I’ve talked about various inspirations and influences that led me to writing fantasy, an urge that has stuck with me since childhood, but it seems to me that at times I am endlessly circling around the central question of this series without ever answering it. I think in part because I’m answering it piecemeal, a long form puzzle to put together on a rainy day.
But today I think why not try to put my finger on one prime mover in my desire to write.
Beyond the things that inspired me, that influenced me, that shaped the course of my imagination, beyond the things that drive the particular form of my fiction and alongside the primal urge to simply speak and tell stories is the desire to say something new. In my youth I wanted to shout huge NEW things that were mindblowing (at least to me). The first paragraph of this blog was a major thesis of my first unpublished novel. The need to try to explain, to encapsulate, to know (a moment, an emotion, the universe – what it is that needs to be explained, encapsulated, understood is almost secondary to the pathological desire to capture it in words, so another may also know this thing, the butterfly of rarity that you have magically managed to pin down, without killing. (If you kill it, it won’t live in the minds of others. Mangled writing represents the corpses of thoughts that writers tried to capture, but didn’t quite manage to keep alive. This could well be a classic exemplar of the form.)) The desire to do this runs up against the sense that thought is fleeting and can rarely be caught, however much we want to capture and crystallize it into something beautiful. And of course the feeling lingers that capturing something free and fleeting is to alter its nature and rob it of its beauty – the Schrödinger’s cat of creativity – if you record a moment perfectly, have you also somehow destroyed what made it special?
I cannot deny that simple ego plays its part in the desire to be an ‘original’. I think that most modern writers write, or started writing to record parts of themselves, however shadowed, hidden, or obscured by image and subject. There is a certain sense of wanting to leave our smudged fingerprints behind us, to at least be regarded, if only briefly, by another, one mind to another. I woz ‘ere, ‘ere I woz, woz I ‘ere? I used to insert ‘ere woz I! (Superfluously) to that little ditty, until I realized it added very little, and in fact ruined the simplicity of the three line scheme. I was trying to be different, but marring the original.
In writing fantasy I do want to write something different, perhaps a style, or a subject not necessarily seen a hundred times before. Of course there are elements and tropes seen many times already: use the word wizard and you tap into oceans of association by now. Every story written by every writer is in a sense original no matter how derivative it may appear, because nobody (I believe) can erase their own voice: a perfect stylistic mimic will create their own content, a copier of content will have their own stylistic tics. In trying to be as others, still they betray themselves. In trying to be different, we are drowned in how we are just the same as everyone else, all those voices that came before us and staked out the ground of the genre or subject we wish to discuss.
This is why genres get expanded, why new forms are created – the restless desire to find a new way of expressing old ideas for new generations, as conceived by single minds who just had to speak.
It is so easy to be jaded. I get the message in Sheryl’s song. Or Cypress Hill’s. But damn me, I still want to write my stories, and I (perhaps foolishly) still think they are new, and say things just a little differently to those that came before. The urge to say “this was my voice, this was my song”, is strong, and no matter what the genre, I think when you look at a writer’s work closely, you will see the desire there to be noted as something original in some way – maybe in the engine block, maybe in the fairing, maybe just in the way the story rides.
So there you have it: this week’s confession – not surprising I think. I write fantasy because it is a mainline to being original – if everything in the world of your creation is your choice, then it is hard not to imagine that the expression of your choices will be original. That is the baseline. If from there you want to write the stories you never read, but wanted to, there is an extra dollop of possible originality – but of course all of your fellow generational cohort who grew up reading those same books are also kicking against those traditions, many in ways very similar to your own. If your writing is not a reaction to anything you read, but an expression of newly synthesized ideas in a unique environment, well, don’t be surprised if it reads to others like a strange mix of Aristotle, Molière, and Tolstoy. Many restless minds before you have tried to capture the ineffable too. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try though.
It ain’t easy, being an original. But we all are. So just write.