From Reality to Fantasy: Intro


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Well, I’m Bradley Verdell, and this is my first post to this blog. I’m going to be writing a series about non-fiction that inspires fiction. This will include antiquated but awesome technology, deplorable and respectable societal norms of the past, and other topics. First I wanted to say briefly why I think this series is important.

But let me take a paragraph to say I’m extremely honored to be part of the Taipei Writers Group. If I had to describe our association I’d say it was like a fueling station for literature enthusiasts. Any lover of literature would find the members’ work a constant source of solid entertainment, a stream of thought-provoking and well-crafted words. The meetings and critique sessions are an absolute pleasure, but for the writer they are also the oil in the engine. They keep the apparatus of production from coming to a halt. Something about being in contact with other hard-working writing machines keeps your ideas from stalling. When so many new ideas are bubbling up inside you like carbonation in a soda bottle, they force the biggest idea bubbles out of you quickly. You just can’t sit on an idea and keep it in. Everything keeps flooding out of your brain and onto paper, computer files, websites, and book store shelves.

Maybe this little series can shake you up and get your ideas bubbling up.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, speaking through his protagonist Sherlock Holmes, says, “Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.”

Now, as a fantasy and steampunk writer, that might not sound like a quote that inspires me. It gets worse for the writer.

Doyle goes on to say, “If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.”

He has got a point. Fiction is often neat and tidy. The world is a never-ending mess.

Now, before this quote depresses you, recognize that this quote comes from a completely fictional story (of the detective story genre) and was written by a man famous for his fiction plots. Doyle didn’t just write Sherlock Holmes, you know. How about the then speculative title The Lost World? (Much better than Jurassic Park in my opinion). So a fictionist wrote this quote, and it’s clear he believed it.

The startling thing about Doyle’s writing is that he succeeds in avoiding that novelist’s tendency to make everything neat and tidy and predictable. Sherlock Holmes fails sometimes, and often when the issue is grave and serious. His mistakes even cause people to die or very nearly die. Unforeseen or unforeseeable issues derail the plans of his characters — just like in real life. He was inspired, I believe, by the chaos of life, to create stories that defied the kind of plotting people expect.

So let’s take this quote from Doyle as an inspiration and as a challenge. Here are my conclusions:

1. If we’re going to make our fantasy worlds believable, we can do so by making them messy, random, spontaneous, and as simultaneously ugly and beautiful as the real world. Honestly, which fantasy world would you like to live in? Probably none. They’re scary, and they should be. This is why dystopian is a genre and utopian is not. But our world is scary too, perhaps scarier than many others we could choose. If you’re going to suspend someone’s disbelief of dragons, magic, or electric blunderbusses, you are going to build a world that feels as real as this one in other ways.

2. Let’s acknowledge that the world is infinitely stranger than anything we could come up with sitting in a chair with our eyes closed. Writers are, therefore, often better served by the non-fiction section of libraries and bookstores than the other bits. A dash of hard research can improve our fiction tremendously. If we are inclined to be lazy about this let us remember that we have Let us remember that unlike writers of the past, we have a maturing Internet in our day.

Now, there are certainly many ways to get a spark for lighting up a story or crafting an alternative world. To me at least, non-fiction can be a Roman candle.

So stay current with our blog and look for more in this series.

-Bradley Verdell


2 thoughts on “From Reality to Fantasy: Intro

  1. You’ve hit on the basic issue I’m having with my latest piece. The balance between “too tidy” and “too messy” is difficult to get right. For me, to be too tidy is to be cliche, but for the reader I imagine too messy is just too close to real life to be a satisfying read.


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