Thursday, October 12, 2006

Priorities, Man

I've been writing for about fifteen years now, and I've had the benefit of exploring various corners of the literary spectrum. While I don't yet have the caliber, skill or work ethics of other professional writers, I like to believe that I'm getting there. (Or at least, slogging along in a similar direction at 0.001 kilometers per hour.)

As with a lot of other writers, however, I do maintain a list of resolutions. These are different from the ones people normally make on New Years' or other occasions: For one, they're very open-ended -- it's difficult to set deadlines on the process of writing evolution, after all. Another difference lies in the fact that they may not even reference self-improvement in the first place; Sometimes there are some things that you want to try out, just for the heck of it. Whatever the case, I maintain a list of writing resolutions. Some of them may be resolved in the near future, while others might remain on the back burner for quite a long time.

I can think of five items at the moment, off the top of my head. There are probably a lot more of them, but I suppose that I can set the others aside until they become prominent enough concerns.

1. Finish Antaria.
If you have no idea what "Antaria" is, it's the high-fantasy setting and story that I touch upon every now and then. You'll find a number of links on the right-hand sidebar, if you're interested.

Antaria's been in the doghouse lately. To start with, my computer suffered a meltdown about a year ago, wiping out almost all the notes I had on the background and story. Then, my reconstruction effort ended up throwing a number of new characters and plot twists into the already-complex melting pot, and I had to step back and consider the story again. Finally, I shelved the writing after I started wondering if its influence was starting to bleed into my other pieces.

As of this writing, I'm considering a number of different approaches to the story. There's the possibility of making it more graphic-oriented via comics or illustrated text, but then there's also the possibility of simply serializing it into a number of smashed-together entries covering multiple characters and multiple events. Sooner or later, though, I'll decide on one of those approaches, make a few calls, pick up the pen, and continue.

2. Write at a regular pace.
This is most likely my biggest problem at the moment. I'm currently mired in a certain attitude regarding a story's worth: If I can't develop it to a certain degree, then I can't write about it.

The problem with that is that not many plot ideas get developed to the degree that I like: They crop up, get batted around for a few seconds, and then die natural deaths. Some of them manage to last longer than an hour or so, but then I proceed to do nothing about them, and therefore they die anyway. I can only think of one way to capture these ideas accurately, and that involves setting a regular writing schedule for myself. I've got the discipline, I suppose (How else do I write and rewrite multiple drafts of a single work?); The question involves finding the proper time, and maintaining the habit faithfully.

I figure that writing at a regular pace should also solve a recurring problem I have with deadlines. I tend to agonize over these, right up to the point where I find myself writing up drafts at the last minute because I couldn't think of anything good beforehand. Regular writing practice should get me putting these submissions together with far less trouble.

3. Figure out a "Filipino" Science Fiction identity.
This is the "artsy" item on my list, and it's been a consideration for me ever since the deadline for Dean Alfar's second Speculative Fiction Anthology. It's clear that there's a wide stable of Filipino authors who can write Science Fiction -- the problem, however, lies in the fact that we have yet to establish a brand of Science Fiction that can be uniquely called "Filipino". I find this particularly strange for a country of call centers and technological manufacture, much less a place that maintains the highest percentage population of cellphone users in Asia.

I suspect that the heart of the problem lies in the fact that, as opposed to being an integral part of our historical development, the aspects of technology were only recently foisted on us. Filipinos are more a myth-and-magic type of people, I think, which lends itself well to Fantasy, Horror, and other similarly-inclined genres. The prospect of writing Science Fiction, however, forces us to reach for what little dregs of technological innovation we have... or otherwise emulate foreign authors and their Industrial-Revolution-fueled writings. The latter looks like the more common approach, which doesn't do anything for a Filipino identity.

4. Merge Social Realism and Speculative Fiction.
Despite the way it reads, this is less an "artsy" effort than it is a personal matter. Social Realism is the old conservative, the everpresent veteran, the standard stuff of Philippine Fiction. Speculative Fiction is the young turk, the new blood, the avant-garde prodigy out to make a name for itself.

I don't think I'm missing much when I believe that both of their adherents more or less hate each other. The Social Realists represent a popular class of Philippine literature that has been in effect for decades, whereas the Speculative Fictionists constantly try to find legitimacy for their experimental work. It's like getting a bunch of conservatives and liberals together in one room: All you need is a referee in order to start taking bets.

With all that said, I also believe that there's some middle ground between the two that can be mined for future work. A good piece that qualifies as a mixture of Social Realism and Speculative Fiction would serve as a modern update of the former, yet also a legitimizing impression of the latter. At the very least, it might even be refreshingly different.

5. Break out.
This goal, of course, is pretty obvious. Every writer wants to break from the shadow of mundane writing in one way or another.

What's even more important, however, is the current timing. This is an age of celebrity and fanbases; It's extremely easy to get into one endeavor or another, based on one's admiration for another person's body of work. Simply put, there are people out there who get into writing because they want to follow the footsteps of such stalwarts as Neil Gaiman. Or David Sidaris. Or Dean Alfar. You're welcome to insert the name of your favorite influential writer here, I suppose.

While it's perfectly okay to write under the auspices of an established authority in the beginning, one really has to perfect his or her own style as time goes on. One doesn't want to be known as, say, a Neil Gaiman-wannabe. One wants to be known under his own name, with his own stories and his own spotlight. Pure emultation never brought about personal enlightenment.

At the moment, I don't actively copy the style or approach of any established writer (although I do hold some of them in my repertoire). Given that there are few authorities in the Speculative Fiction genre in the Philippines, however, it's easy to fall into the trap of following any one of their approaches. If I'm going to establish a possible career in all this, I'll have to make certain that it falls outside those bounds.


pgenrestories said...

Hi, Sean.

I've come to enjoy your entries and check our your blog regularly.

With regard to no. 4, merge Social Realism with Speculative Fiction, I'd like to think that it's been done already. There are writers and stories that are enjoyed by Social Realists and Speculativists (?). Well, genre writers.

Edgar Allan Poe, considered an early master of the short story, wrote the first detective short story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, which features all the elements that have become cliches now, like the intelligent sleuth, the dead bodies, the criminal, the bumbling policeman, etc. That's a genre story, and he's a writer Social Realists I know feel comfortable relating with. His Masque of Red Death can be considered speculative, while his Tell-Tale Heart is an exploration of psychotic guilt.

And then, of course, there are those stories that we've all gone through in our English classes, like The Most Dangerous Game (an adventure story if ever there was one), The Monkey's Paw (horror), The Rocking Horse Winner (same), Leiningen versus the Ants (another man vs nature adventure story). These are classics and also genre fic too, and the parts of the short story (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution) are so easily identifiable here.

Maybe what you're trying to say is that there can be genre fiction written ala stories like The Izu Dancer? Or A Rose For Emily? Or Mateo Falcone? (one of the cruelest stories ever, I think).

Great entry you have today. Lots of food for thought.

Sean said...

pgenrestories: Considering your comments, I may have to rethink the fourth item further. I suppose it's altogether possible that I haven't read any examples of a Social Realist/Speculative combination, but the more I think about it, the more I come to realize that I don't have a proper definition for Social Realism in the first place. It could be that I have a flawed perception of the genres, and that I simply don't perceive any examples as a result.

And that's good, really. It makes for about as good a place to start as any. I would need to find an accurate definition of both Social Realism and Speculative Fiction before I can seek to merge them, wouldn't I?

pgenrestories said...

Hi Sean.

No I don't think your perception of genre is flawed at all, but I agree with you that coming up with definitions would help a little bit. The difficulty with all-encompassing definitions though is the tendency to box in authors and stories. A part of me thinks that placing stories/novels into categories (horror, scifi, literary, fantasy, parody and humor, children's, young adult, etc.) is more an aid for publishers and bookstores to arrange their wares, and for readers to find them. It's the usual human tendency to put order into things enforcing itself.

When you read a story you enjoy and like and take it for what it is, then you, as a reader, come out the winner in the end.

Using Hollywood movies as a comparison, I enjoyed those critically acclaimed films like The Godfather or The Last Emperor, or classics like High Noon, but I also enjoyed Austin Powers and The Waterboy, taking each of them for what they are. One type is certainly lighter than the other type, but you start each movie with an open mind and take the story for what it is as you view it. It's the same approach I take whenever I begin a story or a book.

For me, a good story is a good story is a good story no matter where it falls and as long as it's honest and doesn't try to be more--or less--than what it really is. Pretentiousness, in particular, can kill a story.

I apologize for my rather lengthy views. There's actually more, but I think I'd better stop here. :) Thanks for letting me share. It's because your views are quite interesting and stimulating.