Said the clown to the priest.
No. Writing a book based on any level of “realism” (or at the very least, depth) requires the writer to study the periphery. The periphery could involve any number of things. In fact, in fantasy (and dare I say, in reality) the possibilities are damn near endless. Writing an urban fantasy novel (UF from here on out) usually brings about images of sardine-packed apartment buildings, grungy streets, dark alleys, bricks and concrete and unnatural yellow streetlights. What good city doesn’t have those? Farther on the periphery, the main character (MC from here on out) hears dogs barking–which a friend of mine once wrote a very in-depth analysis of what part these barking dogs have in our subconscious; interesting little read–or perhaps people talking in the distance. The MC passes shadowy shapes in alleys, perhaps, or nobody at all. The MC is silhouetted against bar windows or restaurants or vacant buildings. The MC stops in front of graffiti. All important.
Yet. One major aspect of the Real Life Urban scene is drug use. I haven’t read much UF with drug use as a periphery. I don’t know why. Given I’ve never done illegal drugs, never inhaled mary jane, never rolled Ecstasy, perhaps most fantasy writers haven’t either. It’s something they know nothing about, therefore it is either overlooked or ignored in the story.
I understand it. I don’t like it. We write about dragons but not drugs? We write about hellfire but not drug-use? The only time I see much discussion of it is when it’s a pivotal point of the story, where some supernatural investigator seeks the truth in some drug-user’s death–usually, where the drug is the magical, I dunno, tool used to move the story forward. Which is cool. I love those stories. I just want more of it. Especially in UF.
And high fantasy (HF from here on out) included! What? Pirates didn’t use opiates? Your scoundrels exist in a drug-free world even though there’s an ecosystem as complex as anything that exists on Earth? Hell no. I refuse to believe it.
Now if you want a fairy tale with no drugs, that’s fine. Plain and pure and storytelling at its best? Sounds perfect. Go for it. It has its place. Drugs are a dark side to society most people want to escape from. It might not have a healthy place in your story.
But I want more of it. I want the guy that’s high as a kite, he just might, stop and check the MC out. I want the Trent Reznor-type in an intimidating-as-shit black duster roaring in the MC’s face as he’s hyped up on PCP. Why not? It’s scary. A kind of scary a lot of people don’t want to get involved with. Perhaps a little Too Real. But it’s UF. And, if you do it right, it’s a damn easy way to make an intimidating Antagonist downright terrifying.
Take The Professional, for instance. The movie made in ’91 (or was it ’94?). Gary Oldman stars as the bad guy, a crooked cop that’s actually head of the DEA. The guy’s a loose cannon. Not someone you want to play Russian Roulette with. Add his little pill he pops (literally pops) in his mouth, he transforms into something else. Every single aspect of what makes that man sane, and with boundaries, is gone. Whisked away with the intense high.
Here’s the thing. It can be just on the periphery. It can be a secondary character that simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It can be an average joe the reader trusts. And he can change in an instant. That stuff is powerful.
To extend the thought–magic. Oh crap, magic! You can have a magical drug that does nothing to most but changes a few. You can have a time-delay magical drug that simply gives all the peaceful effects of a steaming cup of tea, but have three successive loud noises, whoa Nelly! Run for the hills. It allows you to create monsters out of timid mice, sleeper agents who truly know nothing of their place, or just, heck, plain old frostbitten Josh Nobody looking to take the edge off his gangrenous foot. For as long as humanity has existed, drugs have coincided. Alcohol aside! I think there’s a huge market for any writer willing to get his fingers dirty, understanding drugs and, farther in, humanity’s need of them.
A professor once told me to use the rule of ten doors. Major decisions require ten outcomes. Write them down. Pick the best. Go to a smaller choice. Rule of ten. Write them down. Choose the best. And so on. It helps with writer’s block and everything. It also does a great job of painting the picture when it comes to drug use: drugs have different effects for different people, even the same dose. It makes for wonderful storytelling and, given the magic world the MC lives in, could possibly turn bad into worse or good into terrible.
I’ll do it now!
Dashing Tom Perfect just had a run-in with Josuha Random Reefer Toking while on his way to deliver a medallion!
1) He puts his head down and ignores him, creating foreshadowing for JRR Toking later in the story
2) He takes a moment to listen to JRR Toking and his far-out stories of Nevernever Earth and inadvertently adds humor to the otherwise stoic, dry story
3) He realizes Mr. Toking is smoking Magical Marijuana, and any contact high could relinquish DTP’s perfect mental control over himself, creating small conflict
4) He listens to JRR Toking, who is really an escaped torture victim for (Antagonist’s name here), and he can only survive this hellish life by smoking the reef and drifting through the world as a vagrant
5) JRR Toking is smoking to get up the courage to talk to Dashing Tom, because he has Vital Information!
6) DTP has had a negative experience with potheads, where his half-brother (half-elf) smoked too much pot and burned his life away to mediocrity, despite having a brilliant mind. DTP therefore puts Toking in a choke-hold and ties him up in the back of his pedivan.
7) DTP smells more than marijuana on JRR Toking’s breath, recognizing the effects of a much more damaging drug, the Soulfie, where JRR Toking slowly gives his soul away to a powerful douche-cerer.
8) JRR Toking is a conspiracy theorist who loves to think about the possibility of a universe whole-mind, where everyone can talk to each other psychically and nobody has to poop. That’s all. Oh and he’s a cunning thief in disguise and steals the medallion.
9) DTP recognizes the sociopolitical ramifications of JRR Toking walking the streets in such rags–but wait, isn’t that the insignia of a freedom fighting group he wears as a patch on his skinny jeans?
10) JRR Toking reminds DTP of a friend DTP once had, stops the man, talks to him a moment, and realizes the poor bastard is a war vet with A WHOLE LOT OF STORIES TO TELL. And firearms training.
Alrighty. That’s just one line of decisions, all rife with information. I’m not feeling particularly inspired at the moment (Really stressed) so I bypassed some of the deeper thoughts. Any one of those decisions could lead to another major decision. So on and so forth.
So. I advocate drug use. In fantasy novels.