Writing to remember

Communication-SkillsA memory conceived among many senses will not be easily forgotten (Tweet That!).  The goal of communication is to deliver a message to a recipient in a way that it can be received and comprehended, but I think communication should go beyond that.  We should communicate to be remembered.  If it’s worth saying, it’s worth remembering.

Memories are more than words and concepts, they are life experiences.  Try thinking of an emotional event in your, life like an argument with a close friend. You probably remember it more in terms of how you felt than the words that were said.

Have you ever gotten sick while eating a certain food?  Once, when I was a teenager, I got extremely intoxicated.  I was so out of control that my mother gave me a bath and I didn’t know it. That’s probably a good thing. I still have no memory of what happened to me that night, but I remember how I felt.  For years the smell of any alcohol would make me sick.  The reason I remember it so well is because the event is tied to several senses – smell, taste, touch, etc.

I’ve had many opportunities throughout my life to speak before various groups. I’ve spoke at churches, community settings, in front of children and adults.  I enjoy speaking and writing, and helping others understand things.  When I speak to a group, I try to employ methods that will touch as many senses as possible.  I was speaking some years back on the topic of sharing and half-way through my speech I had a pizza delivered to the podium.  I stopped for a moment, paid for the pizza, picked up a slice, took a few bites, and began speaking again.  Seven years later someone approached me and said, “Hey I remember that time you spoke, and gave me a slice of pizza”.  Why did they remember?  Because they heard, they saw, they touched, they tasted, and they could smell what I was saying (Tweet That!).

This same principle applies to us as authors. You may not be there when the reader picks up your piece, but you can trigger memories they’ve stored away.  Don’t just tell them what happened; drop your reader smack dab in the middle of a scene (Tweet That!).  Let them experience your writing through their memories.

Worldbuilding

Lunar_baseIf you’re unfamiliar with the term “World Building” you might get a mental image of huge machines covering the surface of a dead planet carving rivers, planting forests, and pumping oxygen into the atmosphere.  Truth is—that’s not far from reality.  World building is the art of bringing to life an imagined world through descriptions, back-story, maps, drawings, and other creative means, and is one of the greatest tools a science fiction writer has for adding depth to a story.

World building is a huge topic, and there have been many books and classes discussing it, but in this article I plan to give you just a few brief thoughts on the subject.

First and foremost, let your world building be an enjoyable process…it should be fun.  Much of the writing you do will have several reads and rewrites.  The kind of stuff that you review, review, hand it to a friend to look over, and then review again, but your world building document can contain raw ideas.  You don’t have to worry about getting everything perfect; if you have some dangling modifiers, misused semicolons or run-on sentences it’s ok.  This document is yours, and nobody will ever see it, so give your eraser a break and let your ideas flow.

With that said, don’t go crazy.  You need to give your world building ideas some organization so you can find the information you need when you need it.  I like to keep my ideas in a three ring binder with tabs for subjects like: places, species, and organizations.  On some pages I have hand-drawn maps and diagrams, on others I have typed notes, and still on others I have tables full of terms and definitions.  This also allows you to shuffle your pages around, and add or remove them if needed.

Keep informed on scientific facts.  One thing that ruins science fiction quicker than anything else is incorrect or inconsistent information about the world your story takes place in.  For example, it’s probably not the best idea for your story to take place on a planet that orbits a pulsar; it would be difficult for life to exist in such a hazardous place.  Your readers will pick up on mistakes like this, and your story will lose credibility.

Make sure your facts are consistent.  If your planet orbits a yellow star at the beginning of your story, make sure that you don’t call it a brown dwarf later on.  Inconsistency will cause your story to fall apart, and the reader won’t be able to paint a coherent picture of your world.

Brainstorming often follows writing.  Sometimes as I put my ideas to paper, or the binary ones and zeroes of my computer’s storage system, I’ll have an idea for some new aspect of the world I’m writing about.  I’ll immediately jot that idea down along with all its associated facts to keep things consistent throughout the entire story.  Later on when I write of that idea again, I can review my summary and keep things straight.  It would be bad to have a species described with five legs in one place and four in another, or a character with no siblings at the start of a story, and an older brother half-way through.

Finally, be complete…think about things like culture, history, geography, languages, and why the world is the way it is.  The more content you put into the brainstorming document, the easier it will be writing the stories that happen there.  If you’re writing about a species that has three sexes, then describe the family unit.  What roles do they have?  Do all three work to support the family?  If two of the parents are allowed to work, how would that affect their income?

When creating your world-building document consider the butterfly effect.  If a butterfly flaps its wings on earth, does it cause a hurricane on Mars?  Things are deeply connected, and one tiny action may have large repercussions in other systems…so think it through completely.

If you’re interested in creating unique places and things check out rabiki.com and see worldbuilding in action.  Come be a part of a community of creative individuals and build your world.

Death of Science Fiction

sf1My fascination with science fiction started when I was six—I’ll never forget the excitement I felt as I watched X-wings and TIE fighters scream across the screen, followed by the roar of engines and blaster bolts exploding against metal.  I wish I still had my Luke Skywalker and Momaw Nadon action figures.  They would probably be worth a lot today, but I think they gave me my money’s worth.

I’ve noticed a trend away from science fiction over the past 20 years, and a decline in quality movies for the genre.  I’ve been disappointed far too many times by poor quality stories.

On one occasion as I walked through the sci-fi isle of my local video store, a new movie cover caught my attention.  It had an image of an earth-like planet completely enveloped with jungle vines, and it was titled Savage Planet.  Sounds pretty cool huh?  I was excited.  I rented the movie, made some popcorn, put my feet up, and got ready for a nice movie.  You’ve heard it said, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”  Well I say, you can’t judge a movie by its cover either.

This was one of the cheesiest movies I’ve ever seen.  It was about a group of people who discovered a way to transport to another earth-like planet.  When they arrived, they were all systematically hunted and killed by gigantic mutated bears.  Yes, you heard me right…bears.

I’m not sure what was worse, the horrible storyline or the cheaply filmed video.  With movies like that it’s no wonder some don’t enjoy sci-fi.

Science fiction is hard to define.  It has several sub-genres, and it covers a variety of topics like time travel, space exploration, cybernetics, alternate histories, etc.  I’ve heard it said that sci-fi is like pornography, it’s hard to describe, but you’ll know it when you see it.  My simple and broad definition of science fiction is this:  The stories built on or around undiscovered advanced technologies.  .

Good science fiction will always be based on good stories.  The Star Wars saga is not about light sabers, star destroyers, aliens, or the Death Star.  It’s a story about one man’s fall and his son’s struggle to save him.  Don’t mistake the setting as the story.  World-building is an important part of writing—create a separate document describing the world your story takes place in, and fill it with all kinds of detail.  Be specific.  I like to use a three ring binder with tabs for different topics like species, planets, history, cities, characters, etc.  This document is for you, and it’s not your story.  Use it to set the scene, but make sure the story never gets lost in the details.  Reveal only enough to make it believable, and let your story do the rest.

Another factor that makes writing sci-fi difficult is the rate of scientific discovery.  What we grok about our world has grown exponentially over the last hundred years.  There is only one constant…things will change.

Isaac Asimov, one of the twentieth century’s greatest contributors to the genre, was not exempt from this problem.  Several of the short stories in his book Robot Dreams are built around a super intelligent computer called multivac that filled an entire room, and used punch cards.  It was state of the art at one time, but who knew in 50 years a computer that powerful would fit on your wrist.  Things are changing much faster today, which makes it more difficult to predict the technologies of the future.

No…this is not the death of a genre…sci-fi will not disappear.  As long as we have children fly their imaginary rockets to the stars, as long as we have creative individuals willing to share their imaginations, and as long as we have people who can dream the impossible, science fiction will flourish. I love this genre and challenge you to be creative.  The possibilities are endless, and a canvas as broad as the night-sky awaits the aspiring galactic calligrapher.

Protect yourself

I’ve just spent the last few days at work fighting a nasty virus…several days and some long hours.  I thought I throw this post out there to help anyone who might be listening.  So what exactly is a virus?  Well that term is often used loosly to describe several different types of computer threats.

A virus is a computer program that attaches its self to another program or file allowing it to spread from computer to computer causing varying degrees of damage.  They ususally sit dormant until activated by someone.

A worm is similar to a virus, but can travel without your help….there’s no need to double click it to get it going…it goes all by itsself.  Some worms have been known to replicate themselves by contacting everyone in the users address book…and sending a copy of itsself.

A Trojan Horse is just like it sounds….its a program that caims to do one thing, but does something else.  I have seen some programs that claim to be virus removal software, but are actually programs that just open your system to more attacks from other nasties.

Spyware is software that usually does no harm to your system, but just tracks your actions…and sends that info to others.  This is where we get a lot of those anoying pop-ups, and this usually makes our computers run slower.

So how do you protect yourself?  It’s impossible to be 100% protected from everything that comes along, but there are a few steps you can take to eliminate a vast majority of existing threats.

1.  Don’t open attachments.  Never open an attachment unless you know what it is ahead of time.  Even emails from your friends can contain malware, and no you will not die if you don’t forward it to 10 others.

2.  Keep your operating system up to date.  If you’re a windows user, you can do this through Internet Explorer.  Those who create viruses look for vunerabilities in operating systems, and when found write harmful programs that take advantage of those loopholes.

3.  Keep your anti-virus up to date.  I’ve had a lot of people ask me which anti-virus is the best.  Honestly,  I think there all pretty good.  Trend Micro, Symantec, McAfee and AVG do a nice job of keeping computers clean.  To be quite honest….if you don’t want to use an anti-virus, then why spend your money on a computer?  It’s like driving your car without insurance….actually a bit worse.  If you don’t use an antivirus, and you connect your computer to the internet, you will become infected……