On gentle stories

The wonderful Rose Lemberg posted a Twitter thread last night on gentle, quiet SFF stories. Read the whole thread! Rose mentioned my writing (among others’) as an example of such stories, which makes me feel very fuzzy inside. Oh – let me tell you, reading these tweets after having just woken up (a long workday ahead, a bare five hours of sleep behind me), I couldn’t help but cry happytears:

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People can love my work because of the quiet gentleness, the kindness. In the haze of anxiety I’ve recently been wandering through, I really needed to hear this reaffirmation. Of course, I myself love reading this kind of fiction (among other kinds of stories! We need all kinds!). So why should it be so strange that someone else might like those features in my writing? Still, I sometimes/often feel a niggling doubt: maybe I should write more adventuresome stories? With more fighting in them? More CONFLICT? (Note: I have also written adventuresome stuff with some fighting. I’ve written grim(ish) stuff. It’s just not my main modus operandi.)

Yes, I worry that my stories aren’t exciting enough or don’t grab the reader enough, that they should be somehow different.

But really, the notion that all stories should follow similar (Western) patterns of conflict, for instance, is just monotonous. There is a place for gentleness, too. One of my main interests in writing fiction is writing evocative text, paying attention to language. I love describing beauty, in its myriad forms. I love letting my prose sing with poetry. I often like to do this by giving language and beauty front stage. So perhaps that results in a non-exciting plot? Well, but if I’ve captured what elfsong sounds like echoing through an ancient forest – is that not an achievement too? If I’ve captured two long-estranged friends’ moment of reconnection, is that not an achievement? Surely SFF is ideal for moments of wonder and gentle beauty like that?

In the future I will try to stop myself if I feel like dissing my fiction’s gentleness or “slowness”. I’m currently working on final revisions for a quiet, f/f Beauty and the Beast novel. Quiet magic, discovery, a realm within a city. I will keep working on this novel and then I will send it out, because it’s a story worth telling. A gentle story of love and hope. Not without conflict, but it’s about as far from grimdark as you can get.

Gentle fiction is my shield against darkness. When I get terror and dystopia and violence enough just by checking Twitter or a news site (Finnish political news is pretty awful, although not nearly as horrifying as the news from the US), I want to remind myself of the beauty and kindness that lives in people. Warm hugs. Selfless acts. Language shivering with meaning. Friendship, love, eucatastrophe, joy.

Especially in times like these, gentle fiction is important. There’s a quiet power in it. Kind, gentle fiction reminds us that people can be good. Reminds us that the world can be wondrous and that there is hope. Always hope.

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About Sara Norja

I'm a bilingual writer of prose and poetry. Things I enjoy apart from writing include tea, reading voraciously, cycling on warm summer nights, medieval manuscripts, dancing, and the wind.
This entry was posted in discussion, novelling, personal babble and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to On gentle stories

  1. sarah says:

    Wonderful, I love so much all you have written here.

  2. ikonoklastin says:

    Late but… beautiful, important post! (I’ve been staying off Twitter for a while because yeah, world news and anxiety, same here.) I do believe that conflict is important for storytelling but it’s often reduced to those similar patterns, like you say. A conflict doesn’t have to be malevolent or explosive or confrontative, it can also just be the difference between that which we know and that which we don’t know, driving us to discovery. It can be something that happened before the stories that we tell and the stories are the resolution. It can simply be the tension between life and death, the knowledge of one’s own mortality informing the joy of existing and experiencing.

    I’ve buried myself in music & writing instead of reading in the last few months so I haven’t been reading your latest stories but keep up the good work, I know your writing is great and we really need all the gentleness and hope we can get at the moment. Excitement isn’t everything.

    -Tessa

    • Sara Norja says:

      Thank you for reading and for the lovely, thoughtful comment. <3 Yeah, Twitter is not very good for me lately but there's still excellent writerly discussion to be had there, amongst the (important but anxiety-causing) despair/politics.

      it can also just be the difference between that which we know and that which we don’t know, driving us to discovery <– Beautifully phrased! I totally agree. Conflict certainly doesn't have to be world-shattering to be meaningful, even in SFF.

      Music and writing are very good things! Good forms of self-care just as reading is. :) Thanks for the encouragement, it's very much needed in my current state of anxiety. Hugs!

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