Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Creating a Plausible Future World

Earth lies in ruins, destroyed by an unknown enemy. Humanity flees their burning homeworld, seeking a safe place to hide before they can be hunted down and eradicated.

Today's guest post if from Andrew Saxsma, author of Lonely Moon, a gripping science fiction tale about a ship's captain taking charge of the tattered remnants of humanity as an implacable enemy tries to wipe them out. I asked Andrew to write about world creation. How do you create a consistent, plausible future world? What changes, and what stays the same? How do you give the reader enough information to understand this invented environment without turning it into a lecture on made-up science? Here's Andrew to tell you how it's done.

When Enough is...well, Enough.

Sci-fi writers have a challenge, right from the start.  This challenge, although not technically genre specific, keeps our belts a little tighter.  It’s that elephant in the corner, wagging his trunk at you while he eats his peanuts, nodding his head and saying, “It’s too much.  You’re gonna’ bore ‘em before ya’ hook ‘em!”  And, sadly, more often than not, he’s right.  Dammit Dumbo!

The question we face, as we write, is when is enough, enough?  Lemme’ explain.

You’ve got a recipe for a cake in front of you.  Beside that are your ingredients; your eggs, your butter, sugar, milk, etc. etc.  
You throw them all into your bowl, blend ‘em up real nice, and slop it into your cake pan then toss it on into the oven.  Pay attention now, ‘cuz this is where it gets good.  You don’t cook the cake long enough, it’s runny and you can’t serve it up.  Bake it too long, you lose flavor and it’s hard to swallow.  But, if you bake it just right, you get the nice shape, the bouncy texture, and you get to bring a smile to someone’s face.   Get it?  Kind of?  Okay.

Let’s dig a little deeper then, eh?

Science Fiction allows us to travel from New York City to Alpha Centauri, from our homes, our bedrooms, to the stars and anywhere else we’ve bought a ticket for.  But how did we get there?  Did we take an orbital elevator for two from Cape Canaveral to an orbiting space station?  Or, perhaps, we’re riding aboard an intergalactic cruise-liner propelled through an ionized hyperspace gate?  Getting lost in the details, for sci-fi writers, is like seeing a $100 bill on the sidewalk; sometimes it’s too good to pass up.  As a writer, it becomes too easy, quite quickly, to lose yourself in the description, to really roll our sleeves up and pull out the blueprints to that warp engine, to tell you when and who invented it, to tell you how it links with other computer systems through an intricate array of pistons and flux capacitors, and it can, sometimes, make a good cup of coffee.  I’m only being half-serious.  Point is, kiddo’s, it becomes boring drivel.  We over-explain, over-elaborate, and over-extend our rudimentary belief that you care about the weight of an Iron molecule on Pluto when Bruno just kissed Jess.  Some may, and that’s A-Okay.  But, let’s get back to some basic fundamentals of story telling.  That is, after all, the purpose of fiction.

Alright, we’re getting closer.  Don’t let me lose you now, we’ve almost landed.

Brian Aldiss was on to something when he said, ‘Science Fiction is no more written for scientists than ghost stories are written for ghosts.’  There is some truth to those words.  I know I’m not only speaking for myself when I say that as a sci-fi author, I’m more or less lying responsibly.  I don’t have a degree in Astrophysics.  I couldn’t tell you how to calculate how fast a meteor is moving, so why should I expect you to understand the formula?  If you can and you do, I apologize.

The Challenge:  How not to bore readers while we have to explain technologies that may or may not exist yet.

The answer then becomes this: Great stories always originate from wonderful characters who are as real as you or I, and these “Greats” effortlessly blend these characters with the scientific creations/innovations of the worlds and realities they inhabit, without tossing a wrench in the cog, without slowing down the machine, so to speak.  They don’t drown you in the details.  And that’s the moral of the story, isn’t it?  If it doesn’t move the story or create conflict, then give them no more than they need to know.  It’s that easy peasy, lemon squeezy.  

About the Author : Andrew Saxsma is the author of two novels, Lonely Moon and Redial.  His short stories have appeared everywhere from the Danse Macabre to Trembles Horror Magazine.  His style is eclectic and to the point, with some polished flowery imagery for flavoring.  His ideas are sharp and grisly, dealing with the fringes of reality, the things you hear on a dark stormy night, the things you dream about as you stare into the starry sky; the things with no names.  If the world of Literature was a full-bodied woman, his writing would be the hosiery, tight and fitting.  

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