I grew up in an undistinguished, lower-middle-class family, and was “the quiet one” in school. I learned to type, and put myself through college doing clerical work in furtherance of business aims that I cared not one rat’s ass about. Within a month of graduating with a degree in classics that proved that I had acquired the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue a more advanced degree in classics, I landed my dream job, gestating an embryo. The embryo project was successful; and after a mere nine-month probationary period I was advanced—somewhat unadvisedly, perhaps—to the rank of household Mother-in-Chief. This is a position I still hold, although in a massive corporate reshuffle that began on the day my male counterpart and I dropped the former embryo off at college, reporting lines have been rearranged, and my title is now an empty one, I’m afraid. I live in the suburbs, enjoy classical music, and am still married to my original husband.
I actually have a point in telling all this; and the point is that it’s boring. I have a nice, normal, boring life. So how is it that I make so bold as to write books about people who don’t? Isn’t there a rule that says You Must Write What You Know?
Yes, there is. It’s a very good rule. And I am happy to report that it does not apply to plots.
loss is loss, and suffering is suffering, and fear is fear, whether among the Suburb People of Middle America or the Slime Beings of Delta Vega
It’s true that if you haven’t known loss, you can’t—or rather, shouldn’t—write a book with great loss as its focus. I’ve seen it done, and it never rings true. And you shouldn’t write about battle, or space-travel, or riding in a Roman taxi if you’ve never been afraid. But loss is loss, and suffering is suffering, and fear is fear, whether among the Suburb People of Middle America or the Slime Beings of Delta Vega, so go ahead and write that novel you keep telling me you’re going to get around to one of these days and in the matter of plotting, don’t hold back. Really. Go crazy with it. But if you want to write that your protagonist, young Slime B. Ing, is radicalized when his pet mutant is killed before his very eyes by the evil Cephalopod general, you’d better have lost a loved pet of your own if you want the scene to really work.
And speaking of plots, as I always am: I recently read a very bad story, set in a future in which weapons—they seemed to involve lasers, although this wasn’t entirely clear—were sentient. This fact was a little throw-away. I think it could make a whole plot. Several plots, in fact. How were these weapons developed? Were weapons somehow modified so that they achieved sentience? Or were sentient beings turned into weapons? Are many “objects” in this future world sentient? What would it be like, living in a world of sentient objects? What would it be like trying to kill somebody with a weapon that was apt to want to discuss the situation with you first? In a future world, do the sentient “objects” revolt, subjugate the “Irrationals” (our race), and try running the world by logic for a change? Does it work?
I could write this, if I only had time. I’d be writing what I know. All day long, my computer goes out of its way to remind me that it is much smarter than I am. At least, anything programmed by Microsoft thinks it is.