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Hmm! This Could Be My New Home

  1. Oct 15, 2015 #1

    First of all I'm back although none of you will remember me but that's OK; I used to frequent these parts asking physics questions to deal with wingnuts (largely of the creationist variety) but I lost interest in that.

    I am now writing my first novel, an alternate future history; military science fiction with a heavy basis in real physics. I mean, OK, I have the occasional "woo woo" thing like hyperspace gates but, since my story takes place across several disparate worlds & stellar systems, my view is you need something to get your characters from A to B. In Doctor Who that's the Tardis, in Start Trek it's warp drive, in Babylon 5 it's hyperspace gates ... in my universe it's Tachyon Gates but the back history I have written has the popular press renaming them as hyperspace gates. But most of it is what I consider to be logical extrapolations of current ideas.

    I have written the novel to first draft but had to revisit my back story because something didn't make sense; unfortunately that change had surprising ramifications meaning I spent six months rewriting it all which, given I only have a few hours a week to spend on it (I work in IT), is not quite as bad as it might seem.

    Anyway, given the largely "real world" ideas I am working with I figured a physics forum might be just the place to ask questions and possibly gets some objective criticism.

    Keke (a.k.a. "J. C. Rocks")
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 15, 2015 #2
    Exactly what would you like to know?
    (I also want to write a number of military parts.)
  4. Oct 16, 2015 #3
    I'm not sure at present. As I say my novel is currently at first draft but I've been concentrating on my backstory and tech stuff which (including profiles) currently runs to around 200 pages. The novel is currently some 390 pages (A4, 1½ line spacing, Times, 12 point) which I am told roughly equates to a 600 page paperback.

    Some of the advice (effectively marketing) I've had suggests I should market a free book which will, hopefully, lead people on to buy my next but that's pretty difficult when you only have one book so I'm expanding the story to become a slightly shorter free book #1 and a longer book #2. The book would have expanded anyway with my second draft and, although I do need to be hard in an editorial sense and cut the dross from it, my intention is not merely to pad but to actually write more interesting material. I know the books will expand because of the work I've been doing on my background material especially because I've designed various ships (vector diagrams drawn in Inkscape) and so on which I intended to use to create greater detail in my story and so (hopefully) generate a better sense of "being there" so to speak. I've also done quite a lot of work on my character profiles as well as redeveloped my historical timeline, science material and warfare stuff. Most of this will eventually end on a website since that appears to be the way to do it for most serial based science fiction these days.

    I guess at some point I need to get a few beta readers or something; a friend of mine who has already published his own military science fiction book ("Soldier of the Republic" by Ben Slythe), the first of two trilogies, is my primary advisor.

    You're writing your own novel?

  5. Oct 16, 2015 #4

    Some thoughts from a novice, but these are things I have learned:

    1. A SciFi novel should be about 110,00 to 130,000 words long. Word count is a more typical unit of measure for obvious reasons. Too long can get boring. Be concise.

    2. Don't get lost in your technical details. The physics are there only to make the story believable. In other words, you don't want a reader to stop reading because they find the story unbelievable due to impossible science. That's okay for a fantasy book, but if you are trying to build a story that is believable, then things have to tic and tac.

    There are exceptions. Alastair Reynolds' light huggers are not well explained from an operational standpoint, but they don't grossly violate physics, either. Trying to explain their operation would be boring and take away from the story. Knowing when to explain things and when not to is important.

    3. Keep the goals of your story clear to you. The way you present it to the reader is your choice, but you have to keep them engaged. My wife likes my first novel because each chapter leaves you wanting to know what is going to happen next to the central character. The end of the story is not known to the reader, but you become engaged in the story because you care about the character and their plight.

    4. My personal preference is that the story is about the people and the SciFi is just the setting or the icing on the cake. The technology, physics, and time all have to be believable, but they are not the message that I want speak to. I am trying to express a very real human set of human experiences and even aliens and machines need to be cast in a human or anthropomorphic way. Remember, humans are still the reader and we perceive things from a human perspective.

    5. A quote from my university literary professor: "Murder your darlings." Cut the things you feel are cute and witty out of the story like you were slashing your way trough tropical jungles with a machete. Ah! There I go and violate the very thing I said not to do. However, those darlings need to be very precise and elicit a feeling or sense of what you are trying to say. Again, Alastair Reynolds uses these a lot, but he wields them effectively so that it paints a very descriptive picture of what is happening. For that he can be forgiven, but the darlings must have a specific purpose that supports the expression of the story or they become a burden to the reader.

    6. Worry less about being liked than being understood.
  6. Oct 16, 2015 #5
    Thx Loren ... some of that I was aware of but others seem to be good solid advice.

    In defence of my adherence to science I will say that the stuff I am doing right now (the more sciencey bit) is my back story i.e. the stuff my story is written against rather than from. In doing this (going into so much background detail) I guess I'm taking my lead from JRR Tolkien; he apparently wrote a "complete" history of Middle Earth before he started writing "Lord Of The Rings". Obviously I can only aspire to that kind of storytelling ability I believe that paying attention to detail helps me write a better story ... I do the same with my characters; my two main characters "Bergstrom" and "Matsuyama" have profiles more than 5 pages long and it will probably comes as no surprise that systems, planets, cities and even plot important rooms get similar treatments.

    To me it's the difference between saying something like, "The Captain tensed as his ship emerged from the hyperspace gate and adjusted her heading for the gate on the other side of the system" and "Kelly tensed as Wolf emerged from the Devi-Cho hyperspace gate and adjusted her heading for the Emesh-Indra gate far across the Krishna system." ... that isn't something in my book but the general idea is that by giving some further detail (from my background info) gives a greater sense of "being there" so to speak. It's not so much that I want to flood the reader with technical or ancilliary detail more that I assume readers are intelligent enough to pick holes in my story and that if (the big "if") I am successful in any way I may actually get asked questions which I may be able to answer from that kind of stuff.

    Although I have few illusions about novel size, my draft version hasn't got much of that kind of [what I hope is] interesting detail but it will do; moreover I'm going to cry when I have to cut out bits (bits I've worked hard on) to bring the books down to an acceptable size :(

    But yes you are right and, again, thanks :)

  7. Oct 16, 2015 #6
    I have a huge amount of study material that I created for my novels. I have CAD illustrations of devices and buildings, maps, Excel files with lots of formulas, bios, time lines, planetary data, solar data, etc. The level of detail is painful, but little of it actually goes into the novel.

    The type of star, its mass, and temperature are unimportant to my reader, yet I researched and developed this fictitious star to great detail, as I did with its planet and moons. It helps, along with an outline of the story, to frame my work.

    My character bios are reasonably complete, but in the novel that information is dispersed where it is relevant and much of the information is simply not written into the story because it not relevant and the reader would not care. Like Tolkien, I wanted to make sure everything fits together beforehand, but only express a portion of that to the reader.

    So, detail is good, but it doesn't demand that all of what is behind the curtain, or even much of it, be exposed for the reader's eyes.

    You might want to check out a program called http://Scrivener [Broken], too. I use it to write my novels, but everyone has their favorite pen. I also bought a program called Aeon, which is the writer's version of MS Project. It interfaces into Scrivener and allows me to organize the events in the story in a Gantt chart form with a few extras that are novel related thrown in.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  8. Oct 16, 2015 #7
    I profoundly hate this advice. It originates from an essay on writing by British novelist Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. If you've never heard of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and can't recall any of his novels, don't feel bad. No one can, probably because his rule kept him from writing anything he might have been remembered for.

    Instead of murdering your darlings, I suggest a more productive rule: Make your darlings... you know... good.
  9. Oct 16, 2015 #8
    Thanks for that. It's good to hear alternative views.

    However, Quiller-Couch is not the only fan of that. Stephen King wrote 22 lessons for aspiring writers. #7 is not to be pretentious.

    #21 is having the guts to cut. As he stated, kill your darlings, not once, but three times in the same sentence.

    I respect King and believe there is some wisdom in his thoughts on the subject. However, there are no hard/fast rules in art and most of the time it is what you can get away with. Yet, it is wise to at least understand what those that are successful are saying.
  10. Oct 16, 2015 #9
    Sure, and I've never heard Stephen King described as a particularly brilliant writer when it comes to style, either. He's often said he prefers to write prose in a "plain" style that "gets the job done". It's been said he writes novels like he'd build a shelf in his garage. Which makes sense, because he's Stephen King—he has like four other novels to finish this month. No surprise he just wants something that gets the job done. I respect King's style, but it's not the only style.

    Here's an excerpt from Arthur Quiller-Couch's original essay, where he explains "murder your darlings":

    Well, in this extraneous, professional, purchased ornamentation, you have something which Style is not: and if you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: "Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it--wholeheartedly--and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings."

    Whereupon I interject with horror: No!! Whenever you feel you've perpetrated a piece of exceptionally fine writing, for heaven's sake, don't destroy it! Give it to someone for critique! Give it to loads of people! Maybe it actually is good! Did you ever think you might be destroying something that's genuinely amazing?

    Honestly, who in their right mind would destroy something he's created just because he personally thinks it's awesome?
  11. Oct 16, 2015 #10


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    The idea is that they can't both be good and be darlings.

    And a good piece of writing in a story is not the same as a good story.

    Here's a good, short article about the dangers of darlings.
  12. Oct 16, 2015 #11


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    These two sentences sound pretty contradictory. By the speed with which you dismiss it, it doesn't sound like you respect his style.

    He does not write the way he does to be fast; he write the way he does to be engaging. And it works very well.
  13. Oct 16, 2015 #12
    Well, I do. As noted, he makes a conscious decision to write in a very "plain" style, as he calls it. It's not a criticism to say his style of prose is basic and utilitarian. That's how he intends it to be. And as part of his writing process, it does help to explain his amazing prolificity.

    Some of my favorite novelists use a stream-of-consciousness style like Hilary Mantel. Others use a more basic, minimalist style like Stephen King. Others are in between. As long as they succeed in what they're trying to do, they're all fun to read.

    edit: If we're going to debate this, maybe it should be a separate thread.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2015
  14. Oct 16, 2015 #13
    If your darling is write down everything about mass of planets, when characters born, synopsis of last two centurys, technoblabla, name of each gates and outposts... Then i can fully agree to murder them.
    My darlings are long detailed film like action scenes.
  15. Oct 16, 2015 #14
    You beat me with CAD. ;) The only thing that I used but you haven't mentioned - I created quite detailed legal system for technocracy including constitutional law (with amendments), taxation (quite detailed), anti-monopoly law, penal law, eugenic law, corporate law. The main purpose was not system as such but providing consistency and thinking about possible story impacting consequences. (Plenty of freakish ideas: special services are legally allowed to arrest one person per 100 000 without bringing any charges, as long as is detained in comfortable conditions, and just in case are able to show to an independent judge that it is interest of the state)
  16. Oct 16, 2015 #15
    Here, I've found my own literary authority to tell you all how much crap the "murder your darlings" thing is:

    It means that if you have fallen in love with a particular piece of your writing, beware. Or as the American writer Elmore Leonard once (allegedly—if I spend any more time on Google I shall never get this book finished) said: "If I come across anything in my work that smacks of 'good writing,' I immediately strike it out."


    I know where proponents of this theory are coming from—I look back at some of my early work that I thought was the dog's bollocks at the time and see it in all its self-conscious, pretentious glory—but as a general rule I think it is largely tosh.

    Sometimes we are proud of a particular piece of writing because it is bloody good. Because just for once, everything has flowed out exactly as it should and it all works. Now I've got a bit of experience, I wouldn't want anything to be published that I wasn't proud of, so if I followed old Elmore's advice (if it was him) then that would be 100 short stories, three novels and about 850 articles that would never have seen the light of day.


    Great, I love those. Have you read Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn series? Lots of gorey cinematic sci-fi violence there, and also high critical praise.

    If your darlings are detailed action scenes, don't murder them. Let them live and grow up and have darlings of their own.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2015
  17. Oct 16, 2015 #16


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    Perhaps 'crap' is a little black & white? Perhaps there is room for multiple viewpoints, preferences, and opinions that don't mutually exclude each other? :rolleyes:
  18. Oct 16, 2015 #17
    Other opinions?

    ...I'm afraid I don't see the point.
  19. Oct 16, 2015 #18


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    (In all seriousness though: because the OP needs to be responsible for what his own writing style develops in to. If we convince him there's only one way, that makes us (i.e. you) responsible for his style. Are you going to be there for him if it doesn't work out?)
  20. Oct 16, 2015 #19
    Eh? In my dissent from the murder-your-darlings opinion, I'm basically saying, write the way you want. I'm not imposing a style or method.

    Of course, sometimes your darlings actually are bad, but if you have people to critique your story, you should be able to identify the bad parts whether they're your darlings or not.
  21. Oct 17, 2015 #20
    In any craft there is value in first learning the basics in a structured way. Once you master these you are in a better position to bend and invent the rules as you see fit.

    It's like learning how to play an instrument. Yes, you can pick up a guitar and vow to never listen to any other guitar works and never take a lesson, just so you don't become tainted and can do it your own way. You might succeed, but odds are you will never be even close to your best with that approach.

    Writing appears to be no different. Learning how others, particularly the masters, do their trade only elevates you to a position where you can truly decide what is best for you and what is not.

    In all fairness, it is not wrong to follow the proven road, at least at first. Eventually experience teaches us what to cut and what to keep in our work. Until then we are highly guided by our own egos and that is why the masters encourage humility in our work.
  22. Oct 17, 2015 #21
    Oh god, I've started an argument.


    I suppose the way I have come (more recently to think of story heros) is that though it would probably be more realistic for the person in question to die it is firstly boring and secondly missing the point inasmuch as surely the tale might be that of someone who survived (IOW you're kind of working backwards from the end to tell their story).

    Don't get me wrong, I think it's important that high-profile charcaters die, but not the main character.

    I guess it depends but I absolutely hate stories and films that end on a down, there has to be hope even if (as in Gladiator) that hope is some kind of spirtual thing (and that's coming from a hard core atheist) :)

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