I’ve been working on a story lately, thanks to the intervention of my buddy Derek Brantley, and its been hard slogging. The story idea is fairly simple. Its based up Jack London’s famous To Build A Fire which is so wonderfully stripped down (2 actors and the protagonist isn’t even named) its practically a morality tale. Call it a long-winded fable, if you will.
When Derek first approached me with the idea we had a nice conversation, and talked about doing the story from many angles, including humor. I let the concept stew for a few days, and one day woke up (actually I think it was while in the shower) with the idea of men prospecting for gold, like the Yukon of London’s tale, but doing so deep under the ocean.
From that point the ideas started to flow, and I knew I was onto something. This is probably the best part of writing a story. Its that “first love” experience, not unlike the first time you meet a potential mate. If you’ve ever fallen in love, or even lust, then you know exactly what I mean. You get that powerful first attraction, and then no matter what that person does, to you they fart rainbows.
But, as with all great love affairs, you get to that point–with some sooner than with others–where the honeymoon wears off, and you start to smell the stink coming from your lover’s ass. The time you realize that your friend’s were right, yes their farts do stink.
So that is where I’m at with the story, I’m starting to smell the stink of its farts. Now this is not a bad thing, I’m not writing this to complain. After all, who would care? Its not like anyone is putting a gun to my head and making me write this. I put my own head into the vise with this one. I’m pointing this problem out because its endemic to every story. All stories stink at one point. This one differs only in the type of smell.
In this particular case its because its a sci-fi story. Now I’ve written quite a few sci-fi stories, so its not like this is a new genre for me. The problem with writing sci-fi is that one has to describe a world that at times is only tangentially familiar to the reader. The more technology that a writer adds to the story, the more he or she has to explain it to the reader. Now some writers get around this problem by keeping the technology “near future” (like using a watch-phones and air cars), by using “tried and true tech” from other common stories (blasters anyone? light-sabres?), or by not mentioning the technology at all.
If you think about it for a second, you’ll see what I mean. You, as a reader, can imagine looking at your phone and having a conversation with your parents on the other side of the country. Heck you can even do this today. So this bit of tech not a stretch for the reader to understand. But if I write a story that requires a technology which is drastically unrelated to today’s tech, its a much harder proposition. How would you explain your watch-phone to someone who has never seen a phone, a movie, or even a watch? How do you explain a light saber to someone who’s never seen Star Wars? That’s the rub.
And that’s where I’m at with this story. This particular story, unlike the other sci-fi stories I’ve written, suffers from being in a place that almost no one writes about. There’s no quick fixes, no common tech like blasters or light-sabres, that I can point to and the reader will automatically understand what I mean. Practically everything is this story requires an explanation, which is pretty fucking boring to read, and just as boring to write, so I try to avoid explanations whenever possible. Not only that, but there are lots of technological ramifications that I have to tie together for it all to work. Sometimes I’ll invent a new technology only to realize later that it contradicts other tech that shows up in the story. Then I have to sit down and rewrite that first tech so it works with all the other stuff. Which causes a problem with another piece of tech, and so on and so forth.
Now add to this another layer of complication. People, in natural conversation, do not talk about technology in ways that are ANYTHING EVEN REMOTELY SIMILAR to how the tech actually works. The internet is not in fact a “net”, the world wide web does not have any actual “webs”, and e-mail is not anything like snail mail in the way it is delivered. But we use these words, inaccurate descriptors though they are, and know exactly what they mean. And, of course, people also have this nasty habit of immediately adopting slang terms to describe their experience using tech. So when I “blog” (whatever the hell that word actually means) you the reader know what blogging means, even though it would be more accurate to say I journal, or I am journalling. See what I mean?
So when an author like me comes up with a new technology, he/she has to use words that seem “natural” but also make sense to people in the here and now. And that part is a PITA compared to writing the actual story; you know the whole frame all this stupid tech is hanging on, getting the protagonist from point A to point B. Since I am very much a story teller, all this tech stuff makes me grumble, mostly because its hard work. But it also makes me think (which is nice), and on occasion it leads to some really fun ideas (like houses covered in computer screens so switching wallpaper in your living room wall is as easy as doing it on your desktop). And I have to admit, that part is fun.
So, dear reader, know that I am toiling on a story, sweating bullets over technology that will mostly never make the story, and you will likely never hear of, but are absolutely crucial to the process of writing the story. But, oh, if it all pans out, its going to be sooo good, and sooo scary.
Be prepared to be cold, cramped, crushed, and scared. Be prepared to suffer both claustrophobia and agoraphobia, at the same time. And, if I hit the my mark right, be prepared to be scared of the dark.