Category Archives: Author’s Notes

Notes, not “real” writing

Dragons

Tonight, before I go to sleep, I will be thinking of dragons. I am twenty-two years old, graduated with a bachelor’s degree (with honors) from an excellent university this past June, spent the bulk of my day working on structural biology research on the protein dynamics of the beta1-adrenergic receptor, and for the last week I’ve been going to bed with visions of dragons.

There’s nothing strictly wrong with this. I’m entitled to draconine thoughts — although admittedly it’s more than thoughts, it’s something more closely resembling “worldweaving,” if you will. Dragons, dragon riders, dragon wars, dragon training, dragon etiquette, dragon politics… I’ve made up a lot of words along the way, too. This is what I used to do all the time — this is what got me into writing. I build worlds out of nothing. I make things up, borrowing shamelessly from the world I know. I turn experiences into story lines; I turn wishful thinking into alternate reality. I stretch my imagination, and sometimes people read what I’ve come up with and say hey, I really like that.

So what is it about growing up that makes me feel like this dragon-filled creation of mine doesn’t belong in my world? Because it’s high fantasy*. It’s something no one ever tells us we’re supposed to have outgrown, but one day I woke up and realized I couldn’t take myself seriously when writing a fantasy (or even science fiction) story. As Seth said the other day when we were discussing this, “I don’t get how Tolkein explained his books before everyone had read them. ‘Okay, so there’s this thing called Sauron, and he hates everything. And makes little mud elves to fight humans. All the humans don’t trust each other. So it’s up to these fat midgets to destroy evil.'” Whose first instinct is to take that seriously?

I’ve learned a lot over the years from fantasy and science fiction. I probably wouldn’t have kept reading after my plateau in reading level around 6th grade if it hadn’t been for A Wrinkle in Time and The Golden Compass. There’s a basic allure to fantasy and scifi, that escape from the world we’re stuck in, which readers like my adolescent self gravitate to. Maybe it stems from a lack of maturity, an inability to see the thrills and struggles of normal life and fiction compared to the epic conflicts that arise in fantasy. And those epic conflicts can (and do) tie themselves into the real world.  I’m not entirely sure which came first, but the life history of Bean in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Shadow played some part in stoking my love of genetics. Philip Pullman explored some really interesting tensions and fallacies in religious text through His Dark Materials, Roger Zelazny dances around concepts of metaphysics (and relates technology and computer hacking to magic) in The Chronicles of Amber, and Orson Scott Card eloquently lays out some key bioethical issues in Speaker for the Dead and the Bean quartet (just to name some of the many topics these authors prodded with their writing). But who’s going to take you seriously if you write a dissertation on any of these themes?

My best guess as to why this stigma exists is this: in fantasy fiction, there is a fundamental disconnect with reality. That’s practically the definition. And yes, there are plenty of cases of people losing touch with what’s real and taking things too far. (I risk offending some people right now, but hear me out, I have redemption for you.) Cosplayers, fanfiction writers, Harry Potter unofficial online trading card game players, the people who contribute to and update the extremely detailed entries on Wookieepedia — I could go on. However, there’s a difference between productive hobby and unhealthy obsession. Some of the cosplay costumes I’ve seen are really impressive costume-making that perfectly normal people made in their spare time, and plenty of fanfiction writers have spun incredibly inventive, moving stories based on characters that someone else started. The difference is knowing your limits — knowing that okay, there’s a world separate from this fantasy. This goes for anything, really — plenty of us are wrapped up in completely fictional story lines (I’m looking at you, Grey’s Anatomy fans who had serious meltdowns after whatever season finale it was) or waste our time on the strangest things (watching endless animated gifs of cats?). The point is there are plenty of things we do to entertain ourselves that no one else — or at least, a select few — quite understands. But it doesn’t hurt anyone, so why the hell not?

In light of this, I have decided to take this tack: I spent the bulk of my day working on structural biology research on the protein dynamics of the beta1-adrenergic receptor. I’m a high functioning and contributing member of society. So you know what? It’s okay that right now I’m obsessed with dragons.


* It says something about me that I know the distinction between “high” and “low” fantasy. For those who don’t, think of fantasy as a spectrum from our world to a completely made up world:

**LotR is weird because Tolkien has stated that Middle Earth existed sometime in our past, so it falls a little closer to the middle than other high fantasy

**LotR is weird because Tolkien has stated that Middle Earth existed sometime in our past, so it falls a little closer to the middle than other high fantasy

Yes, I made you an explanatory diagram. There are nerdier things I could have done.

Characters & actions

During workshop for the short story I wrote for English190, one of my classmates commented that JT and Charlotte obviously hooked up at the end of the second-to-last scene. “‘He wrapped her in a big hug and wouldn’t let go’? How did they not hook up?!”

I debated changing that line as I revised the story, but (as you can see from the version I posted on here) I ended up leaving it in. To some degree, it doesn’t matter what exactly happened after the scene break. The story works either way, and to clarify would be clunky. I like leaving that detail up to the reader’s imagination, to imply the relationship that is never spelled out explicitly on the page. Besides, the way I envisioned the story only makes sense in the context of my own experiences. JT Finnegan, in terms of the kind of person he is, the things that drive his actions and words — all that only makes sense given the people I know. And Charlotte doesn’t know what to make of him. She never really makes harsh judgments of him or questions his motives because she (like me, in her situation) doesn’t know what to think or how to react, and in fact isn’t even sure of how JT’s outlook and approach towards life differs from her own and that of her friends.

JT doesn’t have to be despicable, but he doesn’t have to be completely innocent either. I tried to make him a true-to-life character, and as such he is full of ambiguities and inconsistencies. So read that line however you like, and I won’t spoil your view of it by telling you exactly how I envisioned it.