Monday, January 18, 2010


I've been reading some recent fiction online, which is never a good thing for my state of mind.

Reading descriptions, I noticed a general predominance of contemporary fiction ... sometimes to the point where it was hard for me to even find a secondary world story to read. (Which I look for because it's more comparable to what I write, so gives me a better pulse on the market as I stand in relationship to it.) I don't understand the heavy skew. I enjoy both, but why is exploring the human state with cornflakes and corporate politics any more valid than exploring it through what happens (for instance) when a race of beings communicate telepathically?

The stories I read also had the characteristic that the story was diminished in favor of philosophical thought, extended metaphors and pure imagery. In one case, I simply found that the effect could have been much stronger if the story was shorter and more tightly focused on the core concepts. In another case, I found the lack of concrete details made the story something like an ice-sculpture: beautiful, but I didn't want to get too close to it.

Also ... what is the fascination with present tense? I realize that part of my reaction to it is personal: I spent a lot of time in online roleplaying games, where present tense is used pretty exclusively, so when I read present, my brain automatically goes "RPG session." But I generally find it has a distancing effect. I think if you're going to use it, it has to have purpose - for instance, the story needs to be told by the narrator AS it's happening. Or the narrator is an alien / child / otherwise has an unusual voice. Please don't just throw it on because it is trendy and cool. :-( I've only read a handful of stories where I felt the present tense added to a story, rather than detracted from it.

I see the craft in these stories, and I admire many of the turns of phrase. Believe me, I wish I could read one of these and go, "Wow, I want to write something just like this!" I suspect it would make my life easier. ;-)

But it scares me ... because I can't write like this. Because I pour my love into unfamiliar worlds, well-drawn characters and strong, driving plots (at least, I hope they are) created by the clash of the first two elements. Because I need momentum, I need an arc, to enjoy what I'm writing. I can't write stories that are events built around a musing.

If the things I keep reading are what fiction has become, then really, I'm a dinosaur. I just have to hope that I can sell to the novel market (where things tend to be more my speed) without major pro sales and then make my way into anthologies (also where things tend to be more my speed) by dint of that.


Merc said...

Not sure if this is helpful at all, but I've been reading the archives of Beneath Ceaseless Skies--which is an online magazine that focuses on secondary world fantasy (and very little present tense) and is lovely all around.



Lindsey Duncan said...

Yes, BCS is great for secondary world (and I love that it openly focuses on it). I must have hit it at a weird point the last time I went to sample, though, because I ran into a bunch of present tense. ;-)

Aubrie said...

This is why I'm glad that Avatar won two Golden Globes. Finally the film critics are embracing sci fi fantasy as a award winning form of story telling.