Expressions of Literalchemy is a series collecting and cleaning up posts I made about writing that I originally posted to my tumblr. Eventually I’ll run out of those and have to do new material, but for now, whatever.
Author Save The Queen
I can handle monarchist drama and even become enthralled by it in fiction if i get an alternative, preferably a violent proletarian alternative, that through its own narrative work posits that the monarchy is a fleeting and weak institution teetering on the brink of a destruction from which it might not return. I can care about weepy dancing nobles and such in that context, knowing their impermanence. When it’s essentially established as an eternal institution that is unquestioned, and the story is about which branch of the institution of monarchy in the region will prevail, I find it much, much harder to care at all.
I can also hypocritically get enthralled by weepy dancing nobles if they’re gay, but that happens even less than the previous scenario.
I think the most passive-aggressive authorial trick in this situation is to tie the health of the monarchy to the passivity of a great evil. As the nobles get their knickers in a twist, we must hope that they resolve themselves, otherwise cthulhu awakens. I’m always tempted to say “I will take my chances with Cthulhu, fire up the guillotines.”
At least I know a steamboat can do the trick on Cthulhu sometimes.
Write Your Gay Little Milsim Heart Out
ANONYMOUS ASKED: Reading the Solstice War made me want to write a war story myself but I feel like I can’t really handle the scale and I’m not really as knowledgeable about it as you are.
Well, it really depends. Most war stories don’t really handle war the way that I handle it. The Solstice War is a really discursive engagement between two massive armies. You can probably look at a lot of war stories and see precious little Big War in them. They’re more like “skirmish” stories. You can very easily focus on a consistent character, deny the reader access to the wider war, and tell a focused war story and end up with a readable book. Only weirdos like me would complain about never seeing The Strategy in a war story. Most folks don’t care.
Overwhelmingly, war stories are not written for weird milsim fans!
It’s perfectly possible to write a war story that’s enjoyable to your readers and doesn’t have much to do with how a real war is fought. A lot of fantasy stories have pretty bullshit depictions of dung ages warfare and nobody cares. A lot of sci-fi has totally implausible warfare too. In genres where you make up your own rules, you can set all of the terms you want. The Solstice War was originally going to be a dorky high fantasy war story because I thought nobody cared about WW2. Then I realized I don’t care about high fantasy warfare. And it’s hard writing about something you don’t care about, even if it has more appeal.
So I didn’t.
Instead I try to make this look as interesting to the lay person as it is to me, because I really love WW2 history. Unless you really love the period you’re trying to write, it’s gonna be hard to commit to something like this. My advice is If you think you want to write WW2 warfare, try to get your hands on the BBC dub of The Soviet Storm documentary series. Watch every episode. There’s like 20 of them and they’re each like an hour long. If you’re not enthralled by all of it and you feel like you haven’t actually learned much of anything from it, reconsider.
Like any genre, I feel like you’ve got to have some passion for it. It’s not about being knowledgeable, because there’s a lot of things important to war I’m not totally knowledgeable about. I’m really bad at geography, for example, so I don’t do a lot of maps and I fudge distance and overland terrain a lot and I tend to fade to black with regards to travel from A to B in a battle. I focus on the things I’m passionate about and that makes knowledge easy to deploy like tanks and tactics.
Find the stuff you really care about a lot and write that.
A lesson I’ve learned about playing music while writing is not to take it as an excuse to find something weird and new or to listen to music that makes you emotional. I keep turning back to Juno Reactor and BT while writing and it tends to work well for that because it’s music that I love but I’ve listened to all their albums a billion times by now. There is no sense of discovery to be had, which can be low-key distracting; and it doesn’t evoke much powerful emotion that can also be distracting. It’s familiar and energizing and understated to me because I know it so well but it fills the dead air in my room completely. Reliability is key.
The Scrap Folder
Every time I have an idea about a scene or something for The Solstice War I write it down in a quick notepad doc and save it as a “scrap.” I have very poor naming schemes that make it impossible to discern what I actually wrote in them, but the point is, whenever you get any kind of idea about writing, imo try to write it out quick right from your head. Use whatever weird adjectives come to mind, set a little quick scene and write it out to the best of your ability. You can use that stuff later as building blocks. I’ve already used a bunch. Never toss away an idea!