Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Purpose of My Decisions

A lot of my writing is about taking narratives and scenes and character archetypes that I really enjoy and repackaging in the order I find most optimal. I think perhaps a lot of writers work this way. In the process, something different than its constituent parts begins to take shape. My goal is to keep that ‘something different’ as something intriguingly different, rather than simply stuffing jello down my pants because that is not a thing one usually does. Not that I’m judging if that’s your deal. 

To get to intriguing, I need to be mindful about the kind of decisions I make when I am building a world, populating it and giving those characters neat things to do and think and feel. My usual process is to start with the setting and concept. For example, I’ll detail here how I’m going about developing a concept for a series of books I’d like to someday write.

I’d really like to do a series of science fiction books about people flying around and having adventures. Well, there’s plenty of material for that. One of my main inspirations is Star Trek and specifically the culture of the Federation. How would such a government actually come about? What kind of tension might there be between the dual missions of Starfleet? Which episodes and themes do I find the most compelling in the series? I’ve already done a bit of alternative worldbuilding for the Star Trek games I occasionally run, so I can take some of the answers I had to those questions and run with them in my own space.

How hard do I want the science part of this fiction to be? Well, certainly harder than Star Trek, as you can run into a lot of plot pitfalls with a device like a transporter. I’ve decided that I wanted a certain degree of verisimilitude to enhance the ability of the reader to be able to connect with the setting, so I have to be careful about these things. On the other end of the spectrum, however is being ‘too real’. If I’m flat out extrapolating how ship to ship combat would work, for example, it would make the most sense to have everything run by AIs at incredible speeds and distances that are much less visually interesting than the kind of whiz-bang X-Wing hijinks we are used to seeing. From a tone and theme perspective, it’s also problematic: it’s hard to have nail-biting tension in combat when it’s over before you even realize it started.

I figure I might be able to find a happy medium with something in the Battlestar Galactica remake-space. Now, having made this decision it means I need to keep in mind that I might need to come up with reasons why all combat isn’t done with drones or why inertial dampers keep you on the deck unless the ship gets hit really hard.

Now I have a general idea of what kind of universe this is. Staying within those boundaries is going to inform all of my decisions going down the pike. Who leads away missions? What kinds of people would you choose to be in charge of a self-sufficient ship on a long exploration voyage? What has already been done? What do I want to feature? Well, to borrow from BSG again, I really enjoy themes of hard choices. That fits in nicely with the fact that I want there to be tension between exploration and safety. It’ll help inform me what my cast of characters is going to need to be like.

Speaking of characters, I need to do some real thinking on where they are from. I know I want there to be a healthy mix of genders and ethnicities without necessarily defining a character by their gender or ethnicity. I decide that a female captain of color would be good to have. Perhaps a first officer of Chinese descent. Likely both also have some mixed heritage, since this is the future and lots of people have had the opportunity to get space busy. So then what about aliens? Do I want humanoids or non-humanoids? How would that even work on a ship? What kind of inter-species dynamics might I want?

This could (and will) go on for pages and pages and pages. The idea here is that I figure out what I like and what I want to do. Then I figure out what I would change from my sources of inspiration, being mindful of why I want to do that and what purpose it serves. Everything in a story serves a purpose; knowing my purpose and why it is what it is gives me more control over my narrative and results in a tight, believable world with exciting characters and events that hopefully matter to my reader.

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