Friday, 1 April 2011

Right, Script Frenzy's underway...

So naturally, I'm talking about my writing influences. Wait, what?

Well, I'm spending my Screnzy trying to get the webcomic back on-track with some proper scripting, so it's probably not going to afford much to talk about from the perspective of my novels (though I do highly recommend trying your hand at screenwriting if you want to write novels professionally - and hey, Screnzy is much easier than NaNo).

I'm talking about my influences out of nothing more than indulgence, really. Partly because I want to recommend some great books you may not have heard of, but also as something of a break from all the serious work I know I'll need to do to meet my targets for the next nineteen months. Maybe it will also shed some light on where I'm coming from - and therefore where I'm going.

If we're talking influences, I have to start from 'Hyperion' by Dan Simmons. 'Hyperion' is an amazing book - probably not the best in terms of technical writing, but staggering in its richness and depth. In particular, it's the only space opera I've ever read which has delivered enough diversity of human culture to convince me that it's a vision of *our* future. Most of the sci-fi I've read has limited itself to at most a half-dozen distinct human cultures, with the suggestion that cultural diversity will die off with technological progress, and I don't buy it at all. In Hyperion and its sequels, there are hundreds of cultures - and better yet, you can sort of trace how certain strands of modern culture might develop into the cultures it features. The three sequels improve on the formula in various ways - books 2 and 4 are in constant competition for the title of 'my favourite book'.

Another epic sequence I love is Janny Wurts' 'Wars of Light and Shadow' (actually, I've never read a Janny Wurts book I didn't love). The quality here comes from the construction of brilliant characters, particularly the hero, Arithon. Arithon is defined by compassion and foresight - and Wurts shows with piercing, painful clarity time and time again how these virtues can be crippling. I'm not sure any other book has managed to make me share so much of a character's suffering - and eventual catharsis.

Quite apart from fiction, though, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about my philosophical influences. This isn't just because I am a philosopher and philosophy has been my primary activity for the last five and a half years, but because my philosophy is a way of life, and is a way of life which is reflected in and advocated by my novels; each of those novels explores a little piece of my philosophy, and if you put them all together, the whole picture should become clear.

My biggest philosophical influence remains Sartre, particularly his 'Existentialism and Humanism', the first philosophy book I read. E&H isn't always coherent, possibly suffers in translation, and isn't very long, but it sets out a vision of mankind which has always resonated with me. I'm not going to go into great detail about that vision now - over the next few months, there will plenty of time for that while I explore the philosophy of Ayn Rand (which has eerie parallels to Sartre's system, mad as that may sound) in preparation for writing 'The Earth Trembles' - but I want to bring out some fundamental points.

Firstly, free will. The philosophical debate over whether or not we 'have' free will is one of the most clouded, difficult areas of philosophical discourse. I've come to the conclusion over the years that we have something similar enough to the traditional conception of free will to serve the same moral purpose - that is, making us responsible for our actions. This is an essential (ha ha - philosophical joke) part of Sartre's existentialist philosophy. Whatever you do, and however it works out, you did it and it is a part of you.

For Sartre, the foremost virtue - in some senses the only virtue - is authenticity, by which is meant never trying to be something, but instead always being yourself. You should not pick a target (for example, 'I will be a writer') and then make your decisions based on what you think a writer would do; you should do the things that you believe it is right for you to do, and if you end up writing, only then call yourself a writer. So, I am a writer, because I have written - not because that is what I have successfully tried to become. It's a subtle point, but the import will become evident when I go into the system in more detail.

The last important concept I want to take from existentialism at this point is the existential idea of universalisability. This says - and I'm not sure it's ever explicit in Sartre's writing, but it's unavoidable if you look closely - that every time you do something, you in effect declare it permissible for anyone else in those circumstances to do the same thing. You don't get to count yourself as a 'special case' of mankind - in every situation you find yourself in, you represent the whole species and must behave accordingly.

Maybe none of this makes any sense. If it doesn't, I'm probably not explaining it very well. I am, after all, 12% of the way through a challenge to write a screenplay in a month (again, DO SCRIPT FRENZY), so I've an excuse to be distracted. Also, it's been a long week. Bear with me, I'll explain in more detail - and with more attempt at persuasion - in the not-too-distant future. Tomorrow, more writerly-type stuff.

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