Today’s Master Your Craft post is a recap. Each Wednesday we’ve discussed one facet of writing a story. Last week, we finished the section on prewriting. If you started the series late or have gotten busy and missed some posts, here’s your chance to catch up! Below is a list of the posts with links to each.
Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we continued our series with Two Approaches to Fantasy World Building. Today we continue with world building by looking at two approaches to science fiction world building.
After reading Julie and Gabby’s post last week, we actually considered not writing this post. Really, what’s the difference between world building for fantasy and science fiction? Call the world you’ve created a newly terra-formed planet in the Andromeda galaxy, drop the magic system and add in some photon blasters and your good, right?
We found that while the basic building blocks for your world remain the same, our approaches to world building were different. We started in different places and built our characters differently, so it seemed worthwhile to do the post after all. Here’s a quick look at two approaches to science fiction world building.
Rebecca: I start with a technology concept. It’s not necessarily a huge concept; I don’t write space opera. Rather, I like to explore small changes in the technology available to a world, and the large ramifications they might have. Like the iPhone. I’m dating myself here, but do you remember when it came out? I have a vivid recollection of a friend showing me his phone and tipping the screen sideways and seeing the image reorient itself and thinking “Wow!” But I didn’t think I’d ever spend $600 on a phone. I certainly didn’t think that phones like that would dominate the market. That everyone would use them, not just for calls and texts but to manage their calendars and for Internet searches and navigation and games and entertainment. This is what I find interesting…the unexpected consequences.
After thinking through the tech, how it would work and most importantly what trouble it would cause, I start thinking about characters. What types of characters would be the most interested in trying a revolutionary and possibly dangerous technology? I love writing geeks and entrepreneurs! Who would be nervous about the tech, perhaps wanted outlawed? Who might steal the tech for themselves and what would they do with it? Suddenly I’ve got the two sides of a conflict and can start thinking about plot points.
Halli: I didn’t start my sci-fi novel with the idea of writing in this genre. I had an idea for the plot – boy has a big, huge problem – and planned to write it as a middle grade contemporary story. It wasn’t until I developed this boy, and he showed me how much he loved science, that I realized the only way he would solve his problem was with some kind of crazy tech. So I let my imagination run wild.
I researched everything from emotions to matter, the brain to blasters. Then I took it to the next level, the fiction part of science fiction, to achieve the results my character wanted. Of course nothing works right the first time, which led to bigger and badder tech and inventions. The novel is contemporary, but the ideas, tech, and inventions still had an impact on the belief and political systems, and ideas and cultures of the world my characters lived in.
Rebecca, Julie, Gabby and I all have different processes for world building. There are as many different ways to create a fictitious world as there are Star Wars fans. And whichever one you choose, however detailed your world ends up, enjoy the opportunity to create an original part of the universe!
Tune in next week when we will recap all thirteen posts on prewriting. The week after, we’ll dive into drafting your manuscript!
HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter.
REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.
Months ago, my fourteen-year-old son saw the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy II, and insisted we see it in the theater. We all liked the original movie and the trailer looked good, so on a cloudy, not-too-promising Saturday morning, we planned it as a family outing. By the time we arrived at the theater, my son, my daughter and I were still excited, but my husband looked up at the now-clear sky and said, “If I’d known, I’d have planned a hike.” This was prescient of further differences of opinion.
The movie started out strong, with well-loved characters fighting off an enormous and seemingly invincible alien. The plot moved swiftly, with all the dashing, diving and blasting you’d expect from a science fiction blockbuster. And then, after the first plot point in the story structure was hit, things slowed down for character development. This slowdown was the source of the diverging opinions.
The first movie in franchise, fans among you know, had five beloved characters: Peter, an adventurer who lost his mother to cancer when he was young and has never known his father, Gamora, raised to be the perfect weapon by the antagonist of the first movie, Drax, who lost his entire family to that antagonist, Rocket, a genetically engineered racoon who has never known any more family than Groot, the sentient tree who is his constant companion. To these characters, GOTG II adds Gamora’s sister, Nebula, and Yondu, bandit and father-figure to Peter.
If you are not a GOTG fan, you may have found yourself skimming through that long list of characters, so imagine what happens when the script writers slow down the sci fi special effects and bad-guy bashing to explore the wounds of each of these characters. All seven. In most cases, the characters are paired off so that their wounds could be explored in duos as opposed to seven separate scenes. Still, by the second of these scenes, I leaned over to my husband to whisper, “and now we will pause for character development so that at the end of the movie, we’re satisfied everyone’s issue has been resolved.”
One interesting question is, was this the wrong thing to do? The story structure in the movie was right on target. These scenes highlighting the characters’ wounds and the ones later where they were seen to struggle with the wounds are right out of a lesson on how to build a character arc. They were “correct,” and if we fast forward to the end of the movie, my fourteen-year-old son said the movie was awesome and that he shed a tear at the climax. (If you have a fourteen-year-old son, you know this is some serious praise!) My daughter loved the movie. I thought it was good, though I’d say the character development slowed the movie down too much and was a bit too “on the nose.” My husband thought the movie was lousy. On IMDB, the rating for GOTG II was 8.1, quite high, and tied with the rating of the first movie in the series.
So what lessons should we, as storytellers, should draw from Guardians of the Galaxy II?
Well, as you can see from my title, I left this as a question and welcome discussion in the comments below. I’ll probably rewatch after the movie is out on DVD and think about it some more. But one take-away is that opinions will differ. One person’s response to a movie, like a manuscript sent to an agent or editor, is subjective. My son, daughter and I love these characters, so it would have taken worse script-writing or direction for us to dislike the movie. My husband, on the other hand, was much more swayed by the folly of being in a dark theater on a perfect Spring day.
My second take-away is that character development and character arcs are harder to do well when you have seven characters you’re trying to get an audience to care about. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but it makes the job of the screenwriters and director much more difficult. This could be a warning about making your story-telling job harder with multiple point-of-view characters.
My third take-away is for my own writing. I’m in the final stage of revisions for a science fiction action story, luckily one with only two main characters. I’ve gotten feedback on a couple scenes that the flashbacks are too long and not connected to the main story. I keep saying, “but that’s the source of my main character’s wound” and trimming the offending scenes a little. So for me, this movie was really timely – the chance to see ponderous character development from the audience’s point of view. I’m going to be taking another close look at those flashbacks.
What do you think?
Share your thoughts on the character development in Guardians of the Galaxy II! It might be fun to compare GOTG II to the character development in another blockbuster action film, Suicide Squad. Let me know what you think in the comments!
And if you ‘re interested in other Winged Pen posts on recent movies, check out Michelle Leonard’s thoughts on Everything, Everything!
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REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure and young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.
I requested an advanced reader copy of Song of the Current in exchange for an unbiased review.
An immersive fantasy debut set along the waterways of a magical world. Caroline Oresteia is destined for the river. Her father is a wherryman, as was her grandmother. All Caro needs is for the river god to whisper her name, and her fate is sealed. But at seventeen, Caro may be too late.
So when pirates burn ships and her father is arrested, Caro volunteers to transport mysterious cargo in exchange for his release. Secretly, Caro hopes that by piloting her own wherry, the river god will finally speak her name.
But when the cargo becomes more than Caro expected, she finds herself caught in a web of politics and lies. With much more than her father’s life at stake, Caro must choose between the future she knows, and the one she could have never imagined. From Netgalley.com
I loved this watery world! The reader slips easily onto Caro’s small boat, feeling the wind in the sails and the current of the water carry them through the story. Caro’s careful listening for the voice of the river god, a voice her father says she will hear in the language of small things, the quiet whispers of animals and plants along the river, and the motion of the water itself, makes the world feel real.
The story moves quickly and the plot has plenty of twists. Romance and pirates, sword fights and quick escapes. Even a sea monster. It took me some time to get pulled into the characters, but sticking with them pays off. I’d recommend this for action-adventure and fantasy lovers.
I requested a free advanced reader copy of Follow Me Back in exchange for an unbiased review.
Told through tweets, direct messages, and police transcripts Follow Me Back is the first book of a new duology. Written for the online generation this thriller will keep you guessing right up to the shocking end.
Tessa Hart’s world feels very small. Confined to her bedroom with agoraphobia, her one escape is the online fandom for pop sensation Eric Thorn. When he tweets to his fans, it’s like his speaking directly to her…
Eric Thorn is frightened by his obsessive fans. They take their devotion way too far. It doesn’t help that his PR team keeps posting to encourage their fantasies.
When a fellow pop star is murdered at the hands of a fan, Eric knows he has to do something to shatter his online image fast—like take down one of his top Twitter followers. But Eric’s plan to troll @TessaHeartsEric unexpectedly evolves into an online relationship deeper than either could have imagined. And when the two arrange to meet IRL, what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish takes a deadly turn… Excerpt taken from Netgalley.com
I requested this book because it sounded fun and current, like a story ripped from the headlines. I read it in one day. Tessa and Eric, the main characters, were believable and pulled me in. Unexpected plot twists and quick pacing kept my attention. And while I picked this as a light read, it had depth. Both main characters are grappling with issues that make this more than a light-hearted read.
Follow Me Back, is entertaining. Pack it in your bag for vacation. And maybe pack a second book, because you’ll fly through this one quicker than you expect.