Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Juices they do flow

So, while waiting on part 3 of 4 of the crime story (which I believe would be classified as a "novelette" according to Wikipedia's chart of lengths), I've been playing around with a long-delayed science fiction novel. I find I am an iceberg writer, with pages and pages of notes, charts, sketches, and vignettes that may or may not ever make it into the story itself -- but I need that background, that depth of field, to accurately describe what's going on.

Our friend/relative/housemate F really helped by reading the first two pages of narrative and telling me to go on. I was having trouble with how to get started (from a story perspective), how to select the exact point at which the narrative should begin. As Iain M. Banks says in his fun non-Culture space opera "The Algabraist", you can reach backward as far as the Big Bang if you want, but that's not really practical: you have to select some arbitrary point in time as the beginning. This is true in any fiction, really, but seems especially true for science fiction. When your story is set on an artificial planet a billion years old, settled by humans generations ago, after a thousand-year (subjective) space flight from a future Earth that has since suffered a political cataclysm... where, exactly, do you begin?

With the point at which your main character's lives change is when. That moment from which there is no turning back. There will be plenty of time to fill in the backstory -- I'm planning on interpolary chapters to tell the story of the voyage, and of Earth (at least as much as needs to be told).

The thing that really made it all pop for me was, while discussing the planet with F, I suddenly realized everything I needed to know about the ultimate purpose of the planet, the design of its creators. I knew what it was, and how it worked, but did not fully comprehend the why, and whether or not the why is part of the story or not (I rather suspect it will be) it is a vital piece of that deep background I referred to earlier.

Physical laws in science fiction are like grammar -- you are only allowed to bend them if you have sufficient reason to do so, and you cannot simply throw them out or you are writing fantasy, not SF, just as you would not be writing in English without grammar but in your own language using English words. My construct does not break any laws, but whooboy it bends them.

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