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Entries in writing (4)


A Strange Moment

I had a strange moment yesterday watching the Xfiles finalie. (There may be some minor spoilers.) To begin I'll say that the xfiles episode was OK, and that I really hope that they had an actual ending written and decided to go with this when they were told that they would have more episodes. But back to the important thing, me. 

I've been working on a number of short stories lately and was working on one yesterday morning while waiting for an appointment. Here are the notes I wrote about six hours before I watched the Xfiles or had any idea what it was about.

Crispr what is its limit. Could it be used to make viruses to make people sick.

Used as a weapon

Not the Virus Doctor the Gene Doctor (this is for a story with a serial killer.) 

First assumption that he's taking people with gene defects.

Using Crispr to give people genetic defects

How long would it take?

There are a couple other minor questions but if you saw the Xfiles you see my point. I finished my errands, went home, had dinner and then sat down and watched the Xfiles, in which most of the ideas in my notes were in the TV show and since it was the Xfiles I felt some obligation to come up with the most paranormal possibilites of what happened. Perhaps I am psycicly connected to Chris Carter, or perhaps it was the collective unconcious sending both of us the same message. Perhaps time traveling aliens saw my story and brought it back in time to the writers of the xfiles so they could make a mediocor episode of the TV show out of it. 

Of course, also in the style of the x-files I feel the need to have a skeptic. Those ideas are all stupid. As is the idea that either of us stole the idea from the other. (Even if I had written it months and not hours before the show went on the TV). The real answer of course is that lots of people have ideas. Just because you had the idea for a school that teached wizards doesn't mean that J.K. Rowlings stole your idea, or that if you thought of a serial killer who kills serial killers that Dexter was your idea. At best it means that you are good at comming up with basic story ideas. But what most people who aren't writers don't understand is that ideas don't, by themselves, make good stories. There are far more good ideas than good stories and a lot of great stories with mediocor or even bad ideas. 

All that said, it is a wierd mixture of frustrating and strange to watch your idea on the screen even though you had no connection to it and even now I am trying to decide if I have to completely rewrite the basics of the story because even though it will be different it's going to be hard to not think about the xfiles if I write the story as I planned. But either way I think it makes for an interesting story about writing stories. 


Why Write about Dystopian Futures

I have heard a fair amount of discussion lately about science fiction writers using a lot of dystopian futures in their stories. Neil Stephenson even discussed the point lately suggesting that slower levels of true technological advancement may be in part because of this and want to write more optimistic stories. That is great. I for one love Star Trek in part because hope is important in science fiction, but in the discussion I think a lot of people miss the most basic reason that writers often use apocalyptic futures. It’s easier. 

A lot of people don’t think that much about stories, but if you take a moment to think about it dystopian futures you’ll understand why. The most important element in story is conflict. That conflict can be between man and man, man and society, man and God, ect… The problem is that if the future is a kind and peaceful place there is less conflict than if mega corporations have pillaged the planet turning it into a wasteland, leading to a nuclear war that triggered a zombie uprising.  

The basic premise of many of these people is still correct. People are more likely to write dystopian stories in times when the economy is bad and people are afraid, but it is still worth remembering the simple point that futures where everything has went wrong tend to lead to easier conflicts. In fact my problem is often not so much that we have dystopian futures but that so much of science fiction is unwilling to look into the future more than a few years rather than centuries. For example instead of shows like Star Trek and Star Wars that show truly advanced technology you have shows like Fringe and Eureka with advanced technology in our own time. I like these shows, but I enjoy visiting the distant future from time to time as well and it’s OK (at least for me) to assume that sometime might come up with a way to do something that we currently think is impossible like faster than light travel because one of the things science fiction does well is point out we don’t know all that much.


Internal Consistency-- the unbreakable rule in science fiction and fantasy

I like to find my way around rules and ideas in storytelling and I enjoy it when others do so as well. Often what we call rules are little more than ideas that usually work, but there are a set of rules that you must be very aware of and never break. This are the internal rules of the story that you set up.
This is of course extra important when you are dealing with science fiction and fantasy that have internal rules that often break the rules of the world as we know it, but they aren't the only one. You can't write a romance set in the 18th century and then have one of the characters call for help on a cell phone.
An example of a movie that fails to do this as well as it should is "Next". The main character can see two minutes into the future, except when it is directly connected to a specific woman then he can see farther. As the movie goes on though this rule are more and more ignored. The writers were aware of it of course and attempted to write around it but at least for me they weren’t successful.
Perhaps the most frustrating of internal consistency being tossed out the window is in the end of movies where the heroes have been trying unsuccessfully to stop a plot then at the end something often not as interesting as the first works because it is time for the movie to be over. You knew how long the movie needed to be when you started, why not set up the ending?
For science fiction we run into the collective amnesia syndrome when it comes to technology. Some technology, superpower, or other element is on the show. Perhaps a time machine, or a character who can heal people with her blood, but everyone seems to conveniently forget that when the time comes. They have the time show episode and then no one bothers suggesting that perhaps the solution to the problem this week might be using the time machine from last week, and while I understand you can't expect the writers to always see this, and you wouldn't want them to fall back on the same technology to solve every solution why not simply explain why it doesn’t work rather than simply pretending it doesn’t exist?
In the end most of the time people will accept any stretch of logic so long as it is written into the basic premise of the show, but nothing will turn of readers and viewers of a show faster than the writers ignoring the rules that they set up, so while the rules of writing can be ignored, the rules of your writing can't.

Books about Writing Science Fiction

In addition to reading and watching science fiction and fantasy I like to create my own stories. This is something that i have been doing for years and truly enjoy. In those years I have read many books on the subject, but most writing books aren't written with the science fiction author in mind and so while there may be some good advice there is plenty that simply isn't relivent and thing that the science fiction author needs to know that arn't mentioned.

if you want to avoid the literary snobbery of some books on writing as well as get advice that is relivent to writing science fiction and fantasy here are a few books worth picking up.

1> Steven King's: On Writing

There is far less actual writing advice in this book than you might expect but don't let that deter you. This is a book about creativity with plenty of ideas about writing as well. If you're not interested in books of rules about writing but want to send some time with someone who knows about it then pick up On Writing.

2> The Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells by Ben Bova

This book teaches writing through the four basic points of storytelling, character, conflict, background and plot. But what this does truly well is give you questions to ask and examples of Ben Bova's work that shows how he does this. This is a book that will help you read every book you read with a writer's eye and that will help make every book a writing book.

3> Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe, by George Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier

This is a book about creating worlds and ideas more than about writing. Each chapter focuses on an aspect of creating a world that is important to consider. From orbits and ecosystems to technology this book will help to ensure that you don't miss anything vital when creating a world.

4> Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity

A classic writing tells about writing. If you like Ray Bradbury's work then you'll enjoy this well written book and you'll learn something both about how to write and about Bradbury himself.