I Should Be Revising but…

My revision is coming along.  I’m pretty pleased with it so far.  And I should be working on that but…

I’ve had a couple of things on my mind recently.  One thing is that I’ve been toying around with creating a tutorial and maybe a program to randomly generate Cultures and Societies.  I’ve been reading a lot of anthropology and sociology recently and there’s some really good stuff in there.  Lots of story ideas based on different types of cultures and societies.

But something else is really bothering me.  I recently read an article about writing and something I read bothered me.  I don’t recall the article offhand.  I don’t remember who wrote it so I can’t refer back to it, but one thing it said bothered me.  And that was that a Science Fiction story has to be about Science and Fantasy stories have to be about magic.  It said that if you write a Science Fiction story then if you remove your science gimmick, the story should fall apart.  For example, if you take the genetic science out of Jurassic Park, you no longer have a story because it no longer makes sense.  You have to have the science in there.  If you take the magical ring out of Lord of the Rings, you no longer have a story.  You have to have the magic in there.

And although I agree when it comes to those examples, I really don’t think that’s necessary.  You can take the space travel and space battle out of Honor Harrington and you’ve still got a story.  You could take Honor Harrington and you could put her into a fantasy setting where the ships are boats instead of spaceships and some of the armament is magical instead of technological, and you could have a pretty killer story.

I’ve been arguing with myself on this with my story about the Princess.  I still debate whether I should take that from a far future setting and place it into a Steampunk or Fantasy setting.  The story could work in either setting.  I could even make it work, with some tweaking, in a modern setting although it would take some hard work to do that.  The reason I can do that is because the story is about the people and not about the stuff around them. 

My princess story is about a spoiled, useless princess who loses her kingdom in a coup and then wins it back after building a ragtag army of pirates and freedom fighters.  It’s not about science.  It’s not about fantasy.  It’s about people.

Another example is a story about an unjustly imprisoned man who breaks out and takes elaborate revenge on those who sent him there.  You can take that story and write it in any setting and at any time.  Dumas did it as The Count of Monte Cristo but you could write that story as a fantasy or a science fiction novel just by placing it in the appropriate setting.  You and I could both take that story and write it and they would both be totally different stories that could both be very good.

Because good science fiction and fantasy stories can be about people and not necessarily about people and their relation to magic or technology.

And honestly, I think you can even divorce the basic Jurassic Park story from science and the Lord of the Rings from fantasy.   You can think of a variety of themes for each of those stories.  For example, you could cast Jurassic Park as a story about how technology (or magic) can get out of control when you don’t respect the nature of it and Lord of the Rings could be a cautionary tale about how excessive power can pervert even the most innocent of people.

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5 Responses to “I Should Be Revising but…”

  1. First, have you read Holly’s Create a Culture Clinic? I think it covers all the basics of setting up a culture.

    As for genres, the main reason they exist is to group on shelves for readers to find easily. No other reason. The Wikipedia list of genres helped me to understand that. So, you write stories that are “in” so you can sell to a lot of readers to make a living at writing.

    If you Sweet Spot map does not include magic you will not enjoy writing about magic. If you SSM does not include space stations, etc you will not enjoy writing SciFi. If you are not interested in steam engines you will not enjoy writing SteamPunk.

    But, you are correct, all stories are about humans interacting with either other humans, aliens, or survival against the destruction of the planet they live on. The world character provides conflicts to stop the MC achieving the outcome they want.

    Jurassic Park is based on gene science. However, there was an English TV serial where modern humans interacted with prehistoric beasts by using a portal located outside London somewhere. Different gimmick but same conflicts, humans against prehistoric beasts.

    We also have real examples of tech getting out of control in Japan at the moment. Should humans build nuclear plants on fault lines? Should humans even build more nuclear plants after the previous explosions experenced around the world? Should humans stop all fossil fuel mining because CO2 is increasing?

    These questions are wonderful to tell a story, by projecting current practices into the future and showing bad outcomes, which threaten survival of the human race. These are some of the questions that Modessitt writes in his SciFi novels. He also writes Fantasy. But all his stories are about humans questioning rules, orders, cultures, etc.

    Finally, I suggest you just finish the Princess story and let it go. You can write about another Princess in a different setting later. And, in any setting, the magic or science is only a tool to help the MC overcome obstacles to achieve the desired outcome.

    It is completing each story that helps you improve and understand the structure of novels. It is completing each story, that you learn to improve your voice. 🙂

  2. thepencilneck Says:

    I’m going to break this into parts because it’s going to get long.

    First off, let me say that the original post was just a rant that I felt like I needed to get off my chest.

    Secondly, yes. I have read Holly’s Culture Clinic and I’ve used it to set up the cultures that I have in my books. But in setting up my cultures, I’ve realized that there’s a lot more that can actually be added to that to expand on the concepts in that workshop. It was this interest that’s caused me to start exploring more about different cultures going all the way back to guys like Durkheim and Levi-Strauss and exploring what has come about in the actual study of these things. I’ve also been looking more deeply at rituals, religions, and other social and cultural structures. It’s been very interesting.

    I’ve also been through her Language clinic (I think I have been through all her clinics and courses except Series). The Language clinic started me down a path of actually studying real and constructed languages. Using her language clinic (and inspired by Chris Pound’s language generator), I created a php based language generator of my own. You feed in a file that contains the syntactical and sound rules for the construction of the words and/or names and then you can call it and it will randomly generate words/names using those rules. I use this program whenever I’m generating new character names or words for objects/concepts unique to that particular culture.

    Whenever I create a new culture, I create a new language for that culture using this program.

    What I’m considering doing is a similar thing with Cultures where you feed in some parameters and then it generates some things for you or randomly identifies some things that would be unusual for this culture. I don’t know if you’ve seen http://www.io.com/~sjohn/demog.htm but I also created a variation of that generator for mapping out my fantasy cities and nations and I’m considering layering the Culture generator I’m thinking about with this generator.

    I’ve also found a couple of really great worldbuilding books for D&D that fit in with this concept. They start at the actual mechanics of creating the planet (or whatever) and lighting it and how to make the weather work and the different types of flora and fauna zones and then how that feeds into the intelligent races and how they’ll develop culturally and socially. There is some great stuff in those books. Although I don’t want to get TOO crazy with the worldbuilding (as if I haven’t already).

    For my science fiction space travel, I used the rules from Traveler for creating star systems and combined that with my own generator for randomly creating “sectors” of stars to create the framework for the star kingdoms in the book. This provided the basis and background for my Princess novel(s).

    So, to reiterate and try to come to something resembling a point… to build this “Culture” generator I’m considering, I’ve started looking at cultures and societies and how the evolve over time and what the evolve from. I’ve looked at several different cultures from several periods and it’s been a fascinating study. I’ve got a lot of ideas about how to put it together but right now, I’m just trying to get all my ideas down on paper.

    But beyond the generator, the knowledge and techniques that I’ve picked up along the way could be very useful for other people (including myself) if I just codified it and put it into some sort of an easy to read structure. What I don’t like about the generator concept is that based on the cultures I’ve studied, you really should take a more thoughtful approach than just a generator because everything is interwoven. OTOH, a generator could be useful if only to spark ideas and thoughts even if you don’t use it whole-cloth.

    I think what I end up, if I decide to complete it, with will be helpful both to other writers as well as gamemasters for various RPGs. And if I don’t complete it, at least the time and trouble that I’ve spent researching these things should allow me to create more coherent and full cultures in the future. (Or so I hope.)

  3. thepencilneck Says:

    Modesitt is one of my favorite authors. 🙂

    Magic, Science, Steampunk, all those things are in my SSM and they’re all genres I love. If I write something, I’m only going to be writing it because I love it; I’m not going to be chasing the market at all.

    And… the Princess story. After writing this, I realized WHY I have been considering switching the story from straight Science Fiction with spaceships to something a little more archaic. It’s because of the needs of piloting.

    I can fix the whole thing just by adding more difficulty into the gimmick of traveling and navigating in hyperlight mode. If hyperlight mode is not just an instantaneous jump where pretty much everything could be done by autopilot, but rather something where you’ve got to very closely monitor the ship and its course and where there are dangerous forces at play AND where one ship can sneak up on another ship and do battle at close quarters… THEN the story comes together.

    So, yes. 🙂 After I finish my revision of Gartan’s Book, I’m off to the Princess’ book and I’m already starting to salivate thinking about working on it again.

  4. As for rant, if that was all, then disregard all my comments. 🙂

    OK, write the Culture steps that add to Holly’s Clinic, then sell as an ebook. I would buy it and I think a lot of other Sideways students would too.

    Write the culture and language programs and sell (or give away) on your blog. I volunteer as a beta tester. 🙂

    I like the idea of a pilot on standby even if automatic pilot is applied during hyperlight flight. Even auto flying from point to point (hyperlight between systems) needs pilot once you are at the edge of each solar system, to manually navigate around planets in the system and to dock and undock around space stations and planet landings and take offs. 🙂 Also adds conflict options.

    So all your suggestions sound good.

  5. Hi pencilneck. Good blog, I just found it. I am going to add a link on my site for it. I don’t think that removing one thing and the story falls apart is necessarily true. I should probably buy the culture clinic book myself… Currently working on exploring and beefing up my middle’s plot

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