I’ve got several new posts to put up on the theme of my writing but I thought it was time for a bit of publicity.
Andorra Pett is released onto the unsuspecting world on Thursday, June 1st. I’m sure that all you loyal readers have ordered your advance copies, if not, well there’s still time to take advantage of the HALF PRICE offer on the eBook, making it £1.49.
Also, I have a few paperbacks to offer at the special price of £5.99 signed and delivered. I accept credit cards and PayPal payments. If you’re interested in a copy, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll explain the process, don’t worry, it’s easy!!
And if you’re still wondering what it’s all about, CLICK HERE for Chapter 1.
I thought that writing Science Fiction would be easy, after all, how can you research the future? And who can tell you that you’ve got your facts wrong?
After all, you can have anything you want in the Sci-fi world that you create, right?
Well, that was my first mistake, over time I’ve found that there is just as much background work needed as there is for any genre. In fact, I might go further and say that you actually need to do more research if you’re talking about the future.
That may sound weird but let me explain.
Every part of your world must make sense, there has to be a justification for the logic in all of it. When you look at the world today, in a natural and physical sense, then it all works. By that, I mean that there is cause and effect, a closed loop system if you like. There are no parts of how this planet works that require you to suspend disbelief, everything can be explained.
In your fictional world, the same must hold true. Everything needs an explanation. Now you can do this by basing it all on things that are true and expanding them in a logical way. But first, you need to know your basics. It’s easier to suspend disbelief in the fantastic if you can appreciate that there is a sound basis for it.
So before I write anything, I look at where we are in the field of science or whatever speciality that I want to invent my future in. I see what the position is now and what people are thinking may be possible in the future. Once you have that, you can weave your story around it. To be even more authentic, you can include the facts as we know them today in your work, so conversations could contain things like,
“Do you realise, people used to think…,” or
“When all this started they could only….”
Descriptions can also incorporate the basic fact and pull it in many ways; once you get started you’ll find that other things creep in, everything is connected and even in the future, stuff that we do today will still be relevant.
Do you get my drift?
To give you an idea of how this works for me, I wrote a story about a city under a huge dome on an airless planet. OK, it’s perhaps not original but it will do to illustrate the thought process involved.
First I had to think about the domes basic needs, it had to be strong, large and airtight.
We can build things like that now, maybe not huge ones on airless planets but certainly on land and probably under the sea. So I looked at the problems and how they had been solved. Obviously, we can do airtight and strong so the suspension of disbelief has to come with the size, I had to fit a city underneath it. I thought of using a lower gravity on my new world to make the dome lighter but that would cause other problems, all my characters would be floating around. Clearly, another way was needed.
Then I remembered a job I once had, I was Dockmaster at Tilbury and knew that the only thing holding the dock walls up was the pressure of the water in the enclosed dock. We had to constantly refill the dock as we used the lock to let ships in and out, there was a level beneath which the water MUST NOT FALL.
This comes back to the connection, we need air in our dome and air exerts pressure. So the pressure of the air could be used to help support the weight of the dome! Suddenly you can build a strong dome without the need for lots of supports, just as long as you keep the atmosphere at pressure. And you will do that because your inhabitants need to breathe.
And this was where I found other connections, little things that made it more believable. For instance, suppose that the dome had a leak? Nothing serious, just imagine an escape due to poor seals. That meant that atmosphere would need to be put in faster than it was leaking out. That was fine; I rather conveniently had a limitless supply of ice that could be turned into air, the side effect of all this movement of the atmosphere was a breeze. I liked it, it gave the place character, and also a plot issue, would they manage to keep the air flowing? Would the leak get bigger? What if the place converting the ice broke down, or was sabotaged?
The point of all that is to show you that you only require a few facts and a bit of lateral thinking to create something that we could do today, yet if you put it in space, it makes it seem futuristic.
Incidentally, if you want to find out more about the dome, and its breeze, the story is Ribbonworld. Click the title for Chapter One.
To take another example, the holy grail of Sci-fi is faster than light travel, it’s needed for just about any story to work and it’s dealt with in many ways. If you stop to consider it for a moment, Einstein tells us that it’s impossible; yet every time we read about it, we are able to suspend disbelief.
Is that because we all secretly want him to be wrong?
My own theory is that we will, one day travel faster than light. How will we do it, well, in the usual way I expect, someone will discover it by accident, while they are looking for something else. It will make sense, be logical and even though it’s not indicated by our current state of thinking, will pass into the mainstream.
In fact, I liked the idea of the invention so much that I wrote a short story about it. And I gave the invention that makes it all possible a name, “The Padget Inverter!” Pretty good eh? I think it sounds authentic, just like any good invention should!
And all the other things associated with moving faster than light, things like time dilation, may be explained away or ignored by the properties of the Padget Inverter without causing problems in the credibility of the story.
So as long as what you write has a sound basis in fact, you can convince your readers. Once you’ve got them believing your version of the future, you can play around with the side issues to your heart’s content, safe in the knowledge that it’s all covered, wherever you go, they will be with you.
This is a brief post, I have a deeper series of articles about my creative process, find them here.
My take on faster than light travel and how I think that it came to be can be read here.
I will be holding a workshop on “Creating a fantasy world” at Credfest on June 17th in Crediton Library.
What do you think, does research matter? I’d love to get your opinion on just how much you’re prepared to accept in the world-building process. Please leave me a reply with your thoughts.
a.k.a. letting my mind wander and seeing where it leads me.
I thought that I wasn’t getting anywhere with a story I’m in the middle of writing, the plot seemed like it was getting predictable and I couldn’t think of how to hold anyone’s attention with it. I couldn’t even hold my OWN attention on it for long! I kept going off on a tangent and starting other things, rather than get on with it.
The story in question is called “Survive,” the proposed blurb explains the premise.
“What no man has seen before.”
Ballantyne Alysom is Galactographic! Magazine’s intrepid explorer, Davis Jansen is the cameraman he takes on his most dangerous expedition so far.
When things go wrong and the survivors of the group are stranded on an unexplored planet, Davis sees the real man behind Alysom’s carefully constructed public face.
When rescue arrives, Davis is faced with a choice; does the world need to know the truth? And which one’s story will they believe?
There’s an extract HERE
I liked the story and in my mind, it made perfect sense, but then, it’s been living there for several years on and off. I’ve written bits of it and left it and come back to it as it developed. Then, when I had about 40,000 words done, I realised; there wasn’t enough reason for readers to CARE about the characters to want to read it. It needed a better hook.
If I may head off on a tangent again; the more eagle-eyed of you may well have noticed that the name Ballantyne Alysom features in a previous work of mine, Freefall.
When I was writing that tale I had an idea that he might come in useful in something else. He was only a peripheral figure in Freefall, a useful bit of background to authenticate something else, but he entered my mind and sounded so potentially interesting that I thought he might be worth a spinoff.
So I invented a whole back story for him as a Galactic explorer and now I’m doing it again. Only this time I’m writing him from a different perspective because there is never just one way of looking at things. History is written by the winners after all, and in a story like Survive, the absolute truth may never be known, only the version of it that suits those lucky enough to…, well, survive!
There I go again, this time my tangent went off on a tangent; let’s get back to where I should be.
But then I thought, can’t I use the whole tangent thing as a driver in my storytelling?
I hope that I’ve had the big breakthrough. I’d been using short interludes in the story as a means of separating the action, and I wondered if going off on a tangent for a while wouldn’t do the job of keeping people’s concentration. What I have done is teased the ending and put in a side plot to make them wait to get it. And there’s a twist that hopefully no-one sees coming. I didn’t see it coming myself until it popped into my head!
And by diverting the action away from the main story, and making them wonder how I’m going to get away with what I’ve just done; I hope that I can hold the reader in long enough to want to get back to the main plot.
This really proves that the solution presents itself if you can be patient enough to wait for it. And in doing so, I’ve opened up a whole new set of possibilities for my characters.
And heading off in a totally different direction has unlocked other things in my imagination; I got ideas, a whole lot of them; about this story and also for the bits I’m stuck on in other work as well.
So now I have made progress on several other projects, and all because I was stuck in one. And because I decided to use what I had always seen as an irritating habit in a more positive way.
And in another tangential move, the cover that I showed you borrows an image from another idea, the jungle scene was part of one of the possible covers from another of my works in progress Jungle Green.n It never made it, I decided to go with the one below.
I’ll tell you all about it, that’s another tangent, in case you hadn’t noticed.
Jungle Green is the sequel to my 2015 novel Ribbonworld, it features some of the same characters, but this time they are concerned with the trade in counterfeit drugs and all that entails.
Here is my latest provisional cover, and the blurb
“TC is the wonder drug. Manufactured in secrecy on a remote planet at the edge of the galaxy, it makes world’s inhabitable; and Balcom Industrial lots of money. Then, suddenly, the people who need to take it to stay alive start to die!
For Layla Balcom, fresh from wresting control of her father’s inheritance from those who would have destroyed it, the news is devastating. Can the drug be flawed? Or is something else going on?
In the search for answers, Layla and those close to her find a web of lies and hostility. Then she is dragged into criminal activities and it becomes far more personal. It’s time to sort the good from the bad and protect Layla’s legacy.”
There’s an extract HERE
I hope that Jungle Green will be published soon. That, of course, assumes that I can get it finished without going off somewhere else.
What helps you stay on track? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave a comment.
I hate ending, typing the last word. Whether it’s the end of a book or the end of a character. They’re painful to imagine and worse to write.
You can tell when a story has reached the end, events all move to bring your main characters together at the same point. Usually, there is nothing left of the plot at this time, except for the explanation of it all, the justification for what has happened or the big reveal, where one side tells the other what has gone on and motives are all brought out. Hopefully, by this time you (the reader) have got an idea of what’s going to happen; so you are either pleased to have got it right, or pleased to have been misled and amazed that you missed the clues, the re-telling of which very often form part of the final scenes.
Hopefully, by this time you (the reader) have got an idea of what’s going to happen; so you are either pleased to have got it right, or pleased to have been misled and amazed that you missed the clues, the re-telling of which very often form part of the final scenes.
As the author, I can generally tell when it’s time to finish. In my experience, there is a natural ending in my mind and once I get there, even if I can think of more, it would often be better put into a sequel.
However, if you’re not careful, the end can be the worst part of the story. Recently I’ve had two different reactions to the end of my work.
One book seems to have ended too soon for a lot of readers, and so I’ve written a sequel. The intention wasn’t to short-change them, I really thought the ending was appropriate. It’s gratifying to get feedback like that; I take it to mean that I’d managed to create characters real enough that people wanted to know more about them and to care about their futures enough to want to find out what I think happened next. At first, I wondered if I should have written more, then I decided that, by stopping when I did, I had done enough.
The other book has ended in an anti-climactic way for some, although not all, readers. Apparently, I upped the tension more than the ending could take and it was all a bit flat. That is my failing and I have to hold my hands up, but in my defence, that’s how it unfolded in my head. Again, that wasn’t a universal response; other people said the ending was good.
But isn’t life like that sometimes? The culmination of an adventure or a project can be a bit of a letdown, for so many reasons. Anticipation can ruin any event. In a way, I guess, writing imitates life, the end is not always perfect, sometimes the good guys don’t win. Sad but true!
I guess that just goes to prove that every review is subjective, everyone has things that they like and dislike. I have reviews that alternately praise and criticise the same thing in a story, and it can be illuminating to discover the elements of a narrative that readers are drawn to – such as minor characters that attract attention or little bits of subplot that just seem to grab someone’s attention.
For me, killing a character is the hardest things that I do, and even when the plot demands a sacrifice I still find it difficult. After all, I’ve brought them to life, given them every attribute of independence, thoughts, words and free will, or at least the appearance of it. And very often, they will write themselves little extra’s, ideas that pop into my head to give them more life and realism as their part in the tale progresses.
And yet, in the back of my mind is the knowledge that they must expire. Like the one in red in Star Trek, some are doomed from the start. And their demise is often necessary to move the plot along; after all, you can’t have a murderer without victims. I suppose that they can be killed off before the story starts but where’s the logic in doing that every time? And where’s the fun of writing it? Because for every doomed character, there’s another one who’s fate is to be the killer, and they can be just as difficult to manage. But that’s another post.
There are some characters that have been created for that very purpose, who grow on me. I catch myself wondering if they really have to go; if perhaps I couldn’t… just this once… but it never works.
And believe me; I’ve tried other ways to keep them alive. I’ve tried banishing them by making them ride off into the sunset or by injuring them so they take no further part in events. Yet they sit there in the back of my mind, knocking on the door of my creativity demanding another go. And I’ve even offered some of them a short story all of their own, just to get a bit of peace.
And when it’s all over, and the last sight has faded from their eyes, I feel the remorse, almost as if I had done the deed myself. Maybe in a way, I’m just as guilty as my other creation, the murderous character who I get to do the deed.
In which case, I’ll need you to take several other offences into consideration.
What about you? How do you like to see a book finish, do you want to be left wanting a sequel or would you rather it was all wrapped up? And how about the characters that didn’t make it, do you want to see them again? Do you wish they were still alive or want to know their back stories?
Do let me know in the comments box below.