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Putting It All Together

[ Edited ]

It's time to balance the elements of your story in such a way that the SF basics fit neatly and cleanly with each other, so that the reader is presented with a seamless whole -- a story which never breaks the "fictional dream."

One of the best ways to grow as a writer is to study the works of others. You've read numerous stories that are considered among the best in the SF genre. Go back and study one or more of these stories and see how they have artfully utilized and balanced the elements discussed here.

The Science Content

Look at the science content as you develop your story, to make sure that the science and the story work seamlessly with each other. Ask yourself:

  • Does the science element in my story need to be fine-tuned?
  • Does the story stray too far from its science content? Does the science disappear?
  • As it is set out, is the science content plausible enough to be believable?
  • If the science content is not rooted in current scientific knowledge, is it explained in such a way that readers will accept it for the length of the story?

The Idea

Often the ideas of a story change as the story itself develops. Ask yourself:

  • Does the specific story idea continue to grow logically from the science content?
  • Is the idea new enough, or handled with enough novelty, to keep a reader's interest?
  • Is the story idea integral to the conflict developing in the storyline?

The World

The world is the arena, created by the science content and the idea, in which the events of the story take place. It is important that you know this world in enough detail to know how it shapes, and is shaped by, the characters in your story. The details of your world are one of the richest sources of ideas for enabling and enriching the sense of wonder. Also make sure that your world continues to be integral to the storyline -- it should never be allowed to slip into the background.

The Characters

Characters can change as a story is written. That's fine! It's often a sign that the story is taking on a life of its own. As the story is being written, ask yourself:

  • Do your characters plausibly emerge from the situation created by the science content and the story idea?
  • Are your characters motivated to react strongly to the conflict element embodied in your story idea?
  • Are you characters presented in enough relevant detail so that the reader can care about what happens to them?

The Story

Answer these questions to help pinpoint areas where you need to make changes to the story:

  • Does the conflict grow organically from the science content, the story idea, the world, and the characters of the story?

  • Is the conflict important enough to cause a change in the people of my story? That is, does it affect them enough to matter to them? If the events of the story are not important enough to cause the characters to change, then it is possible that they are not important enough to carry the weight of a story.

The Plot

One useful tool to measure the success of plotting is the "boredom-confusion continuum." It is generally true that if a story bores you, then the plot has failed to move sufficiently to keep interest alive. Look for where the story starts to go wrong. Often this is the place where your eyes start to glaze over. While there are a number of reasons why a plot can veer into boredom, some common ones are:

  • The plot and the story diverge so radically that they no longer work together.
  • The plot repeats items that the reader already knows.
  • The plot moves off on a tangent that fails to advance the characters or their story.

Once you can spot the reason for the boredom, you have gone a good way toward knowing how to fix it.

At the other end of the continuum is confusion. More often than not, this occurs when:

  • The plot becomes too skimpy.
  • Important pieces of information (background, motivation, etc.) are left out or scenes are skipped over that need to be there.
  • The story breaks through and overwhelms the plot. You can usually see this problem in places where the story stops being a series of events and the writer starts telling you about the story, rather than telling the story itself.

You can usually spot the beginning of the confusion at the place where you find yourself wondering why an event happens, or why a character reacts in a certain way -- that is, there are breaks in the internal logic of the story. In such cases, you must go backwards through the story to pinpoint the place where the segments are left out.

The Sense of Wonder

This depends on the author's careful thought about the details of the created world, and careful handling of those details in the course of the story.

The sense of wonder is both an over-all issue (the entire book can do it to you) and a matter of the small grace notes, the telling details that encapsulate a different world. If you apply all the elements of craft and help them blend seamlessly together, the sense of wonder will find its way into your story.

Remember the difference between "showing" and "telling"? Fiction can show things to the reader every bit as well as the visual forms of storytelling. In a way, fiction can do it even better because fiction makes such strong use of the reader's imagination. Perhaps this is fiction's secret ingredient.

Discuss This Topic

Click on the discussion topic below to go to that thread.

The Writing Exercise

W. Somerset Maugham said, "There are only three rules to writing the novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are." It is very important to keep this in mind. For every single issue discussed here, you can point out at least one (if not a dozen) successful exceptions. But it is important to remember that these exceptions succeed to the extent that they knowledgeably and significantly work with, around, and against the basics. You need to know the rules before you can break them usefully.

We have concentrated on the science content and world-building aspects that differentiate SF as a genre from other forms of fiction. Remember, though, that only the surface has been scratched here. Producing good fiction, and producing good science fiction, is an on going process: the more you do it, the better you become; the better you become, the more you will want to push yourself to make your stories deeper, more exciting, more ambitious. It's an endless cycle, but one which any writer enters with joy.

That said, let's bring together all the elements and start writing science fiction!

First, print out your World Profile, your Character Profile, and the Plot Points you've created.

Looking across these three elements, check to be sure that the pieces work together, that they are logically related and consistent with one another. Look for inconsistencies or pieces that don't fit, such as:

  • a character who knows something she or he can't
  • the presence of a physical object that doesn't logically fit in this world
  • an assumption a character makes based on your life rather than on your created world.

Also check to be sure that you haven't left something out, such as background information that would explain a character's motivation or the science content upon which the story is built.

Adjust specific details of your world or character in the story and/or plot points.

Starting with your plot, write the first draft of an SF short story. Concentrate on rendering your world and its people clearly and convincingly for the reader. If your project already exists in written form, re-write the story or the first chapter.

As you write, make sure that you incorporate:

  • the science fiction idea
  • details describing the world
  • characters actively pursuing their desires
  • obstacles that the protagonist must overcome that are inherent in the world, or that grow out of the SF idea
  • a sense of wonder

To share your passage with the group, create a New Message and use "(Your Book Club User Name), My Story -- Writing Exercise" in the subject line.

Has your science fiction idea, any of your characters, or the details of your world changed since you started this book club? If so, describe how.

Message Edited by Jessica on 05-24-2007 02:29 PM

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