Where Do Sci-Fi Writers Get Their Ideas? Part III

EEven if you are not a writer, this is perhaps one of the most inspirational TED Talks I have ever watched (Anne Madden).  It should make you think, something our media is trying to suppress.

I encourage every writer of sci-fi to watch and absorb.  Listen and let your creativity loose, let it be the muse over your shoulder, pushing you to write that sci-fi great.  I have, with my previous novellas (November Seedand From Europa With Love), both works inspired by my own research, as a former Marine Biologist, and having absorbed snippets from TED, Wired, Space.com, ZME Science  or from posts by my fellow G+’ers (you guys and gals rock!)

 

Anne’s talk is bursting with hard sci-fi nibbles for a writer, such as: ‘A human devised solution‘ or ‘vaccinations for fear‘ or ‘beer made from wasps‘,  her concepts come rapidly and I had to watch this talk a couple of times, hitting pause often to write down some ideas in my file, Book Of Ideas (every writer needs a file like this).

Finding ideas to write about is simple: The real universe exists within itself, as you will hear, but every writer of sci-fi, including myself, feels trapped sometimes, that every sci-fi plot has already been written.  Maybe this is why we are seeing iteration after iteration of the same thing; just how many alien species can there be who has one primary objective and that is to kick Humanity’s ass?  To break out of this monocular view, Anne says one thing that can turn us from this view:  ‘Most of the life around us remains unknown‘  I love this statement.   It is the one statement a writer of sci-fi should strip away and use as a mantra and be that break-away writer, typing out the next best seller.

Some of my own ideas that came from listening to this talk:

  • Anne states, ‘One cell is not a powerful alchemist,’ but a Novemdecillion (10 to the 60th) of them working together, are.   Using the immortal template of  Don LaFontaine, “In A World, under the dictatorship of a government controlled bacteria, where the true thought police of humanity, live within…”  Think of what your protagonist could do against that?
  • What about a lab geek on a spinner (space station) who the crew loves and adores, because he or she can make exotic flavored beers from bacteria found on alien worlds, to break the monotony of their long hauls through space.  But the beer that tastes like the finest wine, a silky smooth texture has hidden attributes (which I will leave it up to you what those attributes are… think along Anne’s line of, unknown.).
  • Or about a military deep-ops team on a planet, whose adversary is so ruthless that it strikes fear into even the most insane, psychotic, toughest bad-asses Earth could produce, but taking a mere pill that ‘vaccinates against fear’, albeit for only 1/2 hour, allows them to proceed.  This is enough for you to create a scene so nerve-racking for your reader, because time is running out for a few due to someone losing the bottle of pills …… 
  • In my current work in progress (Silversides), I dropped in a subplot (inspired by a TED Talk) of the backstory of my protagonist’s mother, Haruka Matsui, who plays a minor introductory part and who created a medical breakthrough, bioSketchers, for humanity’s final halt of natural selection, where controlling one’s DNA is just a cocktail away.  My concept for this backstory has it’s roots in a TED talk, where the researcher was racing toward a final one-two punch of curing aids… But what if something we are on the cusp of eradicating is also the key that unlocks everything (aka, bioSketchers)?  Although this is a very small chapter in Silversides, I know I’m coming back to it, where Haruka’s story and the story of bioSketchers will be told.

 

Advertisements

The Great Filter

What a perfect title for a Sci-fi… “The Great Filter”

TheGreatFilterOn a research note, this topic is what drives us to explore.    Has any species of the universe ever punched a hole through The Great Filter?  Is the Great Filter a stopgap for us… for any species preventing us/them from infecting the cosmos?    I recently read a novelette by Rann Murray called, Ascension.  In this hard sci-fi, Murray hits upon this exact topic; that maybe the stopgap is in of itself a living entity.

 

Here is a good TED Talk about The Great Filter.

More on this topic of The Great Filter

 

Immersion – The action of immersing someone or something in a liquid.

I am always looking for ways to become a better writer, through immersion, and this is a perfect example. I have been surfing my entire life, so I have first-hand experience with this feeling, but I can see this tech being used in so many ways, for so many things that I have no experience with.  How cool would it be to space-walk?

Where Do Sci-Fi Writers Get Their Ideas? Part I

GroveBar

I was chill’n at one of my favorite places tucked away in Port Salerno, FL called the Grove Dock Bar & Cafe.  In fact, this exact longitude and latitude was the inspiration for the sequel to my upcoming sci-fi (Silversides) and where Chapter one starts in the year 2026.  This place is a BYOF (bring your own Food)… You provide the food, they provide the drinks.  Kind of tells ya how local and tucked away it is.GroveBar_2

A place where the view and ambiance normalizes the playing field for people of all social and economic circles– where at the end of the day we’re just people of the same planet all enjoying the same thing… a great conversation surrounded by simplest of things.

GroveBar_3I had brought an artist friend here for the first time last year and he fell in love with it, although, he sat down right in front of the mermaid holding up the roof and when he looked up he laughed, then said, “Kind of intimidating.”  He was 80 at the time but still managed to jump over the door into my ’62 Austin Healey Sprite when I picked him up. He scared the shit out of me, “Guy! Whoa… what are you doing?  I can’t even do that.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I always wanted to do that,” he smiled.  “Promise we can come back.”    When this el Niño takes a break and it warms up in southern FL, I will fulfill that promise to Guy.

So what inspires me for a story line?  I suppose the simplest of things.  For Silversides, it was this bar.  I came home one day and pounded out a complete chapter of what I thought it would be like here in 2026 with not a clue of what would follow. Five hundred pages later and 20 light years away, the first draft is done and editing is moving along nicely.  For November Seed, it was a common reed called Phragmites that launches all their seeds during the first cold snap in November. A private holiday for me.  Writing From Europa With Love, the inspiration was from a stunning image I saw on the internet of Jupiter’s moon Europa and a contest dare to write about it.  Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere, you just need to look deep enough for it and not skim the surface.  When I hear writers say, ‘don’t know what to write about’, that drives me crazy.  I have five novels started with five more ideas waiting after that.

Here is a perfect example of something anyone can write about.  Watch this fantastic mini-documentary and learn what inspired the creator.  Then transport yourself to some remote outpost on a dust-blown rock of a moon where intra-stellar wars were fought and the moon was declared too dangerous for humans to colonize because of undocumented arsenals left behind.   And your protagonist finds herself here, clearing a plot for she and her fusion powered robotic dog to spend the only remaining time she has left.  In a place no one will come looking for her, and if they do, only she knows where all the nasty stuff lies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hard Science Fiction Writers – why is it more popular today?

I read a post on NPR about hard science fiction, which hinted why it migh be on the rise:  No Warp Drives, No Transporters: Science Fiction Authors Get Real

The ecoBbiologist in me wanted to identify the root cause (which the article did not delve into), so I thought about it … for a day… then following the thread of a post from one of my G+ circles, I came across an image I had used in my own work, Silversides and then it hit me… why hard science fiction might be on the rise…

I think writers today, especially hard sci-fi writers, have such an advantage over the trail-blazers before us for the simple reason we have the internet at our fingertips for research; it does not make us better writers, just better equipped writers for hard science fiction. Instead of relying solely on our imagination,which I believe is why so much science fiction had been written about far off places, bordering on fantasy, all we new writers need to do is enter a search string and in a matter of minutes we become byte matter experts (not to be confused with a Subject Matter Experts or SME).

Carapace-maskHere is an example.  In Silversides, my protagonist, Nori, is sitting on the edge of her berth, interacting with a hologram projected in front of her.  To achieve this, she has a combination of an implanted optical plate and a carapace mesh mask with access to the ships A.I,. called CEIL (Correlation Engine and Intelligence Lab) to receive telemetry of various cubeSats orbiting the planet Dykazza.  The carapace mesh mask provides Nori senses such as smell, temperature, hearing, etc.  So what is a carapace mask and what do I know about such a thing?  Click on the video below. Having something to see in practice makes the concepts we are writing about so plausible.  Especially if the writing is available in eFormat where the reader can stop on a word or concept and can ask the question: Is that idea, real?  Then with a tap of their finger, they can link to the source.  So coupled with a new breed of writers and readers, real or hard science fiction is just a logical step…

Why role-playing is good for writers (costumes optional)

Starcraft Medic by Kim Yong SuYou see this type of writing, often, in new writers, like myself.

He was afraid to look up at her, but when he did, he was surprised at how easy that was.

 Yikes! Is right.  That was written without the experience of it.

You can improve your writing dramatically when you learn to role-play.   So put the laptop or keyboard to the side and stand up. Get into your character’s head and look down at your feet.   Now pretend he or she is standing in front of you. Lift your head.

How were you standing?  What did you see?  What were you feeling? Was it something like…

He was afraid to look up, his gloves placed neatly by his side, his focus on the single blueberry shaped stone that rolled beneath his boot.

 Now look up, idiot, before she leaves, he told himself.

She was slight, with thin ankles disappearing beneath the cuffs of her EVA that, like her eyes, were a pale blue. To his surprise, her parted smile made him feel, at ease. There, that wasn’t so bad. Now say something…

 “Hey…” he said without thinking… There, you said it… his shyness slipping further away…

Ok, so aside from the wordiness, you now see and feel what your character is experiencing and you conveyed that to your readers.  Trim it. Print it.

I often do this when I don’t quite feel the writing is expressing what I want it to. For anyone watching me, I might look a bit crazy, typing away then suddenly stop… get up and walk to the other side of the room, relax, shake out my arms, turn around and start to walk back, as if my character is entering the scene. Try doing that at a Starbucks… LOL. I write at home these days…  Eventually, you will need to do less of this as the writing improves. But there are always times you should express this type of role-playing, no matter how good you think you are.

I am in the editing phase of a sci-fi novel which takes place twenty light years away in the solar system of Gliese 581, specifically on 581 g, a planet in tidal lock orbit around its sun—a red dwarf, dimmer than our own. I had always been a bit leery of my expression of the lighting, trying to get across what being on the surface of Gliese 581 g would be like. Sure, pictures help, but how do I experience that?  Do I try writing in the dark or wear sunglasses?

Pluto_Surface_light_2It was not until I read a post on www.io9 about an artist rendering of what it would be like to sit on Pluto and see what one might see—our sun a pinpoint in the distance. One of the replies to the post questioned the artist’s licensing of how much light there would be. Instead of knocking the artist’s judgment, that clever person did some research and found a NASA site, called Pluto Time.

Pluto_Timewhere you plug in your location and it tells you what time of day you should go outside to see exactly what the brightest part of a day on Pluto would look like. So I did. I plugged in my location (NYC) and it spit out that my optimal viewing time would be 6:54 PM on September 24th, 2015.  This type of role-playing I think will provide the needed perspective in my editing.  It does not have to mimic exactly, but I hope to have an experience to recall what that was like, pretending to be on Gliese 581 g.

PlutoLightSo, as my Amazon Echo announced my alarm at exactly 6:54 PM, I stepped outside my city apartment and had a look and walk around.  Not bad.  I could see easily and it was a beautiful evening sky, everything seemed to have this softness to it, an attribute I had not considered.   I cannot stress how valuable this experience was for me, as I now trail behind my characters, following them on their trek and seeing what they are seeing. Costumes, optional.

SpectralTypeFor any AstroProgrammers out there reading this, it would be great to take the Pluto-Time model and expand it for other star-types, etc.  For example:  You select from a series of dropdown menus a star type and distance away, and it asks for you to enter in your location and it spits out what time of day to go outside, which closely resembles what the lighting might be like. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using wattpad’s visual feedback.

Metrics_AHere is a good visual tip on how your W.I.P is being received. It’s a great way to see where you might have some stalling in your storyline and where the peaks and valleys are. I am going to use this from now on.

I am using WattPad.com as a proving ground. There is great readership here and the feedback is always helpful and constructive. When you post your work, you can view the metrics of that work. I am finding it helpful to know where to place chapter breaks or what sections I might need to inject a bit of excitement or build character. If you see your readership drop significantly after the first part, you know you need to do one of a few things: Start out running, or become a better writer (LOL).Metrics_C

Here is an example of a short story I wrote, called “From Europa with love.” I divided the story into five parts to see how the sections were being received. The feedback was awesome and exactly what I would have predicted. You will notice that readership starts to wane after Part 3 (but by then I already had a good following to this short). This feedback was so informative to me, because part 4 is where the storyline shifts and part 3 sets up for that. The graph was spot on to what I would have expected. I think I need to go back into part 3 and set a few more hooks.  I will definitely use this methodology for my novel.

Metrics_B

I’m a believer.

What are your characters wearing these days, in space and once they get to their destination?

davaI was reminded by a G+ post, by Ralph Roberts, of the brilliant Dava Newman and her recent appointment to NASA.  

When writing Sci-fi, think about what your characters are wearing, in space.  I had viewed a TED presentation by Dava Newman, of her work, on EVA design.  It was such a valuable visual for me during a recent series I wrote called Kulcin’s Law, avalable on www.Offworlders.com.  These were the suits I envisioned my astronauts were wearing, becasue I wanted them to move effortlessly and not have to explain getting in and out of their EVAs.  Below is Dava’s TED talk.

Dava Newman on TED

 

Then, when your crew gets to their destination, you might want to check out the latest fashion ETs are wearing these days:  Check out these possible Sci-Fi fashion statements.

 

 

 

Don’t miss the little stuff

I had just finished writing a sci-fi serial on OffWorlders.com called, Kulcin’s Law, where most of the story takes place in Jupiter’s realm, with several flights in and out of Europa’s orbit.  I missed a bit of detail that would have been a nice morsel to the hard core readers and that was a simple line taking into account the ship’s roll on approach.

This gif taught me a lesson, that even though I can’t go there, my mind can.  Don’t miss the little stuff.

Click on this animated GIF of Saturn and see what I am referring to.

 

 

 

New techniques for discovering planets, like our own.

For those of us writing about distant planets, the question always comes up, how real is this going to be for my readers?  I am faced with this exact question in my current work and I want it to be as plausible as I can make it.  So after watching this fantastic lecture by Sara Seager, I now have some real science to weave into my WIP.