I have just returned from seeing The Watchmen.
I am utterly ramped up right now. I remember the US release of The Watchmen in 1987. I was living in a co-op at the time and a bunch of us used to walk to the local comic book store and buy comics when they came out. My favorite at the time was Swamp Thing that Alan Moore had been writing since about 1983. I read The Watchmen before it was a phenomena and was blown away. In part by the writing which reflected the angst of the time. The Berlin Wall had not fallen. The Soviet Union was still a dominant force. Afghanistan was a quagmire. The threat of nuclear war was something that hung in the air. And into this mix appeared The Watchmen.
I have been thinking about what makes good science fiction or good speculative fiction. The goal has to be more than the aim to just get published. Last weekend I critiqued a bunch of stories on an online critique that I participate in. I try every week to read as many of the stories that are up for critique as I can so that I can get a feel for what people are writing. I am not going to comment on basic things like good grammar and punctuation, showing and not telling, and maintaining a consistent, and appropriate to the endeavor, voice. Just having a facility with words is necessary that I don’t think needs to be repeated, but I want to move beyond that and comment further.
I think writers need to uncompromisingly strive for more. Writers are the observers and commentators on society. We are those who are watching. It is up to us to watch, reflect, and write. We need to engage all of our faculties and see the world as it is and reflect it back with a bold, unflinching fierceness that will cause shock waves of thought. That’s what we are here for. Not to write prozac to numb the minds of those who would just as soon look away and go about their comfortable lives. Not to write dreams for those who would escape into fantasy to lose the painful connection with this world. We need to awaken the sleepers with whispers of unsaid injustices, rouse to consciousness those who would rather not consider or be made aware, argue passionately for vision, and engage those who would spread somnolence and make the selfish nature of their actions visible.
Our words need to ring out and echo with meaning, reflecting our thoughts, and adding to societal dialogue in regards to bigger issues. Setting has to become more than setting. Characters have to be more than the mind doppelgangers of their creators or stock puppets that we move through the trite time worn tales that have predominated since shadows cast from cave fires flickered on the flinty walls of early man’s shelter. Metaphor and meaning have to be rife. There has to be well thought out and considered ideas embedded within the writing. The fiction has to explore greater themes for the writing to move into the arena of being considered good fiction.
The possibilities are endless– there are so many things to comment on in one’s writing. I think the message can be anything from an uncompromising intimate exploration into difficult personal situations as a commentary on the roles of various subgroups of the population to an exploration of one aspect of the use of some scientific breakthrough and its impact on people. There are so many possibilities that I cannot even begin to name them all. But the commentary and exploration of thought within the fiction needs to be real and immediate and it needs to be timely and it needs to be fresh. The author has to have some new or expanded thoughts on themes or come up with new themes. Recycling the same old same old only works with a fresh infusion of some new and expanded thought. Otherwise don’t bother.
Good fiction also stays with a person who has read it and the person finds themselves reflecting upon it later. More on this in another post. It is well past midnight and I must go to bed.