1. Videodrome
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    Videodrome Member

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    Sci-Fi minimizing research and details?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Videodrome, Jul 15, 2010.

    Okay I have an eventual ambition of trying a Space Travel story but every time I approach something Science Fiction I tend to just hop around reading scientific websites instead of writing fiction. I think some of this initially is okay so I have this information on hand when it comes to things like the Ship or Space Station and building a kind of familiarity with the environment of space travel, but at some point I need a cut off.

    I was getting just about satisfied on things like centrifuge based gravity details then found myself taking another look at how does the ship travel. I was looking for info on Plasma Rockets and starting thinking that I have just got to quit looking up crap.

    I guess I'm just venting on one of the weird problems I have. I'm trying to let go and allow myself to walk the line between realistic and baloney science. Maybe just slap a random name on different apparatus.

    What makes the ship go fast? Umm.... It's the Hopkins Drive :rolleyes:

    Or call the waste recycler Mr. ****.
     
  2. King Hawk
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    King Hawk Member

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    I think it depends on that kind of Sci-Fi you are going for. If its near future, it may take more research to pull it off. If its 400 hundred years from now, or in a galaxy far, far away, you can probably get away with just making stuff up more.
     
  3. BlueWolf
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    BlueWolf Banned

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    Ah! The problem of realism and too much info!

    My novel is set against the backdrop of space, but not because that is where I wanted it to be, it just gave me far more artistic license to write what I wanted to write. I don't have a scientific background, and nor am I crazy nuts for the subject, so I just wrote what I felt was best and enough to explain whatever was going on.

    But then, mine is a humour based story (think Douglas Adams/Kinky Freidman mix), and so I didn't have to bog the reader down with specific details and over-elaborate explanations of how something does something, which can get very tedious and boring. I simply kept to the basic laws of physics and went wild with everything else.

    This is your 'World', so you can create and invent anything you desire, there is no right or wrong, because it will be your invention.
     
  4. Northern Phil
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    Northern Phil Active Member

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    What I tend to do when thinking of Sci-Fi stories is imagine what life would be like in that time. I don't do massve amounts of research, I just think about stuff based on what I know and have already learnt and I write it.

    Once you have the first draft you will then identify the weak points of your story and this will allow you to create a detailed research plan. Hopefully you will be able to find the answers quickly.

    You may also want to check websites like Nasa, they may have the information that you need.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, Douglas Adams went into quite a bit of detail to "explain" the Heart of Gold's Infinite Improbability Drive. It was not only a funny explanation, it was smart. Adams did his research even for boldly silly technobabble.
     
  6. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Few things will annoy a regular SF reader than getting scientific fact or information wrong--unless there's a logical 'reason' presented.

    Research is important, true, but one can go overboard. Research enough so that you know the basics, save the sites and information and then go back to it if you need to while in the course of writing your novel or short story.

    The depth of research on space travel and survival depends on the type of SF you're intending to write, hard or soft, and there are many subgenres. For example, with Space Opera, one can just state that the ships have a jump drive or a hyper drive, or something and the reader will be satisfied without going into details or theories of how or why it works.

    Terry
     
  7. BlueWolf
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    BlueWolf Banned

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    He did? I haven't read it, and won't until I have finished with this series, for fear of being influenced by it.

    However, I have been told that although I will be obviously compared to him (I've seen the - poor - movie), I have a style that I can honestly call my own.
     
  8. Langadune
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    Langadune Member

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    For me research can become an obsession and often sidetracks me from the actual writing. It helps to decide what you really need to explain. Sometimes you can go with the "don't ask don't tell" approach. Just tell your story, explain where you feel it's necessary, if you don't have the "data" then just move on. Someones readers will accept that things just work in your universe--especially if you don't dwell on the details.

    Either way you go... just tell your story. The first draft won't be the final. After you get through your story, you can re-read and decide who science-driven your story is/needs to be; at that point you can fill in the scientific details.
     
  9. izanobu
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    izanobu Senior Member

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    as others have said, you can handwave a lot of it. just make sure to keep it internally consistent so that a reader isn't flipping back and forth wondering how someone managed to do A when it was clearly stated that your whatever drive could only do B and C. :) Internal consistency is vital when making stuff up :)
     
  10. Fantasy of You
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    Fantasy of You Banned

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    Douglas Adams is hilarious because his ideas are actually very smart. He didn't use comedy as an excuse to make up any old tripe.
     
  11. Videodrome
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    Videodrome Member

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    Thanks for the feedback.


    Also I just saw the movie Inception and it was interesting to me that they put hardly any effort into explaining how the dream machine worked. You just hooked up and pushed a button.

    Anyway I'm not sure if it's just realism exactly I need but building a familiarity with the space travel environment. For example if I wanted to tell a space travel anecdote having the few small details would help back it up.

    I'm going to cheat on some of it though. I looked up regular ocean cargo ship stats just to see how big they are and how much freight they can carry. Stuff like that gives me a good mental image of size and the numbers to go with it.
     
  12. gabelpa
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    gabelpa Banned

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    In my current, and first work, I have a bit of a fantasy world, with sci-fi underpinnings. I know how everything works, but haven't written into the story this same information. If you are going for hard sci-fi then yes, you need the research and background information. For others, you can go in to less detail, but it is important that you as the author understand the mechanics of your universe.

    I have found I need to ration my time, maybe spend 20% of my weekly time to research, more if I am exploring unfamiliar territory.
     
  13. BlueWolf
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    BlueWolf Banned

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    Apparently you are correct, after being told a little about that book by my other half (I haven't read it, and nor do I want to, whilst I am still 'living with' Smith).

    However, she also told me it was primarily a radio show, and as such, it was written for radio, but when it moved into book form, she (and many others) have said it was good, but suffered because of the radio element - there was something just not quite right with it, and this over-elaborate detail may have contributed to this.

    I did research, but ended up turning things on their head - as I said, my World, my story.
     
  14. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you where to write a present day novel where the character was going on a air plane ride once during the story you wouldn't need to research exactly how air planes work. There are wings and engines and something about air pressure arond the wings... Most people knowledge ends there and you wouldn't even need to go into it in the story
    You and the character knows that airplanes do work and how to check in at the airport. No further knowledge needed.

    If you wrote a present day novel on fighter pilots and were going to have a lot of airplane fights... well that is another story and you would probably need research.

    Same with the SciFi story. If someone as passenger is just going to use the transport, there no need to explain or understand any theory behind.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No, but there are some things about airline flight beyond engines and wings. If you've never flown in airline, you may be able to predict some of them. For instance, the constant drone of the engines while you're in flight, some side to side motion, and occasional bumpy flight due to turbulence. It probably takes a little more contemplation to realize that the front and rear of the plane rocks vertically more than just over the wings.

    Similarly, the author may need to understand something about the workings of the spacecraft in order to predict what it will be like for passenger.
     
  16. OvershadowedGuy
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    Some stories can get away with less-is-more when it comes to fact about things. But take Michael Crichton for instance, He made his career out of explaining the science behind the technology.

    Reading 'The Andromeda Strain' is almost creepy considering when he wrote it.
     
  17. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't equate a novel with a movie as far as detail goes, especially for SF. Although there is crossover, it's a different audience. Beyond that, there was the visual piece in the film that provided for the viewer (I've not seen the movie, but were there other bits besides explanation that allowed the viewer to 'understand' the device?). Would just plugging in the dream machine in a novel and there it goes, work for the reader? Movies and novels are a different experience and have different requirements to satisfy the 'customer.'

    In addition, it's a novella length work that translates best to a standard 90 minute or so movie. Even then the screen writer and director, etc. may cut and alter. A longer written work = more cutting and alterations.

    Terry
     
  18. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Which might be awesome trivia, but still not necessary stuff completely overkill, and out of place if the scene focus on the bad air plane food and a creeping suspicious that the person two seats away is following you.
     
  19. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Still, it can be surprising how much the audience may be willing to let you get away with, in terms on not bothering to explain things. The original Star Trek series just used a very few pieces of technobabble ("warp factor 2", "dilithium crystals", "beam me up", "tricorder", "set phasors on stun", etc.) and didn't bother explaining what they were, exactly, or how they worked. The details don't matter unless something about those details is critical to the story. If it isn't, who cares? Clearly the starships in Star Trek had some kind of artificial gravity allowing people to walk around, but I don't remember a single episode in which it was even mentioned.

    If you write with skill and confidence, the audience will be on your side, and won't just sit there nit-picking the technical details.
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know about "overkill". It's certainly part of the setting of an airline cabin. Some fellow passengers get edgy when the plane gives a little jump due to turbulence, and the gentle motions during normal flight make passengers walking in the aisles a bit unsteady. We who have flown take it for granted.

    An interplanetary cruiser is outside our direct experience, though, so we depend on some mental extrapolation to guess what it would be like. But we need to decide what the technologies are involved. Artificial gravity? Fusion engines? Inertialess thrusters? Inertial dampers? These choices affect what the passengers would experience, either in profound ways or in subtle details.

    There shouldn't be any turbulence in most kinds of spaceflight, nor is there automatically an "up." These are significant differences from treating it like an airline flight.

    Fusion engines would act a lot like a chemical rocket motor - lots of thrust, and a good amount of vibration. In the absence of atrificial gravity, "up" is toward the direction of travel, and the strength of the sensation of gravity will be proportional to the acceleration due to thrust.

    If the author doesn't make an attempt to extrapolate from the science to how it affects the experiennces of the characters, you aren't writing science fiction. That's where the word "science" comes into the term, although many authors barely give it a perceptible nod.
     
  21. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    But if you writing something focusing on virology in a world with space travel, there no need to focus on space travel science and just settle for a describing a travel experience.
     
  22. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Conundrum, conundrum.

    Gloss the science or get a job at CERN, that is the question. :rolleyes:

    I think perhaps a different, precursor question needs to be asked before you come to the one you have posed.

    Does it really matter to the story you are writing?

    To gloss or to tech is not even always consistent within the work of one author. Arthur C Clarke did not always tech his work. His The City and the Stars ranks as one of my all time favorites and he applied the gloss brush with abandon in that work. And in Frank Herbert's Dune, he made space travel possible via the effects of eating giant worm poop! And we're talking Dune, like the bible of science fiction.
     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Perhaps, but if the space travel is ridiculous due to lack of research, the entire story suffers.

    This is not hypothetical. The original Star Trek series was painful to watch at times because of the slipshod attention to detail. I was in Junior High School at thetime, and even I knew better than ships' orbits decaying as soon as the engines were off line, for example. Or a planet changing mass because it is undergoing a collapse.
     
  24. Videodrome
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    Okay a little more specific. For 2 years I have been grinding away as a highway truck driver doing long haul shipping anywhere between Mexico, Florida, Maine, and Michigan. As a science fiction fan I thought it would be interesting to convert my day to day experiences to a space freighter.

    For example that is what Han Solo did before getting sucked into the rebellion, though much of his freight was in smuggling. But then some truck drivers smuggle to.

    Perhaps to do this I need to just write a truck driving story first. Think of some of the warehouses I've been to and all the kinds of truck stops I've been to. Then later see if I can rewrite it.

    As for my desire for details, I know about driving and sitting over a big diesel engine and how the truck bounces around in bad parking lots and trying to stay awake with cup o' mud coffee. For space I would like to create a feel for it. I'm interested in the good and bad ways you can generate artificial gravity with a centrifuge but I read the diameter and RPMs are important. To many RPMs and you'll get "seasick" or "spacesick". Which might not be to different an experience from driving on I-10 in Louisiana or this god awful parking lot at the BBQ Shack in Texarkana, AR.
     
  25. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, actually....

    If I were writing this premise, then the answer to the question I posed would be yes. It does matter.

    You might wish to read some of Niven's science fiction if you have not. He makes wonderful use of the very limits of relativistic space travel as plot tools for his stories.
     

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