I’m thinkin’ about themes, and the subtextual messages we (well, most of us) try to communicate in our writing.
Well…more precisely, I’m working on the underlying themes for a new & totally unrelated project, and that got me to thinking…
Now, starting to conceive and develop a new project (however slowly) when you’re only halfway through your current one may not be the smartest thing in the world…but no one ever accused me of being smart. Honestly, at this point the important part is that the new project gives me different dynamics and pacing to use. It also, it must be said, gives me the opportunity to play with some themes & ideas that have no place in Connor & Oz’s universe.
But…the question that kept coming up in the back of my mind as I worked was this: just how do you know when you reached that saturation point? How do you know when enough is enough?
Okay, okay…so, even I know the answer to that one (with thanks to Julia Child for this): “when it is done.”
Part of the answer, I think, is just what are those themes you are trying to communicate. There is a certain amount of room & latitude for the small lens — for the personal — but far more for thoughts and insights through a bigger lens.
Literature in general, and science fiction in particular, have always been around to communicate far more than they say. Hell, for at least a century, sci-fi has been the go-to resource for social and political commentary on the problems and events of, err, “today”.
Don’t believe me? Read Brave New World, or The Forever War, or War With The Newts…hell, go back to Wells’s Eloi and Morlochs. Nope, no message there, no light shining on his contemporary society…
Sorry, about that — almost got started on a rant…and a reading list that might never have ended.
If anything, I would argue that today’s sci-fi and fantasy don’t have enough to say about the “big things”. Oh, there are all kinds of stories in the small-scale, but the number of books that criticize and argue — err, effectively criticize and argue — about the biggest things just isn’t anywhere near as large as it could be.
And…well…I’m part of the problem. My current project (Connor & Oz) is very much at the micro end of the scale. It is focused on the personal problems — and growth — of a troubled kid who is very much at the wrong end of that old truism that “shit rolls downhill”.
Thinking about that, and about Connor’s story as it evolves and grows, has me looking — looking very hard — at those bigger elements and threads that I’ve included in the world-building, but haven’t actually developed. It’s got me thinking, at least a little bit, at the macro end of the scale.
I can’t complain about folks not tackling the “big picture” stuff if I won’t do it, can I?
There are problems and challenges in the world today that just aren’t going away anytime soon — and certainly aren’t going away in the timeframe in which these stories take place (300-350ish years in the future). The trick and the challenge is to keep the focus tight and personal on my protagonist, but to use the end results and impacts of these issues on Connor to (hopefully) shine a light.
Oh, and before you ask: nope, the changes ain’t gonna make the tone any lighter. Repression & control, exploitation, elitism, the ever-present power of corruption and vice, and the willing heartlessness of “the many” that allows all that to prosper and grow…
Nope, not gonna get any lighter…but it will be fun*.
*And a hell of a lot of work.
I should probably add that Connor’s story was originally designed and intended to be purely personal, to be the reality of two kids who never had a chance. It is only lately that I’ve begun to think that, perhaps, looking at the universe through that small lens might not be enough…