current event fiction--new frontier?

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current event fiction--new frontier?

Postby eriksetterlind » 27 May 2011, 07:36

Using current events as a writing prompt has been going on in creative writing groups for a long time, but there has never really been a way to publish the stories while maintaining some sort of relevance--until now. With the speed of publishing on Kindle and the Nook available today, it's possible to publish a story using a current event as the setting within days of that event occurring. I gave it a try with "Rapture Dinner Party," and I'm writing a story now about a search and rescue in Joplin, Missouri.

I know not every writer on this forum is into self-publishing, but I think there are enough of you that I wanted to spread the word here. It would be great if other writers gave current event fiction a shot. My goal is to get enough content available so that eventually current event fiction becomes a new category. The toughest part is not just to write quickly, but to write WELL quickly. I guess I'll find out soon enough if the quality isn't there.

I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts and any suggestions!

I don't want to look too spammy, so if you want to check out Rapture Dinner Party and buy it for less that the cost of a quarter gallon of gas, you can click on the link to my blog in my signature.
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Re: current event fiction--new frontier?

Postby polymath » 27 May 2011, 08:46

Current events have an elusive quality time and distance tend to penetrate. A recent news story had an unequivocal beginning, middle, and ending. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf began with a drilling rig explosion, proceeded to a tenaciously resistant leak, and finalized with capping the well. A progress report comes out every once in a while about lingering fallout, but the news media and the audience have moved on to other topics. It's rare, though, for a dramatic current event to be so bookend complete in comparative timely proximity. Attention spans fade before most current events finalize.

The Deepwater Horizon spill illustrates a basic plot structure with strong coherence. A flaming ruin and tragic deaths to capture attention, the pathos of oil contamination, heroic, complicated efforts to stop the leak, a global dialogue of blame game, fault-finding, naysaying, doomsaying, and the opposite antagonisms, yessayer progress reports, calls for tolerance, patience, understanding, forgiveness, and other antagonisms from different corners, setbacks, refusals, denials, reversals, before a final outcome that remained in doubt until the bitter end. It was a natural plot, perfectly packaged and well-orchestrated by circumstances, relying on high-concept premises universally accessible to reporting news media entities and news watchers alike.

However, what's the subtext? What does the oil spill mean? What does it mean? That answer doesn't typically, immediately present for current events. Higher energy prices, yep. Lingering financial and evironmental impacts, yep. Personal human impacts, yep. When the short term outcome finalized, the story was over for all intents and purposes for the majority of spectators. Journalism ran its course with that news story without providing an encompassing personal meaning context.

What does it mean? Answering that question is the dominion of creative writers. Packaging events of broad scope and sweep into personally meaningful answers. Answers with specific, personal significance that transcend the individual and encompass large audiences personally. "For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal." James Joyce commenting on Ulysses.

New journalism and Gonzo journalism involve a reporter in a story, at least for the purpose of expressing commentary, attitude toward a topic, if not for making the journalist personally the story. Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1971, is a signal work of those current event journalism-creative writing crossover genres. The roman à clef * novel is jam packed with personal meaning.

* French term for a novel portraying real life from a fictionalized construct, blurring the boundary between fact and fiction for personal meaning's sake.
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Re: current event fiction--new frontier?

Postby airball » 31 May 2011, 10:27

Polymath makes some really fascinating points, so please allow me to build upon them.

I would raise a couple of questions, some merely practical. One problem is that the genre would be limited to short stories. While you're right that Kindle etc. have shortened production time, for many authors, that's not the slow part of the process. I've been working on my novel for over a year, and while I'd like to think I'm almost done, I could be wrong. A year or two after the fact, are current events, current?

It also seems quite likely that the significance of "current event fiction" will be ephemeral at best. Your Rapture idea is interesting, but in six months will anyone remember the false alarm? (Favorite Rapture joke: "What do you say to the folks who believed in the Rapture?" "Cheer up! It's not the end of the world.") Unless you stumble onto a cultural moment with more in the way of legs, you'll end up writing the equivalent of a sit-com.

This connects to Poly's point about the goal of he work. Is it to say something interesting about the events themselves? That's pretty tough since you really can't know what that significance is. If you are saying something larger about society, and the setting is tangential, then where is the up side of setting it in the present?

I guess my point is that there are some pretty difficult philosophical issues that we would need to work through before we make space in the bookstore...

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Re: current event fiction--new frontier?

Postby polymath » 31 May 2011, 12:07

Good points, airball.

My favorite rapture joke: Oh, it came and went, you know, and, see, we all missed it.

That to me has great meaning for when rapture prognosticators prognosticate. For it is given unto Me alone when or if to foretell the beginning of the end. My prognostication, the story of the cosmos and human beings' place in it have a long way to go yet before they're fully realized.
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Re: current event fiction--new frontier?

Postby eriksetterlind » 31 May 2011, 13:51

Thanks for the discussion polymath and airball--it's really helping me think this through. You're right in that this will only work for short fiction, and it will work much better using current events that have more staying power than some one-day headline. If had thought of this earlier, I would have written something about the rapture before 5/21 and published that day. Oh well, there's always the next Second Coming.

The idea behind current event fiction is that the current event tie-in is the foot in the door that will get the reader's attention. The goal is to write a great story. The current event may serve as a simple backdrop or have a more significant place, but it's the plot and characters that will make it worth reading.

It's definitely a WIP, and this idea may or may not have legs, but I'm giving it the ol' college try. If there's anyone else who wants to give it a try, I'd love to know to we can learn from each other. If anything, it's helping me write more, and hopefully write more gooder.
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Re: current event fiction--new frontier?

Postby polymath » 31 May 2011, 19:42

I'm not personally sure short fiction is the only way to go. Long fiction has a noble and longstanding place in current event fiction. A current event may be a worthwhile immediate news story, but it's not over until its full personally meaningful meaning has been realized. Historical fiction lofts Roman à clef literary art to delightful personal heights. Though many of the historical fiction novels I've read don't quite close narrative distance as intimately as I like, they could go much closer through personalizing the settings, plots, ideas, characters, events, and discourses. Too much emphasis on historical accuracy and not enough personal impressions of what it personally means.
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