Saturday, January 17, 2009

Writing the Real World

The short story I'm currently working on is set in the real world in more-or-less contemporary times (there are some hints that it's near-future). This is strange territory for me. In the past few years, I can think of a couple of flash pieces that are set at least partly in today's real world and one magical realism short story that references real world countries. In that last, though, the real world countries are exotic locales to the narrator, and his--mundane to him--village might as well be an invented world to our perspective. And in the flash pieces, the this-world-ness is pretty low-key, not especially important. Otherwise everything I've done going back quite a few years has been unapologetically other-world (whether evoking past, future, or something tangentially bizarre).

The story I'm working on now, though, draws deeply from its setting. I've mentioned before how much I value setting and why that typically translates into secondary world. So it's interesting to take that same focus and train it on the real world. It nearly qualifies as regional fiction (though still certainly fantasy of a sort).

I'm drawing a lot on my childhood for that. Not for the story itself, but for the setting. So it's fun to revisit in my thoughts the fields of my hometown, to treat them seriously--neither mocking nor romanticizing. I frequently use my experiences to add texture and realism to my writing, but there it's drastically transformed and often at the level of character motivation and memory. It's fun and quite different to take my knowledge of where I grew up and use it right on the surface of the story.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not suddenly going to become a different type of writer. I expect the next story I do will be firmly in some invented landscape--though perhaps I'll be a bit more open to this-world stories. But I think this is teaching me something about using vividly individual details to bring another layer to the writing. I don't know exactly what or exactly how it will translate into other writing, but once I get done, I intend to look through what I've written and see how it might carry over.

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