“The Tyranny of the Known” with Guest Poster Jamie Wyman

Greetings, writers! By now at least one of you is probably staring at a blinking cursor and … well, cursing. People talk all the time about Writer’s Block. How they just don’t know what to write and, therefore, the page remains utterly blank.

But there’s something worse, in a way, than what you don’t know:  what you think you do know.

I was at Phoenix Comic Con last year and went to a panel to listen to master storyteller J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, Thor, Spider-Man). He spoke about how one major stumbling block in writing science fiction (especially that set in the far future) is the “tyranny of the known”.

Now, Mr. Straczyinski was speaking about how our culture only knows so much about science. We can write about wormholes and jump gate technology because we have a frame of reference for it. We can talk about nanobots or dystopian politics in the 24th century because we can see those things now.  There could be particles we have no idea exist, forms of energy we can’t comprehend, things we just don’t have the capacity to describe or imagine. So, in this way, what we know can not only shape our fiction, but it can limit our scope.

But there’s another way our writing (or lack thereof) can be swayed by all our awesome knowledge. If you’re a Plotter, your outlines and notes can block your path. If you’re like me, you’ve got a Point A and a Point Z with a few interesting landmarks along the way. I can’t tell you, though, how many times I’ve been working on a story and hit a roadblock, thinking, “But this is how it has to go. I need to connect these two, immutable points, but woe and fie and oh crap, how do I do it?”

Thing is, hot shot, those two points are not immutable. In fiction, they never are. You can realign, adjust, adapt, and take all sorts of diversions between Points A and Z.  And Z doesn’t even have to be the actual end result. Z can morph!

My point is this: do not be ruled by how you “know” the story ends. Sometimes your characters and your story are trying to be themselves and the worst thing you can do is think that you, as creator, know what’s best.

As you slog through NaNo, take time to dance with your story and let it lead you for a time.

You might find something you never knew was possible.

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