Tales Of The Ordinary

Let’s face it, it’s pretty much built in to human nature to check out anything that seems different. Be it a different look, a sound that’s unfamiliar, or something that just seems a bit off, someone is going to go and check it out, and probably do something stupid in the process.

It’s why nobody ever titles their series/magazine/whatever “Mundane Stories”. No, it’s got to be “Amazing!”, “Thrilling”, or something equally eye catching.

Similarly, even in the most prosaic of fiction, there’s something in the description to indicate that it’s not Joe Smith going about his ordinary day which is just the same as every other ordinary day. Precisely what distinguishes the events of the story from an ordinary day will vary depending on genre: a thriller might have Joe struggling to figure out a mysterious serial killer (I so nearly typed ‘cereal killer’ and then started wondering why anyone would want to kill the cornflakes) before he becomes the next victim, where a romance could well have Jane Smith coming into contact with a charismatic person of the appropriate gender and preferences and having all of the assorted romance tropes happening.

And so it goes. As one of my older (and very much cherished) books pointed out, science fiction and fantasy have the unique distinction of being able to make all the tropes and metaphorical flourishes literal. If I recall correctly, it was something about when you say “her eyes followed him around the room”, said eyes could be detachable and drifting along beside or behind him (I am not going into any of the books which include detachable genitalia. Most of them have a… different target audience). And, well, “her world exploded” can indeed be quite literal. One could imagine Princess Leia feeling that way in Star Wars, for instance. (The book, incidentally, is Ghastly Beyond Belief, collated and commentated by Neil Gaiman and Kim Newman back in the mid-90s-ish (I think). The pair of them quote SF and Fantasy movies and books, from the sublime to the cor-blimey, then proceed to take the quotes out of context and take the piss with very British irreverence and glee. The only authors who escaped the treatment hadn’t been published yet).

Mix a biologist with SF or fantasy, and you’ll get some really weird things that are either extrapolations from known organisms or are absolutely plausible with only minor tweaks if that (just ask Dave Freer, since he can tell you all sorts of interesting things about marine biology – and Dave, I will never forget the NYC museum and the coelacanth exhibit… and your comment about them tasting nasty and oily. That was brilliant. Also a magnificent example of just how much culture and where you grow up affects perspective).

A geologist, or even an interested rockhound can do fun things with climate, geography, and mineral distribution in an imagined world, and of course someone with a decent background in physics or chemistry isn’t going to make the unobtainium impossibilium instead. It might be impossible, but it will at least be somewhat plausible (although the same can’t necessarily be said for the plot or the characters – but plot and characterization are different skills and can be learned just as much as basic science can).

And so it goes – no matter what the field or the genre, writers can use their knowledge to lift what they’re doing out of the realm of the ordinary – or, in the case of SF and fantasy, use it to make the utterly bizarre seem normal and commonplace so that when we break our characters normal and commonplace readers actually sympathize.

Oh, and have a rerun of Buttercup at her most refined and elegant…. Not.

15 comments

    1. I got a filthy look that more or less meant, “How dare you mock me!”. I was forgiven when I gave her sufficient attention.

      1. That shaft of light by her right ear is just PERFECT to make it look, at a glance, like she’s got a cartoon-cat type “ears both pointed waaaaay to the left” expression of shell-shock. 😀

  1. Greeeeaaaat, now I have a mental picture of police tracking down a mysterious murderer who leaves clues in the form of flaked wheat and oats, and pictures from boxes of the same. Bad Kate, bad bad!

    But then I’m the one who created an entire fantasy novel world around a Hansa trader who is the only guy without any ability to do or use anything magical. And has a shelf of English and German books on the Hansa, trade, medieval business, and so on to prove it. *whimper whimper*

  2. I’ve just had a mad intuition that something titled ‘Boring Records’ could be an interesting combination of oil field exploration (drilling) and Japanese light novel style war fiction.

  3. *teasing*

    But wait! There’s Slice Of Life stories– that’s an entire genre! It’s not AMAZING or INCREDIBLE!!!

    ::actually looks at stories::

    …and it’s definitely not normal life because you know it will be… not exactly comfortable, but *nice*. Like eating a nice bowl of chicken stew with dumplings or something similar, warm and filling and just NICE.

    So even that is made to catch the eye– just like a Kinkade painting, rather than a Michael Bay explosion.

  4. I wonder about a story about an ordinary day in the live of an ordinary office worker written in the type of language used in an action/adventure story. 😉

      1. Shell Scott didn’t have a secretary. He had an answering service, but I don’t remember that they were anything but an anonymous voice on his phone.

        Shell could check with his service at any time; he had a *car* phone, which was crazy high-tech for the late 1940s/early 1950s. I don’t remember exactly when it showed up, but even major executives and chiefs of state didn’t have such a thing back then.

  5. WRT (I am not going into any of the books which include detachable genitalia. Most of them have a… different target audience).
    Oh, I don’t know about that.
    I read your sentence and immediately thought of Sheri S. Tepper and Sideshow. The dinks have those because they’ve allowed themselves to be completely subsumed by the singularity but some things must still be felt. Everyone else thinks they’re disgusting but they put up with the dinks because dinks are rich.

  6. I had fun in “Where There Is Smoke” where I took a character’s lie from a story and made it the truth.

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