Monday, July 13, 2020
Writing A Story Instead of A World
I took a little personal inventory this morning to prove a simple point. As I woke up, I noted how many things in my routine were different now that I lived in the COVID world. It was kind of depressing - I noted three things of substance that had changed before I had even made lunch, and that's not to mention all the little details that come with it. The news is thick with updates, while the sports page has almost vanished. Catching up with old friends now means finding out if they're safe and how stupid people might affect their lives. And of course, the ever-present mental note to have a nice clean mask next to the car keys so I always leave with both.
In the P. D. James novel, The Children of Men, he writes a story where in the near future, people are no longer capable of having children. This fascinating concept immediately spawns a lot of ideas about how life would change - what happens to schools and teachers? How does depopulation affect the economy? What are the social impacts on a world that no longer has the joy of children or hope for the future? The mind reels with possibilities, and the book could've spent hundreds of pages just exploring those ideas. However, then it wouldn't be a book, it would be a pretty boring exploration of an alternate world without much story to go on.
Rather, James focuses on one character and one story line, isolating the fascinating alternate world to the senses of one man - Theo - and his struggles with life. His line of thinking becomes the reality, and all the different aspects of this new world become just details that fill in the life around him. James narrows the field of view and doesn't tell the story about the world. He tells Theo's story within the world.
Now let's look at my little COVID world. If I wrote a story about my day, I could spend all the time talking about the news, the phone calls I made that became wellness checkups on all those getting ill around us, and the regular "where's my mask" update. However, there's no story there. That's a person wandering through life. In the end, the story would still be a day where I needed to make a trip to a store to get a few pieces for my bicycle, and all the preparations I needed to go through and work around just to get the part that allowed me to go and ride away from people so I didn't have to wear my mask and for an hour I could feel like I was again in a normal world.
When we write about new and fascinating worlds, whether they be fantasy, sci-fi, dystopia or wherever, we need to remind ourselves that the world is not the story and shouldn't overwhelm the simple fact that a story is what the reader should be tied into. The adventure of our character through whatever world we create should be the focus, no matter how incredible the world may be. Readers will follow characters, and the world fills in the amazing sights and sounds around them.