Monday, June 16, 2008

Writing telepathy and other aberrant behaviors

Wynette has begun the process of revising her cult classic Blood is Thicker Than Water in preparation for releasing a second edition. I'm doing what I can to help, of course, because that's what we do around here. One of my tasks is to weigh in on style issues: I will be the editor of record on the second edition, which should not be construed as my having any sort of power over any part of the endeavor. :)

One of the conundra (is that a word? seems it should be. must go look... Oh dear. Forget I even had that moment. Have I mentioned I never studied Latin, though my tuition dollars have paid for a few years of the stuff in the next generation?) Ahem. One of the conundrums of writing speculative fiction--actually, a high percentage of the conundrums involved--stem from the fact that in SFF we postulate certain activities as more or less normal when we don't have common consensual-reality labels, grammars, and stylistic conventions to describe and discuss them.

When I edit SFF, I spend more mental energy on how to handle these issues than on the garden-variety editing required on all the many pages in your average SFF book. Do we capitalize the pronouns that refer to deities? How shall we punctuate the telepathic conversations? Do we use the same set of verbs to refer to psionic behaviors as to the corresponding mundane ones? People grow surprisingly passionate about these issues, as if they might have definitive right and wrong answers--when, should we muster the perspective to view these issues dispassionately, it becomes clear that the answers can only be definitive to that particular author and work.

Digging back into Blood is a case-in-point. We have wound up having long (not contentious, thankfully) discussions about how to present telepathic conversation. Because I was wearing my Editor Hat during these discussions, I was able to maintain a neutral stance, give the whole issue up to my standard "as long as it's consistent and comprehensible, it cannot be considered incorrect, because the CMoS has yet to render an opinion on the topic". And Wynette, whose work this is, finally made a ruling on how this particular piece of imaginative styling should work in her book. Her ruling is *correct*, because it falls within the few definitive stylistic rules we have for these sorts of things.

But as an author and an SFF geek, I'm going, "No! Wrong!!! I TOTALLY DISAGREE with the way you're doing this!" When my book comes out at the end of this year, the telepathic conversations will be presented very differently from the way Wynette is doing it--because that's how I think they should be. Because that's my work, and no one else gets to say I'm imagining incorrectly, as long as I'm consistent about it.

We must remember to be polite about these things, and not smack one another with our well-worn copies of the CMoS. Because ultimately what we don't agree about is the way we imagine these uncommon phenomena for which there are no consensual-reality labels, grammars, and stylistic conventions--let alone definitive truths. Because ultimately what we're disagreeing about is the contents of our imaginations, which it would be very silly to expect to match up in the first place.

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