1. MrDeftino
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    MrDeftino New Member

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    Help Selecting a Plot Route/Story Arc

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by MrDeftino, Jan 13, 2015.

    Hi guys. I'm an extreme novice in creative writing, and by that I mean I haven't written a story in novel format since my GCSEs 7 years ago. I have a degree in Digital Film Production which involved crafting scripts, but those were collective efforts so I could only come up with part of the story. I've recently had an idea for a story but I'm unsure which story arc to take with it.

    I came up with the idea while thinking about animals hibernating and I wondered what would it be like if some of us had to 'hibernate'?

    The Setting: Earth, which is almost inhabitable during winter due to global warming (not sure on the science of this but this is the idea for now). It is possible to survive but extremely difficult.

    Main Plot: Because of this extremely harsh winter, the government built vaults to house the mass populations of people all over the country. However, some groups of people named Scavengers (not final name) choose not to go into the vaults, which is illegal, and steal from the houses of those in the vaults so that when the spring/summer comes around, they can live a more luxurious life. But the price of this is surviving the entire winter outside the vaults.

    Plot Strands: This is where I begin to become unsure of where to take the story, there are so many variables and I'm unsure which strand to follow.

    1. Our main character is a vaulter, who either escapes or is somehow forced out of the vault and is forced to become a Scavenger, telling the tale of their survival in the winter and personal moral conflicts they face as they use the other Scavengers to survive, but disapprove of their goals and motives.
    2. Our main character is a Scavenger from the start. The plot revolves around why they do what they do. Maybe try and work it so they are depicted as desperate people who need to do what they do, and it is not something out of greed.
    3. Our character is a vaulter who stays in the vault, and is subjected to the misery that comes when a Scavenger has taken everything you've ever owned.
    4. Dual stories, one of a Vaulter and one of a Scavenger. The stories overlap in some way and they either become enemies or friends.
    Variables to the Story:
    1. The government only permit the rich to enter the vaults. i.e. class war theme (sort of like Hunger Games)
    2. Residents have to complete difficult or unpleasant tasks in order to gain access to the vault by winter arrives.
    There is a lot you can do with this set up. Please, throw anything you have at me! I'm willing to take on everything everyone has to suggest and build up this story like a jigsaw puzzle. What do you guys think is the best option? Do you have your own option? Please, let me know!

    Thanks guys.
     
  2. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Take the UK as an example, global warming will cause melting arctic ice, will create a cold sea, will force the Gulf stream south; resulting in harsher winters. So the initial concept works for me.

    In terms of Plot strands, no 1 is my favourite. The MC resides in the vault, but somehow fails to reach it before the doors are locked or for some reason finds them self outside. (S)he must join the scavengers (outlaws of sorts) who (s)he has always considered the enemy. The government hunts down scavengers, not sure how, maybe with remote drones. So it becomes a story of survival.

    Rather than concluding with the cliché of the scavengers over-throwing the government, my slight twist would be that they assist the MC in returning to her fold, then sidle away, preferring their lives beyond government control. The story would be the journey back and there would be no neat resolution at the end.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2015
  3. Michael Pless
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    Michael Pless Active Member

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    It's interesting, particularly with Chinspinner's thoughts, with the Scavengers perhaps being relatively benign (even though they are, at this stage thieves), as opposed to Morlocks (as in Time Machine). I quite like the premise. One thing I have grown tired of, is in post-apocalyptic worlds, everyone seems to be scruffy, dressed in a mixture of clothing and have what is obviously an aversion to personal cleanliness.

    A few questions come to mind: how does the protagonist change over the duration of the story?; and what is his/her motivation?; what are the points of rising action?; what of the turning points in the story?; what about sub-plots?; who will the antagonist be?; what is the time-frame for the story - weeks, years, or decades? These are considerations that might help propel thoughts for a plot.

    I'd recommend checking out Author Salon's 6-act structure for a novel - I've found it and other pages on that site to be quite helpful. Linda Seeger's Making A Good Script Great also has a lot of valuable information. (MAGSG features Seeger's work on Witness, with Harrison Ford, which is in essence, a Hero's Journey, but she discusses the minutiae of the story structure.)

    In Lucifer's Hammer, Niven proposed a form of extended winter brought on by a comet crashing into Earth and Chinspinner also has a erm... cool theory on how a severe climate change could occur, so there are oodles of possibilities. That to me, is something of a minor thing, and wouldn't harm my suspension of disbelief at all.

    If you jot down a few ideas and there isn't anything apparently recent that your chosen direction is similar to, then you've probably got something worthwhile. The telling of the story is the hard part, and a good storyteller will have a distinctive style that is interesting and entertaining, and if you have a unique voice on top of that, it bodes well for your project.
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2015
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  4. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Building these vaults is going to need the government to spend a lot of money on infrastructure that won't, at the time of construction, appear necessary. The trouble that Obama's having getting money for Obamacare makes me believe that the US won't do it; It would require either higher taxes, or running a government deficit. Only likelihood is limited facilities for the privileged, which feeds into Variable 1/.

    Harsher winters in UK wouldn't really impact on much of the rest of the world.
     
  5. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, but if the wish is to retain some realism, the plot either needs to be constrained to one small area that will suffer the desired effects (even if those effects are exaggerated considerably); or for a global effect it would have to be set several millennia in the future during the next ice age.
     
  6. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think the Gulf Stream switch off would have an extreme enough effect to drive people underground for the winter. At worst it'd make Northern Europe have a similar climate to Yakutsk.
    People would just make sure they had decent insulation, stay inside and keep the heating on.
    While I'm sure it's possible to create a fairly believable world which drives people underground in inhospitable seasons, I doubt you're going to be able to convince me it's a likely outcome of global warming in the real world.
     
  7. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree, it would be a huge exaggeration of the effects; but I could suspend disbelief on this one.
     
  8. MrDeftino
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    MrDeftino New Member

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    One idea I had is that the Scavengers are people who are living rough during the spring/summer months anyway. The government spent so much money on the vaults that some people got left out in the cold (quite literally in this case). Part of why they scavenge could be because they have to, and to get back at the government.

    I agree that the science behind it isn't sound, but it was the only thing I could think of at the time as a partly-logical means of creating the setting. What I want to do is create something within the realms of reality, but is absolute pure fiction. My favourite film Director is Christopher Nolan, as that is exactly what he does. He bases his plots in reality but expands on them so much they slip into the fantastical, but are still believable. Inception, for instance.

    Also one idea I've had if we run with plot 1, is that a group of people take over one of the vaults from within. Our MC escapes as (s)he would rather choose to survive outside rather than in the ruthless dictatorship-like running of the vault he has been placed in.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2015
  9. Sharie
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    Sharie Member

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    Just a thought, but does it have to be Earth? What if the population were the survivors of a colony ship that crash landed on a planet of extremes and not the planet they were aiming for? This would solve the science problems of basing it on our Earth's global warming issues. You could set the planet up any way you wanted.

    To tie it into your current story idea, the only way to survive the winter (extra long? extra cold?) would be to retreat to the fallen ship. As population grew, only so many people would fit, ergo a lottery of sorts might evolve. What happens to the ones let outside? Many possibilities here!
     
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  10. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    The history of Easter Island is interesting. Effectively they built lots of stone heads, cut down trees to transport them until they literally cut down the last tree on the island, the fertile soils wash away, many die, then the population stabilises at a lower level with annual competitions to decide who gets the best agricultural land. Obviously there is more to it than that, but it is well worth reading about as a real world example of how human's deal with fucking everything up- as we are now.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2015
  11. Michael Pless
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    Michael Pless Active Member

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    I took Chinspinner's suggestion that there'd be a temperature drop in the vicinity of 30 degrees Celsius, which would bring England's summers to cold even during the day with heavy frost at night.

    I disagree about any proposal that there'd be a weather pattern isolated to England (or even the UK) alone, and feel it would be likely to spread across the hemisphere, thus impacting on a wider area. The southern parts of England are around the same latitude as the border between Canada and parts of the USA and much of Russia. Given that the southern hemisphere also experiences winters, I'd expect those continents to experience climate change too.

    Whether the US government would (or could) build vaults or similar accommodations for part or all of its 300+million citizens is another matter. Movies like Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012 all handled the issue of significant global and climate changes slightly differently.

    I see the OP's proposal as still having merit, but research is necessary to get some degree of acceptance into the premise.

    The other poster who suggested a separate planet has a good idea. I read a novel years ago about such a planet that had a relatively elliptical orbit with devastating winters and hot, harsh summers.
     
  12. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not a bad idea, but I'm not so sure if there'd just be two groups or if the Scavenger group would be as you propose.

    The point for those left outside the vaults is to survive the long cold winters, right? They're not going to accomplish that by pinching luxury goods from people's houses and squirrelling them away somewhere (where?) till summer finally comes. (At the very least they'd steal stuff that would keep them warm now.) More likely they'd try to survive by using one house/building, etc. after the other for firewood. Then here come the people out of the vaults, their homes are laid waste, the government has to take notice.

    Now here might be an idea. Your story could be set in the second or so year the vaults are open. It's been discovered there's not room for everybody, so a lottery is held (how fair it is is up to you). Your MC is from a country nearer to the equator, Africa or India or South America, say, where the terrible winters up north are only something they've seen on TV. So your MC one summer comes to the Northern Hemisphere for some good reason, and his/her friends convince him/her to put his/her name into the vault lottery (maybe once the blizzards start all transportation out of the region ceases). And he/she wins a place. But because he/she doesn't understand the implications of the crappy weather to come and is a nice person, he/she gives her place to someone else. So he/she is left shivering in his/her friends' empty house, when along come your Scavengers who start pulling it down for firewood. So he/she is forced to throw in his/her lot with them. So not only do you get the climatic dystopia angle, but the whole "I'm a stranger in these parts" angle, too.

    Something else. Just as in the movie Deep Impact, a lot of your vaults would start out as natural caves or old limestone mines. Check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SubTropolis
     
  13. MrDeftino
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    MrDeftino New Member

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    I may have gone off track here. The original idea was that the Scavengers choose to not go into the vaults, which is illegal. They choose to do this as they all group together in a big building and work together to survive. All the while stealing other peoples valued possessions for their own. It's a challenge with a big reward at the end.

    If we ran with plot 1, which I personally think is the best, part of our MCs struggle with the Scavengers is living with their morals. It would also be great to show how the Scavengers interact with each other. They work as a group, but every one of them is selfish. I'm sure a few would sell out the others or set up traps in order to get some loot they have taken.

    The lottery idea I'm not a big fan of. Random selection for the vaults is something I'm trying to avoid, though I appreciate the suggestion :).

    I like the 'I'm a stranger' part though. I'm not too knowledgeable on other cultures. So maybe we could make it a family relative visiting and they get caught in the winter? Therefore they're already worried about surviving in the vaults, but then find themselves in even deeper trouble having to survive outside with the Scavengers.

    I'm also thinking of setting it maybe 2 years into this cycle too, much like you have.

    Finally, that subtropolis thing is exactly how I want my vaults to be. Great find! Thanks for the link!
     
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  14. Megalith
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    Megalith Contributing Member Contributor

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    The vaults could be somewhat automated. You could go for a cultural death / cultural vitality contrast between vaulters / scavengers. A stale world where survival is granted rather than earned. It's a little more contemporary, relating to the current cultural death we are experiencing as we rely more on instant gratification, and become satisfied with the vulgar, violent, and lustful. But it would fit nicely with Chinspinners ideas about what the ending might be like. Maybe rather than overthrow, people gain the opportunity to choose between the two worlds at some point.

    You could use a strict set of rules the Vaulters have to live by for the worry-free life.(contrived ideas about what we believe society should be now would fit in nicely.) And disobeying the rules results in your banishment from the vaults. The vaulters can be totally unaware of the scavengers, since I find interaction between the two very difficult to imagine, might make your story flow easier that way.(obviously it's going to happen but it should be rare rather than an expected encounter) The government behind the vaults could be minimal and that way easier to use as a plot device. (like the Wizard of Oz for example.)

    It sounds too much like hunger games, but you could make the scavengers a form of entertainment for the vaulters. Rather than a control room of hight-tech gadgetry being the plot advancement tool, you could use the natural harsh environment to make an exciting story for the vaulters, who might not even know that the scavengers are real people, with real unscripted stories. Not sure if all this can fit together, just spitballing really. hope any of this helps :)
     
  15. MrDeftino
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    MrDeftino New Member

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    I've been jotting down some notes and have formulated about half of the plot. I'll update when I have a full run through of the plot points. In the meantime, check out the book cover I constructed using some beautiful work from Deviantart (it's unbelievable how accurate this is to what I imagined the vaults to be like) and some photoshop magic...

    (Title and names aren't final)

    Full Cover.jpg
     
  16. Michael Pless
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    Michael Pless Active Member

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    Nice cover! Detail thought: the winters are pretty cold, and wouldn't the steel-looking vault door tend to ice up? Does this mean the rich folks don't come out till there's a thaw?

    I don't want to meddle with your writing (and there's a typo in the second paragraph), but I'd write the blurb: "Adrian Fox's regular visit to his family goes horribly awry and he misses the hibernation deadline for the society-saving communal vaults.

    During the inhospitable winters outside the vaults, opportunistic Scavengers roam, taking whatever they find. Now, Adrian must ally himself with people he regards as criminals, pushing him into a choice as unyielding as the winter chill: his morals, or his life."

    I've added around 10 words to the blurb, but I think it explains things a little more, and there is ample scope to rewrite and draw some words out, making it punchier still. I thought use of the words "forced" in each paragraph was too much; the first paragraph read as if he didn't regularly hibernate; to me, a land is uninhabitable, but a climate not, hence I used "inhospitable"; I also slid in Adrian’s belief that Scavengers were criminals, which gives a bit of scope for them not to be quite so bad as all that which I have assumed is now the direction you want to take the story.

    Don't feel obliged to follow anything I've offered - they're just suggestions. It's your story and you seem to now have a good idea of where it's going. Good luck with your writing, and I look forward to the opportunity to read some of it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2015
  17. MrDeftino
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    MrDeftino New Member

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    I'm terrible at writing blurbs. Yours is much better haha. I wrote the blurb straight off the top of my head really. I like yours better. I'm gonna start writing maybe next week or so. Getting the plot together now, almost there.
     
  18. Michael Pless
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    Michael Pless Active Member

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    You're most welcome to use it either whole or in part. But there's a chance parts of the story might change as your characters develop, and you know and understand them better, changing the relevance of the blurb.

    Good luck!
     
  19. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    The cover looks decent, but it strikes me as being a little "cart before horse".
     
  20. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    My thought, too. Don't be like those guys who try to go into the Church of England ministry because they fancy themselves swanning around in birettas and lace cottas.

    Yes, it's fun to think what your cover might look like. But don't let it define your book. Write your story and don't worry if its actual direction takes you radically away from the artwork you've posted.
     
  21. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    With the main plot being you must live in the vault or face the harsh winter, I think there needs to be a harsher penalty, like an execution, or there would be lots of people skipping the vaults. People have survived harsh winters for as long as there've been humans. And people won't like the idea of the government telling them they must leave their homes. (This might just be the American in me, though.)
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2015
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  22. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    First off: cool cover and it definitely sounds like the kinda book I'd read :)

    Now, I have a few questions:

    1. Why is it illegal to not go inside the vault? I don't understand this.
    2. Even with houses in England, when people are away on holiday, they set a timer for the heating to turn on during winter in order to keep the water in the pipes from freezing (and thus bursting). And English winters aren't that cold - it gets to about -5 at most usually and we don't even get snow most winters, or if we do they last a day or two max. It's such a rare occurance that a dusting of snow warrants multiple flight delays, thick snow warrants the closing of schools, and nobody even bothers to change their summer tyres for the winter. And still they do this. So, with winters as cold as those in your story, surely such a thing would be in place, and more. Some kinda thermal walls, triple-panel doors, perhaps glass roofs to let in the sun. Houses would be built for such winters.

    This leads into the dilemma:

    2a. why would the vaults be needed if the houses could survive intact post-winter? Because if the houses could take the climate, then surely you could stay in your house for the winter??

    2b. And if the houses cannot, then does it mean your entire society has to rebuild their houses after every single winter?

    2c. In such climate, and let's assume houses take enough damage that they are not sufficient for survival, wouldn't you rather have some sorta portable or collapsable or disposable accommodation? With your world being so far into the future, and with the advent of 3D printing (and 3D printed houses made of I think sturdy cardboard and wood are being invented right now) - wouldn't you rather make some cheap, short-lasting accoms rather than actual houses?

    2d. As such, why would you leave pretty much anything valuable in such disposable accommodation? Even without the scavengers, and even if the houses were sturdy, permanent fixtures, your valuables would suffer incredible damage in the cold and probably become unusable anyway. I'm not sure the "scavenging for valuables" aspect is realistic.

    3. What security measures do the houses have against the scavengers?

    4. With increasing populations, and vaults that have limited space, how do you gain access to the vaults? Is there an age limit, or do you pay for a place, or is it more like a lottery? And whichever the case may be, why is everyone who stay outside seen as criminals, as clearly not everyone's out there by choice?

    5. Are there any animals who live through the winter? This could add potential threats and could also add to your world in terms of what humans could gain from the animal's fur, survival tactics, their blubber for food and nutrition. What about trees and other plants who survive the winter? This question is more about the details but could add some interesting aspects to your story.

    6. Is there any limit in the number of children a single family can have, in order to preserve space in the vaults, as well as making sure there's sufficient food and water inside the vaults during winter? How's food and water distributed/rationed?
     
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  23. Michael Pless
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    Michael Pless Active Member

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    @Mckk: I think much of what you've raised is relevant, and must be covered in the MS. I think it's important for concerns like yours to be voiced, because if you can think of them, so can many others, and suspension of disbelief is going to be a critical part of this story. Other issues like what is happening in the Southern hemisphere during the bitter northern winters also needs consideration, but need not take up much room in the MS.

    As I understand it, one premise of the story is that there has been a dramatic shift in climate, causing the winters to go from bad to beyond extreme, and I'm accepting that there will be huge depths of snow - way beyond a metre, and perhaps closing in on 2 metres across Canada, the northern parts of the USA, and Europe and Russia. I was born in England and thought nothing of snows that were about a foot deep, in Manchester where I lived, and I have a friend who lives in Montana, and she tells me she regularly gets several feet of snow over the winter.

    I can see this being perfectly acceptable, because of the expense associated with provisioning and/or rescuing people. From the start, I've taken the author's premise that winters are devastatingly cold, and not just in one country. My belief is that snowdrifts will be too deep for it to be economical to clear them, so there is no option other than waiting it out. Doing so at home isn't an option, because each house would be isolated from things like food supplies, and perhaps utilities will be turned off as well.

    My belief is that years ago, when populations were much smaller, and staying indoors and waiting out a winter was the only solution, was made a little easier because people were a little more self-sufficient then, growing their own food and preserving it for winter. Not so feasible with an urbanized society.

    Things like survival of the houses and the freezing of water in the pipes isn't that hard to explain away and is the author's responsibility, so I see your concerns from 2 onwards as things for the writer to address, to create a credible world.

    In any event, many, many science-fiction stories have unexplainable objects in them without harming the reading at all. I read a quote from Isaac Asimov many years ago, when asked how the positronic brains in his fictional robots work. He simply said, "I don't know." It wasn't relevant to any of the stories he wrote, just the fact that they did work. H. G. Wells's War Of The Worlds had, in its concluding section that the Martians never invented the wheel. Yet earlier in the story, the end of one of their space vessels unscrewed, and the narrator saw screw thread. I can't conceive of how it might be possible to cut a thread without a lathe, which means... wheels.
     
  24. !ndigo
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    I like the idea, plots 1,2 and 4 all sound workable, 3 really doesn't seem like there's any story behind it...
    Take a look at Under the never sky by Veronica Rossi. It's a somewhat similar premise. Here, people live full time in a vault like thing because they feel the outside is dangerous.

    Also, for the plausibility of the global warming thing, how about someone figured out a way to reverse the trend but went too far and caused an ice age?
     
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  25. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    In Chicago, there are tunnels that people use to go from building to building without going outside. I can see a city doing something like this if the winters got too harsh.
     

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