1. Jupiter
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    Jupiter Member

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    the trouble with sci-fi...

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Jupiter, Nov 27, 2008.

    sci-fi plots are difficult to maintain. I don't feel too bad about resorting to my own invented versions of wormholes and time travel because they're essential plot devices and there isn't really another way around them. besides, I feel like I've dressed both up differently enough (my secret! hehe) for me to feel comfortable with using them.

    what I'm NOT comfortable is right now is planets. planet-hopping has become part of the plot which feels clunky to me, especially as it's so generic ie, "the ice world," or "the desert world," complete with appropriately sci-fi names for each. as an astronomer by interest and a marine ecologist by training I feel like I'm missing something huge in my writing. Every now and then I write short passages that I feel bring my worlds alive enough for me to keep on working with them, but other times, I flinch, I cringe, I want to delete everything. I'm proud of two of my exoplanets (actually both are technically moons), and there are maybe three more that are getting there, but by the nature of my plot I need so many of these worlds I just feel like it's all been done before. Here's Dune, here's Tartarus, here's Coruscant, Alderaan and Geonosis...

    I'm really stuck. Apart from those few that I'm really proud of, I hate my planets. I really do. I try to invent long histories but those histories themselves seem really crap and cliched. I love the general plot of my novel, I'm still really proud of it, but I don't know how to handle the planet problem. Seems like everything that could be said about a world already has been, somewhere else. I'm a strict scientist as well, so I can't allow myself to write things that wouldn't make logical sense if it just so happened that they were real.

    Sorry, this is getting long. I don't expect anyone to solve my problem for me but ideas or suggestions on how to tackle it would be certainly be welcome.

    (Oh, and there are no spaceships in my book. The time/travel dimension has been taken care of by pure fantasy in a way I'm really proud of. So there are no long interstellar cruises to break the monotony, it really is planet-hopping all the way).
     
  2. Emerald
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    Emerald Contributing Member

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    Meh. Everybody loves Stargate, and they never even attempt to account for the fact that every single planet they go to looks like a carbon copy of Earth (at least not to my knowledge)

    Don't sweat the details. More often than not, nobody cares. To put it bluntly :p
     
  3. Ashleigh
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    Ashleigh Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have the same problem! I'm writing a sci-fi novel too which originally involved the government and the FBI.

    I then realised that we (britain) dont even have the FBI, we have MI5 or whatever.

    THEN i became stuck because i suddenly realised - "Oh yeah, I dont know a thing about government agencies!" D: eek.

    So ive now decided to invent my own government corp that i'll understand :D
    I'm such a cheat.
    But oh well, it's better than spending ages researching things that i probably would never fully understand - plus my memory is awful.

    Good luck anyway. I agree with emerald - you dont have to have scientific proof that these planets *could* exist for them to be believable - that's the beauty of fiction after all ;)
     
  4. JaM1221
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    Not much help but...I have the same problem too.
    I really want to add this whole part to my novel on "planet-hopping" but it all seems unoriginal with all the other scifi novels and movies. Sorry, talking about my own problems doesn't help yours.
    ...I'm sorry. I have nothing. If I did I wouldn't have my own problem.
     
  5. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    Do you really need long histories for each? If you're planet hopping, which makes me think of visiting different worlds without staying on one for too long, you probably wouldn't have a lot of time to delve into that history--unless your plot involves those histories, that is.

    I would just come up with more basic ideas for the histories. Come up with the most important events, leave out or make up the minor details as I go... that kind of thing. But if you really need more detailed histories, or if you just want to do it anyway, there isn't a lot we can do to help.

    As for the planets themselves, I wouldn't use too many of the "themed" planet types. If a world is inhabited, chances are that it isn't a purely ice world, or desert world. If it is barren, it better have something pretty valuable to offer, be it a mineral or a strategic location. Otherwise, I'd add some variety to the terrain. And maybe there's an Earth-like world that can't be colonized due to its extremely hostile wildlife, or its location in the middle of warring space... Just a thought.
     
  6. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Humans are probably going to live on planets as close as possible to earth.

    Some additional variations could be gravity, light (including spectrum), nutrients (or lack there of) that a person can derive from the local flora and fauna, microbes, day-length, or same face to sun, no magnetic field, subject to radiation, etc.

    Terry
     
  7. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I think as long as the planets are interesting backdrop who cares. I care about the characters and their problems, not so much the background. I hate deserts, yet I loved Dune.
     
  8. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Obviously, each planet in your story is human-compatible, so this fact dictates a narrow range of temperatures, gravitational strength and atmospheric composition. The planets would most likely be catergorized by a some scale related to human needs. On my website for The Last Human War, I created such a scale called "Earth Standard". For example, gravity on Tanarac is said to be 92.7% Earth Standard. Here is the page that describes each primary planet and the aliens who evolved in those conditions.

    http://www.lasthumanwar.com/hidden_stuff_aliens.html

    Plant and animal evolution (including sentient species) would reflect biological and physical principals applied to the variations in Earth Standard measures, hence the reptilian species on Heptari (121.1% Earth Standard gravity) are shorter and more muscled than the aliens who evolved on Tanarac in lesser gravity.

    Hope this helps.
     
  9. Jupiter
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    WOW!!! Thanks everyone. You've given me a lot to think about. NaCl, I loved your page. It's quite similar to what I'm thinking of with my planets, re: solar classes, evolution, knowing temperature, salinity etc. I'm trying to set myself a challenge by having a few systems that are off the main sequence.

    The plot is an organisation with scientific / religious control over a galactic cluster and the various resistances and sanctuaries that challenge their authority. But that's the backdrop: the novel is character-led and based around the inhabited moons of a made-up gas giant at a distance of about 20AU. That way I can play with sociology and culture, what would it like to be more or less human in a place with crushing pressure, dim light and irregular sunrises. Your planet would be your sun-god, in a way, and all the myths that arise with that. A different colour sky caused by different atmospheric composition, different evolution based on taurine as an essential amino acid instead of tryptophan. That's what fascinates me. I don't go as far as saying X is the god of this, Y is the god of that, but its more focused on saying that C clan believes that X is the god of this, Y is the god of that.

    But yes, it all gets a bit sticky. There are ice-moons and ocean worlds, desert planets with frozen poles... actually it's very much GCSE physics at certain points. On some moons the 'porous geology' has to be sealed at the surface by something that is basically magic in order for one of my poor characters to breathe and to prevent oxygen escaping. As a writer it all feels so lazy... I just don't know any other way around it.

    FMK: trouble is, I need to know (and I'm not in each case writing it into the book) how each planet evolved, how it got caught up in the central organisation, what its wars were, how much it resisted, how it was eventually won over (bribery, war, brainwashing). Those details, although only implied, are kind of important otherwise the planet has no reason to be in the book. That's the trouble... but I like the angle on resources a lot. I'm so stuck in the science mindset that I forget about economic things - it could solve a lot of problems and help avoid trying to say the same kinds of things for each new planet I stumble across....

    Terry: again, those are the things I'm trying to think of, and going from the 'start' rather than basing alien flora and fauna on a photograph of a rainforest, or whatever. Base codes, genes, evolution... with 57% methane locked up in aquifers, what would my underground tube-worms look like? What about the thing that feeds on them, and the next, and the next? What happens if two, or three, or six, forms of intelligent life occur on a planet at once? What happens when the central organisation moves in for colonisation when they discover the planet needs to be.. I don't know... assimilated (cringe)?

    I'm not asking for answers to my questions per se, I just want to know how to answer my own questions myself, so I don't flinch every time I have to write something that is integral to the development of the plot but is a bit of an over-used device. I mean, I have a city-planet, a cryomoon, and a densely-populated binary system with 14 planets perpetually at war with each other.

    Maybe I just need a better imagination.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Just rememberthat your setting exists to support your story. Provide it with the features that are needed to carry the tale. You can take it as given that for any planet you can find that is suitable for human colonization, there will be far more that won't even come under consideration. It doesn't mean they don't exist, but their role in the stories will be minimal.

    The science fiction genre opened up as a way of playing with "what if...." If the story calls for a society and a technological foundation that does not and will not develop on Earth, no problem - postulate a planet and a technology that does support it.

    If you do have a scientific background, your "what if..." scenarios may be suggested from that background. But if not, don't worry about it. There are plenty of stories to be written for Earthlike worlds with social or economic (etc.) conditions that make them an interesting setting.

    And if you are worried whether terrestrial conditions will be found elsewhere, there is always the possibility of terraforming worlds that are "close enough." Some ancient race could even have don e that to hundreds of worlds before we learned to make fire.
     
  11. Jupiter
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    What really worries me is that my worlds will end up being the same. By default, I need a lot of them, the plot I have won't work with only half a dozen of different 'type' worlds.. I know enough about planetary science to be able to base worlds on those found in our own solar system (the cryomoons, the deep-ocean worlds, the polar-deserts, the tech-worlds...), but my plot requires a sprawling expanse of space - seventeen galaxies actually. I intend to focus on four galaxies, with 4-6 star systems in one, ranging from 2 - 16 inhabited worlds on each. Obviously it would be unreadable if I went into similar details about each one, but there does need to be a vague awareness of why each world is similar and different, why it's important, why the characters have come from their own worlds to the sanctuary planet and its associated moons. I'm just worried about these generic 'types' of planet and of recycling the same type too many times within my own novel. I have six planets (and a few moons) so far and I don't know how to deal with the new planets that are inevitably going to have to come up. What will they be like? My novel is going to be extremely long, so long it might have to be broken up into two or three: I'm 5K into 250K and I'm already feeling stuck with the planet side of things. It's things like, oh yeah, this world has no direct sunlight so their light needs to come from fires... but if there's no light there's no trees trees, which means there's no wood, so what are they burning to maintain the fires? Peat bogs? Methanous seeps? What else can I do for light? Bioluminescence perhaps. But then, if there's a second world that is also out of direct sunlight, what else can I do? I can't use bioluminescence twice and its the 'same' issues that each new world seems to face. Which may just be my own limitations as a writer. It's getting kind of worrying.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Well, if the planet has no source of light, then where does its heat come from? What can and cannot live there? Are their huge gaps in the ecology, and if so, how will you fill them? If your worlds are at all habitable, you need to answer questions like that first, and maybe they'll provide some ideas you can use for your other problems.

    Maybe you'll conclude that some of the worlds are not habitable without a lot of imported technology. Technology from where? What do the inhabitants offer in return? That adds a socio-economic relationship between planets.

    There's no question that each world you devise will require quite a bit of thought in order to be plausible, especially if you try to make them wildly different. But if you can make each world plausible and yet intriguing, it well be well worth the effort.

    Keep in mind, though, small differences between worlds can create quite varied settings - you don't have to go for huge extremes.
     
  13. NaCl
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    Worlds do not need to be human compatible for human colonies to exist. Let's say minerals that can be refined to produce oxygen and water are plentiful on a planet. You could easily build a world in which all human activity is accomplished with robotic equipment, manned by humans inside pressurized cabins. This would allow immense variation in your planetary characteristics.
     
  14. Smithy
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    Smithy Senior Member

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    I may be talking out of my arse here, but 4-6 star systems seems a bit small for a galaxy.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    We are still limited to one star system, and one planet out of that. Six star systems could be the beginnings of a galactic empire, even if the term "galactic" is as overly grandiose as "World Series".
     
  16. Jupiter
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    yeah you are talking out of your arse ;) I meant 4-6 useful and inhabited star systems in each galaxy that are actually featured in the book, with 2-16 inhabited worlds on each. obv there are billions of stars in each galaxy, but it would be pointlessly tedious to categorise every one. my mistake for not making that sound clearer........ I'm not going to choose to write about all seventeen galaxies, either. Maybe about five. That would still give me, I don't know, 175 explicitly named worlds, which is still far too much to go into any kind of detail on. I suppose in reality I only need about 20-25 to make the novel work, and that's still a heck of a lot of exoplanets!

    I remember a Dr Who episode once which detailed 17 missing worlds quite well. They were all assumed to be very different but the dialogue didn't dwell on each one for more than a sentence, and yet those sentences explained the relevance of each one quite nicely. There's always the chance to do that.

    The worlds I'm picking just need to be representative. The rest of the other hundred million odd civilised worlds in the other 14 or so galaxies can still be assumed to exist quite happily with the struggles and dramas of their own.

    Galactic empire isn't exactly what I had in mind, in fact I'm thinking of a level above that - galactic cluster. I've tried scaling it down and it just doesn't work, I really need the contrast between, say, spiral galaxy and globular cluster, star-forming regions and ancient galaxies colliding with one another, the supermassive black holes and the EM spectra. I have a very advanced race of warrior-priests and I really need the width of the cosmic stage for them to play on. A single galaxy just isn't enough. Nor is a single galactic cluster anywhere near 'the whole universe,' it's still just a tiny corner of it. And I've already sorted out the issues with time and transport, that bit is fine...

    Most of my exomoons are tidal, they orbit gas giants and get their heat that way, and generate light through bioluminescence or methanic glow or ecological adaptations to seeing in starlight (starlight is actually pretty bright when there's no light pollution). I'm absolutely fine with hydrothermal or methothermal vents and life without light. I switch back into marine biologist mode with great glee and can write with ease about silica-based life or extremophiles or symbiotic organisms (in fact 90% of my post-conversion worlds have been force-evolved into brutal symbiosis - nothing dies they just live in perfect equilibrium feeding off each other until their bodies eventually give out, heck sometimes death can be a good thing).

    Actually... I think I've done more mental work on the problems than I thought I had. I shall think a lot more on the economics aspect, though, because it is actually a forgotten interest of mine anyway. I'm a scientist and forget that just because a world is pretty or biodiverse doesn't mean there is any incentive to go there. My organisation is driven by power and fear but I don't want to make it just another Guild or Empire, if anything they are driven by a hunger for life itself - but unlike say, the Borg, it exists for more than just ownership and control.

    Anyway, I'm giving far too much of my plot away now. Copyright Jupiter, 2008... ;)
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You can't copyright ideas. Fortunately, story ideas are pretty worthless by themselves. Only the writing matters.
     
  18. Islander
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    Some ideas you may or may not want to use...

    A world marked by an asteroid impact some 500 000 years ago, that cracked the mantle, creating a basalt plain spanning a fourth of the planet, filled with volcanoes and covered in ashes. The other three fourths of the planet, while still hospitable to life, is plagued and shadowed by the volcanic emissions, and everywhere there is evidence of huge earthquakes.

    A large planet with a high average temperature, that displays all the types of terrain there are on earth, but where every wind, rain and draught is magnified tenfold.

    A world that is so old, tectonic activity has stopped, mountains have eroded, and the fauna has evolved into a small number of highly complex life forms.

    A world with a huge moon and abundant earthquakes, where the continents are fractured into large islands, frequently washed over by tsunamis, and where there is no point in building permanent structures like houses.
     
  19. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    A cool idea for a planet. It has large, power, dangerous beast that roam it. They are carnivores. Living on the ground is too dangerous so people live high in the trees. In tree houses. They put spikes and such as the base of the trees and other things to ward off the beast. If there is a city region on this world, they build their buildings on legs so to speak, high off the ground.

    That could make for an interesting culture.
     
  20. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can create another world without visiting another PLANET exactly. I mean, think of Sir John Moore's 'Utopia'. That's been the inspiration for countless modern sci-fi novels. There's also the time-travelling, or 'vision of the future' (1984) type of other world (but perhaps I'd better stop--am I being totally old-fashioned?)
     
  21. Jupiter
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    Hmm, it's not the shortage of ideas for other worlds that is really concerning me here. A quick flick through the pages of Nature or New Scientist provides inspiration enough to last for a year. It's just the sheer volume of worlds that I need to integrate into the story that is causing me problems. If there were just one or two, or even a dozen, then I'd have no problems. It's just that I need several hundred although I don't necessarily need to tie each one into the story in great detail. At the moment it's like a space-hopping On The Road and it feels really tacky.

    There's plenty of diversity here - time travel and alternate realities are all dealt with relatively painlessly, my structure handles time-travel well and I'm happy enough jumping in and out of onion layers of reality. Those parts of the novel run really smoothly and I think they read well. It's just the planet-jumping itself feels false and stupid but it really is vital for the book. With so many worlds, how can I keep each one crisp and interesting? I probably made the error when I was trying to explain my problem - like an errant PowerPoint presentation, it's not the slides (worlds) themselves that are the problem, but the transition from each one. Bearing in mind that not all characters experience every world, so each one must be viewed with a different set of world. But Lophe on the searing urban binary jungle of Pmkn is experiencing something similar to Torrin on the civil-servant world of Cala, and Adrastea stepping from Cala into the savage wildness of Vaserichant is experiencing the same displacement as Fallin being severed from the genteel Cahijo and stuck on the isolated asteroid-moon Meitiz. The planets themselves are different, so very different - Vaserichant with its wild mountain tribes is literally a hundred billion miles away from the dark caves of Meitiz but it's the sense of loss and displacement that my characters feel when they're kicked from one place to another that is making the whole thing fall apart. I'm actually quite proud of the planets themselves, they've become different enough to work, and my characters too are unique in their own right - strong, wise Torrin, ethereal warrior Adrastea, schoolgirl Fallin, and their whole host of supporting characters.. well they're all fine, they have their purposes and quests and reasons for being... but there's still this sad clunky lameness at all this planet-hopping stupidness. THAT'S what I'm really struggling to deal with.
     
  22. Jupiter
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    Oh and... they spacejump, instantly. They have the technology for that. So it's not like there needs to be boring interludes of shuttle rides all the time. As I say, the spatio-temporal aspect runs like quantum clockwork. It's just the gooey mass of matter and politics that is clogging up the story right now.
     
  23. madhoca
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  24. perfectionist
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    For a while, try this.

    Stop.

    (Heh.)

    Got you listening? Good. I'm worried you may have been making excessive work for yourself.

    Now, look at the framework of your political background as it exists in your head - the bare minimum required for any one of your sub-stories to work.
    now, example:
    So the government of planet X is treating its population harshly? You want a reason that allows the government to be in a morally grey area, rather than being strict bad guys. Solution: planet X is under economic pressure from planet Y.
    Now at that point you may have an idea what that pressure is, you may have a great amount of work you could do to planet Y.
    Note down in single words any thoughts you have immediately but don't return to them until you feel like other parts of your story lack inspiration.
    All that you need to tell the story of planet X is an occassional and cryptic reference to planet Y. "The shipment is overdue again."

    My point is, you may get further designing your worlds by nessecity rather than trying to get the whole universe sorted before your plot is ready.

    As for the jarring jumps between planets: you make some of this sound like the problem is jumps between character Points of Veiw, rather than a difficulty describing different worlds.

    Am I barking up the right tree?

    ~Tom
     
  25. Jupiter
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    Tom,

    I think you're right there. Actually yesterday I got fed up with the whole thing and decided to cut out most of the characters, most of the planets, and more than halve my word count goal. It feels a lot more manageable now. I think I'm just going to have to focus on my MC, on what she wants, on what she's aiming to get, and why she wants what she wants. That way the plot and everything else is sort of scaled down to her perspective. Trouble is, there has to be some balance. I have some supporting characters, who want different things, but if I focus on my MC then things are, well, simpler. And most of these worlds don't need to be visited, they - as you say - can just be mentioned in passing:

    "How did you manage to turn liquid methane into drinking water?"
    "Well, when I was in exile, I studied cryptoalchemy on the dead moons of Vych."

    (Okay, I just made that up, but you get the general idea). There's probably no need to actually sit and WRITE about his time on Vych, that would be a boring distraction. I think that's where I've been going wrong. It's just left me with all these pointless loose ends, and I figured out how to just allude to the loose ends - and let them advance the plot - without actually creating them and causing the plot to unravel.

    Hmm. Learning curve :)
     

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