Writing: The Rabbit Hole(s)

Theoretically, I’m working on 4 writing projects. I say ‘theoretically’ because, to be working on something would, I suppose, involve actual work at some point… Herein, for my own clarification, I’m laying out the various rabbit holes down which I plunge in order to not write. Maybe it will have some accident-scene appeal to the reader, dunno.

I have 2 short stories that, had I some combination of discipline and talent, I’d finish first. One is set in a Machiavelli-in-space meets Darwin universe, played somewhat for laughs. See? Doesn’t that sound great? This is one I just need to accept as the light fare it is, and plow through and get done. It’s been sitting there for a couple weeks now. I keep imagining there’s one more point or twist I’m missing that would make it something more than fluff – I suspect I’m wrong on that.

The second is more ambitious – another lonely guy in space story, with what I hope is a twist or three to make it interesting. It’s got technology, social commentary, art criticism and – yikes! Runs the risk of being both unfocused and boring. It, likewise, has sat undisturbed for a couple weeks. It requires, first, some thought-smithing prior to a last burst of wordsmithing.

Then there is an essays on how, even in speculative fiction, there is one thing you can’t speculate very far on – and that’s metaphysics(1). I’m cute-ing it up with lots of pop movie quotes, so as to counteract its inherent ponderousness.

Finally, there’s that half-finished(2) novel from 20+ years ago that I found when cleaning up. Oh, boy. As I read it, I started to get ideas about what it’s really about – bad move, from a get this finished POV. It’s about, well, everything. About philosophy, mythology, the origins of science, history – set on a sort of alternate earth in a peculiar galactic setting that makes for some different and interesting assumptions about the nature of reality. In the hands of good writer, it might be awesome – but alas! It’s in the hands of a hack with exactly one published work for which he’s gotten paid: me.

So, rabbit holes, right? The first story is a sort of broad joke, one of those ‘if you take this *all the way* to where it’s going’ stories. The rabbit hole is merely the notion that it should be better. I look at what I’ve actually got, and just don’t like it that much, but too much to toss it.

In the second story, I reached a point where I needed to clarify some motivation, so I did, and in the process introduced a new character whom I love, now I need to resolve or at least reduce the hanging-ness of her story, and – it’s looking novella here. Or I could toss her – but then I’m back to the ‘why is this guy all alone in space, really?’ problem. So, the real issue: write the damn thing! Then, if I hate, do something else.

Easier said than done.

I’ll blame Mike Fynn, a little, for the rabbit hole in the essay-writing. He had a link to a paper by a modern Analytic Philosopher named Cartwright, which had an amusing (to me, at least) aside early on about how philosophers (by which Cartwright means herself and her academic buddies) think one way, while physicists think another. Physicists, it turns out, think like Aristotle – because, unlike modern academic philosophers, physicists are trying to *do* something. It illustrated perfectly the point I want to make about the limits of metaphysical speculation in a story – because, in a story, the writer is likewise trying to *do* something. Are there, I wonder, stories out there that are 1) really good; and 2) espouse really bad metaphysics? Not talk about bad metaphysics, or even use bad metaphysics as a plot point, but are built upon bad metaphysics? Where the world of the story makes untenable metaphysical assumptions? I don’t know any, but maybe they’re out there.

The Cartwright piece is less than 200 pages, but dense. I think I need to read it. Somehow, I find a way to get derailed.

Finally, the novel – yikes! In the opening couple chapters, I introduce a bunch of characters – a little boy and a little girl who have had their village destroyed and everyone they know murdered by a detachment of Imperial troops; the commander of those troops; a hermit; the Emperor; and the Emperor’s son. I’m also laying out this odd planet’s astronomy, geography, history and mythology as I go. This is all to set the stage for the major conflict in the first part of the book.

Where to start? I found that I needed to create, at minimum, 3 more or less complete mythologies to go along with at least 3 different civilizations, because the theologies, philosophies and ultimately sciences that the story is working toward require them. Maybe they only show up a little here and there in the actual story, but *I* need to know them to write it. Then I need a history for these peoples, which will include a couple Colombus-style first contact events, who invades whom, how the cultures are assimilated/destroyed by the victors (or by the losers – see: Greeks and Celts)…

On the plus side, these things have been percolating in my brain for years and years. Also, in the last week or two, I’ve drawn a map and begun a write up of the astronomy of this planet, and started compiling mythology from several sources that will serve as a basis for the mythologies I need to create. So, all is not lost.

Yet I feel pulled toward more reading – confession: I’ve never read Dune, from what I hear, sounds like I should. Gene Wolfe and John C Wright also seem like good background, as they do traffic in similar ideas – did you know they write very long books? Demi-War and Peace length books? So, I’ve got to resist, or at least do parallel tracks, or I’ll never get this written.

Goal for next two weeks: knock off one or two of the shorter works, then toss ’em or submit ’em.

1. metaphysics defined practically as that which you must believe is true if you believe anything is true.

2. Half-finished if one takes ‘Have Spacesuit, Will Travel’ as definitional of the length of a novel; if one is looking at Firestar or Count to a Trillion – books a good demi-War and Peace in length – then I’m about 5-10% in. Unfortunately, it seems to be naturally mutating in that latter direction….

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

3 thoughts on “Writing: The Rabbit Hole(s)”

  1. Hi Joseph. I think your writing about rabbit holes helped you answer your own question.

    “Goal for next two weeks: knock off one or two of the shorter works, then toss ‘em or submit ‘em.”

    That, for a better analogy, seems like the Dave Ramsey solution. Get the little ones (in his case debts) out of the way to build momentum. The time you spent finishing the little ones you apply to the bigger projects later. Also, reminds me of what JCJW says (paraphrased): “Anything written is never a waste and can often be used in a later work.”

    As for the conundrum over unanswered questions, Jim Butcher doesn’t let that stop him. He just makes it happen in his characters and somehow it creates a reason that shows up later in his writing. Undoubtedly, this is easier in Fantasy than Sci-Fi, but alas, he is a great example here. In your case, I must say I am not interested in why the guy is alone in space. If he is an interesting character, that may never need answering — or maybe in book three (or ten). Readers like to speculate — just don’t make them speculate as long as Pournelle has with his Janissaries in space adventure!

    Finally, from your descriptions, and from your blogging, I must say I am interested in what you may write.

    1. Thanks. I really need to try that ‘write and let the characters tell you why they’re doing what they’re doing’ approach – it doesn’t appeal to the orderly part of my mind (although, based on the physical evidence, one would suppose I don’t let that part of mind influence me too much).

      So far, if I don’t know where they’re going, I can’t seem to take them there. I must, as Morpheus says free my mind,

      Well, if anything I write ever sees the light of day, you’ll hear about it right here.

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