The other day, I was Googling stuff about fantasy novels that have prominent espionage threads in them. (There really aren’t very many when compared to other genre mashups.) Anyway, I came upon this article entitled “An Uncoiled Spring: The Absence of Real-world Tensions,” which examines how some science fiction and fantasy stories go about incorporating “the devices and techniques of espionage fiction,” as put by author Chris Gerwel.
As a writer who’s been working on a novel that combines (science) fantasy conventions with espionage trappings, I find this highly interesting.
Handling Themes in Fantasy & Espionage
Chris had a lot of poignant thoughts about the relationships between fantasy and espionage conventions, though one particularly stood out to me because I think it is limiting when it doesn’t have to be:
In speculative fiction, while the underlying themes may get representation in the narrative’s plot, it is harder to overlay those themes onto our real world because their relationship to our world is more oblique.
I really don’t think this has to be the case, though. It just depends on how the narrative itself is structured.
For example, the main antagonists in my novel, the Haran, are a conceptual blend of radical ideological terrorists (like al-Qaeda) and the Somali pirates, only some of them have supranatural abilities—which makes them familiar enough to relate to yet different enough to work in the fantasy context that my story calls for; the regulation and treatment of people with these unique abilities, who are a minority in their world, is also explored.
Essentially, TEROH is an allegory that invites people to consider some “real world”-relevant questions in a fresh light through the eyes of characters in a fantastically foreign context: how do you make peace with a group of people whose beliefs are seemingly incompatible with your own, and is this even possible? In fact, the overarching plot of the whole series hinges on these two questions. (That and also the theme of trust.) I think, because of my inspiration sources and the way the story is structured, its themes are just as easy to relate to in this fictional world as they are in our own.
Anyway, those are just some deeper thoughts I had on that topic.
To be honest, I’ve been in a weird place in my personal life lately—questioning the direction of my current “career” (whatever that is) and my personal satisfaction with said career—and it’s got me a bit demotivated and dragging my feet on most “not work” projects including my novel’s revisions, despite being so close to wrapping up the planning stage. By this, I mean I’m almost done with notating my revision plans on a printed copy of the manuscript before I start implementing the actual revisions. (If I weren’t struggling with personal motivation so much, I’m pretty sure I would have had this done weeks ago.)
So why even bother with a plan instead of just jumping in and making changes?
Well, when it comes to keeping the bigger picture of the story in focus as I edit, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Sure, it might seem like it’d be faster to make changes without a plan, but I’d probably be backtracking on a lot of my decisions and getting sidetracked because I haven’t run the minutiae of the plot through the meat grinder that is “The Story.” At least this way, in the planning stage, I can really consider why I’m making any changes in relation to the overall plot and the effect it will have as opposed to making in-the-moment changes in the vacuum of their immediate context—which, honestly, is how I used to edit my work, resulting in a self-referential cycle that hindered my ability to really solve any of my story’s deeper problems. Besides, as I notate what I want to change in my story from beginning to end, I find myself realizing certain things later that I can immediately go back and make a note of in earlier parts of the story before the changes have been put in motion.
Anyway, I’m 90% done with the plan, as of the moment I’m writing this post. I’ve got 5 chapters (out of 62 originally) left to get through—one of which will be a complete rewrite/cut-and-paste anyway (because endings), so that’s mostly just leaving myself some brief notes that I can come back to later to guide me during the rewrite/cut-and-paste session. Soon, I’ll be able to execute my plan without second-guessing myself and worrying about whether my changes will affect other parts of the story because I’ve already thought this through.
Yes, the Domino Effect can easily grow into a very formidable, distracting monster in a substantial manuscript. And when you’re engaged in the flow of writing or editing, punching out the words without time-sucking hinderances is the key to getting things done. Less thinking, more writing. Problem is I’m a huge thinker (INTP anyone?), which is why it’s taking me so long to get through this project; I think about everything! (Unfortunately, not all at once—no, because that would just be too helpful…)
Anyway, here’s to implementing the revisions starting in another week!