Sunday, April 24, 2011

Story and Genre

Last week I reviewed Patrick Bishop's Bomber Boys, part of the research I've been doing for my fantasy novel Shadow Puppet.  One strand of the protagonists in Shadow Puppet is a bomber pilot and so I've been doing a lot of reading around World War II--to the level, in fact, where I could begin a novel, exploring the same themes using much the same story, about bomber pilots set in that period if I wanted.  So why don't I?  It would almost certainly have more commercial potential than the "mechanised fantasy" I have in mind.

World War II Wellington bombers (2 of 2)
Why can't fantasy fiction have bombers?
There are several reasons.  First, the novel I would want to write about bomber pilots and WWII has already been written: Len Deighton's Bomber.  This novel is so perfect in concept and execution that any attempt to tread the same ground could only be callow in comparison.

Second, there are a couple of plot dynamics which would seem either anachronistic or ludicrous in a QWWII novel.  Curtailing these elements would weaken the structure I have in mind.

Third, in a WWII novel you already know the ending.  Your protagonist might or might not survive the war, but you know from their nationality whether they're on the winning side.  This allows a fine dramatic irony but inevitably leaches much of the tension from the narrative.

The final, and most important, reason is the moral ambiguity I can introduce in a created world.  An English language novel about WWII almost forces you into a "white hats versus black hats" scenario, good against evil - a setup that doesn't interest me as a reader or a writer.  There aren't going to be many readers rooting for the Nazis against the Allies - but Lauchenland against Beruzil?  Who are the good guys in that one?   Not knowing whose side you're supposed to be on--or inverting your sympathies during the course of the novel--are much more interesting for everyone.

Now, all I need to do is get on with the minor details of writing the damned book...

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