OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt one of the Facets of Fiction workshops recently, we looked at a novel-in-progress that was set in the future; a here and then story, you might call it. With this sort of sci-fi (for want of a better term) there’s always going to be a blend of the ‘normal’ with the unusual, and the question arises, of whether or not that unusual is something that is going to be revealed slowly, or is going to be part of the starting point from which we set off into the story.

In the case of the story we were looking at, that unusualness was in the form of magic. This was a world in which magic was not only commonplace, but was rather obsolescent. It was so much taken for granted by the people in that world that they were turning away from it towards technology. For that reason alone, it seemed, that the reader should not be taken by surprise by its arrival even as late as a few paragraphs into the story. It would be so much a part and parcel of the fictional world that the reader had to know it was there right from the beginning.

I remember decades ago, being told that a problem with stories is what the author assumes we will take for granted. I’ve quoted a favourite example of this before…the raising of a hat, in an A.E.Coppard story, that he assumed we would expect to be there. Reading this story in a ‘post-hat’ world, I was taken by surprise when it appeared. His original readers would have assumed its presence. If this can happen with a story based in ‘reality,’ how much more so can it happen in a story set in a created unreality? If there is something abnormal to us, that we want the reader to take as being normal – and therefore hardly worth mentioning in the fictional context, in the created world, how do we introduce it, and when?

Looking at our magic story, in the FofF workshop, it seemed that the best way to avoid it being ‘a surprise’ to the reader, was to get it in early, before assumptions about the nature of that world had set in, assumptions that would almost certainly be based on the reader’s experience of his or her current realities.

Presumably, if you were trying to present an unexpected quality in the created world – something that took its inhabitants by surprise – you would do the opposite, creating their norms first, so that the exception to them was equally surprising to the reader? On the other hand, you might not! You might choose to tell us that whatever it was you were presenting was anomalous in the fictional context. I wonder which would work better?

Perhaps there’s another writing exercise here, in embryo at least – to experiment with creating unrealities within unrealities, and to manipulate the reader into taking them for granted, or being surprised by them.    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA