One of my favorite and oft-quoted bits of writerly advice comes from novelist/filmmaker Nicholas Meyer: “Art thrives on restriction.” Meaning that if you don’t have enough of something–usually money and/or time–you’re forced to compensate by being creative.
Here’s a story that shows how that works, at least for me.
I’ve never written steampunk. I honestly don’t even know if it’s a literary genre; it seems more like a fashion statement. Still, it’s certainly prominent right now, and there are even subgenres like diesel punk, atomic punk and so forth. Whenever I’m asked to contribute to a steampunk anthology, though, I usually demur. It’s a genre for which I have no affinity.
That is, until editor Sarah Hans approached me with the concept for the anthology Steampunk World. The conceit: steampunk with no connection to Western civilization. No Victorian England, no post-Civil War America. In other words, none of the stuff that steampunk seemed (to me) to be founded upon.
That sounded like a challenge. So I said yes.
Then the panic set in. What was I going to write about? And in the time I had? I began thinking about the rest of the world in pre-twentieth century times, and how strange technology might manifest there. I kept coming back to one image.
I’d always been loosely fascinated with Easter Island and its statues, so I had the idea that those statues might be something else, something technological…like robots. Robots left behind by…who? And what would prompt them to rise from their slumber? That was the genesis of my story, “The Omai Gods.”
Except I didn’t have time to properly research Easter Island, and also no time to look into the world around it, to find out who would likely show up on its shores to precipitate the events of my story. So I did something else.
I made it all up.
I made up the island. I made up the nature of the statues, although their description is pretty clear. I made up the cultures of the two groups without getting too specific and bogging down in detail. This island and its people exist only in my mind. The advantage to this, of course, is that I could have anything happen that I wanted to without worrying about historical accuracy.
So “The Omai Gods” is not about any real world island or any particular statues. And to me, the restrictions of time and knowledge made the story better.
It also meant I was able to hit my deadline, which I know Sarah appreciates.