A question of semantics

When I’m not at work, or out with friends, or indulging in a Bones marathon, I write. It’s what I do. How I de-stress. Sometimes I write for Bright Meadow, other times I write for me. And it’s got to the point in my own writing that I am having to describe what exactly it is that I’m writing to people. Real people. People I know, love and respect. People whose opinions I trust. I’m not talking about my blog-writing here – I’m pretty ok with talking about that now – but the writing I am doing on a much longer fiction piece.

Which is where I start to get trapped in semantics. I don’t feel comfortable calling it a ‘novel’ or even a book, because if nothing else, ‘book’ implies being published and we’ll probably be knee deep in flying pigs before that ever happens. And then there’s the fact that ‘novel’ implies a work with some serious message to impart. Or, at the very least, something set in the real world!

What I’m writing is neither of those things. It’s escapist fantasy pure and simple, set in a world of my own imagining, with characters that started life in my head because I was a lonely 17 year old who yearned to be the heroine. Sure they’ve fleshed out some since then, but still, we’re more in the realms of Robin Hobb than Zadie Smith here.

I’ve got the arc of what happens, though I’m worried I’ve over-reached because I really don’t have the skills to write the apocalyptic culminating battle I know in my head has to occur. I know the main characters like old friends and I am totally head-over-heals in love with one of the minor characters (already she’s gone from being a walk-on plot device part, to being a minor-but-pivotal character in her own right who is going to have to end up with at least a sequel all to her own). I know the world they all walk intimately, and have gone to the point that I’ve fleshed out whole patterns of trade and politics for socio-economically viable cultures, who are mentioned in just one passing line in the whole bloody thing. The only thing I’m still not sure on is the ending. On paper I know X fights Y. I know A betrays his people. I know he does this because B tells him to. But… things are still twisting in my head with that regard. There is a missing piece of the puzzle and till I’ve re-written what I plotted out last time I seriously put effort into it (a good couple of years back), I’m not sure where it’s all going to end up.

I got a little sidetracked there, sorry.

What I am try to impress on you all is that, regardless of what the finished product is, this story is in my head and forcing its way out of my fingers and onto the page. I can’t help it. Sometimes I lie awake at night and I can hear whole chunks of dialogue, just playing out. Scenes will scroll across my mind, making me lunge for a notebook so I don’t forget them. And that’s fine by me. I enjoy it. It would be lovely if I could do it all the time, but I can’t.

Which is where I start to stumble with language.

People ask me what I did at the weekend, for example, or what I did on my holiday. And I will, quite truthfully, tell them that I wrote.
“You write?” Slight taken aback pause, followed by (slightly) feigned interest. “What are you writing?”
“Um, this fantasy story set on an imaginary world with two warring cultures, and it’s all about one mercenary and how he brings about an apocalyptic war because he might want to change sides. But he doesn’t really. There’s this whole theme of love, and choice, and fate and…” That’s when I start to trail off because the blank look in most people’s eyes when you mention ‘fantasy’ really doesn’t encourage further elaboration. Fantasy is the realm of pimply fourteen year old losers who dress in black. It’s for the people who couldn’t get a date to prom. For the dorky among us. The geeks. Those not quite in touch with reality. The people who really could do with going back on their medication. And the people who write fantasy are the people who can’t write “properly”.

I’m not saying that that is who reads fantasy. My boss reads books about werewolves. Moose reads books about magicians and people with daemons. Lord of the Rings made being a fanboi/geek cool and pretty much socially acceptable. Nor am I someone who really subscribes to the belief that fantasy is a lesser genre (though it does seem that some god-awful dross gets published just because “it’s fantasy, so we don’t need standards”).

But still, say ‘fantasy’ and I challenge you not to think immediately of a dysfunctional teenager who wears a lot of spiky jewellery, listens to loud music, and who the FBI would question first if there was a suspected bombing at a high-school, because everyone knows that Johnny is just weird. I mean he reads books with pictures of swords, scantily leather-clad busty women, and dragons on the front. Right?

So I’m not writing a ‘book’ and I’m reluctant to mention the genre it really belongs in if I’m being honest. It would be lovely to think that I am writing a seminal work which later generations will analyse in depth and admire the skill with which I wove the many intricate themes throughout the story. To think that maybe scholars would marvel at how such an elegantly simple piece could still have relevance. And I get a perverse kind of glee thinking that it could end up being some school set-text. But that’s never going to happen. I’m not writing a modern classic, even if it was going to get published. I’m simply putting it all down on the page because I get a kick out of it and because there’s a hoard of little people fighting in my skull who really want to make sure their story gets heard.

I just wish I had some easy way to describe it to my mum is all. Or my brother, because I know the explanation I have right now is just going to have him mocking me over the sprouts at Christmas.

20 thoughts on “A question of semantics

  1. You have your writing and Optimus Prime.

    Your brother has sprouts and other assorted seasonal vegetables.

    I think you win. Hands down.

    As for your ‘writing’, I say good for you. I don’t know you from Adam, but from reading your blog, I regularly get the impression that you are strong willed and your own person.

    People deal with the stresses of daily life in many different ways. Many waste the wind down time at the end of the day playing games, listening to music or lazing around in front of the tv, while others may prefer to sit alone in quiet contemplation.

    You found a creative outlet you can be passionate about. You can allow your writing to go wherever you want. It’s a talent, comparable to playing an instrument (in my eyes anyway) that you should be proud of, not hide behind.

    Smile and be happy. You have the ability to allow your thoughts to build into something that makes sense on paper. I know people that would love to be able to write freely.

    Siblings squabble … it’s a fact of life. Instead of launching vegetables, perhaps use your writing prowess to launch a large inanimate insult in his general direction instead 😀

  2. Why don’t you take some segments of your book-even-though-you-say-it-isn’t and put it up on your site? When people want an in-depth description of what it is you’re writing, you can go, “now that you mention it, I’ve got some finished parts at my site; here’s the URL.”

    I’ve found that describing a book to someone is often extremely difficult. It’s hard to sum up something that spans 300+ pages in a sentence or two. That’s why often, when talking to book-folk like myself, many of my remarks on a book I’ve read end with: “You know, you’ll just have to read it. I can’t describe it.”

  3. Josh, I’m not sure why, but I don’t want to put it on the blog. Mainly, I think, because it is a long piece so doesn’t make sense in chunks! It is an idea though that I might have to rethink.

  4. Cas: Do you have any completed chapters? Surely one of those would have enough in it to stand on its own, no?

    I can understand your feelings, though. I too would be hesitant about putting my fictional writing on my site (not to imply that I write much of it), but it seems like one of the simplest solutions to, “Oh, so what are you writing?” It would also force those who ask to actually read a bit of it before making a judgment, rather than them hearing the F word and going into a fake-interest trance. 🙂

  5. Thinking about it, I think my problem might be partly because it isn’t in ‘chapter’ form properly yet. It definitely isn’t a short story (30,000 words at the last count isn’t short by any stretch of the imagination!), but it isn’t the full length either. It’s very much a work in progress, which really doesn’t help when it comes to talking about. I know what is it meant to be, but what is on the paper doesn’t fully reflect that yet!

    I think I am going to have to go with another option which is set certain of my friends on it and see what they make of it first…

  6. because the blank look in most people’s eyes when you mention ‘fantasy’ really doesn’t encourage further elaboration

    I’m quite convinced that’s what happened to George Lucas, a lot.

    As for the book not having form, I can dig that. I used to start and delete tonnes of novels. I was always looking for new form. It always looked like bad Bret Easton-Ellis. I wanted Bright Young Things and Keep the Aspidistra Flying meets Somerset Maugham. Or something like that.

    What I think i want to say is just keep at it. Worthless advice but the only one, really, anyone can give you.

    And do publish it somewhere online. Not so much as to ask for critiques (that seldom works) but just as a way of getting it out there. It’s easy in case you do want to share bits and somehow, I think, it might just get the ball rolling and make you see things in ways you may not have before.

    And, yes, I realize this entire comment hardly makes sense at all. Just wanted to perk you up or something.

  7. Hello,

    I am very sorry that you came joint last in the blog awards, as you deserved better than that. You ran your own campaign and didn’t join the gang that was trying to do Neil Clark down. I asked some of our people to shift your way, but the damned servers jammed up on the last day and I couldn’t get enough through to lift you above dozy bollocks.

    I am sorry, OK?


  8. Reading Nils’s comment made me think of something that, truth be told, you’ve probably already thought of and considered. Why don’t you set up a separate blog for your fiction writing? Make posts be snippets, whole chapters (whenever it reaches chapter form), dialogues, plot background, whatever. If it’s related to your story / book / thing, post it. Who cares if it’s not finished? I think reading a blog that shows a fictional story “coming to life,” so to speak, would be really quite fascinating. That would also get it out in the open and let you get comments on it.

  9. Josh’s comment made me get a bit tingly… you could maybes make a closed wiki so you could update/ link/ crossthread things? 😀 Or is that tooo exposed?

  10. Nils, Josh, Neko – it actually was previously posted (in bits) here on Bright Meadow. Then I took it down because I’m just not happy with where it is right now. I’m too much of a perfectionist I guess to put half-finished work out there.

    But Josh, funny you should say about a blog that is separate for my fiction stuff. There is one in existence. Just no body knows about it. Ah, the beauty of anonymity again! (And the complete *eek* at having no readers. I can’t believe how much I’ve come to rely on you guys!)

    Neko – a closed wiki could, in theory, work. It certainly did for thesis writing. Great for feedback and the like. However, and I know I am about to commit something akin to digital heresy here, I don’t think the wiki form works for this. I am too much a fan of the linear narrative and the skill it takes to write like that. I just love the slow unfolding of plot and character arcs. I love it when a good author takes you by the hand through a story, only revealing the full picture at the end.

    That being said, I can see a wiki use in the back of my head. We’ll talk more tomorrow 😉

  11. Ken – thank you for your kind words. I’m not totally sure I would categorize where I came as “dozy bollocks”, as I know I never stood a fluffy kitten’s chance in the seventh circle of ever coming close to winning (I’m just rather pleased I even got nominated), but I don’t think you have anything to apologise for.

    Welcome to Bright Meadow and the comments

  12. Er, no, dozy bollocks is Pub Philosopher’s owner. I just called him that because I couldn’t at the time of writing remember the blog’s name.

  13. I totally understand everything you said about your writing, even down to lying in bed with dialogue, plot twists and vivid visual ideas running through your brain. Only difference is, I enjoy focusing my latent creative talent (talent and sheer boredom are mostly indistinguishable to me) on roleplaying based activities rather than writing. I enjoy writing, but the static nature of it means I’m never entirely happy with it, whereas in roleplaying you reach a point where it’s done, and it now in the past and you have to move onto the next thing, like it or loathe it.

    As for being able to desribe it without sounding like a wierdo to the unwashed masses…I gave up looking, I just revel in the idea that I understand what they don’t, it’s the only way it makes sesne!

  14. I hear what you have to say about RPing Mr M – it’s been a while since I did any myself, and I tended to stick to online RPing even then, but I do hang around lots of people who are still active, and I’ve always been struck by their creativity. But the ‘static’ nature of writing which bores you so is part of what draws me to it! I love being able to go back and revisit stuff I’ve written previously, and play around and change it, make it better. I guess I’m too much of a perfectionist to be able to just ‘move on’ because something’s in the past!

    And welcome to Bright Meadow and the comments, Mr M 🙂

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