I fancy having a crack at this. And by ‘crack’ I don’t mean to denigrate the sheer effort, skill/talent and expertise that real novelists put into their work of course. But I feel I could write approximately 1000 good words per day… and make that an entertaining read. And it if it didn’t make the shortlist, well, that’s not so bad. An endeavour like this pays in all sorts of ways.
I do have a query however, that I will direct at the publishers (in shortened form!) but thought it would be a good idea to ask here too. If you’ve read the competition details page, you’ll know the objective is to write about an alternate Earth. Except, of course, that’s not quite right. It’s not the alternate bit we’re supposed to write about, is it? This, from the second paragraph:
“But it won't be a story about being in an alternate Earth because the people in an alternate Earth don't know that they are; after all, you don't.”
I’ve been working on some ideas for the last few days and I’ve got what I’d consider to be two very strong contenders, from which I planned to pick one and start outlining. I re-read the guidelines/rules today though and wondered whether I was hitting the mark after all.
On the face of it, creating an alternate world seems easy. Almost any idea can form the base for your characters and plot etc. to sit on. Trees could be sentient; the seas could have frozen over, humans could be living underground… Wales could be a walled-off prison. OK, maybe not all of Wales. Just most of it. The rest of the world could still tramp around the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia freely at weekends. I could go on but you get the idea. And frankly, I’m now afraid of Welsh Nationalist reprisals.
So anyway, it’d be easy enough to come up with something different and have the characters and plot behave accordingly. But, of course, that’s not strictly alternate. To be truly alternate, there has to be a point where things change, compared to what we already know. Essentially an historical change. A point in history where the timeline divides.
That split could be at any point, including very recent history, although that presents its own problems. For example if right now is the point where the timeline divides, the Earth after that point would be, relative to us, a future Earth, even if it’s a relatively nearby future. And it would need to be defined as something more than could be accounted for by ordinary technical and sociological progression.
But how would we even recognise what comprised ‘ordinary’ in that case, in order to understand an alternate? Anything written about the future could simply be interpreted as futuristic, rather than alternate. Although the characters in our story must not know they’re living on an alternate Earth, the reader absolutely must!
So, I guess that means we’re limited by – or should I say, focused on - an historical change with a divided timeline further back than the right ‘now’.
Or am I just going a bit doolally?
Anyway… this got me thinking that my ideas might not be suitable because they require a curiosity in the hero/heroine about their world, with subsequent discoveries, as the plot progresses, which expose their way of life as ‘broken’ or even a sham. I can’t go into too much detail because I naturally don’t want to give anything away… but would that curiosity and later shock/horror at the discovery break the guidelines for this competition?
This isn’t one of the ideas I’ve been working on (I hasten to add) but a brief example of the above would be:
- 1) Welcome to Ker Fi – one of the largest cities in the south west.
2) A young man makes his living there, working as a Brokko* delivery guy
3) One night during the late shift he sees a *mysterious thing*
4) No-one believes him. They laugh and convince him he’s just overworked.
5) He sees the *mysterious thing* again some nights later. Decides to investigate.
6) This investigation beings him into contact with all manner of city dwellers and agencies. His life is in danger.
7) Eventually he discovers the truth. It blows his mind!
I know, a best seller, right? Now, according to the competition guidelines, we’re not to write a ‘… story about being in an alternate Earth…’. But is that what the example above does? Or is it about moving the character’s environment to a different level of understanding? As a reader we could see the alternate world for what it was once we’d got into the novel a bit… and we would also ‘get’ the later discovery because we could relate it to the timeline/event/environment (or whatever) that we currently live in and understand. The hero character, however, would have no knowledge that he lived in an alternate world. To him, it’s just the world. Do I break that mindset with a discovery (and therefore the competition guidelines)? Is any recognition about the world the character lives in a no-no?
Am I making any sense?
If any of you made it to the end of this ramble, well done! If you also understood what the heck I’m on about, could you let me know?
But seriously, if there is anyone here who is entering the competition, what do you think? Does my idea of curiosity/discovery break the rules? Interestingly enough, Terry’s Discworld stories wouldn’t be admissible, since they rely on magic as opposed to the science and physics of our Earth.
*A delicious and very nutritious Pizza analogue