Trying to be different

If there’s anything I hate in fiction of any kind it’s a lack of originality, especially when it’s done consciously. I am of course primarily thinking of literature here but the same can be said for music and television and films. Now a lot of people might say “if it ain’t broken don’t fix it!” but I don’t agree; recycling the same ideas and plot devices year after year creates stagnation and a distinct lack of vision that I (perhaps a little cynically) see everywhere I look. In music it could be (but isn’t limited to) the piles of manufactured one-hit-wonder creating but otherwise instantly forgettable pop artists that spring up like weeds and die a blink of an eye later. In television it could be anything from soap operas to bad game shows to the huge number of bizarrely specific and yet somehow hugely popular reality TV shows. In film it would be the constant stream of two-dimensional action flicks that think a veneer of pretty special effects can cover up their bad acting and lack of decent plot. Literature has examples of its own, but in my (admittedly limited) opinion doesn’t suffer quite as badly. We have our ‘Twilight’s and our ’50 Shades of Grey’s, but there is no shortage of insanely good stuff out there, and I’ve often wondered why. Why don’t I have to fight through a horde of crap to get to something worth reading when I do almost everywhere else?

Perhaps it’s because writers ultimately have more freedom. They don’t have to write around the constraints of money to the same extent. A writer can conjure entire worlds using nothing more than words, whereas a film studio needs to funnel currency into fabricating every last pixel of anything that doesn’t already exist within the set and the skills of the actors, both of which also need paying for. A writer isn’t bound by time and length to the same extent either, which allows stories much longer or shorter than the average to be created without issue; the story is done when the story is done, not cut up and crammed into twelve forty-five minute episodes or a couple of ninety minute films. A writer isn’t bound by the restrictions of censorship either; sex and violence can be extremely useful (depending on the genre) and when employed with skill can really enhance a story. I have also noticed (though again, this is an entirely subjective opinion) that many novels do not follow formulae of the same rigidity as TV shows (even the great ones), films, and even popular music. They’re more fluid; more malleable; more free.

On one hand I chose the simplest of these forms of entertainment to tackle as I can do literally everything myself with nothing more than a word processor, but similarly I have the most choice, the most scope through which to express myself and looking at the competition gives me a lot to think about, especially if we narrow the field of view down onto (legitimately published (I’ll talk about self-publishing a little later)) Science-Fiction. There is an insanely varied scope of fantastic material out there, and I often ask myself how I can realistically compete. Perhaps ‘compete’ is the wrong word as I don’t mean to imply that such an endeavour is in any way a competition, rather, how can I stand up to anywhere near the same level of greatness as the giants of the genre? Most of the answers to such a question still elude me and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future, but the one thing I do know is to be different, or at least try my hardest to be. My next post will be going into more detail regarding the science and technology of my universe as well as culture and language (though they may well warrant posts of their own). When we’re talking about an entirely new world set in the future you really do have to build everything from the ground upwards, and there are so many different versions of the future already that it can be hard to create something concrete that really retains its own unique identity. The Mass Effect universe for example is a lot different to the Star Trek universe, but how so? I can look at the differences and the similarities and possibly alter my own world accordingly. The worlds of Star Wars and Gears of War don’t physically stem from our current day place on Earth (inb4 any potential “extended universe” crap) but I can still look at the similarities and the differences, decide what I like, what I don’t, and how I can possibly improve on these things. I genuinely believe that my universe has enough specific technological, cultural, and general aesthetic differences from the others (that I’m aware of) to be swaying more towards the “unique” end of the spectrum but again, more on that in a subsequent post.

The other way in which I knew I could twist away from the clichés of Science-Fiction was with regards to plotting and characterisation. I believe that there are two main types of Science-Fiction, there’s the heavily focused often serious often philosophical stuff where the plot of the story is really firmly grounded in some kind of technology or other presence unique to that particular vision of the future (note that this doesn’t necessarily have to be “hard sci-fi”), and there’s the (not necessarily) more relaxed type of Science-Fiction where the ships and the aliens and the technology is merely background noise to a plot that to all intents and purposes could essentially be grounded in the modern day. I’ve chosen to follow the latter, firstly for stylistic choice, secondly because it’s difficult to be be so focused on the specifics of the universe when telling nine completely independent stories, and thirdly because I rarely read an example of the second type (let’s call it Option B) that feels anything less than a little bit lazy. Of course I’m referring to far-future space opera here, as it would be unfair to call SF novels/films/games/TV that are based only twenty or thirty years in the future and follow Option B “lazy”, but I digress. My aim is to write a space opera series in the style of Option B knowingly, thereby consciously playing to its strengths and not merely sliding into it in a failed attempt to write something in the style of Option A. As the series progresses a lot of the stories will become large and overblown and exciting, potentially on a trans-stellar scale, but they will always retain that fundamental grounding link to human beings (and synthkind of course) and the human condition. Why do we do the things we do? For greed or for love or out of desperation or simply because we’re dropped in at the deep end and have no choice but to try and swim, I will never get tired of writing about my fellow human beings. There’s a little bit of Kevin Foster and Clare Bridgewater and (when I come to release ‘The Theseus Paradox’) James Alker in all of us despite their often glaring differences and eccentricities, and that’s what I want to create, a partial mirror of sorts that exposes the reader to the familiar as much as the alien.

Next up will be a more detailed look into how my universe physically works. There’s a ‘template’ of sorts that my stories have to conform to, and I’m looking forward to fleshing it out for outside eyes. It may contain some minor spoilers as technology is mentioned and explained bit by bit thoughout the series and some people may want to keep it a surprise, so yeah, mild warning there.

‘Til next time!

One thought on “Trying to be different

  1. Isabel Delcourt-Couto

    Dear Tom, I enjoy reading your post “Trying to be different” immensely. All of those thoughts & concepts are very familiar to me, and I agree. I think that your way of writting & expressing your thoughts are unique. You give us (the readers) a clear picture of the characters & the surroundings. Also how all of them intertwined. Over the years I have read manny SF material, and this is the first time I’m able to read a book that does not leave me like something missing in the story, plot or Characters. So far you deliver a worthy SF novel with nathing missing. Well it is my humble opinion. I am not by far a writer or a reviewer of books, but I what I like. Your style is pure & simple. I find it just enough of everything to keep me interested. Good Job Sir.

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