The Zeitgeist – Writing in the Spirit of the Times

This is something of a followup to this post and this post. Robert J. Sawyer touched on this on his “Idea is King” lecture as well. It’s about finding an idea that will hit a nerve with your audience.

Think about what concepts are big right now. The current issues and events rocking our world today. A work that makes statements on that is the sort of work that will get people talking, and right from the time of Jonathan Swift and H. G. Wells, science fiction and fantasy have been a platform for making a statement.

I find as I’ve matured, the ideas that come to me are the sort of ideas that are in the Zeitgeist. Obviously I can’t feel strongly about every concept being debated right now, but the bigger ones that I feel most strongly about, I write about.

My last major project, The Box, was about religious tolerance and faith, and the conflict between science and religion, approaching it from the speculative standpoint of “what would a society look like if science was the dominant religion?” From that, the idea was born of a country where an underground group of rebels dedicated to science had overthrown the reigning theocracy, and captured God in a contraption they’d built, and ultimately turn out to be no better ruler’s than the theocracy had been.

My current project, The Eyelet Dove, originally was about a country occupied by a conquering country and revolting against the occupying country. I slowly got frustrated with it, there was something wrong, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then finally I realized that the reason I didn’t like it, was because I didn’t want to write about an occupation – what was on my mind was the conflicts in the world today between the corporate aristocracy and the working class people. That’s what I feel passionately about right now, and when I realized that, the story turned into a people’s revolution, overturning an oppressive and indulgent monarchy and upper class.

And with the way the world is going right now, that’s totally on the front page of the Zeitgeist newspaper.

And now I have NaNoWriMo coming up, which I do every year, and have finally decided on which of many ideas bouncing around in my head that I’m going to do. It’s going to be science fiction this time, possibly classifiable as cyberpunk, with AI’s being a major theme, but then I read this article on debt and my worldbuilding elements began to fall into place. Many futuristic science fiction novels themes center around an extrapolation of how the world will be in X number of years, if things keep going the way they are.

This one’s going to look at debt, and how the current economic situation has turned the lower class into little more than a slave class, with no upward mobility and no power. So that will be the world my main character is trapped in, only with spaceships and asteroid mines, where there is no government anymore – the government has been bought out by the Corporations, and their employees are their citizens, and if they have any debt, they’re their slaves. Only they won’t use that word – that’s an ugly word. There will be internment camp for the bankrupt, and defaulters will be hunted like escaped slaves. The companies won’t pay employees in cash, but in credit that can only be used for buying company goods, so that their employees can survive, but can never get out of debt. And there will be an attack on one of the companies, attempting to delete all of their financial records, so as to free their employees from debt, by a legendary hacker. It will be fun.

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Write something that matters

First, read this; it’s relevant and also entertaining:

http://hollylisle.com/index.php/Workshops/how-to-write-suckitudinous-fiction.html

I have read one book of holly lisle’s and I did very much enjoy it. It was Minerva Wakes, about a woman who gets caught up in a case of mistaken identity when her husband bought their wedding rings; the guy at the ren fair or wherever he bought them mistook him for one of the “weavers” who are the arch enemies of the unweaver – basically force of creation, vs force of destruction, good old fashioned good and evil. So, having these rings, they are supposed to take up the fight against the unweaver and their love and powers of creativity, as I remember, is what’s supposed to help them do it. Or something to that effect. It was a long time ago – but that only goes to show how much of an impact on me that I remember it. Them loving one another was important. Catch is, when the story begins, their marraige is in shambles and she’s considering divorce when they find out what these rings mean. So she gets dumped into a fantasy world where she has to get in touch with her dreams again in order to awaken the weaver powers she’s been oblivious to. And of course there’s the happily ever after in the end, but it was cute, and I liked it.

Anyway, that’s only partly relevant. The relevant part is that it had a purpose and a theme and likable characters with flaws and dreams and goals and things they cared about dearly that drove them, and the story.

Some people, particularly in writing circles, don’t like stories to have an obvious message, because they don’t like being preached at. I never like those sorts of stories. Experimental stories that dance around the fact that it doesn’t give me any compelling reason to read on. Drives me friggin nuts, I’m like ok, why did I read that? What’s the point of a story if it doesn’t have a point? Why write it at all, if there’s no reason to write it?

They say, for entertainment. They just want a story to entertain them and nothing else is allowed to creep into it. These people have never given me a more compelling argument than “I don’t like it.” And yet, these people defend their position vehemently, like a rabid atheist, trying to push others to adopt their position, and warning other authors that if they writing something that expresses their opinion, especially if it’s a political opinion, well, be careful, because there’s no market for that stuff.

Which is just not true, I don’t know what kind of crack they’re on, and they never have any statistics to back them up, unlike arguments to the contrary.

I wondered where this attitude comes from. But then I look around at the world, and at my generation, I think, no wonder they’re writing this blather. My generation is a generation that’s jaded by helplessness. Even if we vote, we’re outnumbered by the earlier generations who have vastly different values and ideals, so that our votes don’t matter. We feel that the old guard hasn’t given up the keys to our world and we can’t make the changes we see need to be made. Because there aren’t enough of us, and it’s too big a fight, too much work, and the guy beside us isn’t going to take up that banner alongside and fight beside us for what they believe in and what they want.

I’m not even going to get into all the things we see wrong with the world; that’s not the point of this particular outburst. The point is that we’ve lost hope.

It’s what they want us to believe. They’ve always wanted us to believe that things are the way they are and there’s nothing you can do to change them. Politicians promise it, but they don’t come through. The people in power don’t want change, and they’ve convinced us that there’s nothing we can do.

The complacence is deadly. We give up on our dreams, take jobs that don’t matter to us, and when we feel unfulfilled, we say, well, that’s life, you have to accept it. And when we can’t accept it any more, we put guns to our heads, because we have no hope for anything better.

I may still be relatively young, but I’ve been through a fair bit, and even been close to losing all hope. But I’ve come back from it. Most recently, my last job was really getting rough and it wasn’t allowing me enough time that I was coherent enough to work, to work on my writing, which is my dream. It took a while but I realized that job was outright stopping me from following my dream.

I don’t generally act rashly in those situations, so I didn’t quit right that moment, but I started looking for a new job pretty quick, and awesome friends came through for me in helping me find one. Things are way better now. Because I did something.

I could have survived on that old job. I could live in this ghetto apartment indefinitely and raise kids in here that I didn’t have time to see, and never write another novel. Hypothetically, I mean. I’d actually just do what I did because I couldn’t bear giving up progress or at least the hope of progress.

Right around that time, my favourite band released their new album, with a song that hit home just then:

Letters From A Little Boy To Himself As An Adult
Lyrics by Captain Robert

”Robert as boy:”
Dear Mr. Brown,
One day I’ll be you and
Although I’m only eight now,
You need to hear my rules
Never stop playing
Never stop dreaming and
And be careful not to
Turn into what I’d hate

”Robert as adult:”
Dear little boy,
I’m doing my best up here but
It’s a thankless job and
Nobody feels the same
You work long hours
Watch your credit rating
Pay your taxes and
Prepare to die

”Jody Ellen:”
I have tried to keep my soul
I lost the fight to keep a hold
Now I am not awake
Now I’m not awake

”Robert as boy:”
Hey Mr. Brown,
That can’t be what life is like!
I’ve watched some movies,
And I’ve, I’ve read some books
Life should be exciting
And sometimes scary but
What you’re describing doesn’t
Seem worth the time

”Robert as adult:”
Hey little boy,
I think you are always right
I’ve dropped that worthless life and
I’m moving on
Life should be adventure
I’m stealing back my soul
I’ve lost too many years now
I’m awake

”Robert and Jody Ellen:”
You were right
I nearly lost my soul
I will fight to steal back my soul
Now I am awake
Now I’m awake

This became Etienne’s song, and all my feelings about my life then came out in the novel I was writing for national novel writing month. Etienne is a man who led a small uprising against the oppressive monarchy that was put down brutally. He lost friends, spent time in jail and when he got out, he no longer believed it was possible to change the way things were. Eventually someone convinces him to try again, and he dares to hope again.

Then there’s Claire who dreams of flying a fighter aeroplane, and since it’s a man’s world, she has to fight society’s rules tooth and nail to follow her dream. But she does, right to the end. She never gives up on it.

And there’s the admiral; he doesn’t like the way things are, but he accepts it, and doesn’t believe that change is possible, so he tries to make the best of the way things are.

And finally there’s Maddie, the little girl, who is too young to know she shouldn’t hope for better, and inspires it in others too.

I want my writing, and my characters to inspire people. I think people want to believe and to hope, they’re just inundated with apathy, and there needs to be more hope in the world. I want to put more hope in the world, and this is how I’ll do it.

For my first Post: Review of Robert J. Sawyer’s Lecture on “Idea is King”

So I’ve made a blog, and a website, and I should probably get some actual blog content up here. Since this will be mainly a writing related blog, I will start with some great writing advice from Robert J Sawyer.

At Keycon I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Robert J. Sawyer about how to write a novel that will sell, and he said in no uncertain terms that the stories that will be remembered, are the ones that take a position on something and argue a point.

People may disagree with you, but they’ll talk about it, and every person you get talking about it is free publicity.

He gave a couple of examples; first, he didn’t name the author, but he referred to an author he met at a con who advocated the best way to get published it to write as much as you can and publish as much as you can. This author had published 100 books in the 20 years it took for Robert J. Sawyer to publish 20 books. *But*, this other author had 6 books still in print, while all 20 of Sawyer’s books are still in print, 20 years later. The difference was not necessarily quality of writing, but the fact that Sawyer’s books each had a theme and a position, whereas the other author’s was purely for entertainment.

His second example was the 2009 oscars. 3 sci fi movies made the short list; Star Trek, Avatar, and District 9. Only two of them were finalists – Avatar and District 9. Sawyer posits that the reason Star Trek didn’t make the finals was the fact that it was purely for entertainment, and made no controversial statement.

The difference is the way people talk about the story. If you ask someone what the new Star Trek movie was about, they’ll give you a plot synopsis. If you ask what District 9 was about, they’ll tell you it’s an allegory of racism and appartheid. They’ll tell you Avatar is about respecting the environment. And it doesn’t matter what side you fall on the arguments the movies make, they get people talking. The Star Trek movie didn’t do that.

When you make a point with your fiction, you get people talking, not just about the plot of your book, but about the issue itself. There will always be people who disagree with you, but that just means you’ve made your point well. (He mentioned getting an email from a reader who disagreed with one of his novel’s position, and he answered it wishing the reader “All the best in one day getting a soapbox as large as mine.”) By opening up dialogue about issues that everyone has an opinion on, people can discuss your book in ways that they can’t discuss a book that is written purely for entertainment.

Anyway, so says Robert J. Sawyer, and I personally agree.