Battle of the WIPs

A Perfect Slave isn’t really a WIP since it’s complete, but needing some final editing. I’m halfway through that, but I should be just about done by now, almost ready to publish. It looks as if it isn’t going to happen. Why? Because A Well-Educated Boy has taken possession of my mind and won’t let go.

I always spend a lot of time in preparation before I start writing, but what’s going on right now is sheer obsession, or something very close to it. Over the more than a year since Boy made its appearance as a bare-bones idea, it has morphed and grown into something far from the original, rather simplistic, concept. It’s become far more complex, and it owes some of that complexity to questions that several essayists have proposed lately.

It seems that I’m not alone in thinking that science fiction needs to pull its attention from battles that are distant both in time and place, and consider where we are now and where we are possibly going in the near future. I’m far more interested in dystopias than in apocalypse, but the majority of dystopias in current science fiction are written as if they happened more or less suddenly, and as if the entire world (or nation) is in a monolithic state against which the heroes (usually teens) must battle.

That kind of dystopia is, to put it bluntly, a fantasy. Even if we accept that certain trends may converge from many points, as in the world-wide increase in bigotry and fear about the other: people of color, refugees, gender nonconformists, etc., that they could converge into one monolithic, all-powerful government is so unlikely that its possibility approaches zero.

But those fears, taken advantage of by powers already in existence: corporations and the military, could certainly lead to localized dystopias of various kinds. Many dystopias can exist simultaneously, and function in very different way. A Well-Educated Boy will be about two of those possibilities, both of which are actually possible today, and some features of which are already in place.

We are all living in a period of serious upheaval and transition. Most of that is invisible to us because it is taking place over months and years, slowly enough that we become accustomed to what is going on and accept it as normal. For instance, in spite of increased flooding and endless warnings from scientists about sea level rise, some 60% of home owners in S. Florida are unaware of or unconcerned about it. It wouldn’t be that difficult to write a dystopia that focuses on coastal cities and the long-term effects of climate change on lives and property.

Writing this more realistic version of utopia is more difficult, though, when the protagonist is a high school student. How do I avoid turning him into some clichéd save-the-world teen hero? How do I show his gradual realization that there’s little or nothing he can do to change the world, even his limited, local world, without ending the book in a state of despair and hopelessness? What can I give him as motivation for not giving up in the face of overwhelming power?

Books like The Hunger Games and Divergent speak to young people’s need to matter in a world that has very little use for them except as consumers. But how can we expect them to be anything but consumers when heroism and rebellion are presented to them as impossible fantasies with no basis in the real world? What can we give them that will keep them from being consumed by the bigotry and violence currently showing its face in Virginia?

Publishing a fantasy about slavery just doesn’t seem important right now.


11 thoughts on “Battle of the WIPs

  1. Thing is, is you wait to work on a story until it is timely, you will definitely miss your publication slot – because by the time an indie gets all the steps done, it is months later – and the fad may have passed into history. So you have to think ahead of the curve – and be grateful you’re not working for a tracitional publisher with an 18-36 month lag.

    If you’ve identified a trend, great – get in front of it.

    But, as my grandmother used to say, if you wait 7 years, a fashion will come around again – and finish what is almost finished, and get it out there. You’ll be just in time for the wave when it comes around again.

    1. I don’t see this as a trend that will just be timely. It’s something that’s going to stay around for a long time. Climate change/dystopias have been the subject of excellent novels for quite a while. They do tend to get buried under the teen hero/sudden apocalypse trend, but they persist. The Drowning Towers, by George Turner, was first published in 1987.

      I’m not quite as slow as you are, but slow enough that it’s a good thing I’m not concerned with the markets or trends. Neither of us is in any danger of getting rich from our writing.

      1. I have a buried message: people with disabilities are treated as non-persons, and not allowed to have the same hopes, aims, and goals that ‘normal’ people have. Let me make you identify strongly with such a person getting what she tries so hard not to want, and see if I can change your mind.

        I need a lot of people to see ME/CFS as real, and life-altering. Maybe then there would be a bigger push for research, and the disease would get the real research funding it needs.

        The Philadelphia Story, with Tom Hanks as a man getting AIDS, cut through a lot of BS, and I want the same effect. So I write, and I try to write so well that people won’t realize I’m preaching, but take in the story because it’s good – and find their empathy kicked up many notches as a result. Fame would help. Not for me – it would literally magnify my own exhaustion – but for the education of the masses who ignore facts and documentaries, memoirs and non-fiction. Because their emotions aren’t dragged in. Facts induce sympathy, not empathy. I want engagement, not pity.

        It’s late, and I may not be making sense, but I’m trying to change the world. Without it noticing, because if people notice, they stop reading.

        1. Alicia, great last line (tho I’ve tried twice, but can’t see your relevant comment here – it landed in my Inbox), about people stopping reading if they notice your message. One does need to be subtle to get a message across effectively.

          1. You have whatever number of pages a reader will give you based on the entertainment value of your story to ge them so hooked they won’t notice a tiny bit of message.

            The more message, the more you have had to make them love your characters and your story FIRST.

            I’d still keep it light – and let the plot and characters carry the message by who they are, and what they do and say. After all, the message is blatantly broadcast in the topic you picked. I like writing. And I love the craft I’ve picked up as I’ve learned.

            Given the effort it costs me to write, I wouldn’t do it for something I didn’t believe it: I will write few books in my life.

  2. There’s a heck of a lot of slavery out there right now in the world, and a work about that is anything but out of fashion. Why not edit it and put it out there before going on to the next one? That will help to keep you from feeling scattered.

    1. I just decided to go ahead with it — one chapter a day, which will have it complete by the end of the month. I’m trying to be more realistic about how much I can handle, and setting a low goal rather than a deadline is more practical. The rest of my mental energy is and will be going toward Well-Educated Boy. The thing about this particular slavefic is that it’s purely a fantasy on an alternate world. It’s a side story in the Hand Slaves universe, not remotely anything like the slavery that exists here and now. But I *will* be writing (if I can hang on long enough) about contemporary and possible future forms of slavery. You may remember I was working on a story called Your Obedient Servant. I’ve made some notes about expanding it, so that might be coming up in the near future.

      I can work on more than one project at a time (probably not more than two, realistically), if I don’t try to push myself into meeting arbitrary deadlines. That might help keep me from getting so scattered — and frustrated.

    2. I just had that thought – and you expressed it so well: slavery of many kinds is a grim reality in THIS world.

      People who read SF tend to be first world people, and they need to be reminded they are on the top of the heap – subtly. One of the best ways is to see the effects – via stories – on characters they come to care about who are doing their best to live under such conditions.

      We don’t live in the world of The Hunger Games – but their problems are not that different from ours. Marketing can play up the connections.

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