Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why I write what I write

Those of you who've read pretty much anything of mine will know that it's got a dark streak roughly the width of the Pacific Ocean. You'd have also noticed certain themes appearing fairly often: individuality in contrast and opposition to group dynamics, the fate of the misfit, the lure of the darkness and the cost of resisting it, cheery things like that. Even my lighter pieces - including some of the shameless fluff - have that edge under them.

I don't write about these topics because I feel the need to tell people the right way to go/do/be. If I wanted to do that, I'd start a religion and preach. I'm drawn to these topics because - in a rather less extreme fashion - they shape a lot of my personality. Or because I find them an endlessly fascinating source of inspiration. Twilight (the abomination that is sparkly vampires excluded) is the place where the light fades and the darkness begins to rule. Uncertain boundaries like that tend to be where conflicts arise, and where what works in the light starts to get difficult, if not dangerous. That's good story-fodder.

There's a reason I don't write horror - if I did, I'd be the horror writer who sent people screaming into the darkness, leaving them too scared to sleep. That's something other people have told me, and knowing where my mind goes, I believe them.

Fantasy and Science Fiction are sufficiently open that I can let out the darkness in a "safe" way, show it for what it is, and maybe get the bloody nutcases who inhabit my imagination to stop bitching about me taking too long to write their stories. Hell, my mind permanently inhabits somewhere between SF and Fantasy, where just about anything is possible so long as you've set it up properly. Whether what emerges is SF, Fantasy, or in extreme cases Alternate History, just depends on the characters and the stories.

(This, incidentally, is also the reason my friends and co-workers are familiar with the phrase "Kate-weird")

Those of you who write, why do you write the things you choose to write? Those who don't, why do you read the things you choose?


Ben Godby said...

Writing is definitely escapist for me, which entails both pushing boundaries and appeasing those archetypal fantasies I dredge along like a cultural ball-and-chain. Whatever gets in to my writing, it always ends up being "release" - which appears to be why I can't stop...

MataPam said...

My writing is more for the fun of it. Sometimes I think My Muse is an Airhead.

And I've just gotten my permanent crown put on, whimped out and demanded to be numbed, so I feel Zthombith again. I'm going to go be PC to my NaNoWriMo zombies, now.

Anonymous said...

We'll try this again since the system ate my first post.

I've discovered a few things about myself since I started writing.

1. I'm a much darker person than I first thought. My husband commented on it, and after thought, I decided he's right.

2. I love reading and writing stories about the world being much more special than it seems on the surface. Whether it be fantasy based or sf based, I believe this to be so.

3. I love underdogs. I've always loved them, actually. I believe that everyone is capable of something grand. I truly enjoy the "See how grand I am" moments.

It is my challenge to convey these things.


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

This is interesting, Kate.

I find, quite unconsciously, I keep coming back to the relationship between males and females.

Isn't it weird that one half of the human race gets repressed and persecuted because they can grow people inside them? They are considered less than human, for being able to do this.

That is putting it really broadly. Of course there are a lot of other themes I explore too, about loyalty and friendship.

Chris L said...

I like Linda's second point. The world, and the people in it, are incredibly rare and wonderful. Letting go our jaded views sometimes allows us to see that.

I also like to write humour because my life is funny, and rather than trying to escape it through writing, I like to channel the fun of life into my stories. That's not to say they can't be dark at the same time.

I've tried horror a couple of times but I end up feeling greasy and burnt out afterwards. It's not enjoyable for me.

Chris McMahon said...

I write because I get enthused by the story ideas. These are books and stories that I would want to read - and I love to write.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Hi Kate,

Me here. Mostly I have very little control over the worlds that sprout in my head. I can set out to do something perfectly conventional, but it always turns into one of MY worlds. I think the big problem is that I fall under my own influence.
Like Rowena, I come back to the relationship between... well, people. One of the things that bugs me is the classification of people into big tagged "oppressed" and "oppressor" groups. Like most Marxist analysis, it falls short. Historically and from the long view, this might be true, but up close and personal people tend to be ... people. And individuals are the most people there is.
I tend to write about individuals -- and look at poor Kyrie and Tom. She wants to be independent and look after him, he tries to look after half the world and into all this fall the whole "thou shalt not" where she feels she can't let him "hold her down" even though that's the last thing he'd try, and he feels she's mothering him and pushes back, never having experienced this from his mother and finding it bizarre. People. Rubbing together. It's what makes stories so much fun. (Not rubbing together THAT way. I told you I skip those parts.)

Kate said...


Writing has always been a good way to release certain inner demons. Whether what emerges at the other end of the process is something that should be inflicted on an unsuspecting public is another question.

I have a few pieces that will never see the light of day. For very good reasons.

Kate said...


There's nothing wrong with an airheaded muse. And ow. How can you possibly eat enough brains when your face is numb?

Kate said...


1. Yes. You can learn a lot about yourself from what leaks out of your subconscious.

2. Yes again. I strongly suspect that the averaging effect of lots and lots and lots and LOTS of people "blands out" everyday life.

3. "The underdog makes good" is one of the most popular memes out there. Closely followed by "the underdog has a damn good try but doesn't quite get there".

Kate said...


Gender - and human - relationships can be endlessly fascinating. It's tempting to make these uber-broad generalizations - and under some circumstances they can be useful - but ultimately, each person has their set of "that's how it is" and when the different worldviews don't mesh but the people have to interact and get along anyway you get some very interesting things happening.

Kate said...

Chris L,

I think Pratchett has it right - look at things as though you've never seen them before: the way a child would look at them. If you can look at the commonplace and see it with fresh eyes, you can see that specialness that we adults gloss over as being commonplace.

I really admire those who can write humor: I will often have humor in my work, but it tends to the black and ironic. As for horror... it disturbs me because I don't have that icky feel afterwards - when I know I should.

Kate said...

Chris M,

Have you noticed any trends about the kinds of stories you want to write?

With me, there's two classes of "want to write". One is the simple "I want to write this". The other is the story that grabs me by the neck and makes me write it, and gives me no peace until I've done it.

Kate said...

Hi Sarah. Or should that be Hi "me"?

I know all about that problem with things twisting under you. And yes, relationships between people matter a lot.

When we interact with others, it rubs the rough edges off, and the same goes with characters. Broad generalizations like "oppressor" and "oppressed" and "oops" don't work for characterization, in my view. They're helpful for quick-and-dirty thumbnail sketches of the "who should I be more scared of?" variety, and for big-picture overviews. But you get to the individual level, and you'll find an oppressed person manipulating their nominal oppressor into doing exactly what the "oppressee" wants. Or weirder things.

Kyrie and Tom are wonderful examples of people first, class way later if at all. (So are Kit and Athena).

Stephen Simmons said...

Why do I write what I write? heck, WHAT do I write? Hard to quantify ... but most of what I write seems to spend a lot of its time finding humor, no matter how bizarre (or unremarkable) the setting may be. But I also seem to spend an awful lot of my writing looking at people who "didn't blink" -- shoving Characters into places they would never choose to be, not offering them any way out except through the fire, unless they are willing to sacrifice who and what they are.

I think I may be trying to convince myself that I'm not all that unusual. That there are other, credible personages who would do the dumb thing they believed in instead of the smart (and easier) things that are right there in front of them ...

Kate said...


It sounds like you have an interesting way of looking at the world - one thing I've noticed is that this does tend to leak into writing.

Of course, life has a nasty habit of shoving people into situations where the only way out is through the fire or in itty bitty scorched pieces, so... it fits :)

Dave Freer said...

"Those of you who write, why do you write the things you choose to write? Those who don't, why do you read the things you choose?"

Hmm. I choose to read the books I enjoy because ... I enjoy them. The great ones are escapeist, I care about the characters and they make think and they make me dream. I emerge from good book thinking I could take the world on, feeling energised, refreshed, lifted, and stirred up. In a good way.

I write what I choose to write because... I want to write the kind of books I would like to read. Well, that's the theory anyway. Sometimes I have no choice in what I have to write, but I still try to turn it into a book I would love to read. That's not that hard, actually, because a book is also (often mostly) about characters and their interactions, and not the setting and plot. I like thinking trickster type heroes I guess, who solve problems by thought rather than brawn. Who show courage, loyalty and love. One of my more astute readers said - after reading one of my books - 'You're a very angry person, Dave.' She's right. I come from a long line of the defenders of lost causes, of people who struggled against the odds for what they saw as good, from kicking against the British Empire to kicking against apartheid. I find myself still writing about the thing that angers me most - which is the crass stupidity of so many things - like sexism (in which some women now seem dead set on repeating every damn stupid thing men ever did wrong. Firstly by assuming you define people by their gender and not their intellect or ability) or the various shapes of intolerance and double-standard bigotry. And then I try to weave that into a story, with good parts of our species, in a narrative showing (never telling) how stupid these ideas are, built on possible ways of overcoming... um I have rabbited on. enough. I'm a stupid idealist who like to take on dragons and make a good story of it.

Kate said...


HELL yes. What's more you do a wonderful job of it, and you're criminally under-appreciated.