Real people don’t have character arcs, or simple motivations, or background stories to be revealed in a prequel – those things are inventions of the entertainment industry. They’re marketable tropes. Real people are far more nebulous, complicated, they live far more in the moment and without definable meaning. They can’t be summed up on a character sheet. As such it feels dishonest — for me at least — to try and write characters that way. Instead I feel more comfortable providing the reader with glimpses into their lives, allowing them to tag along with them in their day to day routines, to let them piece things together and make their own decisions about them. That’s how we interact with most people we meet, if we’re honest: we never really, deeply know that much about them, we can just observe and judge, rightly or wrongly. It’s the best we can ask or hope for, beyond close friends or lovers. We’re not entitled to anything more. I quite like the idea of the same being true about the characters in my books. But maybe I’ll change my mind.
If you’ve not read Infinite Detail yet, sort your shit out. It’s enviably good. Also bleak as hell, but — well, see the title of this post.
Vibrations in the web suggest that folk I don’t yet know are trying in various ways to force a bit of weirdness into the academic futures literature. I’m particularly taken with this title and abstract:
This paper aims to address the potential of hunting humans as sport tourism activity in the twenty-second century. The paper explores past and current trends related to sport hunting, animal extinction, human violence and the normalisation of violence via fictional media. This paper paints a provocative picture of society with the aim of encouraging dialogue across the wider community regarding the challenges facing society in relation to practices related to sport hunting and tourism.
Regrettably my institution doesn’t have access to the journal Foresight, so I think it’s time to ping the author and ask for a copy.
The purpose of this paper is to formally introduce the future persona, a futures method to let scenarios come to life. A future persona is a scenario-specific fictional individual living in the future scenario (s)he is meant to depict. The paper provides a formal, systematic and clear step-by-step guide on how to create engaging and effective future personas after a scenario planning exercise.
As I and others have noted before, futures studies and strategic foresight is severely hampered by its nigh-complete refusal to engage with narratology, despite the centrality of narrative to the work it aims to do. Which is presumably why this scholar has proudly announced their reinvention of the focalising character…
Patterns other than the wave, though, are everywhere. Here are the ones Stevens calls “nature’s darlings.” Spiral: think of a fiddlehead fern, whirlpool, hurricane, horns twisting from a ram’s head, or a chambered nautilus. Meander: picture a river curving and kinking, a snake in motion, a snail’s silver trail, or the path left by a goat grazing the tenderest greens. Radial or explosion: a splash of dripping water, petals growing from a daisy’s heart, light radiating from the sun, the ring left around a tick bite. Branching and other fractal patterns: self-replication at different scale made by trees, coastlines, clouds. Cellular or network patterns: repeating shapes you see in a honeycomb, foam of bubbles, cracked lakebed, or light rippling in a pool; these can look like cells or, inversely, like a net.
These fundamental patterns inform our bodies, too. We have wiggling meanders in our hair, brains, and intestines; branching patterns in capillaries, neurons, and lungs; explosive patterns in areolae and irises; spirals in ears, fingertips, DNA, fists. Our brains want patterns. We follow them instinctively: coiling a garden hose, stacking boxes, creating a wavering path when walking along the shore. And we even invoke these patterns to describe motions in our minds: someone spirals into despair or compartmentalizes emotions, thoughts meander, rage can be so great we feel we’ll explode. There are, in other words, recurring ways that we order and make things. Those natural patterns have inspired visual artists and architects for centuries. Why wouldn’t they form our narratives, too?
“The work is never finished. The work will never be finished. There will never be a nice, comfortable utopia where we can rest on our laurels and sip strawberry daiquiris by the pool and trust that now things are Fine and we can all relax. Utopia is not a stable system. It doesn’t last. The best we can hope for is five minutes, an hour.”
I sat in on the recording, mostly to reassure Joy on some of the word choices and emphases; in contrast to my poetry, my stories aren’t necessarily written with audio performance in mind, and there were definitely some spots in this one where my rather prolix and terminology-dense approach to prose doesn’t make for easy reading-aloud. (Something to watch out for in future works, I think.) Nonetheless, I was pleased to find I liked the story better than I remembered.
Now my doctoral research is done, I’m working to reestablish my fiction-writing practice; it’s pretty rusty from neglect, and I’m arguably busier now than I have been in the last five years, but nonetheless a couple of things are starting to take shape. Watch this space, wot?
[ * – I was initially disconcerted to find there were no VCTB posts about “Staunch”, until I recalled that it was published around the time I was experimenting with using Known as a blogging platform at my canonical website… and then Known went the way of so many FOSS projects, and I needed to revamp that site, and so I pulled it down and junked the blogging there, because I couldn’t find an easy way to import the material to WordPress. So there’s a hole in my personal history for web historians to ponder over, I guess… though it seems likely they’ll find more important things to worry about. ]
Science fiction, science fact, and all that's in between …