1. JamesB
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    JamesB Member

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    Sci-Fi Writing?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by JamesB, Apr 19, 2013.

    In another thread started by Maxitoutwriter, the question of how to write about a distant star sparked a few interesting responses. I've thought about writing in this genre but had too many daunting questions.

    Take a space novel like Star Wars as an example. Obviously, if you were to write an additional story somewhere in the timeline, you would probably have to do a lot of research on what's already been written, pertaining to the gadgets, the ships, the technology. All of that stuff has already been thought up and written about.

    My question is, if you were writing about a similar situation in a completely different story, do you just make up the technology completely from your imagination as you go or are there foundations and rules based in our reality that you have to relate your new technology to?

    I guess I'm trying to say, can you wing it, and just wildly make stuff up? or do you have to base your gadgets, ships, technical lingo based on something real that we deal with here on earth. I hope this makes sense.

    Any thoughts would be helpful.
     
  2. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    George Lucas made it all up didn't he? Unless you know a few wookies here on earth?

    I think every story ever written was based on humans, just in different settings. In your own words you're winging it as regards technology, alien life forms, gadgets - just make it better than Star Wars - after all, the imagination of the 70s has changed more than a little since.

    Your task is to make your characters believable with human issues, love/hate/power/greed/jealousy/whatever
     
  3. jeepea
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    jeepea Member

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    I think that as long as your technology at least gives a tip-of-the-hat to the laws of physics, you can do anything you want. Some ideas are used over and over in science fiction, one of the most prominent being 'warp drive'. Most space operas need a way of moving between the stars and warp drive fills the bill. If you can think of something better, go for it. If you do want to reuse an idea, I'd say to repackage it so that it's origin isn't so obvious that it confuses your reader, or worse yet, angers fans of the source of the idea.

    I've heard people say that one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing science fiction is dreaming up the world their characters will live in. So don't be too self-conscious about it and just have fun.
     
  4. TechnoGoth
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    TechnoGoth Member

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    There tends to be a lot of hard science in the newer science fiction. That's not to say that you can't make it up as you go along. But there is plenty of really interesting theoretical and emerging science that you can base your ideas on. Like all things in your writing it should be consistent and believable in your world. Don't just solve all problems with nanites.


    Some ideas I've used as a base and projected into the future:
    - 3D printing
    - vertical farming
    - Google Glasses
    - tailored medicine
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I've done lots of research for my sci-fi book because I want realism. The setting is only a century or so in the future on a planet humans have emigrated to. I did a lot of research about propulsion, space craft, where computers and medicine is likely to be, how will we travel, what will food production be like, and so on. There's really a lot of stuff out there like on Gizmodo and other geek sites to build from.
    I've done a lot of research in evolution so my other world with be different, but consistent with what we know about how life evolves.
    I looked into binary solar systems, what would it mean for the Oort cloud and so on.
    I looked into weather so I could make my continents and oceans consistent with the weather I want the planet to have.

    But look at all the incredible sci-fi that doesn't go in for realism. There's plenty and some great stuff. It's whatever your story calls for.
     
  6. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think you do need to tip your hat to the laws of physics - not in space anyway. How is gravity getting on up there?

    Hey Ginger, just wondering, if you are going for realism in your sci fi book, where are the oceans in space? And what is the weather like? I thought because there is no atmosphere then there are no weather conditiond... Or have you created planets with these features?
     
  7. Mithrandir
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    Mithrandir Contributing Member

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    There's a lot of variables to consider. As GingerCoffee pointed out, the closer to our reality you are -- in time and place -- the more research you have to do. Frank Herbert set Dune in such a distant future that one couldn't really say that it could never happen. Don't do anything that brings your reader out and question if it could really happen, or in other words, TNTE (Try not to explain).
     
  8. Kaga
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    Kaga Member

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    I find that anything goes, as long as I follow some simple rules.

    1 - don't break the rules you have established in your own universe.

    2 - don't pull anything that can break suspension of disbelief.

    3 - avoid the use of "deus ex machina" to solve problems. The best known example I can think of is Star Trek (yes, I'm going there), where they faced some big evil and were apparently doomed, until Geordi pulled inverse polaron beams out of his butt and solved the problem. I love ST, but that bugged me to no end.

    4 - have a "logical" explaination for strange things. It can be anything, as long as it follows the rules you set. The main purpose is to get it to make sense for the reader, nothing else. I've written some insane stuff, but I believe I made it fly because it somehow made sense within the universe I had created. If that makes any sense.
     
  9. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    Once you finish your first draft, you might find that you have dozens of different sci-fi technologies. Make a list of them and see if there is some sort of cohesion between them all. You might find that some don't fit well with the others, so you can either modify it or take it out entirely.

    Also, limitations are probably more important than anything. What can't they do with science? Being clear and consistent about these can make your world feel more realistic, regardless of the science you use.
     
  10. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Remember, Science Fiction is a story where science plays a major role in the plot. It is not just a story that takes place in space--that'd be a space fantasy.
     
  11. gwilson
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    gwilson Member

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    Way back (30's-40's) when Edgar Rice Burroughs did his Carson Napier of Venus series, nobody could say that it was impossible for animal and plant life to exist on Venus, but now we, people of Earth with a basic scientific understanding, know that that scenario is ridiculous. Don't create scenarios or devices that, today, we know are scientifically impossible.

    Also, it's important to know your genre. There are some concepts and devices that have been used so often that it's perfectly acceptable to re-use them in your stories, like force shields, but there are some things that would be unacceptable to use, like calling a lizard-like alien a wookie - or even using wookies in a story that isn't connected to Star Wars.

    When you invent or borrow new technologies and equipment, you don't have to explain how everything works, but only what it does. For instance, if you have an ansible (a device coined by Ursla le Guin) in your story, you don't have to explain that it works because of paired quantum particle spin, you only need to explain that your character uses an ansible to communicate instantly between points which are separated by light years of space. And even though this idea of paired particle spin sounds like a scientifically plausible explanation of how one might work (Einstein called it "spooky action"), it's also (probably) an unnecessary explanation to the story and plot.
     
  12. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    Don't confuse extremely unlikely for impossible. Science surprises us all the time with things we once thought were impossible. So, they were never really impossible; they were highly unlikely.

    Science fiction thrives on the highly unlikely.
     
  13. gwilson
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    gwilson Member

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    ;) Point taken.
     
  14. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    As in, if you use something akin to google glasses, think where else that technology is used. Combat helmets? Will that improve or hinder situational awareness? will your head explode with information the machine feeds you?

    If you have mind-controlled computers (like contact lens computers or what have you), think what else is mind-controlled. Cars? Washing machines? Shoes? Can you control your kids? How do you not accidentally set your house on fire when you just meant to turn off the lights? Has our cognitive processes somehow changed?

    What about fashion? Are there sheep in the star system? Some other wooly animals? Fire resistant clothing? Muscle supporting clothing? And if so, do people have weaker muscles as a result?

    Is the gravity the same? If not, are people taller? Shorter?

    Whatever you do, be consistent.
     
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  15. Xatron
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    I think that what the OP asked is not the question you are answering so far. What he asked is whether he should be loyal to the already existing setting if he wants to write a different storry based on the same setting.
    What you are asking about is usually called a spin-off if it is completely independent of the original story or prequel/sequel if it takes place earlier/later than the original story in the timeline. A recent example is the movie Prometheus, which is a spin-off of the movie Alien.
    In such cases you should stay within the lines drawn in the original story. That doesn't mean that you can't create new stuff, but they have to be consistent with the already existing ones. As long as your new creations are not in conflict with the ones set in the original story, you are ok.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Science Fiction is one of the freest genres for creative interpretation. You can make your setting as unique as you can come up with.

    The freest genre is Fantasy. The distinction between them is often rather blurry, though -- many consider Star Wars to be more fantasy than science fiction. The main difference is that science fiction tries to anchor itself to modern science, or plausible extrapolations from modern science. But Arthur C Clarke, one of the great masters of science fiction, asserted that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    So don't feel you are bound by the laws of technology proposed by others. If you can convince readers, go for it.
     
  17. JamesB
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    JamesB Member

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    Thanks to all of you for your responses. There's some excellent advice here. I'm working on a horror/suspense novel at this time, but i've already got some ideas floating around for my next novel in the sci-fi genre. The advice here will help free my mind. Thanks again.
     
  18. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    First, make sure your gadget has a purpose that is realistic. from there use the gadget appropriately. If this is a device that most of your characters will have, be sure you can not think of any possible way to overlook its use (think of the last star trek in how Data died...why didn't he just overload the phase pistol like they did in countless episodes before?) also, give it a logical name don't call a wheel a "circular rotational drive" and if the gadget already has a familiar purpose, just call it whatever it is we already call it. IE plasma cutter is already a device. no need to rename it. also you do not need to have your characters call it by it's full name all the time. Also We love acronyms, makes it sound more realistic. if you want to explain the different nature of a tool you could explain that the cutting torch had a beam of light that required no eye protection or something of that nature. One of the most lame parts of Star wars to me was the "Hydra spanners" It never explained what they were or what they did. their only purpose was to fall on harrison ford's head later on. Not to mention "hyrdra" implies water "spanners" implies "to spread"
    Now all that being said assumes you want realism. If you want to create a full on fairy tale, that is perfectly fine, just be sure to let the audience know what these devices can do, how they are typically used , and what their limitations are. I say this because there will be some person that would come up with a use for it in some problem you thought you had outlined quite well, and then call it a "plot hole". also remember, the more fantastic your device, The more time you will spend explaining them and why they are important. and more science knowledge will be needed in order to BS your way through it. At that point it stops becoming fun and just starts becoming a headache
     
  19. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    Ironically was just watching Eureka where a DJ was spinning. In front of him were two Marshall half stacks with heads....Facepalm
     
  20. gwilson
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    gwilson Member

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    I apologize in advance for being a nerd.

    Data couldn't get back to the Enterprise before the Romulan (or, Reman) ship blew - he didn't have time, even if he had over-loaded a phase pistol. Picard transported with the one and only self-powered single-use transporting tag that Data placed on him.

    Hydra implies a snake, and a spanner is a wrench. But actually, Han said hydrospanner, which, using etymology, sounds like a hydraulic powered wrench which, I can imagine, is a compact, futuristic impact wrench.

    Again, I'm sorry - I couldn't help myself.

    ***

    If you spend time explaining devices in full, you risk creating an infodump. If it's important to the plot, explain it. If it's not - i.e., hydorspanner - then better let nerds like me write an encyclopedia about it, after it's made into a movie, of course.:D
     
  21. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    ah you have me on the second point, but not the first. Quote Originally Posted by ProsonicLive View Post
    think of the last star trek in how Data died...why didn't he just overload the phase pistol like they did in countless episodes before? the "tag should not have been necessary at all as in plenty of episodes enterprise was able to transport without them. and it shows data clearly having time to contemplate his actions. it was poorly thought out no matter how you look at it.

    oh, and if the hydraulic thing holds water, anything that is "impact" or pneumatic as it is called can be either hydraulic or impact, not both. its like saying "gas powered motor" a motor is by definition always powered by electricity

    my point was that creating too many futuristic names becomes a headache. one does not need to explain in a full paragraph on what the device does, simply showing a person using it is enough. if the device is important, like the lightsaber or star trek phaser feel free to explain it more deeply
     
  22. gwilson
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    gwilson Member

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    I don't want to play tit for tat on an inconsequential subject like Star Trek, but, I for one, didn't find it as unbelievable as you did. From memory, I thought that the Enterprise was too heavily damaged from the ongoing fight to transport anyone. And I'm sure you'll have another reason to counter that one, but I think we can agree that we disagree on Star Trek.

    As far as 'hydraulic impact wrench' - try doing a google search and you will find plenty of adds for places willing to sell you one.
     

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