I’ve got a lot of notions, today, but not a whole lot that’s going to coalesce into anything particularly focused. You’ve been warned (I’m so, so sorry). Caer Dave has been in the grips of illness and a distinct change in the weather. Last few days have been glorious, and we’re enjoying the almost-warmth. This has entailed more of Dave-staring-into-space level of writing, rather than Dave-put-words-on-screen writing, and I’m working on flipping the switch from one to the other. The Great Pulp Short Novel Experiment is ongoing, and I’m working hard to bring my mental space into alignment with renewed physical health. Pneumonia sucks. I don’t recommend it.
One thing that occurred this morning is something of a holdover from the weekend. With the annual occurrence of “Everybody’s Irish for a Day,” I’ve had various Eire/Celt/Gael descended and inspired music going in the background as normal life things happen, and one of the common themes is that of native soil. Now, our own Sarah has talked about this in other contexts any number of times, but one piece that we (*cough*me*cough*) may forget is we Americans don’t tend to think of native soil as being anything more than dirt. That’s not how much of the rest of humanity looks at it, or has looked at it for most of history.
This is tangentially related to identifying us as People, and those folks over there as Enemy. We’re tied to this patch of dirt. We’ve bled on it, raised families on it, raised crops or herds on it, and we’ll defend it. Which, for most of American history isn’t really how we’ve thought about land, except possibly as an individual thing. This is MY land, rather than This is OUR land. You want your own land, there’s plenty thattaway. Don’t let the gate hit you on the rump as you go find it.
One criticism I’ve seen of Western – and specifically American – SF is bound up in this notion. For hundreds of years, our ancestors have been the ones who packed up and left the native soil for freer climes. Now, whether that was in search of wealth, or space, or simply to avoid religious or political proscriptions is, at this point, moot. The point is our people left, and came here. And when they got here, they created a nation of ideas, rather than blood and soil.
Why are you bringing this up and so belaboring the point, Dave? I’m glad you asked! Your characters are going to have different opinions about blood and soil than you may, and it may or may not make any sense to you or to your readers. Check this out: in the GPSNE Mk. 1, my protagonist is Chinese in a Wuxia Old West setting. Now, he himself has some peculiar views arising from his upbringing, training, and general out-castedness, but most of the other Chinese with which he interacts in this alternate Old West are going to have some serious issues with him. For one, he refuses to wear a queue, which at the time in our history, was tantamount to not being Chinese, at all. Now, there’s a lot of background to that I’m not going into, but I’m going to have to find ways of communicating those attitudes to the readers without having several of my characters come off as just being jerks to one of my heroes.
Now, this may prove more significant in fantasy settings than in SF ones. The more social and physical mobility for which your setting allows, the less likely they are to encounter prejudices based on “y’all really ain’t from ‘round here, son.” Still, one fun twist is to push the clueless city-slicker trope, which is just a variant on the phenomenon that modern life pushes a certain amount of specialization. Indeed, human existence entails choosing certain directions, and explicitly not choosing all the others. You choose this job, and hence not all the other options. You marry this person, and none of the others. You live in this place, and consequently don’t live in others. We’re finite creatures, darnit.
So, keep you in mind of the beliefs which will inform your characters’ attitudes. It can be tricky, holding our own beliefs about such things loosely enough to write perspectives based on other – or even diametrically opposed – ones, but I have faith you can do it. Me? Well, I keep practicing, right? Go thou, and do likewise.
Pneumonia sucks. I don’t recommend it.
Amen to that!
This is why I recommend reading plenty of primary source, and not necessarily from eras you have any interest in writing in. You want to get your block knocked off so you don’t default to what you know.
But, nothing replaces the learning you get from actually walking the place. I’m from Cleveland, OH, and any book I read that has a non-native trying to write about us without having LIVED there is crap. The only non-native I’ve seen pull it off is Les Roberts, and he LIVED there for many years (he’s now located in Stow, OH, some distance away).
Same with your characters. You have to figure out who on Earth these aliens remind you of, and spend some time with them. Really dig in and get a good feel for how they interact, move, romance, work, etc.
Otherwise, it’s just superficial.
just like TV writers… specifically two instances:
current: NCIS writers trying to write about things in Fredericksburg, Alexandria, Norfolk, etc. Thigns that will strike you as funny is when early on they quote impossible drive times from Quantico to Norfolk- there is no freeway that runs from f’burg to Norfolk. (and my previously mentioned NCIS pet peeves)
old: in the 1990s, X-Files had an episode that took place in Richmond, and had someone sitting on the side of a major road waiting on a city bus… to *Charlottesville* know what’s between Richmond and Charlottesville? farms.