© 2017 PAUL BRIGGS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Conservation of Weirdness

October 16, 2016

"Generally in science fiction, you have one impossible thing, and then you surround it with believability in the hopes that it will allow the audience to accept the impossible thing too."
 

- Chuck Sonnenberg, reviewing Torchwood: Miracle Day



One character I’ve written a number of stories about is Irene J. Harris, a.k.a. “Big Reenie” or “Reenie the Giant.”

Reenie is an intelligent, good-natured and athletic woman — and she needs to be athletic just to stand and walk. She makes her own clothes — and, again, she needs to. Because Reenie is 7’9,” and while she doesn’t talk about her weight, she never lets it get above 400 pounds and it’s usually a little less. If she actually existed, she’d be one of the tallest women in the world. Possibly the tallest — I’ve tried looking it up and gotten some inconsistent reports.

These stories have been very popular in writing groups I’ve shared them with, but I have to admit that in most of them, she isn’t doing anything particularly remarkable. The stories are mostly about her adventures in navigating the built environment (which was not built with her in mind) and coping with the reactions of others (admiration, pity, resentment, mortal terror, etc.), which she does with good humor. People seem to like Reenie. I think she hits the right balance — normal enough to relate to, strange enough to be interesting.

So… why am I not giving Reenie the Giant an appearance in the Locksmith Trilogy? Or in Altered Seasons?

For one thing, I’m not sure what she’d do there that my other characters couldn’t. Lachlan Smith and Isabel Bradshaw are like Reenie — not in stature or sociability, but in being practical and level-headed people of above-average intelligence who don’t panic in a crisis. You can only put so many people like that in a story before problems start solving themselves.

More importantly, I think that in both these stories there’s a central weirdness from which all other weirdness flows. The weirdness of the Locksmith Trilogy is that there exists a portal from the present to the future — oh, and at some point between now and then the human race goes extinct. The weirdness of Altered Seasons is that the loss of Arctic Ocean sea ice for a few weeks in September triggers a chain reaction which throws the climate of the Northern Hemisphere into chaos over the course of several years. Neither of these things is connected to whatever genetic or developmental mishap turned Reenie into the human equivalent of a St. Bernard. If I put her in the story, it would seem like I was piling more and more random weirdness on the reader’s head that had nothing to do with the plot just to prove how imaginative I was.

I think this is why Harry Potter is such a normal guy, in spite of having been raised in an abusive household with an violent cousin and guardians who are neurotically obsessed with keeping up appearances. He’s normal because readers need him to be normal. When you’re exploring a strange new world, you want to see it through as clear a glass as possible.

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