Friday, October 05, 2007

Don't Drown the Reader in Strange

So in my class last night I talked a little bit about this and thought I'd expand and expound on it here. F&SF is the genre of the fantastic. It is defined by the idea of world not like our own. This can be a world of the future, of the past, of a now that is somehow different from the one we live in, or a world that never has been. We include elves and dragons, cyborgs and starships, magic and technology - indistinguishable - from - magic, and we mostly start doing it on page one. This is what our readers expect and demand and yet....

You still have to give your reader banisters–ideas and terms they can hold onto as they ease into the story. Every time you introduce a strange magical beast or a polysyllabic alien name you need to give the reader context, let them know that a gobbledygook is really basically a dragon with the serial numbers filed off, or that Svbuewioboie is really an engineer on a starship not all that different from starships they've seen in the past. To make a work original and to draw in the reader you have to have gobbledygooks and Svbuewioboie, and whozits and Xzasdxssa as well, but you probably don't want to introduce them all on page one because the contextualization you have to do for the reader is going to kill the pacing.

Spacing out the weirdness is one of the things you can do to help the reader ease into the strange and hopefully come to love it. One other thing you can do is make certain that there's a good reason that your calling a dragon a gobbledygook or a cell phone a WAA (weird-ass acronym) and not do it if you don't have to. "Dragon" is a fine word with all sorts of wonderful history and built-in associations. A phone is an entirely comprehensible piece of technology and unless the specific nature of the phone is really really important to the story there's not much point in calling it a WAA.

Like everything in writing it's a balancing act. You have to decide what strangeness really serves the story and what strangeness is there because it's really cool, and what strangeness should probably be sidelined in favor of making it easier for the reader. At root it's learning how to decide whether the glorious history of the gobbledygook species is more important than not calling a dragon a dragon.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Strategies for how to decide on the necessary strange?

1 comment:

MariAdkins said...

This is kinda on the mark -- I don't write in the scifi genre, so...

make certain that there's a good reason that your calling a dragon a gobbledygook or a cell phone a WAA (weird-ass acronym) and not do it if you don't have to

While I was writing Elders last year, I ran straight into "caller-ID". I ran around asking everyone I knew if everyone would know what "caller-ID" was if I used it in a story. Some people looked at me funny, others outright laughed. But it's the kind of thing I worry over. Along with "cellphone" vs "cell phone" - I've seen it both ways. :headdesk:

The underlying meme in my stories is "vampires". Oy vey! Plug vampire into any search engine, and a plethora of terminology erupts. I've done my best to stand outside the common parlance, right down to the way I define "vampire" and the way mine behave. That's a hard sale for some people, but like a lot of people, I'm sick of the Bram Stoker Hollywood vampire...