Friday, April 8, 2016

The Best Writing Advice I’ve Never Taken

 While I’ve heard a lot of good advice and I’ve not taken even more, Jim C. Hines’ personal epiphany is different than most because even though I liked it from the get go, even though I understood it, even though I agreed without having to pull my head from my ass to get a better look, I struggled to actually use it.

Back when he first began writing, he crafted a short story set in a hospital. It was continually rejected, to his dismay, but it wasn’t until he found himself staying in a medical facility for an extended period of time that he finally understood why—it wasn’t realistic.

He argued his best writing advice is to go to the location you are writing about. Physically being somewhere is so much different than imagining it.

Of course, easier said than done.

Reality for me has always been a bit of a drag. I live my life fast and furious: at home with the curtains shut, trying to explain to people that I don’t hate them, but I’m certainly not going to go out and do anything. I always knew that attitude is problematic in more ways than one. Writing about life, even when you are dealing with speculative fiction, should at some point actually involve living life.

As a fantasy and science-fiction writer, especially of worlds that are not necessarily based on Earth at all, it was hard to figure out exactly where my locations were for me to go to. And when I did have an idea, it was difficult to organize a trip. Can you go to a N.A.S.A. station? Is there anything in there that is worth seeing? Especially to the public? Are they even called stations?

Castles, of course, could be a good start, yet living in middle America, there wasn’t many of them to be found. I could go off into the desert or take a trip to a terrarium, but that would take several days and a chunk of money, even if I did it cheaply.

So, it always got the back seat.

When I begged myself the question of what real-world experiences I could apply to my writing, they all seemed so far away. England, the middle east, Asia. The rainforest. The ocean depths. When thinking of what location seemed most like the setting of my dystopian inspired planet, Mad Max was the first that came to mind. But when would I get the chance to go to Australia? I more or less gave up.

 It wasn’t until my Australian boyfriend and I decided to return to his home country that I remembered my plan on how to enhance my settings. It took five months before I even truly made any attempt to actually follow through.

This last week I’ve been traveling all across the country. I’ve seen the depths of caves, oceans, deserts, hiked cliff sides, and risked being peed on by a chlamydia-infused koala.

The experiences have not been grossly eye opening (gross in the way you’re thinking and in magnitude) or huge inspirations, but it’s never really about the big picture. Any sort of research will tell you the important things. It’s the nuance. It’s the little additions you don’t consider. It’s the details that become relevant only when you try to do something yourself.

It’s how fast exhaustion from waking early and staying up late can disappear when marching up the 500 natural steps of a canyon ridge. It’s how the bush and rock spiral around a long drop. It’s the little crowded tadpoles sitting in a singular puddle in the middle of the desert, hoping to sprout legs before it’s too late. It’s the immaculate silence a deep cave has, how heavy carbon dioxide can make someone feel out of breath when walking through the interior of the Earth. It’s when a stranger walks up to you calling out your name when you find out he’s talking to the bird you’re petting.

Charley, meet Charlie.

Living life is the unfortunate requirement of creation. Luckily, creation makes living life easier.

Here’s a sketch of how I turn reality into fiction:

An “accidental” novel I’ve been working on, I temporarily am referring to as Star Dragons, starts in a city on top a high mountain, the cliff sides stretching for several elevations.

Though Australia is not the place you’d want to go to find great heights, this side of the canyon looked exactly like the shape I imagined the cliffs in the book. Coming across this sight reinspired me, making me remember the vision I first had when seeing the city before me.

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