Unexpected Developments in Creative Fiction: Finding Your Niche

I wrote way back that my main reason for resurrecting this blog from the Trustus ashes was to force some discipline upon myself: To force myself to write something … anything, even when I had little to say. It turns out, I think that the strategy is working.

I’ve been writing a bit of fiction lately that I’ve been sending to magazines and such. It’s stuff that takes a bit more effort than what you see here. (Although, somebody apparently posted a link to my recent We Are Cicada piece on reddit … I was kind of tickled to see that, since the Cicada piece was just a brain fart.)

Anyway, you can tell right? Even when you’re the one who created it and are obviously not the most objective observer … you can tell when something you’ve written is trash or not. You aren’t the best one to judge of course, but you can tell. The stuff I’ve been sending out I think is publishable, but not great. It’s publishable in the sense that it’s original and offers something new: It’s not cookie-cutter fiction. At the same time, it’s a little … meh. You read back through it and it’s sad to see that the characters are sort of flat, the characters are too few, or that rather than having any real action, what you’ve written is a dialogue between two people talking about action (that’s one of my problems anyway … too much dialogue about action in place of action). These things don’t make something unpublishable. I don’t think they can, because I’ve read a lot of crappy fiction in magazines. But at the same time, I don’t think anybody is going to pick up any of those short stories of mine and say “Oh yes! This will be the highlight of next month’s issue!”

So anyway, I tried something different recently. First, I have my own fictional material (e.g. unobtainium, dilithium crystals) that I’ve wanted to use for some time because it’s awesome. Mine beats garbage like unobtainium because it’s a real material, or at least it could be a real material if we could make it. It doesn’t exist in nature though, and it would require much more advanced chemistry than what currently exists on Earth. At the same time, it wouldn’t take a ridiculously advanced culture to make it … just one more advanced than ours by a few hundred years or so. It shouldn’t have any kind of magical properties so it’s possible that nobody would want to bother making it. Yet if you found an artifact made of the stuff, well … it would lead to questions about where it came from and why. And of course, those questions lead to a story.

I started to use that material in a story, and had many false starts, where again the characters were flat and the story kind of drab. So I thought, what if I use real people? Colorful people, and colorful family anecdotes. Everyone has a crazy uncle (two young women in my family have a crazy uncle), and a wacky aunt, and that distant cousin that nobody talks about. So I did that, morphing things as needed. Basically, I took real family anecdotes and threw my fictional material into the mix, and magic happened.

Normally, my problem is that there isn’t enough of a story to tell. Now, I have the opposite problem. I’ve written something that somehow has these natural connections to all sorts of side-plots and elements that I previously thought were unrelated. It could be short story as is, or it could be chapter one of a novel. The problem with the short story approach is that chapters two, three, four, etc., could probably not stand alone as short stories, although maybe some of them could, so I think it may be bit of a waste to go that route. I’ve also not stopped to read the fine print in magazines about rights, and I suspect I couldn’t reuse what I have now as a “chapter one” if I had previously published it as a short story. So anyway, I find myself unexpectedly in novel territory. I guess if it doesn’t pan out, goes to shit, etc., I can go back later and submit that chapter one as an independent story, but for now, I’m keeping it to myself.

I sat down today and sketched out the beginnings of an outline: Characters, topography, important conflicts, places of interest, key points of friction between characters and worlds. I’ve got enough material for a novel: Probably a few. The concern is, can I keep the decent writing going or is this going to turn into a cluster-fuck?

And that niche I was talking about … don’t know why I never came out and admitted it to myself, because everything steers in this direction anyway: Comedic Science Fiction with a touch of social satire. Almost everything I write meanders in that direction, so why try to keep it out? I’ve decided that maybe that’s just where I belong, and so the challenge becomes keeping things from becoming too cheesy.

I mentioned in the first sentence of this post that I’m writing this stuff to “force some discipline upon myself.” You’ve just read my discipline for the day. Cheers! 😛

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One Response to Unexpected Developments in Creative Fiction: Finding Your Niche

  1. Mike Stanger says:

    Like you said, tthe key is to write every day, even if it feels like you’re producing nothing but crap. If your fiction writing is anything like this blog and Trustus Pharmaceuticals videos, I’ll buy it.

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