Craziness, Quirkiness, and Storytelling

There seems to be a lot more craziness in speculative fiction with the self and independent publishers getting so much more attention. Craziness meaning “everything and the kitchen sink and Cthulhu and steampunk and superheroes and werewolves and…” all crammed into one novel. And honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredible that writers have new opportunities to break away from the mold and unlatch their stories from genre conventions. It gives them more chances to be original, to entertain readers, and give their creativity free reign. I’m just worried that the focus of speculative fiction will move from “tell great stories and be original when possible” to “take all that is adored by geek culture and mash it together.”

When the story starts to look less like a harrowing tale of fantasy or science fiction and more like a written collage of everything featured in the last five episodes of Felicia Day’s “Flog,” I get a little nervous. Nothing wrong with Felicia Day, though. She’s awesome.

I’m a little wary of these types of fiction because there is a higher danger of the story’s quality and the characters’ depth falling prey to quirkiness and ADHD worldbuilding. That doesn’t always happen, of course. Some masterful craziness has been done, like China Mieville’s incredible 2000 novel Perdido Street Station. And I am confident that there is someone out there who can tell a great story about a ninja zombie pirate and his Victorian-dressed steampunk weapon-wielding girlfriend fighting psychic dragons in an alternate 1945 New York City that has been devastated in the wake of a Martian invasion.

But do you see how exhausting and confusing it is to get through all of those ideas, just to give the setting and larger story conflict? You’ll have a lot on your plate trying to tell a quality story through that Sargasso Sea of adjectives and mishmashed details.

Again, I’m not saying “Don’t write that story. Ever.” Merely asking you to proceed with extreme caution. Be sure you have a captivating story first, one that can uphold the weight of everything you intend to add.

Or maybe I’m just slow to catch up. Heck, the wildest thing I’m doing is putting dinosaurs in a far future fantasy world, and I’m wondering if even that much is a stretch.

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2 thoughts on “Craziness, Quirkiness, and Storytelling

  1. This is indicative of many creative endeavors – this idea of ‘everything and then everything else with a little of everything on the side.’ You see it on the fringes of, well, everything. It’s in music, art, sculpture, architecture, etc.

    Ravi Zacharias was once touring a post-modernist building – a kind of ‘anything goes’ approach to architecture (I know I’m over simplifying a bit, but it’s just to make a point). When asked his impressions of the structure, his first question was if the designer applied the same concepts to the foundation as he did to the rest of the building.

    He obviously meant the question to rhetorical. You can’t play around with the principles that make a strong foundation; otherwise the entire structure collapses, whether it’s Colonial or Post-Modernist. I believe this concept applies to all creative endeavors, including writing.

    There are foundational principles to a good story. You can be as wild and free as you like telling the story, but if you do not have a discernible beginning, middle, and end, along with conflict and resolution (for example), it’s nothing but gibberish.

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