Writing Fiction Doesn’t Mean Making It Up

Kage Baker was honest to a fault. In fact, she is the illustration for that phrase – “to a fault” – in my mind; I didn’t understand it at all until I realized that Kage would tell the truth no matter what. It’s not that she didn’t care about offending people, or self-defense, or surviving a chance encounter (as some adamant truth tellers do not); no, she cared passionately. She just couldn’t tell lies very well. Knowing she could not, she stopped doing it early in life, choosing instead to change the subject or subcontract falsehood (to me, usually) when she couldn’t avoid it. If she couldn’t manage those defenses, she’d just tell you: Yeah, that does make your ass look big.

However, she was paramount at self-deception. A writer has to be. A writer must convince the audience of the reality of their world, and the easiest way to do that is to believe in it themselves: at least for the duration of the tale. Alice’s task of believing 6 impossible things before breakfast is just SOP for a writer. If nothing else, you need to believe someone is listening to you tell the story. Wilder imaginings can include someone paying you for it.

Kage deftly exercised situational reality as she wrote. The requirements of a particular world/plot/character would take over to the point where she was constrained by laws of physics that only existed in her own head. Our brainstorming sessions became arguments over how some hypothetical metal or process worked, debated as passionately as if we were cramming for an engineering exam.

Theology students must have similar conversations. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Once, this question mattered a lot. How do you avoid that infamous immortal’s Achilles heel of losing your head? Let the damned head go and make the brain impervious; your immortal flesh can be restored eventually, and in the meantime you are safe in fugue in the adamantine fortress of your own skull. But first we had to concoct a physical method that Kage could believe in, because she couldn’t tell good lies.

Kage had to be convinced her own self as to how something worked before she could write about it. Believe it or not, although she was  not known as a “hard” science fiction writer, she worked long and hard to achieve an intellectual grasp of the physical laws in her universes. None of the equations that ran her science or her magic included that dread parenthesized caveat (And here a miracle happens).

So, on the positive side of the ledger, Kage believed in all her stories at least for the duration of their birth. Often longer – it often felt as though our household was crammed with the characters from her books, eccentric roommates whose needs and appetites engrossed us just as much as what to have for dinner tonight. Stories with Ermenwyr in them were always especially lively; he is a hell of a houseguest …

On the debit side: Kage could also convince herself she needed to do something else, anything else, rather than write. She neatly justified this by deciding that the other activity was going to lead to writing – a road trip, a specific restaurant, a week spent on a new game: it could all be research. Oddly enough, it often was, too: a week-long camping retreat in Big Sur ended up producing two short stories and the sorcerous duel scene in Anvil of the World. It also produced an epic battle against raccoons in the middle of the night, but that is irrelevant to our current discussion …

Here, at the moment, in Los Angeles, it is too freaking hot to work at the computer. I am convinced to the bottom of my soul that I need to get away from this damned desk. So, I am going to trust that all is grist for the writer’s mill and go do something else for awhile. It’ll probably involve cold beer and a book.  Inspiration will eventually result from a long immersion in barley, hops and a book. And if it doesn’t, I’ll switch to rum and kill some zombies – it always worked for Kage.

Tomorrow: avoiding writing. Don’t pretend you never thought of it.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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1 Response to Writing Fiction Doesn’t Mean Making It Up

  1. Tom Barclay says:

    Shucky darns; I thought “avoiding writing” was going to be a topic, not a behaviour.

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