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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Writing Science Fiction, part 4 Without Telling

I do like to present some deep descriptions of technology in my science fiction. Since I design aircraft, wrote a dissertation on insect flight, and have a patent for a winglet, I think I have some basis for giving my readers a degree of scientific explanation and excitement. I teach classes and write technical papers about this stuff, so I should be able to get it right. In my mind, that is the brilliance of science fiction. That is, to be able to express a new technology or a new idea within the context of a story or novel and make that new technology alive and reasonable to the reader. That, of course, isn't the primary purpose of science fiction, but it is one of the primary building blocks of science fiction. So then, what is the purpose of science fiction? And what does this discussion have to do with what I left you with last time--"how to get across the framework without telling about it." Let's go back to the basics of writing. I already made the point that writing is about storyline, plot, and theme. All three have to support each other and all three are critical to any writing. There must always be a reason for your choice of writing genre and style. The choice shouldn't be just to sell books, what you like, or whatever. You chose the style and genre to get across the theme. A science fiction theme is well suited by the exposition of an idea that can't be conveyed by a modern novel. My series, The Chronicles of the Dragon and the Fox, is a great example of this. I wanted to write a series of novels about honor as a theme. I wanted to reflect on ideas that in the modern world are not as black and white as they were in the past. I could have chosen to write a set of historical fiction novels, but the ideas I wanted to express were timeless and I wanted to put them like a gem in the center of a black velvet cushion. That cushion was the science fiction world I created to set off the theme of the novel. This wasn't a backdoor choice; it was a cognizant choice to express a theme that would otherwise not have a mode of expression. And that's the point. The choice of the genre and style and person (first, second, third) are not choices of convenience, they are choices of expression for the theme.

That comes full circle back to the point from last time--"how to get across the framework without telling about it." The choice of the plotline is derived from the theme. The storyline flows from the plotline. When I set up the universe of the Dragon and the Fox, my theme was honor (you can see the details in the secret pages about each book). I needed a means to set up a culture that was driven by honor. The basis for this culture was genetic manipulation that developed leaders. Those leaders became eventually feudal style aristocrats. They fulfilled their functions too well, but they were a society ordered and controlled by honor. Against this background, this framework, I could write a set of novels about honor. Broadly, since one of my uhmm...hobbies is ancient Anglo-Saxon, I could make a world like that of the ancient Anglo-Saxons, driven by honor, but set in a future to make the concepts as timeless as possible. The undergirding of the culture was gene manipulation to make leaders; the outcome was a feudal based society and hierarchy. The framework was critical, but it is hidden and known by the characters--the unspoken truth, the 800 pound gorilla in the corner. I used a prolog in each novel to convey and build on the basis of the culture. This was an old Jack Vance technique that I loved in his novels. He usually used it throughout. I only build the prologs to convey the background. The prologs in Dragon and Fox are short, simple, to the point and written as though they were encyclopedia entries by a verbose and pompous academian. The point is to give a little humor. You can read the books without reading the prologs--you'll still get every point, but the prologs set the stage for each novel. They give hints and flashes about the culture and universe you are about to enter. Still, they are not completely necessary. I use other methods to convey the depth of the issues in the culture, but I'll show you some of those next time. The main points here--the theme chooses the genre. The purpose of style, genre, and person are to forward the theme and for no other reason. Writers shouldn't pick science fiction as their style just because they just like it--they need to have something to say and chose the best means to say it. That is the ultimate point!

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