Monday, February 18, 2008

Imagery

I spent a while yesterday morning sitting on a bench overlooking Puget Sound and was struck by how, although the water looked the same as it must have looked for thousands of years, the sky was very different. It was full of contrails--not just the sword-like slash of a just-cut trail, but also the gauzy cloud that such trails turn into. How long is it since I saw a trailless sky? Probably six or seven years (Sept 12th, 2001). It would be easy to fall into the unconscious trap of describing sky in terms of the twenty-first century.

But I'm writing about the seventh century. Skies were different, then. The smell of the air was different: no deodorant, no plumbing, no clean gas heat; no petroleum-based combustion engines, no Indian or Thai spices (not in the time and place I'm thinking of). No aniline dyes. No plastics. Lots of dung and disease. Lots of wet wool. Lots of delicately-scented weld, and the aromas of malting and oasting barley. Peat smoke. Baking bread. Bad teeth. Freshly tanned leather. Dogs. Horses. Unwashed hair.

And then there's the imagery. People can't pop up from behind a wall like balloons. They would have to pop up like, hmmn, like laundry with the air trapped in it pops from the water, like a piece of wood from a ship breaking up on the bottom of the sea. A horrible sound couldn't be like fingernails on a blackboard, it would be, well, uh, ask me later.

I love this part of the writing discovery process. It's not just about politics, or gender roles, or character or story, it's about building a world. I'm living in another time and country, and I don't need to pack.

6 comments:

Cheryl said...

I would have thought that dragons might leave contrails...

nicola said...

Sometimes it's pretty tempting to bend the rules. But, yeah, I could fling a couple of comets or meteorites about and call it good...

...but. On the one hand, I really want this book to be exciting and strange; on the other, I want it to feel utterly real. I expect I'll aim, impossibly, for both.

Cheryl said...

Making the strange feel real is one of the great skills of writing speculative fiction, I think.

nicola said...

Where does the line between speculative and historical fiction lie? Is there a line? This does feel very much like writing sf, but with many more constraints. (Though the further into the world I go, the more it feels like mine; the more willing I am to mess with it to suit the needs of the story. Only minor liberties so far, I think.)

Anonymous said...

"Where does the line between speculative and historical fiction lie?"

Wherever you want it to . . . no "history" is real since not everything is known.

nicola said...

I'm reminded of that early seventies poem by adele aldridge:

his story
history
my story
mystery

so, yes, of course to a degree I can say whatever I like. All fiction is speculation. However, I was taking Cheryl's term 'speculative fiction' to mean arealistic fiction. I want my novel to feel strange, in all the best senses of the word, perhaps even approaching uncanny--but not actually crossing the line into impossibility.