Writing From The Outside

How do we see things we can’t see? How do we feel things we can’t feel? How do we touch things we can’t reach?

By using our imagination. How good is our imagination? We all have those moments where we picture something in our minds as we would like it, don’t we? As writers, our imagination is the most important tool in the box. Think about it; we can literally create anything we want. We start with an empty page and work from there. The first decision we make is the genre. What, when, where, how and who. That first decision determines what part our imagination will play in our work.

My first book was set back in time, and research was the primary factor, or so I thought. I was anxious to get the right feel, the right tone, for The Road Out. I wanted the reader to experience Queensland in the late Sixties; what it felt like, what it looked like and what it sounded like. Capturing the culture of a time period is all about the mind-set above all else. If the characters don’t think correctly, the atmosphere of the time period is lost.

This mistake is often made with period fiction. A good writer may highlight the cultural contrasts between then and now, but as soon as a character thinks like someone from the modern-day, the ambiance is gone.

Thus, it is down to our imagination to feel the period of time in which our work is set. Backed up by extensive research, an imaginative writer can portray a scene to perfection, building the scenery with precision and creating a place so real that the reader is lost in the story; which is exactly where we want our readers to be.

So, imagination proved to be of primary importance, even though I thought research would be.

I must confess, in this regard my new project is a tough nut to crack. Science fiction is a field where the imagination is the only tool we have to set the scene. The Originals is a story that starts in our modern-day, and some research was needed for the initial scene, but the story is skewed away from reality within a paragraph or two.

At that point, imagination was all that was left.

From the outset, I am examining our society through the eyes of a civilization hundreds of thousands of years in advance of our own. How would an advanced people like that see us, as we struggle to survive? What would our political structures look like to them? In turn, what would they be like? What societal factors would dictate progress? It’s pretty clear at this point in time that those factors would be markedly different from our own.

To capture all this, I am standing back and regarding our world from the outside. Trying to take an honest look at the only thing one has ever known, from somewhere that doesn’t exist, is a lot harder than I first thought it would be. I honestly thought relying on imagination rather than research would be easier, but I have discovered that nothing could be further from the truth.

Hard science fiction, as it is called, is all about the science itself. This form might require a more balanced draw on both imagination and research. But, mine is not a hard science fiction book. It is more about the people, than the technology. In many of his books, Arthur C Clarke portrayed the impact of scientific developments on society as a whole. His interest seems to me to lay more with the people than the technology. I find him a fascinating writer, and I realize that the reason for that is his focus on social impact.

As we progress through time, it is becoming painfully obvious that humanity’s direction and, indeed, survival, will lay more with the people than the technology. How we think, act and feel is what guides us through life. While all manner of advances are changing our lives, we remain the same within ourselves. Thus, all the technology in the world, and beyond, is of little use to us, without the will to implement the changes needed to assist in our survival.

Indeed, many of the stories being told today have taken a turn toward mankind’s eventual extinction, almost promoting acceptance of such. So, I thought it might be good to examine all this, through the lens of someone standing at a remove from our society.

As was the case with The Road Out, both the story and the characters are forming themselves, with constant re-writes necessary to incorporate more twists and turns. As things move along, the story is resolving into something I am very pleased with.

Hopefully, when the day arrives to publish, I won’t be the only one who thinks that.

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