1. sophia_esteed
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    sophia_esteed Senior Member

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    A real-life touch when writing sci-fi

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by sophia_esteed, Jan 31, 2011.

    I'm writing a sci-fi novel set in the XXV century, during a fictional galactic war between two factions, which is part a spy-story and part the story of a journalist who has set out to document the war.
    I'm through with the spy-story part and I've just begun writing the journalist's part.
    I was wondering about how factual the journalist's story should be, or if I should bother adding a real-life touch to her story at all.
    I had no problem writing the first part, since I've played many games and watched plenty of spy-stories, but I'm having trouble getting started with the journalist's story, since I have but Hemingway's books and reportages to refer to.
    Some advice?
     
  2. SashaMerideth
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    SashaMerideth Contributing Member

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    I am assuming your journalist is human, and a good journalist sees not just what is happening, but how it changes people, that is the core of good science fiction, people and how these situations effect us. A crying child is far more moving than a planet being wiped out.
     
  3. LCC
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    LCC Member

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    Hmm...
    First of all, consider the evolution of journalism from the days of typewriters to the internet today, in just 50 years. You are projecting forward another 400 years. There will probably be fundamental differences in the "job" of a journalist, which I view as the collection of information, organization of the information, analysis to determine the meaning and implications of data, and summarization to present the information to the public in a readily understood form, which (unfortunately) usually involves adding distortions of the data to fit the viewpoint of the journalist's employers. The biggest differences will be in the tools available for collecting, organizing, and digesting information.

    I suggest that you should focus upon the journalist's interaction with other people and perhaps artificial intelligence entities rather than employing a lot of hand-wavium regarding the actual tasks of the journalist on computers. In any case, you may be breaking some new ground here, although I confess that I have read little science fiction in the past 20 years after a seven year long binge from 1979 to 1986. I can recall plenty of detective and spy science fiction novels, but am at a loss to name a single novel where a journalist was the protagonist...

    Lonnie Courtney Clay
     
  4. jaywriting
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    jaywriting Member

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    Try tracking down some at-the-scene war footage. The Falklands war and middle east conflicts come to mind as having a fair bit of coverage. Youtube should help here. Find something that grabs you and adapt it to your story.
     
  5. The Degenerate
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    The Degenerate Active Member

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    Oh dear.

    Just read the newspaper and learn how reporters compose their stories.
     
  6. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    How close to the war is your journalist getting? Will she be knee-deep in battle with people getting shot and killed all around her? If so, there is a Mel Gibson movie called, We Were Soldiers, that has a journalist in it and he goes through a similar experience. He gets caught up in the fighting and even helps load the wounded onto helicopters in the heat of battle so they can be transported to safety.
     
  7. Winston
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    Winston Member

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    I agree with most of the people above, sophia_esteed :) One of the most effective things you can do if you're writing from the point of view of a journalist is making it personable. SashaMerideth is right. If you show the effects that this war is having on people AND politics, and if you tie in some direct elements from your spy story, you'll be golden. :)
     
  8. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    I like the word "reportage"; it's fun!

    "Where's your reportage?"

    "In my pants!"

    Awesome.

    Meanwhile, reporters seek the answer the questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. In addition, they have ethics to report only from verified sources, keep sources secret, and to be objective. That means to tell the story without bias.
     
  9. sophia_esteed
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    sophia_esteed Senior Member

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    A lot of useful advice here! This helps me cover the 'journalistic' part.
    The other part I need covered but I'm kinda stuck at, is the way my journalist comes into contact with the war.
    The idea was to introduce her to the war gradually: first she goes to the fortress planet where the allied troops are stationed and writes about the situation there, pointing out how it seems awfully peaceful and quiet there while on other planets people die, pretty much like Pearl Harbor before the Japanese attack. This part's already covered.
    Then she goes on for the Systems and planets behind the front lines and reports the situation there and then finally she reaches the front lines.
    But I'm kinda short on ideas on how to treat the journey. I mean, I'm reckoning in today's wars and wars from the past, like the second world war, there are journalists who document what is happening on scene, but how do they get there and do they need special permission to join the troops on their campaign?
    So, should I just send her to the front lines like she's going on a trip, or do I make it so she needs to compile paperwork, ask for a permit, pass through check-points? Things like these?
    I didn't need any of these for her to reach the fortress planet, since being the allied troops stronghold and being still connected to the allied troops' controlled space there are still commercial and civilian routes going there and the planet is free to visit to people from the allied troops' nations. But when I arrived at the part where she has to set out for the war, I bumped into all of this.
    It just sounded a little too unrealistic to me that she could on to the front lines like she's going on a schooltrip so even though it is sci-fi, I asked myself what do to here.
    What real-life journalists do?
     
  10. Winston
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    Winston Member

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    People who have the occupation that you're thinking of are called war correspondents. I don't know for sure, but from what I'm reading it seems as though they don't need permits of any kind. They are acting as seperate entities, representing their media corporations, and I don't think they need their country's approval to do anything.

    This sort of thing has been around for a LONG time, so I'm sure there's lots of online sources you can find to help yourself out :) But my thinking is that they don't need any permission, they just kinda go there.

    Edit: I'm going to have to bite my own tongue a little here. Anyone who wants to see a war can go see it, but the government puts restrictions on WHERE they can go and WHAT they publish. They generally want things showing THEIR army in the best light possible.
     
  11. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    Journalists, war correspondents in particular, tend to have their own view points on life, the war, the people who do the fighting and everything else. However, they are employed as journalists, by media corporations, who must sell their "news product" to their target demographic consumers, in order to get the viewers required to keep advertising revenues at the highest levels possible.

    A "News Product", in order to be sold to a consumer demographic, has to be exciting and attractive to the consumer, to that end, a certain amount of sensationalism must be factored in, because bland lists of statistics and flat-line, unemotional reporting of the facts doesn't sell nearly as well as emotionally charged coverage.

    Keeping this basic concepts in mind, you could write your journalist character as having inner emotional conflicts between the way she really feels about the war and the people fighting it, and the way she must portray them for the media. If her employer isn't neutral, she must show the troops on her employer's side to be heroic defenders of the helpless and the opposing force as the cold blooded, murdering bastards, committing war crimes and atrocities, regardless of what the actual facts are.

    Better yet, if her employer is an independent media agency, she could find herself having to video two reports of each event, showing one side as gallant heroes and the other as godless murderers for one demographic market, then editing the footage to show the exact opposite, so the story can be marketed to the other side's demographic market as well (Each side will want to see "Their boys in uniform" as the good guys, fighting the evil scum on the other side). Her employer will double their profits from selling their news product to both sides, which while good for business, sets up a potential plot line for you to write the reporter as having an internal crisis over issues of "Journalistic integrity" vs. being a "Propagandist".

    Other potential sources for plot drama come from her interviews and interaction with the actual troops themselves. Soldiers are ordered to be polite, professional and cooperative with the press, so your journalist character can expect a full service "Yes ma'am, no ma'am, we can show you want ever you want ma'am" routine to her face, while the soldiers she is interacting with will never reveal what they are actually thinking..."Oh goody, another uppity college bitch, sent down here to take pictures of the poor high school boys fighting and dying in the mud...just so she can get a damned Pulitzer prize".

    Sensationalism is key to selling news product. Big and Impressive are the golden rule for covering a war. Getting the footage of huge, metal war machines, sporting huge guns and thick metal tracks that chew up the landscape as they rumble by is of the highest importance. Your reporter character should go to great lengths to get impressive footage, with the younger muscled soldiers eagerly posing and flexing for the camera like the natural hams they are (and the older veteran soldiers silently looking at the spectacle like the reporter is nothing more than an exploitative opportunist and the younger soldiers are damn fools for letting her exploit them for her "story").

    A little flirting with the younger troops can be the focal point of plot drama, as the older, more mature soldiers pull the younger privates aside to explain to them that they are professional soldiers and how they need to stop acting like jack asses to impress the girlie from the press corps. The younger guys, of course, will put a higher priority and scoring points with a babe than listening to older veterans.

    If your reporter is female, at least half of the younger troops will hit on her at least once. A possible point of dramatic tension could be the one space marine who has been deployed for over a year without any feminine companionship...thinks he is "love"...and won't take "no" for an answer.

    Another big thing in selling news product is motion and action. A high priority for your reporter character should be getting footage of big artillery guns thundering and missiles being launched with fiery plumes and trailing smoky tails behind them, as they streak out into the night, ending with a huge flash and muffled thunder somewhere on the horizon. Since military protocols prohibit combat troops for letting their war correspondents from recklessly endangering themselves, your character may even have to "break a few rules" to get into a position to get such footage, which in turn could be the source of even more plot tension or drama.

    Of course, your journalist will have the duty to show the folks back home the truth about just how much of a sacrifice the boys on the front are making. So, when she visits a medical facility and interviews a few of the wounded soldiers, with their bandages, slings and purple hearts, they will obviously cooperate fully with the press. When she spots the wounded in the intensive care unit in the back, her journalistic prayers will have been answered. Now she can finally show the truth about what these men have to suffer through. As she directs her camera man to get some footage of "The good ones", referring to wounded soldiers in oxygen tents, covered in 2nd and 3rd degree burns, others hooked up to beeping machines that keep them alive and rubber masks that breathe for them...she might suddenly notice how all the other soldiers have gotten very quiet and are now glaring at her with narrowed eyes, as they see her as exploiting their critically wounded brothers in arms to advance her career and earn a possible promotion to some anchor desk somewhere.

    That's always a good source of dramatic tension.


    Hopefully, some of these suggestions will add a touch of realism and drama to your character's development.
     
  12. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    For a journalist to be embedded (be assigned to and ride along with a specific unit), you first contact the Department of Defense and declare your intention.

    You are checked out (Verify your credentials, your employer's status as an approved media outlet and your suitability to be assigned to a combat unit [There are physical requirements you have to meet in order to keep up with a combat unit in the field. They will not slow down just so you can keep up]).

    You are assigned to a specific combat unit and escorted to them by a military liaison officer. They do not just let you run around unattended where you could either get hurt, arrested for entering a restricted area or just plain get lost.

    Once with them, you are stuck with them and not allowed to leave on your own. If you do take off on your own, you are severed from their war correspondence program and the military is no longer responsible for your safety (and in a war zone you might really need their protection).
     
  13. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    Usually, reporters can only report on what they're allowed to because military secrecy beats freedom of speech. For instance, I recall that Giraldo Rivera, during the Iraq invasion reported on the activities of US troops on international TV when those movements were supposed to be secret. After that, reporters were only allowed to go where the government allowed them.

    However, with the internet, I'm sure a reported could anonymously report on anything as long as they were disguised.

    Dan Rather disguised himself as an Afghani and did a big report when the Soviets invaded that country. I assume that was a complex affair of contacting officials from that country, sneaking in without our military and being introduced to Afhanis until he got to the front.

    So, there's three ways:

    1. Follow approved government guidelines and locations.

    2. Contact people on your own to investigate a place, and this could even be the enemy.

    3. Act like a spy and publish things no one wants you to, like wikileaks.
     
  14. sophia_esteed
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    sophia_esteed Senior Member

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    Thanks guys, I've kept note of all of your suggestions.
    I think I'll try a search for source books on the job of war correspondents too.
    And then when I've gathered sufficient info I'll start shaping her adventure.
     
  15. LCC
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    LCC Member

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    Aha! I just pinned down a vague memory - I recommend reading "Soldier, Ask Not" by Gordon R. Dickson, which WAS about a journalist!

    Lonnie Courtney Clay
     

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