Graydon: August 2018 Archives

Charlie having been kind enough to hand me some blog keys, I get to talk about, not writing, since I may not know anything about writing, but about what kinds of things get written about.

So, this book—why's it got to be about a murder?

Yeah, I know, mysteries aren't everything, and sometimes the murder even in those is purely ancillary (Sayers' Gaudy Night has a murder, but the murder is in no way what the book is about), but story is pretty closely "Who do we have to kill to fix this problem and restore the natural order?" Then there's tension about whether or not it's going to happen, or happen in time, or what the cost will be. (Yes, there's variation; sometimes order doesn't get restored, sometimes it isn't what the viewpoint thinks it is, sometimes the murder is going on over there and we get people coping with the side effects, sometimes we get the main problem being keeping the corpse-pile to the smallest possible size, but the core of story, the presumptive bounds of narrative, are narrow.

Even in romance, which one might expect to have very little to do with murder, you've got a lot of tropes of conquest and surrender and whole ramifying sub-genres (paranormal romance) where the specific popularity might have something to do with the introduction of overt murder.

It's almost as though the only legitimate story is about conquest.

Now, I'm pretty sure this is an anglosphere genres thing, but in English it's pervasive. Man versus nature, man versus man, man versus self is much more about the versus than the participants. Why are—from various viewpoints and removes and angles of the light—the only real stories about conquest? There's a fight, which someone must win?

At this point someone might be inclined to point out that the first book I published was a military fantasy with an uncertain but not insignificant body count. And it was; I wanted to write the contrapositive of a Black Company novel.

Glen Cook—an underrated prose stylist—has a series about the Black Company, a group of mercenaries who are terrible people with no homes to return to and operating in a world where they wind up serving various dark lords running authoritarian polities. (The dark lords are mighty sorcerers.) So what happens if you try to write about a bunch of basically decent part-timers serving an egalitarian nation where sorcerers are forbidden political power? Where the political and social norms are against any form of conquest?

In my case, you get The March North; I also got the Commonweal. (And the idea of co-operative magical focuses, and Halt, wandered in from out of the dark.)

Once I had the Commonweal, well, sorcerers are forbidden political power. How do you arrange that while sticking to egalitarian principles and some materialist concept of abstract justice? What do you do when luck provides you with someone who will, permitted to grow into their power, become mighty indeed? How much do you trust your institutions and your mechanisms of government? How well can you avoid committing conquest out of fear?

That's A Succession of Bad Days; not so much sorcery school as an adult-learner educational cooperative for the unexpectedly talented, and a book frequently accused of being completely plotless. I think that's because there's no murder, and the lack of murder means there's a number of readers for whom it can't be a story. (Other readers report it a much-re-read comfort book. Tastes vary.)

Safely You Deliver is what happens when I try to write a love story in the style of Pamela Dean; there's some incidental murder in that one, but it really is mostly about Zora (who is in that adult-learner educational cooperative) and a unicorn, who is from the Bad Old Days outside the Commonweal and finds the whole place strange indeed.

And then there's the just-released Under One Banner where you get someone from a traditional background in the Commonweal starting to wonder if the Commonweal has persisted because the neighboring autocracies are generally incompetent at conquest and that perhaps this matters. Perhaps the Commonweal should be planning for competent opposition.

So, no, not entirely free from murder, but I hope free from the motivations of conquest. The point is the increase of knowledge and the breadth of prosperity, not getting anyone or anything to submit. And maybe, I hope, nudging toward a wider idea of story than some narrative of conquest.

The bit about why self-publishing means you can write what you want, and how sometimes those books find enough friends to seem worth writing but not to be worth the effort from a commercial publisher, and how this is generally a good thing for those as read fiction for enjoyment, and certainly a good thing for those of us who want to write decidedly non-commercial fiction, maybe that's the next post.



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This page is an archive of recent entries written by Graydon in August 2018.

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