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.

 

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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.”

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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I’m a believer.

The future is here–I have seen it!

FutureWIKIIf the game of golf has been said, ‘as being a beautiful walk, interrupted.’ then the isomerism can be said about surfing the internet ‘as being a walk beautifully interrupted.

I was conducting research for my Work In Progress (Silversides) and found a wiki post that was exactly what I was looking for (artificial gills), but something was off;  I was reading a post taking place in the future and It freaked me out. I looked up at the URL and saw I was on a site called wikia (future).  Wow!  This was so cool and my mind was racing–so weird because my yahoo horoscope for the day(Gemini) predicted this would happen.

GeminiHoroscope

 

I had all these ideas pitching by me, so many it was like trying to grab at dandelion seeds in a breeze, where reaching toward them provided their evasiveness and at the end of it, I was left with nothing in my hands and only ideas.

So here is how I see this spectacular site useful to sci-fi writers: 1) Research for your sci-fi writing; 2) A one-stop-site to park new terms, ideas & concepts for sci-fi writers to create the future by using, in their works, this library–why invent terms if a good one already exists; 3) Like wiki, your posts can be the forward or a snippet of your story (making sure it adheres to the guidelines and does not read like a self-promotional ad), yet promotes your work; 4) That the concept of this site would make for a great sci-fi itself, where a destitute protagonist stumbles across a URL somewhere between the intra and dark net of tomorrow’s news (modern take on the protagonist finding a newspaper of tomorrow’s news, with a twist–this automata is self-aware).

I’m sure you all can add to this–I need to get these ideas spinning through my head down on digital before my muse steps over the threshold of my consciousness.

To enter the future, click here: http://future.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page

 

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.

Write about what you know.  But it’s not what you think.

Porphyra_yezoensisWhen I first became serious about writing, I thought it wise to get advice, but pre-internet days, this was not an easy task.  I had attended adult education courses at NYU in creative writing and at the New School in NYC on publishing.  Added to that, I would spend time leaning against racks of books in the NY Library and branded bookstores (pre-amazon) reading up on writing and publishing. 
To really make things hard on myself, I had zero pedigree in writing—zero!    I was a geek scientist with a great imagination.  That’s it.
Whether attending a lecture or reading up on my own, the advice seemed rooted into this simple concept:
     “Write about what you know”
Seriously?  No mater how hard I tried, there was no way I was going to make seaweed or TCP/IP into a Sci-Fi. 
      “She stood before me, the silhouette of her supple figure entrancing.  It was there that I draped my Porphyra yezoensis (Nori) over the banister and waited for the packets of TCP/IP at my hip to be delivered.  Bully!  What was I to do?…”
 
As a Marine Biologist with a specialty in seaweed and later as a technologist in network engineering, that is what I knew about.
I also learned that the lectures and Instructors of the events I attended as well as the ‘How to be an author’, authors,  were as frustrated as I was.  So I shelved my ideas of writing for 30 years, trying now and then, but never a spark.
It was maddening.  Like looking at a beautiful painting or reading the most perfect, flowing prose of a favorite author and then trying to apply that same lucidity into my own work.  It wasn’t happening.  My characters and words fell as flat onto the surface of the paper they were written on.  I had these great stories in my head and wrote the treatments into a leather bound book, hoping one day I would figure it out.
That day came three years ago.  I had just taken a rental on the upper east side of Manhattan and my neighbor in apartment 12K came over in a panic with a computer problem.  Before I even knew her name, she told me she was to give a lecture at Sotheby’s on famous jewelry heists the next day, and while finalizing her digital thoughts,  the laptop blue-screened with all her notes, images, and videos on it.    As I worked my magic, she occupied her panic by asking me about myself.  I hinted at being a writer one day and told her of a storyline (Silversides) and she loved it.   
The laptop resuscitating, she said to me,
      “So just fucking write it!” 
You have to know, she is a tough NY broad and the thought of not doing it, scared me.  So I did.  My characters were just as faceless and flat as always, but I got around the speed bump by not naming my characters.  She and Her go a long way.  I wasn’t concentrating on style or how fluid it read. Honestly, I was more afraid of not doing it, knowing Diana would check back with me as promised.
Page after page, I had been putting off naming my protagonist, She, and I knew any day now, Diana, was going to be knocking on my door.  In my own panic, I typed out, Nori……
That light bulb moment was blinding.  Suddenly my character had a face and I was no longer writing, but having a conversation. I quickly named my core remaining characters after seaweeds: Cyan (antagonist) Phaeo (beautiful), Rhodes (Nori’s right hand man), Corilline, and Codi (my fauna and flora buddies)—all shortened, genus names of seaweeds.
With my hand placed upon my forehead for effect, I had been taking the advice to literally and the lecturers and authors who touted the same advice were either keeping the secret to themselves or passing that information along because that is what they were taught—never truly understanding the meaning behind it.
It is not so much you need to write about what you know—after all, how much do I know about alien planets or cultures, or even spaceflight for that matter. What I do know a lot about is seaweed, biology and network connections.  So giving my characters names of seaweed, made that connection for me.  I could see their facial expressions as we spoke.  I followed them on trails through alien terrain. I was on the journey with them, documenting their tale as told to me.
Don’t take the advice of writing about what you know so literally.  Make a connection to plot and characters with what you know in the form of names and places and the rest will fill in more easily.  Get the story down in the form of a straw man, then go back through it, filling in the legs and arms to give it life and where it can stand up on its own.  Then go through it again, dressing it in a crisp ironed shirt and overalls.  Give it color and then present it to the world.