and good until a small glitch between The Birthday Present and Palladia set up a domino effect. TBP had always been this individual futuristic story spinning on its own orbit. It had more links to the seemingly unrelated Millhaven Castle than to anything else and since it was out of print for years, there was even less reason to worry about it. But as Palladia grew and grew, I realized it was important that the timelines between these two visions of the future not clash.
It’s fine for different authors to describe wildly different concepts of a future that’s been invented for their fiction—one, for instance, shows the world as collapsing into dust-piles and nonstop thievery as a result of an ecological disaster, while another author instead shows the exact distance in the future (say, 100 years) as so high-tech that robots have replaced people and everyone is extraordinarily wealthy except for some unfortunate rebels that the robots don’t like. But works by the SAME author should not contradict each other. Whatever history of a fantasy world or of the future you are constructing, it still has to be logical even if it’s imaginary.
I’d already set The Birthday Present 1000 years in the future, long after Palladia. But if it was set 1000 years after our time, Aure would be ruling at the time of the Palladia stories and I’ve yet to write one where he’s anywhere in sight. So instead, a marginal tweak of just a few numbers set The Birthday Present 1000 years after the time of Palladia—1300 after our time. Why does this matter? Well, once I made the change for the sake of consistency, I realized I needed to write more about this dimly seen farther future. Palladia has four books now to detail its era, but the TBP era has scant coverage. And, of course, I noticed another thing right away.
What happened in those 1000 years between Palladia and The Birthday Present/MC? So not only do we really need another book about the characters who appear in The Birthday Present so we can see more of the “Aure’s Dominion” era, there are all sorts of gaps between the two eras. And yes, there now are two “eras” for a lengthy future scenario instead of a couple of unrelated sci-fi books because lining up them up also linked them by default. I will say I am very much looking forward to finding out if all of my sci-fi and fantasy books are going to reveal hidden cracks and gullies like this. 😊
And there will be more updates.
Pleasant Fiction in an Age of Noise
I write stories about human emotions--about the journey of life. Every step of it can be meaningfully great or simply terrible and you can only reach the end after experiencing many kinds of things that make you grow. Emotional travels are the travels of life and the road of living is not one planned out in notebooks or organized in Scrivener. It is felt in love, hope, and fear and developed through an understanding of why humans go through these. And, on top of that, my stories are adventure stories. History, fantasy, and daily modern situations are all adventures as long as you don't know for sure what's going to happen when you wake up each day. Because that would be like repeating the same day over and over again and who wants to do that?
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