Solarpunk Narratives

The following will be some muddled musings on this idea, but it’s something I hope to keep clarifying over 2022 as I continue to write, edit, and read more solarpunk (and have some time to hopefully read more literature in general [haha]). As a writer, I want to keep engaging with this idea that Craft = Culture, as argued by Matthew Salesses and Felicia Rose Chavez. As I’ve been telling my students, the “rules” around creative writing and what makes a good story are associated with “Western” values, and particularly in the US, there are certain types of stories that conform to certain rules that are more likely to sell. My students enjoy anime, so this helps them see that what might be considered “bad writing” in the US works great in Japanese storytelling.

So, part of the US cultural craft is the Hero’s Journey and the three act, rising climax, plot structure. You’ll find reproductions (and some alternatives) in plenty of craft books, such as Save the Cat. For alternatives, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote about how this plot structure supports ideas of imperial violence in “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” and Jane Alison associates the climax with male power in Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative.

My interest in solarpunk grew partially from its deviation from dystopian narratives. At the time, Mad Max: Fury Road had just stormed the box office, and while I love and have written scholarship on that movie, it didn’t feel like the right path for climate change narratives. If I could imagine humanity had already lost, how would I keep writing?

I wonder if one reason dystopias work so well is because they fit the narrative structures most young writers in the US have been taught. The dystopian or apocalypse narrative so easily fits into Man versus Nature, so easily can follow the Hero’s Journey. The three act structure fits a dystopian world where survival and struggle is the focus, just like the colonial frontier narratives.

So, here’s the challenge I set for myself and encourage other solarpunk writers to think about. How else might we tell a story about the end of the world? What other story structures might we use? How have other people, particularly Indigenous writers, already worked to deconstruct narrative structures?

I’m still wrestling with these ideas, but one way I’ve started to reconsider narrative is shifting the focus from a singular hero to a community through first person plural POV. By looking at community response instead of a singular response, I’m trying to show that adapting to climate change is not the job of one person but about a community thriving.

So, play around in your stories. See what happens if you break the narrative rules. How can we tell stories about adaptation and transformation in the face of the climate crisis without replicating the stories that got us here in the first place?

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