They can’t live at the same time, in the same place. They vibrate at different frequencies, but they both resonate, and there’s only so much room. This town, as they say, isn’t big enough for the both of them. It would be fine if they would just learn to take turns like nice polite unformed bundles of energetic potential. But they’re not nice, and they’re not polite. Each of them is insistent that they have to go now, that they cannot wait, and that I will only ever have the energy and inspiration required for one of them.
It’s difficult to stop talking about them in the abstract because they are so abstract. That’s part of the problem. It’s hard to even pin down exactly what they are, but I’ll try, or else that first paragraph is never going to make sense to anyone but myself.
They are novels. Or rather, they’re the ideas for novels. No, that’s not right either. They aren’t ideas in the sense of premises. I have no idea what either of them is about, or rather, I have lots of ideas. Most of my many potential novel ideas–and half-written novels–are composed of wisps of one or the other. Or both, which is its own problem.
They aren’t genres, either. The closest I can say is that they are styles of novel. That’s accurate, but it’s a different use of the word “style” than is usual.
How about I describe them. Maybe that will help. They’re enthusiastic about that. Right now, in my head where they’re constantly fighting, they’re getting excited. Or rather, the first one is getting excited. The second one doesn’t do excitement, as such. That will make more sense in a minute. But yes, describing them is the best idea. Or rather, I’ll let them come out and describe themselves.
The first one I’ll call KAPOW! KAPOW! is big and bright and vibrant. An explosion of a novel. It’s definitely fantasy, or science fiction, or science fantasy, or science fantasy horror dread-punk post-post-modern psuedo-apocalyptica. It can be any or all of these things, because whatever it is, it’s a lot of it.
KAPOW!’s defining trait is that it bursts with ideas. It slams the reader with new, intriguing, fascinating, original concepts and twists of reality and imagery on every page. It uses a lot of adjectives, especially in describing itself. Think China Meiville. Think Planescape. Those are the obvious examples because they play so freely with setting, but I also include such works as John Dies at the End and–get ready to disagree with me–Harry Potter. Okay, Harry Potter isn’t all that original, nor is it trying to be, but it throws new bits of magic and wizard society and whatnot at you will obvious and infections glee, and that’s the point.
KAPOW! isn’t necessarily super-fast paced high adventure, but it does lend itself to that kind of storytelling. Those are the kind I generally come up with when I plan a KAPOW! novel, whether I want to or not. But they’re not critical. The important point is that the work scours the vast reaches of creativity.
The second novel style we shall call Masterwork. Masterwork is a piece of literature. It is contained within what is colloquially referred to as “genre,” as all of my interests lie therein, but it should not be sullied by associations with pulp or other forms of fiction intended merely as entertainment. Masterwork strives to tell a story about characters, about themes, and to impress upon the reader that such things can be meaningfully explored amidst the workings of the otherworldly and the supernatural.
Masterwork is quiet, at least in comparison to KAPOW! When composing an idea for Masterwork, I eschew such concepts as adventure and engagement. It’s a stretch to say that it is an attempt at Art. To say such a thing would be highly pretentious. However, should someone else partake of Masterwork and use such a word, Masterwork might not be taken upon to dispute the assertion.
Peter Straub’s Ghost Story is a good example, as is Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. Or Watchmen. Steven King writes a lot of novels that sit comfortable in this range. It’s not necessary for a work to be considered literature by the sorts of people who care about that sort of thing. I’m not one of those people. It’s enough that fans of the genre would label it so.
These two styles, KAPOW! and Masterwork, these are the novels that I want to write. Both of them have a lot of room inside. The problem is, they don’t play together. Sure, a Masterwork can have KAPOW! elements, and a KAPOW! can have compelling characterization and quiet moments. I honestly wouldn’t be interested in writing either that didn’t contain some of the other.
But at their foundation they are different. So different that to start one I have to press down all of the forces inside of me urging me to write the other. This is usually pretty easy, since I’m both obsessive and fickle. If I just read something KAPOW!y, I probably want to write a KAPOW! Which is great. For a few weeks.
But I’m fickle. Oh, so very fickle. It won’t be long before the urge to write the other starts to tingle. I’ll become dissatisfied with my current outline or treatment or manuscript, and long to start the other. What’s the point of writing a cross universe heist story about a team of thieves who all possess a different form of immortality? That’s trying way too hard. Instead I should write about the development of two people’s relationship over seven winters, while strange things walk through the drifting snow.
Many writers have problems that keep our productivity down, and this war in my head is one of mine. There’s only room for one at a time, and matrices of possibility don’t like to take turns.