Science Fact-ion

“It’s Science Fiction, you can just make it up!”

One of the biggest assumptions and mistakes I have made is that writing Science Fiction is easier because, well, it takes place in a made up world. That means I’ve got my own sandbox to play in; I can do what I want.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy – writing, in general, never is.

The first full length novel I wrote was a Historical Fiction novel. It took hours and hours (and hours!) of research to just be able to start it. I wrote one chapter at the very beginning, and it just felt wrong. I didn’t want to approach the subject matter until I had got it right, and I felt like I already had a pretty good handle on the World Wars. Even now, after reading piles of books, there is still more that I could learn about these particular settings. As it was a World War One novel, about the trenches and conscientious objectors, I felt that it was too sensitive a subject to get any detail wrong. Sure, there’s room for artistic license. The characters I created didn’t actually exist, despite getting family names from censuses at the time, but everything else had to be right. The Liverpool Rifles couldn’t suddenly turn up at Gallipoli, because they weren’t there!

So, turn to Science Fiction and these sorts of things should be easier, right? My characters can go where-ever, and do whatever they want? Again, it’s not that easy.

Science Fiction readers are particularly attentive to detail. It’s an important part of the genre. After all, you can’t have Science Fiction without Science. If a ship goes between two planets in a matter of hours you’d better make sure you know how. I guarantee you someone will ask. Or worse, it will take someone out of the story and they’ll put your book down. As a writer, that’s the last thing you want.

I started planning my current novel thinking, ‘ack, I can sort that as I go along.’ However, the more I tried to plan and work out what was happening to the characters the more something didn’t feel right. What they were doing and how they were reacting didn’t make sense, because I didn’t yet have a sense of their world. This is a little easier in short stories, as the story world itself is usually smaller.

There are a few planets and cultures, with different factions, involved in the story and I first needed to work out how these worked. What made the humans tick? What were the aliens’ motives? If both cultures were on this planet, why? What did they eat, drink? How did their economy work.

Some of this may seem a little indulgent, but unless these places and cultures are real living, breathing things, at least in my head, then the readers won’t believe in them either. I ended up reading books about quantum physics and various other things. At least I find that stuff interesting. Writing, for me, is another way of learning, of absorbing information.

I still don’t think I’ve got everything right, and sure more will come out as I tell the story, but the chapters I’ve written are starting to feel more right, more real, as I go along.

Maybe someday you’ll be able to read it and see what I mean?

Comedy you say? I’ve never heard of him!

Back to the writing! in this weeks class we had some great exercises orchestrated by the thoroughly interesting Peter Salmon. The aussie author used to work and teach at a writing retreat so he had plenty of great advice for us. I have to say though, a lot of what he said seemed to contradict what I have learnt over the last year. Mainly his idea that you just write, don’t outline, let your imagination guide you and then do the research and fact checking during the editing stage. I think the main thing I have to learn from this is that everyone crafts differently. At the Black Library weekender one of the key suggestions was to outline everything and so the last few weeks I have been writing rough outlines for the stories I’m writing. I think in the long run this will help me get a better handle on those particular stories. If I ever struggle for an idea I will just put pen to paper as Peter suggested and see what happens. 

The first exercise we did involved writing down something we loved. Then write down a gender and age. Pass the thing you love to your left and the gender to the right. Thusly I ended up with a 32 year old male who loved technology. My immediate response was ‘I can work with this.’ We were then given some time (I can’t recall how much!) to start a story with this character. The following, as yet, untitled piece is what resulted:

 

 

David looked vacantly into thin air as the phone rang incessantly on the hook. He wouldn’t answer it. It would be the same old rubbish as before and the time before that. They would get bored and hang up eventually. Then only the really struggling ones would come down and see him, trying to drag him away from his task.

He looked at the phone, disgusted as the imperial march played its last beat. His colleagues often wondered how he’d managed to set the ringtone. The force works in mysterious ways.

David had thought about disconnecting it, but someone would notice. He didn’t fancy getting in trouble again. Forget that.

He pushed the phone to one side and covered it in papers, anything to keep it away. Now hidden, out of hands-reach and twin monitors he carried on his work. The important work that is.

One once screen the black and green of a Unix coding screen, the other halfway through a raid, his elfin princess resplendent in kicking butt.

Meaty fists hammered the keyboard as he worked away. Deftly inserting code with the left, repeatedly tapping the ‘1’ key with the right. Who said men couldn’t multitask?

A message pop-up popped-up annoyingly over is game window and he brushed it away with a click. Some other idiot on floor five, who couldn’t open their disk drive and probably thought the tab key was a drinks ordering facility. He once met someone who was scared of the space bar.

‘forward-slash pizza,’ he chuckled to himself, second chin wobbling in sympathetic irony.

Over the rumble of his laughter he heard the door to the office open and close with a click, but his dismissed it as he had the pop-up, with a lazy sweep of the hand. 

 

You can probably see the influences already, but I had in my mind this IT guy that was fairly disgruntled and felt he had a higher calling. It then turned into a sort of comedy piece. I’ve never written comedy before, and as Peter suggested we try to go outside our comfort zone, I thought ‘why not?’ I don’t know if its any good, or if people would find it funny, but I have an idea of where I want to go with this and I think I will write it at some point. It may change drastically from what you see here, as it is, in its first draft. It’ll be a kind of spoof. That’s all I’m saying. 

The next task was to give this character, well, a character. Peter asked us a series of questions about the character and we had to write the first thing that came to mind. He didn’t ask us to share the answers and I don’t think I will as I want to write him first without giving too much away. But if people ask nicely I may change my mind. 

The third and final task was to write down a list of 50 things about a person close to you. I chose my mum and as such chose not to read any of it out. (I will read out something in class soon, promise!)

And that was that for the day. 

I’m off to carry on writing about a Far World, intersected with lunch and probably staring out of the window. Hopefully I will be able to tell you more about that soon! (its a great view) I mean the story, silly! 

Thanks for reading.

Keep reading, keep writing.