Suspending Disbelief

I mentioned yesterday that one of the things I’ve learned from writing a short story a week is that some genres and settings come more easily to me. Surprisingly to me it isn’t about what is the most fun for me to read.

I love Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Diving the Wreck series. I love Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan’s books. My favorite RPG is Traveller. I’m a total Firefly fangirl. So naturally I thought writing this kind of science fiction depicting galaxy-spanning empires would be right up my alley.

It isn’t.

I have a lot of trouble suspending my disbelief while writing it (though not while reading it). I have trouble picturing the setting well enough to write it down. It all feels a bit airy-fairy to me when I work within it. None of the plots I come up with make sense to me.

The economy seems whacked to me. Seriously guys, we solved a lot of the shipping problems in the 20th century. Why is the economy of the future using tramp steamers in space?

I don’t sympathize with my characters at all. If I were writing Mal, I’d want to slap him around and say, “Quit your whining. You lost the war. Get over it.” I don’t feel that way watching it. I just enjoy him as a character.

The two books that I had problems writing were both set in Quarere, my galactic empire and the problems I ran into were the same problems I ran into when I wrote short stories there. Essentially, I didn’t believe in the characters or the setting. Eventually my eye-rolling got out of hand and I couldn’t go on.

I need to solve this problem because I love this sort of fiction. But it doesn’t come easily. I’d especially love to write stories about how financial systems work for galaxy-spanning empires. That idea fascinates me.

Our economy is based on trust and verification, but both of those things break down once the distances become great. So how do you keep an economy going if it takes a week or more to travel or communicate between planets? How do you invest? How can you trust someone on a distant planet who asks you to invest in their infrastructure? How does a stock market work if you don’t have instantaneous communication? Are we back to how investment worked in the past? Or would there be other ways? Could one use identical clones or artificial intelligences to take the place familial relationships played in trade and high finance in the past? It’s fascinating. But it’s hard to write.

By contrast, historical fiction comes easily. I can read contemporaneous accounts and get a feel for who people were. I can picture their environment down to how it smelled and tasted. Their problems seem real to me and incredibly large. Their lives balance on a knife-edge of death and trauma. There’s room for me to work with them.

I also do well with portal stories, which feel real to me in ways that must seem ridiculous. But I grew up believing that if I could just find a portal, I would walk through and away from my problems. It was my favorite form of story. I remember once spending a good five minutes staring into the mirror in the school restroom wishing it could be a portal, wishing I could step through and away from the people who tormented me.

I’ve checked the back of closets my entire life. You know, just in case. I mean it worked for Lucy Pevensie, right? In a deep gut-true way, I believe in portals. Sometimes when we hike, I think I catch sight of one and I’m back in childhood believing again. And they are easy for me to write, especially if the portal leads to the past.

Romantic subplots also comes easier to me than I expected. I have some trouble suspending disbelief while reading pure romance, but while writing romance that problem goes away. It turns out that I believe in love deeply in my soul. That makes some sense. I’m fortunate in love. Steve was the first boy I fell in love with in high school and we’ve had an amazing loving relationship that spans 40 years as of this month.

Obviously I need to work harder to find the sweet spot for me in the galaxy-spanning science fiction I love. And I will. But in the meantime, it’s nice to have a sense of why things come hard and the sorts of things that are easy to write.

I hope you find revelations today also. Be well, friends.


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