Write What You Know

While this advice is almost a cliché, it is also true. Most of us write what we know, or we learn about it well enough to fool most, if not all, readers.

I know two people who write with characters in the military. One of them is ex-Navy. The other has a mother who retired from military and is a volunteer for Soldier’s Angels, among other things. Both have knowledge beyond the layperson, and neither has a problem letting me know if I make a mistake.

Not that I write about the military, but if I did, I’d run it by them for critique.

Science fiction has a basis in fact, but any time you run into an alien civilization or culture, we lose most places where we can reference something. And it has to be human, in some way, shape, or form. A science fiction writer must abide by the known science at the time, but after that he’s free to build whatever or whomever he wants.

I miss the days of Martians. So many of the classics I read have them featuring prominently.

The question then runs – what about fantasy writers? What is it about them that gives us a reference to write about dragons, vampires, or magic? These things have never been proven to exist… Proven being a key word to use. I suppose no one can prove without a doubt that there is a god out there, either, yet religion thrives outside the fantasy field.

Is it a coincidence that L. Ron Hubbard, science fiction writer, also created a religion? Or is it simply something that stems out of the mind of an extremely creative person to get others to buy in? Did he believe any of it, or did he just build it and they came?

I forgot who said it recently, but an agent asked at a gathering where the speaker was telling the hapless authors to give credentials about their work, what credentials gave her authority to write about vampires? She never got an answer. The speaker changed the subject. Lovely.

What references can I provide for my science fiction and fantasy forays? I love to imagine what isn’t there. That served me well as an engineer to design new products and redesign to improve existing ones. It also lets me paint pictures with words of things no one has imagined yet. I’m not going to put that on my fiction cover letters, though.

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Don’t Forget the Science

Read the article here.

Oh, I love science and the opportunity to learn for free. The heart of science fiction is always in the science where it begins. The writer can take as many liberties as can be believed by the reader, but it has to start with known science and end where the imagination can logically take the story.

“What if?” is the best question to answer. It isn’t always something from another world based on science to make the fiction. It’s the driver for every story ever told.

Where have the questions taken you recently?

And the winner is…

Dawn Embers! Woo- big round of applause. Wait, you can’t hear it on this post? Imagine!

Speaking of imagination, do you ever wonder how far you can suspend a reader’s believability? It’s not a consistent question. I have friends who don’t read science fiction or fantasy at all because their believability can only stretch so far. Some read a few parts of it, but there are tales where the reader simply puts the story down because it’s too far out there.

But how far is too far? If it’s an individual line to draw, how do you know if you’ve hit it or crossed it? I wonder if other universes have pervaded people’s expectations, especially when one of my fellow writers told me he couldn’t get into my story because Star Trek said only 1 out of 30,000 planets was inhabitable.

Really… Star Trek? I don’t think they’re talking about life the way I was. They’re very focused on M class planets (read: places where humanoids can breathe). If you take out those requirements… well, Mars might look awesome for habitation! The other element not factored in there is time. If you’re looking for traces of life, who is to say that it’s still there or the planet is still habitable at this moment?

And how is it on Star Trek that all of the species breathe the same kind of air? Isn’t that just spooky? They all like the approximate same ambient temperatures. They all have languages translated with the Universal Translator, even ones they just met. Don’t even get me started on warp drive, either.

Who’s believable now?

Gadgets to Read

Read about it here.

Because scanners didn’t catch on well, they upped the ante by creating one that will read to you. They call the voice Jill. You still have to turn the pages, but the rest is her job.

I’m amused by the fact that “Jill” can make it through medical jargon but has difficulty with numbers, charts, and occasionally just mashes two words together without any way to separate them.

Seems like it might be prematurely on the market, if some of the buttons don’t work and there isn’t any way to customize it. I’m imagining the poor reader trying to puzzle its way through my science fiction stories. Sure, most of the words would be fine, but character’s names, species, and any other made-up words I find I need. I can’t think any names would come out better for fiction series.

Maybe the next one will be able to have a few dictionary features to learn new words.

Do you ever notice?

So many previews, so little time.

The new Star Trek looks cool. It makes me remember so many times I’ve watched them since I was young. So often the aliens looked just – like – us. Not always, but most of the time in the original series. There are small cosmetic changes between us and them, but not enough.

The newer series did better, though most of them seemd based on the same lines. I find it interesting, but we are somewhat limited in film for what we can realistically show. “Realistically” is probably not the right word, since so many things that happen on the silver screen are no more realistic than balancing a Chevy on my little finger. Even those that are not mean to be science fiction get a little hazy, as you’ll notice once you sit next to a literal-minded engineer in a theater during an action feature. (If you haven’t done it, you haven’t lived! Or, lived to be annoyed…)

I still wonder sometimes about the books that do make it to be movies in the science fiction genre. Many of them don’t translate well; others lose too much in translation to the visual art. Do you wonder if you want your creations mangled by a creative mind when it took so much of your time to build the written world? I think and imagine and still don’t have a good answer. Perhaps if I’m ever lucky enough to get an offer like that I’ll figure it out.

Research

Got sidetracked on research. It’s a wonderful thing, but it can take up a lot of time. I think I got carried away on this one.

It started with a short story I wrote about an intelligent species who flies- and is nearly human sized. A friend and I began debating whether or not it could really happen – well, not in our world – but using the physical laws of our world.

Mostly, we’ve been looking into wingspan versus overall weight. I think I might have gone too far, but there is so much uncertainty, that I justified it that way. Now I’m going to have to look at it and see if I can make a better focus of it.

My engineering background both aids and detracts from my fictional abilities in that every now and again I just try to follow the natural laws of our world. Ah well, I can’t complain.

Geek Appeal

Read more here.

The interesting part of science is the advances they make to try to fix things. What they’re discovering in this article looks like a way to silence genes to promote health. The part that amuses me is where they’re going to make pills to target the parts they want to improve.

Science fact is catching up with science fiction. Star Trek had plenty of little pills or shots to cure what ails – and society does seem to be craving easy solutions to every problem. (Funny, everyone wants to take the easy fix with just a pill, rather than the hard work for actually changing behavior, yet when doctors prescribe medications, they sometimes have trouble getting those same patients to take those doses needed to cure – which leads to some bacteria with strains that are immune to the medicine… but back to the subject.)

I’m waiting for the day when there’s a pill for everything, and we look the other way to get our own solutions. If they do learn to silence the bad genes properl, we could really help a lot of people – but what if by helping them we lose some of the things about our own individuality? We struggle so much, but sometimes that’s what makes us into who we are. On the other hand, it might be nice to take the easy path once in awhile. Medical malpractice might get out of hand, though – “I was looking for the little green pill to help my meory loss, but they gave me the little  dark green pill and now I have no recollection of anything, except that pretty pill…”

Might have to use that in a story, sometime.

Geek Appeal

Robots!

They’re wonderful tools in fiction, but the scientists are doing their best to catch up to the writers’ imaginations. I find it amazing they’ve figured out how to make the robot respond with seeming empathy to stimuli.

Of course they have a bit to go for looks. Their current picture looks like a lego guy with Einstein’s face attached. Definitely an oddity.

Scientists aren’t always known for their aesthetic values, though. They’re the ‘function’ lot. When they let the fashion gurus in, the clashes begin because the process of prettying up the prototype often involves difficult changes to the functional part of the machine.

Bugs the heck out of engineers to figure out how to make things work once that new design has that polished look. There is no end to the work!

Tools of the (Science Fiction) Writing Trade

Okay, I suppose it could be used for fantasy, too. Tolkien was revered as world-builder, even to the point of making real languages for his fictional characters. He did it before we had such tools as the internet to find helpful resources, or computers to type things on, or so many advantages today’s writers (and the fan world) take for granted.

Other examples of created languages include Star Wars and Star Trek, of course. It’s different to hear them on TV and expect them, but people really do create them for stories and books for a more realistic feel.

The Language Construction Kit

It’s organized as an outline, so you can get as crazy or detailed as you like. You can use it to provide a background, a more realistic form of naming strange characters, or just another way to annoy your English teacher during class. (Last example is not recommended!)

Linguistics is not my particular strong point, so a couple of the questions are lost on me. (Is your language inflecting, agglutinating, or isolating?)  For the most part it is very straightforward and inviting. I find it difficult not to dive right in and try it out!

Power of Description

When reading, sometimes I take in the amount of description and say, “wow, i’m there.” Other times I feel like “where’s the story?”

Description is a difficult part to get right. Some people want to know every single detail, but a lot of us want the story to move forward. The question is, how much is enough and how much is too much? I find myself struggling with that time and again.

Science fiction and fantasy need a different amount of description than some other genres (say, chick lit). When I build a world from scratch, you’re probably going to want to know whether my critter has blue fur or brown scales or even different facial features. That doesn’t mean I need to spend time talking about my fantasy (human) protagonist’s long, dark, wavy hair every few paragraphs.

A lot of times if a detail isn’t used to further my story, I leave it out. I know I need more description in some of the my work, but it isn’t hurt me to get the story out first, then figure out the details that need to be woven inside.

The trick is balance, I think. Then always checking the story after the changes to be sure it still has the plot somewhere and not hidden by all the descriptions. Writers simply can’t describe their world for ten pages and expect the audience to hang out waiting for action. Then again, if we throw them the details in chapter 22 about the critter they’ve been traveling with for the entire book, it’s too late.

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