Saturday, April 24, 2010

We recently returned from our trip to Disneyland and I put together a video montage of various gadgets and gizmos we saw there. I particularly love the old-fashioned feel of Main Street. The penny video machine thingies still just take a penny. You crank the handle and the little pictures flip. Simple, yet effective.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Believability w/ regard to Science and Technology in Fantasy Writing

Fantasy and its subgenres give you a bit more leeway in your science than, say, an action thriller. But just how technically accurate it needs to be will depend upon the type of fantasy you're writing.



 Hard science fiction is by far the least forgiving of the fantasy flavors.Your technology must be just that, technology. Whereas, Harry Potter's Nimbus 2000 is powered by that elusive thing called magic, in sci fi, the reader wants, at the very least, to know that the author understand what powers that thousand-foot pickle-shaped space ship.

In some stories, it may be appropriate for the writer to go into great detail about the technology, especially if the search for fuel is part of the plot. But long drawn out explanations are in danger of becoming tedious if they lack humor and/or extreme cleverness, so beware.

In Doctor Who, the TARDIS cannot exist in real life, but there is at least some pseudo-scientific principles involved in how it works and how it can be larger on the inside than the outside, even if the Doctor's explanations are sometimes exercises in hazy and humorous double-talk.


Douglas Adams gets down right fanciful, with his Infinite Improbability Drive and Bistromathic Drive. Again, his amusingly logical linguistic tricks, make his technology seem almost, but not entirely, believable.

Fanciful science fiction works, in part, because the writer understands basic concepts of real science. It's the same with plausible science fiction. Understanding how real life lasers work can help you invent plausible laser weapons. *Laser Weapon article.

Steampunk is a fun subgenre of science fiction. In The City of Lost Children, while the night vision eye-pieces seem somewhat modern, the dream-sucking hats are incredible. Steampunk technology doesn't have to work in the real world. A flying bicycle that couldn't, in reality, leave the ground, may very well take you to the moon, because the story is written with a nostalgic (particularly Victorian) mindset.

The world you create must be consistent to itself. I touched on this in an earlier post. You may want to sign up for author, Karina Fabian's, Worldbuilding class.

Consider what subgenre of fantasy you are writing. What makes sense? Even if you're writing a Tolkienesk fantasy where the highest technology are bows and catapults, you'll want to know how those contraptions work. How are swords and armor forged? Which metals should be used? That's not to say that you will include a three page scene featuring a blacksmith, but knowing about it will help you, the writer, understand the objects so familiar to your characters.

Lastly, pass your story to someone you can trust to give you a true reaction and see how much eye-rolling you get. You'll learn what aspects are not believable and hopefully which details are simply inaccurate.

Your nurse friend will mention how you messed up that scene about the syringe. The gun enthusiast in your critique group will chuckle as he reminds you that your character should have reloaded by now. Thank these people, no matter how dumb they make you feel. They'll help you grow wiser.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Technology and Science in Your Writing

Are you a scientist or an engineer? Have you a degree in astrophysics? Ever built a rocket or even a digital watch?

Some writers are experts on science and technology. Some, like Lydia Kang The Word is My Oyster, is a physician as well as a writer and can tell you which drug will knock out a character for a few hours without killing her. She'll even answer your fiction related medical questions on her blog.

Writers with scientific expertise have an advantage over the rest of us, but even PhDs with specialties in hydroastophysicalinterdimentionaldynamics don't know everything under the sun and moon. Then there are those of us with no scientific or technical background whatsoever. We're often called English Majors.

But no matter your background, at some point you are going to want to write about something you don't yet know. The adage- "Write what you know" is limiting if you forget you are a thinking and learning human being. What you know is always expanding.

At a recent online writers conference, I asked author Tom Grace how he researches technology for his novels. His answer was so fresh! So inspiring! So innovative! He actually goes out and talks to people. (Beats my usual method of poking around the internet.) He even went to the North Pole with a guy who studies the earth's magnetic field. Crazy cool!

Mr. Grace happens to live near a research university and designs research labs professionally, so he has access to some pretty smart cookies, but I'll bet we all have brains floating around our communities just waiting to be tapped into. Most people are quite happy to talk about what they know.

I joked about the internet, but really, it can be a great resource. Just don't let Wikipedia become your one stop shop. It's a nice springboard, but it's not complete and it's not always completely, absolutely, 100% accurate. Did you know that?

YouTube and other online video sites give you visuals right at your fingertips (eyetips?). You want your character to use a Swedish firesteel to light a fire. How can you write an accurate description if you've never seen it done? Bam! Several videos, some with witty commentary, right on your laptop. (Or you could just order a Swedish FireSteel from ThinkGeek and try it yourself.)

Magazines, such as Popular Science, that highlight the latest in technology are super fun and easy to comprehend even for the techno-ignorant, like myself.

And let us not rule out the power of the idiot box. Yes, even TV has something to offer when it comes to shows about science and technology. Let even your down time be for learning. You never know when an episode of Mythbusters or Futureweapons (is that one on anymore?) will pique your interest when it comes to your writing. Just keep a scrap of paper handy in case there's a need for spontaneous note taking.

When we next discuss science and technology, we'll focus on believability, world building, and fantasy writing.


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