Processing via story

When I started talking about Arsenal of Hope to friends who are also authors, I didn’t expect it to pique as much interest as it did. In hindsight, I shouldn’t be surprised that several of the other writers… well, broken birds of a feather flock together, eh? And for the rest, I provided them with “here’s a really cool book that gives you a lot of insight into how people different from you tick.” Of course some were gonna start making interested noises about research. Compulsive research geeks… well, that explains authorial search histories, anyway.

But as Cedar’s been working through it, she’s been throwing quotes at me in the serene knowledge that 1.) I’ve already read it, so no worries about spoilers or lack of context, and 2.) it’s kinda my fault, since I introduced her to the book, so hey, let’s open this can of wor… talk about this bit! (She put up an early review on her blog, too, here.)

So, last night, she threw this one at me, and asked “is this why we write fiction?”

My immediate smartass response was “People without PTSD write fiction, too!”

But yes, okay, fine, fiction can be a coping mechanism. When I have problems processing things, I can take it, pull it out of its current setting, put it at a fictional remove, and then run a character through it in order to see how it affects others. Or set up multiple characters experience the same thing, but making different choices, and… well, have you ever noticed how often the protagonist and the antagonist are mirror images of each other, with the same goal, but different starting points and different choices and values? So yes, it is a way to process something, often subconsciously, and consider it and chew over it. Not that I do it with such precision and forethought, no. It often starts in the subconscious and works its way forward as story, and thus I have learned to pay attention to what I’m writing on multiple levels.

Not that this is in any way, shape, or form limited to trauma. It’s a coping mechanism, and those tools are more like pocketknives than keys; they can be pressed into service when trying to do or understand a wide variety of things. I made the mistake of showing Cedar one such, years ago, when I was working on getting a mental handle on the different optimization of pathways in cellular metabolism. Yes, the title of the piece is, indeed, AKT vs. AMPK. Except it’s an urban fantasy set in Alaska, and since she was writing East Witch at the time, and we were discussing other things while I was beating my head against the biology, it not only covers the optimization in diet and power recruitment for strengthlifting vs. ultramarathon runners (those sports specialize in one channel vs. the other. especially when the ultramarathoners are doing keto)…

It also started folding in geopolitics, including the peculiar presence that international crime syndicates have in Alaska due to its customs clearing, the role of CBP in cargo vs. people customs, and how mythology adapts to new places when people move (we were discussing the mutation of the Child ballads into Appalachian folk songs), as expressed through Slavic mythology instead. (She was researching a lot of Slavic mythos for East Witch.) And the Glock vs. 1911 / 9mm vs. .45 religious debates, because that had flared up somewhere and I might have been making snarky remarks. (Okay, I was definitely making snarky remarks.) Cedar occasionally keeps feeding me public domain Slavic mythology to this day, gently teasing me and telling me she wants me to finish it as a proper story, because it made her laugh.

However, that and the rest of these scenarios are not the published books on the market – they are among the hundreds of one-off scenes, abandoned projects, bare outlines of stories, and shorthand-to-self sketched bare bones of an idea that litter the drafts folder. And yet, while I never consciously draw on any of those to write a novel, once it’s finished, I can often look back and see the influences over the last 3-5 years being drawn together and reworked into story.

After all, what is science fiction if not “if this goes on, how will it affect a world, a society, and the people in it?”

…although this probably helps explain why I look at light, sweet, frothy things other people write, and go “Why can’t I do that?” Surely for once I could write something and not worry about making it tactically, economically, and ecologically correct!

I wonder where they pull their fiction from?

8 comments

  1. Well, fine, just explain to me why various parts of my trauma show up in my fiction why don’t you 😛

    And you know where I pull my fiction from. If the fiction you wrote wasn’t also tactically, economically and ecologically correct, it wouldn’t matter how light and frothy it was, it would bother you.

    1. It would! Because it bothers me when I read it, so it’d bother me to write it. C’est la vie.

  2. I think the people who write light, frothy fiction either 1) hide things better and compartmentalize in ways that I envy, or 2) had quiet, happy, ordinary lives and are sunny-tempered by nature. But that’s just my take.

    I make up stories in my head because I can sort of control those. Note, I said sort of, because, well, my characters and plots tend to go their own ways and leave me in the dust. *rueful kitty shrug*

    1. I know a few quiet, happy, ordinary people who’ve generally had decent lives and are sunny-tempered by nature. They’re rare, and precious to me, and I want to wrap them in cotton wool and protect them from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. And yet… the more I get to know them, the more often I find that they’ve had hardships and tragedies in their lives, commensurate with the world in which they live, and still are happy, even-tempered, optimistic, and content with their little tiny slice of the world.

      A world which sometimes, other than the occasional vacation, is within 20 miles of where they grew up.

      I don’t understand how they do that, as it’s so incredibly alien to my world, but I value them all the same.

  3. Sweet frothy things . . . I think, like writers of non-frothy things, they get it from a combination of inborn proclivities, life experiences, and what they wish were life experiences.

    As an example, I was once a bridesmaid in a big fancy wedding. I would _never_ inflict such a thing on myself. But my characters? Oh yes, they got inflicted. But I couldn’t write like that full time. So what do I know? Maybe Janet Evanovich writes horror stories under a deep pen name.

    But for me, sometimes the sweet frothy just happens.

  4. I recommend When Huai Flowers Bloom: Stories of the Cultural Revolution by Shu Jiang Lu in particular to writers because of the things it says about telling stories.

  5. What I read, and what I write, are both aspects of myself, but neither of them cover all the territory. The things I read are akin to Freud’s coin toss. The things I write are what I do with it.

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