It’s Funny Like That

So I’m sitting here watching ‘Farscape’ and I can’t help but wonder:

What happens when we meet some alien species and they’re nothing like the ones in Science Fiction?

Star Wars and Star Trek have so permeated our culture that there is a certain sense of what aliens are like. We think that they will have universal translators, unspeakable technology, and civilized manners.

Or they’re like the extra terrestrials in ‘Independence Day’ and they just want to strip mine every planet they find.
What I like about ‘Farscape is its tendency to make fun of Sci Fi and its view of alien species, even to the point of the main character saying, “Boy…was Spielberg ever wrong.” He goes through a wormhole and ends up in the middle of an interstellar society governed by a ruthless military force.
So here’s the question for the week:

If you write aliens into your stories, what kind of aliens will they be?

Evil or good?

Humanoid or other?

Highly technological or primitive?

There are many different categories to choose from; all of them great.

1. Do some research

If you haven’t yet, you should go check out my guest post at Live Hacked. It has lots of cool stuff about researching for Sci Fi writing. But the main point is that you actually do some research. In the quest for what alien life form to use, do some research. Watch some shows, and see what actual scientists think.
2. Write them plausibly

If the aliens in your book just happen to speak English, or whatever you’re writing in for that matter, I’m gonna call shenanigans. Aliens will not speak English. But if you explain a universal translator or have someone that speaks their language and English, I’ll probably buy it.

Also, aliens aren’t from Earth at all. They won’t act like humans. They will do weird things. Write them into your story.

3. Follow the leaders

I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we have no truly original ideas. Someone has always broken ground before us. So when you’re researching for your alien species (see step 1) make sure that you follow others’ examples. Unless the example you want to follow is lame. Then don’t do that. I once read a novel where the main characters were supposed to be super-intelligent humans with alien DNA. Therefore they could just magically do whatever they wanted. I mean anything. The male read a book on sword fighting then beat someone who had trained their whole life in the sport.

Lame excuse for writing.

But take the ‘Old Man’s War’ universe. Some alien races are friends with the humans, others are enemies. They all have evolved differently and are of different intellect levels. The humans are constantly trying to further their knowledge of each species so they can fight for survival.

Good writing.

Follow the leaders and see what works for your creation.

I hope some of these tips are helpful. Let me know.

I’m also hoping to get a short story collection in time for Christmas, so keep room open on your Kindle!

What to do with all of those unfinished projects

I’ve been bad lately.

I’ve been writing, but not every day, and certainly not as much as I need to finish NaNoWriMo.

So what do I do with that story? Do I finish it? Leave it for dead? Start another one?
Finish it definitely.

I’ve found that I am way better at writing short stories than novels. I don’t know if it’s an attention span thing, or a drawn out story thing, or an I’m addicted to tv shows thing, but i do know that it’s a fact.

So I had this great idea for my novel, but I just can’t seem to push it very far. So I’m going to rebrand it as a short story or novella (depending on final length).

So what have you given up on?

Let’s finish up this post with some useful information:

1. Finish projects

I think I can honestly say that I have at least tried to finish all of my projects. That doesn’t mean that they’re all finished. It certainly doesn’t mean that everything is good.

I had a stretch for a while in the summer when I wrote about three terrible stories.

And by terrible I mean that NO ONE will ever get to read them.

But I did muscle through and finish them. And eventually I wrote a story that other people would actually read. And who knows? Your failed novel could be a really good short story, or your failed short story could be a really good joke.

2. Know when to quit

If your novel is a really long painful expression of an idea, do everybody a favor and end it. The edit it down to a manageable word count.

Then call it a novella or short story.

Or if you have the drive and the skill, finish your novel. Novel writing is hard, so if you can finish it at full length you’ve really accomplished something.

So know when to quit: short or long you won’t be wrong.

3. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself

I decided to write this epic space opera one time. The only problem was that I lost all grip on the story and ended up writing the most absurd piece of fiction ever to grace my computer screen. And all I can do is laugh at it.

It’s terrible.

But I finished it.

You’ve probably written something similar. Don’t belittle yourself and think that you aren’t a good writer. Just laugh at it and keep writing. And maybe someday you can use it in a collection of blooper stories.

Do people even do that?

Anyway, don’t give up on your project. See it through to the end, and maybe you can use it in a way that you hadn’t thought of.

Keep writing!

Heroes

BONUS POST!
I get sent home from work today, so I decided to write a bonus post for this week.

Don’t worry, I’m not in trouble. I sub at the local high school about three times a week and there was a massive scheduling conflict sending home quite a few of us.

Anyway, back to what we love here: Sci Fi!

I’ve been (re)watching the show ‘Heroes‘ lately, and I had forgotten how absolutely FANTASTIC it was. The first two seasons are incredibly harrowing, and I hate that I have to sleep. That pulls me away from watching the next episode.

But here’s the main reason why I loved this show when it was on and why I love it now:

It’s set up like a comic book.

Several story lines going on at once, all of them connected, and yet we only get a precious few minutes with each set of characters. It has genetically evolved people with superpowers, time travel, pandemics…

SO good.

The main writer is a man named Jeph Loeb, one of my favorite writers in the entire universe. He has written some of my favorite graphic novels, and probably a few things you hold dear as well. Not to mention the art in the series is drawn by one of my all time favorite artists Tim Sale.

But I will just be talking about the writing in the show, although the cinematography, art, and special effects are top notch as well.

So here’s what we can learn from Heroes:

1. Linear Writing is Not Always the Best Way

In Heroes, timelines mix and meld; there are alternate realities. And yet, the story HAS to be told. So there is often a disjointed timeline. People go to the future and see what would happen if the time stream plays out from a certain point, then they go to the past and try to fix it, and often they find that they can’t stop certain events. But the story is not necessarily linear in the sense we are used to. Food for thought when working with time travelers. (Also see Dr. Who)

2. Jumping Scenes as If They were Comic Panels

Another thing that I think is awesome in Heroes is the way they spend only a short amount of time on each set of characters. This allows a few things, but the main thing it allows is suspense. They give you just enough to wet your whistle and then BAM! they pull it away to another set of characters. Of course at some point they bring all of the characters together and tie up all the loose ends; but until they do, it’s a wild ride. Like a bunch of short stories, all coming together to form a novel.

3. Good Villains

The heroes in the show are great heroes. Morally gray, yet trying to work for the greater good. The villains are even better. The villains become villains because they are emotional and real. Not just some evil genius who wants to kill Superman. (I love Superman, but Lex Luthor just seems bored to me.) The first villain is a deranged psychopath who preys on others with powers, there’s the Company that abducts people with powers, and a 400 year old re-generator who’s bent on massive genocide. They are the epitome of evil. I love it. It creates such a contrast.

 

So those are a few of my observations from ‘Heroes’. I hope you will go watch the show in its entirety when you get a chance. Happy trails!

Genre Mixing

I’ll be honest, Sci Fi is not the only genre I like.

And I will probably try to write something that is not in some sort of Sci Fi subgenre someday. But here’s a good question:

What if I could mix Sci Fi with another genre?
Well I certainly wouldn’t be an innovator.

I think Mel Brooks is a genius. He is a comedian, but his movies are comedy set in another genre. Blazing Saddles is a western, Spaceballs is Sci Fi, Young Frankenstein is horror. And yet they are all comedies.

So what if Science Fiction was the permeating undertone?

SPOILERS IF YOU CONTINUE!

 

Some of you may hate this, but I am a big fan of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. When I was in grade school, I read those books as fast as I could, seeing the planet Pern in my mind’s eye, wanting to be a dragon rider. But the most interesting thing to me was that in the end, these novels are not fantasy.

They’re Sci Fi.

McCaffrey had this whole world planned out with Dragons and a seemingly supernatural enemy set in what seems to be a feudal time period in the planet’s history. But we find out that that what actually happened was that a group of people came to Pern on spaceships and genetically engineered an indigenous species to create the Dragons. Eventually they uncover the original ship, a supercomputer, and tons of data about why they are on Pern.

In my young mind, Sci Fi and Fantasy were very much two different things.

I read Tolkien’s books and they were far different from Star Wars or Star Trek.

Harry Potter is not Blade Runner or The Matrix.

But I wasn’t paying attention to one of my other loves: Comic Books.

Comic books have a wonderful way of mixing Sci Fi and Fantasy.

Aliens who have powers bestowed by yellow sunlight are susceptible to magic. A Norse god fights alongside a suit of high powered armor with a supercomputer.
They do it pretty well too.

So here’s the big point for today:

 

Don’t be afraid to mix genres. Keep Sci Fi as your starting point, but don’t be afraid to throw in some Fantasy or Thriller elements. Maybe even delve into myths and legends to help complete your story. Make some genetically engineered fantasy creatures to use as an army force.

Don’t be a genre snob. Nobody likes that guy.

 

Anyway, keep writing.

My NaNoWriMo has taken a turn for the worse and I fear I won’t catch back up. But I’ll keep writing and trying. How are your projects going? Let me know.

I also have a guest post coming up at livehacked.com in November, and you should go check out the website and get some helpful tips for marketing your book.

Have a great week everybody, keep calm and Sci Fi