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Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 18, 2014 12:06 am

People who are unfamiliar with science fiction sometimes have the impression that it’s all about spaceships and aliens. While those certainly fall under the sci-fi umbrella, there are many other types of sci-fi:

1. New or imagined technology and its impact on the world
2. Alternative history (what if Japan had won WW2? What if Lincoln had not been assassinated?)
3. Time travel or space travel
4. Dystopia (or, rarely, utopia)
5. The future (near or far)
6. Spiritual warfare
7. Apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic worlds
8. Social science fiction (usually combined with #1 or #5. How is society different?)
9. Religious sci-fi (the rapture, fiction about the Shroud of Turin, etc.)
10. Magical realism (this is a literary term, not a spiritual one). In magical realism, the story is very realistic except for one element which is totally natural in that setting. For example, a story taking place in everyday 2014 America, but where occasionally a person wakes up totally green.

…and there are many, many more sub-genres of science fiction. The first thing I’d suggest to those of you who might be thinking I don’t like science fiction! I’ve never read science fiction! I’m not even sure if it’s Christian! would be to consider how you could approach one of the above types of writing with a Christian world view.

For example, I once wrote a story for the challenge about a married couple who were given the opportunity to choose every genetic characteristic of their potential unborn child. When they decided that they didn’t want to manipulate their child’s genes, they were denied the privilege of conceiving. I wrote another one where a mother had given her child fetal alcohol syndrome, and had the opportunity to go back in time and choose not to drink. And in a third sci-fi story, I wrote about two friends who chose different paths in the Tribulation—the Christian was persecuted but happy, and the non-Christian was privileged but miserable. (If you want links, just ask).

Keep in mind, too, that Challenge entries need not be overtly Christian, as long as they are wholesome and acceptable to a Christian reading audience.

Keep these in mind when writing science fiction:

1. In many kinds of science fiction, the writer has to create a whole new world. Within that world, she has to determine the culture, the political structure, the state of technology—all of the things that have shaped her characters. But in only 750 words, it’s nearly impossible to do all of that without telling, telling, telling—and then to also have enough words left to tell a story. But if you don’t let the reader know how this world works, they may not understand your story. It could be very clear to you, because this world is in your head—but not at all to your reader. You have to find that balancing point of explaining your sci-fi universe to your readers and telling your story. The best idea is often just to tell a very small story. Don’t attempt to depict an entire intergalactic war, for example—just tell the story of one small character within that war.

2. If you’re writing about a time and/or place that isn’t here and/or now, you’ll probably have to give your characters non-contemporary names. I suggest that you take contemporary names and change them just a bit, rather than making up unpronounceable names. The late Isaac Asimov was great at this: he had characters named Hari, Dors, and Chetter in his Foundation series. None of those are quite English names, but they’re pronounceable and even somewhat familiar. If I encounter a story in which the characters are named Sgaskjfh’det and KhurLtxun, I’m going to stop reading pretty quickly.

3. Even though the setting of your story may be wildly different from our present reality, the characters and the lessons they learn should be relatable. Think of universal themes in literature: finding love, overcoming difficulty, fighting an enemy, growing up…you could even think of an entire NOT science-fiction story on one of those themes. Then figure out what detail you could change to put your story into the sci-fi category.

4. If you’re stuck for a place to begin, you need look no further than the news. Watching the news this morning, I heard several stories that could easy become sci-fi with just a bit of tweaking.

5. If you’re going to write a really science-y sci-fi story using imagined technology, be sure that you know enough about it to sound convincing, and that it is believable and consistent within the context of the story.

6. Science fiction often considers the question “What If…?” For example, I once wrote a story in which all of the people in a small town woke up one morning with their sins tattooed on their bodies. What would happen in such a town?

If you’ve got lots of time, you might want to check out this free online course in writing sci-fi and fantasy. I haven’t gone through the whole course, so I can’t vouch for all of its content, but what I read seemed very good.

HOMEWORK:
Link to a sci-fi story that you’ve written. If you do this, PLEASE don’t just provide a link. Tell us something about your writing process, so that we can learn from you. OR
Ask a question or make a comment about something in this lesson, or about sci-fi in general. Do you like sci-fi? Why or why not? OR
Talk about sci-fi that you’ve read or seen on television or the movies. How can sci-fi be good, effective, or powerful literature?
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby KatKane » Sat Oct 18, 2014 3:47 am

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=49179

I didn;t actually think of this piece as science-fiction until this morning. It is a bit of a 'what if' type piece. I freely admit, I was dreading this genre! But I guess nothing makes a genre look less scary than realising you've already (unwittingly) written it. :thankssign for showing me it can be done!
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby RedBaron » Sat Oct 18, 2014 8:00 am

One source I use for names for things is this website, it's a fantasy name generator. :) It would also work for SciFi names :)
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby yvonblake » Sat Oct 18, 2014 9:06 am

When I first heard that the topic was SCI-FI or FANTASY, I cringed. I thought, "This is definitely not my genre." But then reading this, I realized that I write it more often than I thought.

This one is a favorite of mine "Song of the Sunbeams." Our pastor was preaching on the Triumphant Entry and Jesus saying that if the children didn't praise him, then the rocks would. I got thinking - (Yes, in church, where many of my ideas come to me) What if all of nature is singing and we could somehow hear it? That's how I came up with this story -
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=35264

Also, I think often of heaven. This one was my mother's favorite. "Eternal Birth" Now she is there -
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=25710

Here's one that uses personifcation, a mini-memory-headquarters in a man's brain -
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=24045

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby RedBaron » Sat Oct 18, 2014 10:13 am

And my first love... I'm peculating some ideas for things I haven't already worked on lol.

One of my earliest entries (7th one, actually) Passport Panic is a near future story, still familiar, yet some different tech.

In High Places is another favorite, where we combine SciFi with spiritual warfare (as Jan mentioned). This is another I hope to expand. Possibly tied in with this one (which was actually for my SciFi entry way back when) Out of Site...Out of Mine, which is more of a military SciFi - a popular sub-genre in SciFi. I didn't plan a tie in, but after rereading my entries awhile back, I realized I could see these in the same "universe".

One of the things about not being someone who reads SciFi (or fantasy -going to add this there, too), like I said last time - it's easier for you to come up with fresh ideas because you haven't read everything out there lol.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby Shann » Sat Oct 18, 2014 12:30 pm

I posted this in the other thread and thought I'd post it here too to get your feedback.
I have an idea (actually years ago, it was my hubby's idea when he first started to attempt to understand the nativity). My concern is I don't want to lead anyone astray from what the Bible says, but there is so much in there that is impossible to wrap our human minds around it. How do you draw the line? The story is obviously fiction, I can't imagine it would rattle anyone's faith who is deeply rooted in their beliefs.

I don't want to give it away , but am trying to think of a similar idea. Would it be sacrilegious or heresy to say something like when the Egyptians were chasing Moses, he looked to the heavens to beg God to save his people. Immediately God told an alien race to help Moses, the aliens jumped into the spaceship and landed in the middle of the Red sea. Instantly the ship repelled the waves, allowing the Israelites safe passage. When Moses lowers arms, God tells aliens to return to space.

I'm still making it clear that God created everything, was behind the miracle and still rightly so gets all the glory?

So what do you think? Is it bad to do something like that? Does it matter how the miracle is done as long as God is given the glory? Or is it like the illusionists in modern days, if they tell you how the trick is done, it still is awesome that he is able to master his craft, but does it lessens the thrill a bit if you realize the lady in the box didn't actually disappear (even though you know that regardless) but instead crawled into a trap door and is hiding backstage or wherever?
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby Cinnamon Bear » Sat Oct 18, 2014 3:25 pm

This entry is entitled "The Day the Earth Stood Still":

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article-level4-previous.php?id=48704

It was inspired by an old Gary Larson cartoon. Superficially, it resembles many other tales about aliens landing on earth. Scientists claim that there is an excellent chance that extraterrestrial intelligent life exists in our galaxy, if not in our solar system. If so, these intelligent beings are, like us, hampered by time and distance.

Zorque, the M.C., shows that whether one is earthling or alien, it is possible to overcome fear and hostility by showing oneself to be less than perfect. Despite the fact that his home, planet Snickers, is much more technologically advanced than Earth, Zorque shows himself to be a "regular being" and a being of faith.

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 18, 2014 5:53 pm

KatKane wrote:http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article-level1-previous.php?id=49179

I didn;t actually think of this piece as science-fiction until this morning. It is a bit of a 'what if' type piece. I freely admit, I was dreading this genre! But I guess nothing makes a genre look less scary than realising you've already (unwittingly) written it. :thankssign for showing me it can be done!


Kat, I'm not sure I'd call this science fiction--but it's close. If, for example, you went into more detail about this correspondence between Jesus and your MC--maybe the letters show up in his mailbox, unexplained, or as emails or text messages--then you'd be all there way there.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 18, 2014 5:54 pm

RedBaron wrote:One source I use for names for things is this website, it's a fantasy name generator. :) It would also work for SciFi names :)


Thanks!
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 18, 2014 5:56 pm

yvonne wrote:When I first heard that the topic was SCI-FI or FANTASY, I cringed. I thought, "This is definitely not my genre." But then reading this, I realized that I write it more often than I thought.

This one is a favorite of mine "Song of the Sunbeams." Our pastor was preaching on the Triumphant Entry and Jesus saying that if the children didn't praise him, then the rocks would. I got thinking - (Yes, in church, where many of my ideas come to me) What if all of nature is singing and we could somehow hear it? That's how I came up with this story -
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=35264



Hey, cool! I wrote one about the rocks singing once...great minds run on the same track!
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 18, 2014 5:58 pm

RedBaron wrote:
One of the things about not being someone who reads SciFi (or fantasy -going to add this there, too), like I said last time - it's easier for you to come up with fresh ideas because you haven't read everything out there lol.


I love this! You're right--there's no other genre where you can be so wildly creative! And no one can say you've got the details "wrong"--it's your world, your details.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 18, 2014 6:09 pm

Shann wrote:
So what do you think? Is it bad to do something like that? Does it matter how the miracle is done as long as God is given the glory? Or is it like the illusionists in modern days, if they tell you how the trick is done, it still is awesome that he is able to master his craft, but does it lessens the thrill a bit if you realize the lady in the box didn't actually disappear (even though you know that regardless) but instead crawled into a trap door and is hiding backstage or wherever?


I'm pretty sure this would be a matter of individual conscience. It wouldn't bother me, but it might bother another reader. So you have to decide if you're willing to write something that might bother someone else. That's actually true about almost anything we write, if we do it right; unless we're writing for an audience of extremely sheltered children, our writing should be thought-provoking and a little bit dangerous. How far you want to take that is up to you!
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby glorybee » Sat Oct 18, 2014 6:10 pm

Cinnamon Bear wrote:Zorque, the M.C., shows that whether one is earthling or alien, it is possible to overcome fear and hostility by showing oneself to be less than perfect. Despite the fact that his home, planet Snickers, is much more technologically advanced than Earth, Zorque shows himself to be a "regular being" and a being of faith.

Cinnamon Bear


Thanks! This is a great example of what I said in the lesson--even though a science fiction story my have characters or settings that are wholly not "us" or "now," it should tell a universal lesson.
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Re: Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby Anja » Sun Oct 19, 2014 3:41 pm

For many, many years, back in the last millennium, science fiction and fantasy were my favourite reading genres. Ray Bradbury, CS Lewis, and a pile of other authors. I read every book in every series from every author.

Then I discovered historical fiction. I do not choose sci-fi/fantasy books, movies, or tv series. Ever. And as I write this, realize I have read fantasy in the Outlander series, but only because of its historical significance. And "Lost," which was intriguing.

Fantasy / science fiction stretch me. It's as baffling as quantum physics. I have written in that genre ONCE the whole time I've been at FW, the last time sci-fi was the given topic. I was the most shocked being on the planet (or even the universe) when it placed.

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Re: Be a Better Writer -- SCIENCE FICTION

Postby KatKane » Sun Oct 19, 2014 6:02 pm

I am struggling quite a bit with this genre, especially in where the boundaries lie between sci fi (also fantasy) and general fiction - what would be classified as sci fi/fantasy and what wouldn't, and why. :?
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