So, you’ve built a world. You might not know all the details yet, but you have the basics down, and have begun to answer the questions of why the story is taking place when and where it does. Now, you have to get down to telling the story, putting together the elements that make up your narrative structure.
People often ask about the how of writing, the nuts and bolts of the process of coming up with an idea and following it through to a final form, be it short story, novel, essay, or memoir. But the thing is, ask a dozen writers and you’ll get a dozen answers, all different and all specific to writer and the genre and the stage of that writer’s career. So, I figured I’d throw my two cents, or my three ideas, into the ring along with all the others
I’ve talked in previous posts about how I’ve arrived at specific ideas or decisions in my own writing, even talked about the process of world-building. Where world-building is more about creating the back drop for the story, and the conditions where it can occur, this is more about the story telling process, the business of creating a plot and crafting a narrative that makes use of the world you’ve built. (more…)
As I mentioned in my previous post, I tend to think of the world building process as Decision>Question>Implication. You come up with your premise and begin asking questions about what the premise requires your world to contain, then you explore the ramifications of the choices you’ve made and the questions you’ve asked.
It’s important to remember that world building choices extend in all directions. And what I mean by this is that they come from somewhere, they affect the world and characters in the present and they drive the story forward in specific ways. Once you’ve made a decision as to where your story idea springs from, be it a character, situation, or some other detail that inspires you to write the story down, then the process of building the world begins.
Let’s take a basic, fairly simple idea and start from there: a child has wings.
The process of building in the details starts in the past. Was the child born with wings? Did they grow over time or suddenly? Do we know what the cause of the colour is? Is it genetic? Were the wings grafted on? Are they biological or some kind of technology? Was there some kind of genetic manipulation? Was it a spell or a curse of some kind? How long has the child been living with them? Is it something new that they are dealing with, or are we meeting them when they’ve been dealing with it for a long time. Making these decisions define the the parameters of the universe your characters inhabit and how your story unfolds from there. Is it a universe of science or one of magic? If the wings were created artificially, is the process well known or something clandestine that should have remained secret? These questions about the causes that led to your narrative decision provides the foundation for choices you’ve made and where they’re going to lead. (more…)
I write science fiction (no, DUH), space opera specifically. And it’s either a case of choosing a genre to match my skill set, or developing skills over the years that served my genre choice, but I’ve been told I am skilled at world building, which is a fundamental skill when writing spec fic of any kind.
I’ve never really written stories set in the real world. Writing in the real world means research. If I’m writing a story based in London, I’d better have lived there, spent a lot of time there, or spent a lot of time in a library. If I decided to write in Toronto, it would be easier, but, honestly, I don’t want to be constrained by the fact that the CN Tower is beside the Rogers Centre. Maybe I’m just a control freak.
I’m honestly a little hesitant to talk about this, because when I’m making decisions about the settings I put my characters in, I make a lot of decisions based on what feels right, without actually quantifying they why of the decision. This piece is me trying to get at those reasons.
When I’m writing, I start with addressing the basic needs of the story. If the story requires your characters to travel from planet to planet, then you have to have some kind of system for that. Is it FTL? Wormhole? Some kind of long distance teleportation? Each will give your story a specific feeling and tell you something about your society. Some kind of interplanetary teleportation means that your society is extremely advanced, and that means you have to deal with a lot more. How have humans changed? How does the economy work? What other comparable advancements have been made? When I was working on Soul’s Blood, I wanted travel to take time, because I wanted to write scenes with the characters filling time. I wanted it there to be an element of challenge for them. Humans could travel between the stars, but it took them some time. So I settled on a form of hyperspace FTL tech that shortened the massive interplanetary distances. (more…)
“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
If you know your Science Fiction, and maybe even if you don’t, you recognize the iconic line from the HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL was the artificial intelligence who, while incredibly smart, was driven to violence by the directives provided by his human creators.
Artificial intelligence is a staple of science fiction, and it’s a trope that enables writers to examine what it means to be human, what it means to create life and what our responsibility to that life we create actually is. And further, it enables us to tell stories about what that life might want to do to us in return.
There have been brilliant examples of stories in the AI genre. Colossus: The Forbin Project is a terrifying vision of what could happen if the tools of war are handed over to a machine intelligence designed to make war more efficient. The Terminator, with all it’s lean savagery, is another take on what happens when the machines come online and want control. (more…)
Amazing short film made to promote the upcoming Rosetta mission to rendezvous with, escort and land on a comet. Beautiful work!