So, I have a blog post to share about writing science fiction. It’s below the break, after a few comments about the conference who hated it.
So … I was a guest panelist at Life the Universe and Everything this year. <cue applause>
What is LTUE? I’m glad you asked. It’s only the biggest sci-fi writing symposium in the galaxy. It used to be adjunct to BYU, and it’s volunteer-driven by some people with serious smarts and skill.
Did I mention that it was a blast?
This is pretty much the opposite of my next scheduled conference (LDS Storymakers). The format was very biased in favor of panels. I discussed Star Wars with bloggers, Philip Dick with Dan Wells, and about a billion other things with the likes of Tracy Hickman, Dave Farland, James Wymore, Devon Dorrity, and a host of other super-awesome people.
Furthermore, I played the part of a mad scientist in Paul Genesse’s Zombie Rock Opera. I wish I had pictures. The live band was led by (none other than) Craig Nybo, of Wasachquatch fame….
The only negative, and it’s a tiny non-show-stopper silly thing, is that I wasn’t asked to participate in the My Little Pony panel with (nemesis candidate) Larry Correia. Maybe they heard about the restraining order? Maybe they didn’t want me gush about Doctor Hooves? Either way, it doesn’t matter. I think Larry got angry, broke something, and got the fire department called. Better not to be a part of that particular media circus.
Writer-friends, this IS the place to network with other sci-fi types. Utah is a hotbed for science fiction and fantasy, and there ain’t a better place to get started. At the same time, this ISN’T the place to learn craft. I tried to drop some technique on people, but with the fandom-esque panel format, it’s hard to dish out more than a few brief notes. (PS: I heard a rumor that the format might change next year. <shrug> Either way, it was a good time.)
So, the post below was originally prepared for the conference. It was promptly shredded by the organizers, for which I don’t blame them (I probably should have shredded it too!). But when I’m super-rich and internationally famous, it’ll be a fun article to make fun of, won’t it?
Put out the lights and make some popcorn. Drum-roll, please…..
“Use the force, Luke.” I ease forward in my seat. “Let go.”
Luke fires his missile, and we both gasp. The Death Star ignites in a loud, fiery explosion.
As an eminent scientist® in my field, my brain understands that this scene sucks. First, there’s no sound in space. Second, explosions are created by expanding gas and fire — difficult with a limited oxygen supply and central combustion.
So, let’s re-write with realism in mind, shall we?
Luke fires his missile, and we both gasp. In absolute silence, the station crumples slightly under the weight of an implosive vacuum.
How’s the appeal? Even suck-ier, right? Where’s the wonder or drama in this ‘victory’? Shouldn’t real science IMPROVE THE STORY?
Sorry, kid — people want lies.
Most humans alive at this point have been inundated with fiction. It’s how we cope, dream, how we form cultural touchstones. And you know what? Truth is sometimes boring.
Have you witnessed a fistfight and heard the blows? Let’s say you’re filming the new Indiana Jones fight scene. Do you opt for dull thuds or big movie thwacks? Everyone knows that a real fist sounds different, but we’d all prefer our punches with a little more … punch.
Modern science fiction is hard. It’s an old-fashioned tradition based on ‘real science’. It’s snooty, and too much ‘fake stuff’ will ruin you. But, as writers, we need to keep the genre alive and bring in new readers. Can we have both science and explosions, new ideas and old Hollywood fist-fights?
Firefly does. Doctor Who does. Go ask Scalzi.
Sure, you want to write a sci-fi epic, full of bold thoughts and sound science. You’ve designed a whole world and you want to write the technical manual.
But people want lies. Stories. Figuring out the world is the beginning. Now, find some interesting people to live in it.
They asked me to write a blog post on how I research. Okay, here it goes. Immerse yourself in books, film, in things exciting that define our living culture. Study websites like tvtropes.org and learn to analyze our cultural touchstones, the ‘formulas’ that we see, again and again, in media. Learn the three act formula; study screenwriting and how Hollywood works its magic.
Learn to lie. Learn to cry. Most importantly, learn to tell lies that people believe.
What about science? Science fiction is just that … fiction. A hook, a conceit, a concept that draws readers in. But the story is what keeps them.
Ideas are everywhere. Subscribe to Scientific American. Maybe even read a few pages. Come up with some ideas, bounce ‘em off some science-y friends, and keep the best ones. Nobody cares how smart you are. Write down the entire scientific background of your world to get it out of your system. Then forget everything that doesn’t move the story forward.
How do we keep science fiction relevant? We need to give genre readers enough science to keep them happy, enough in-jokes to make them smirk. Use quotes, hints, twist genre conventions. Read the classics — Asimov, Dick, Heinlein, and Vonnegut — readers will appreciate visiting old places if you know enough to take them down new roads.
But the genre is dead without new readers. You got to know when to implode and when to explode, when to cliche and when to play and when to explore.
In short — read, dream, watch, write. Analyze and absorb your culture. De-construct the best things, see what they did right, and steal them.
Scrunch up your nose, close your eyes, and tell the truest lies you know how.