Archives for posts with tag: science fiction writing

You have no reason to care about what I’m going to tell you, until you’ve finished reading.

Imagine if this page was sent to you by your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife or husband. You would immediately give it priority. So, too, if I was your boss or employer.

Chances are, you don’t quite know why this is the case, or maybe you think you do.

This is a crucial question in writing or reading fiction. “Why would the reader care enough to sit through yet another set of paragraphs, pages or entire chapters written about non-existent people?”

Why would you read this, or really any piece of writing, beyond the fleeting compulsions of random curiosity?

First answering the “why” will help guide the construction of plot and character by looking at how value is construed in society, for which fiction acts as a mirror and amplifier. This “why”, at its deepest level, may also elucidate what makes homeless people seem socially invisible, or why a person might perceive others as being more or less human. Even in casual dating, people construct imaginary classes in which they situate themselves and sigh that some potential lovers are “just out of my league”.

Samples of dramatic conflict that derive directly from everyday life:

– An ugly old male millionaire dates and marries, or even openly cheats on a gorgeous young supermodel or famous actress.
– A beautiful woman plays endless mind games of emotional manipulation against a hapless man who is hopelessly ensnared by her carefully constructed illusion of perfection and mystery.
– A rich older man and cunning young woman battle for sexual and emotional supremacy.
– Someone from the lower rungs of society fights his or her way up to become a defender of justice from the top echelon of the social world, usually by defeating the incumbent “champion” of that world to become a “winner”.
– Two powerful adversaries, one fighting for good and the other for evil, clash in an epic struggle that will determine the fate of humanity. The adversaries can either be Godlike heroes, or two opposing groups that band together as tribes or “teams”.

Most popular stories contain at least one subplot along these lines. (Notice also how, in the first three examples, the plots only make sense using the assigned genders. Though not impossible, switching the genders would make a credible story more difficult to write.)

The best fictional stories are just as “real” as the stories that you see on the news — and the autobiographical stories that most of us tell ourselves about our own lives. The news media is a complete topic unto itself; suffice for now to say that news, especially the kind seen on television, is a type of entertainment rather than “fair and balanced” presentation of fact. The average news broadcast presents factual information similarly to how a Hollywood movie tells the “inspired by true events” life stories of dramatically compelling people. Facts come a distant second to the all-consuming imperative of keeping the reader’s eyeballs fastened to the unfolding narrative spectacle.

Remove the optional emphasis on fact, and what remains is compelling fiction. The structure is exactly the same.

Take another look at the sample plot types in the list above. How many news stories fall into those categories? Answer: practically every single one.

The extent to which a writer understands the machinations of society is the extent to which he or she designs and builds compelling stories. The value of science fiction in particular is to highlight asymmetries of power based on access to, and differential uses of, human technology based on social status (and in terms of character construction, aliens are humans in disguise).

This is the first of a series of entries. By the end of this series, your approach to fiction writing and reading, and perhaps to the “real” social world itself, will never be the same. Or maybe it will be just as it was before, but now you’ll be able to clearly say why (and how). Concrete, step-by-step fundamental understanding of social dynamics forms the basis of any worthwhile story. Most readers know none of this explicitly; you have to hold them by the hand while showing them how to fly.

I’ve turned to Reddit as an alternative to Facebook, mainly due to concerns about the rampant privacy intrusion that essentially defines Facebook’s modus operandi and revenue model.

Reddit is a hybrid news-sharing site and discussion forum frequented by at least six percent of the Internet’s users.

That’s a decent number of people.

Members of Reddit create niche-based communities. In those communities, they post links to media created elsewhere. Redditors can also add shorter pieces written directly in “text posts” on the site. Other members can vote “up” (approval) or “down” (disapproval) on all posts, creating a dynamic flow of popularity-ranked material; the flow changes as frequently as users post new items and others vote on them.

It makes sense, then, that if you want feedback on a story or other creative work, you might benefit from posting it on Reddit with a request for comment. That’s exactly what I did while working on a variety of fiction-writing techniques over the past two years.

Follow The Upvotes? How Conformity of Opinion is Quietly Crowdsourced

Sitting here today while playing with ideas for a new story, I recognized a dimension of the hidden issue that pervades all communities: all communities subtly indocrinate their members into certain belief systems. That, in a sense, is what gives any group its feeling of being “us” rather than “them”.

On Reddit, you can see that phenomenon in the distinctive type of humour used there versus, for example, Reddit’s arch-enemy, 4chan (or really x-chan considering the number of variants online). Inevitable silliness of Internet-based tribal keyboard warfare aside, the two communities have a very different “feeling” to them, partly based on how they are designed. Facebook (enforced fake authenticity via “sharing”) and Tumblr (scrapbooking and socal bookmarking) have their own approaches to community as well.

Specifically on Reddit, there are a number of science fiction-related communities. Each community on Reddit is called a “subreddit”, or “sub”. The scifi subs range from large to small, and the largest has over 200,000 readers. Although the reader numbers are misleading as to how many people actively participate, there is still a sizeable group who are online at any given time.

At first, it can be difficult to detect the fact that subreddits have their own set of rarely articulated rules governing what’s generally liked and disliked. It may seem like a strange idea, given Reddit’s illusion of “direct democracy” via the voting system. Considering the herd instinct that largely dominates human nature, though, the social reality of groupthink seems to have merely insinuated itself into the digital medium.

Don’t Try To Build A World on Reddit

The example that came to mind while writing today is that of “world-building.” Fictionwriters know this principle. Any story that ventures beyond fan fiction will have to establish an imaginary world for the reader to enter — a world that is in some way more fascinating than their own. The fictional story world suspends the reader’s sense of time and space within its carefully constructed realms of enhanced possibility.

If you seek feedback on Reddit, though, beware of the group consensus that all forms of world-building are bad, and therefore are easy targets for criticism. You can sometimes find conversations in which random users try to (literally) score points by snarking that a novel “started slow, with a lot of ‘world-building’, but it got better as it started to pick up speed afterward.” Even though this is obviously the case in the majority of stories — especially ones that project the reader into a detailed universe — Redditors have made a trendy talking point out of symptomatizing world-building into some kind of writerly deficiency.

Also beware of Internet Attention-Deficit Disorder, which seems to be the norm on Reddit. Most of the written works posted there are fan fiction, even if the subreddit’s self-descrption claims otherwise. Visuals tend to be clickbait images and videos intended to incite a maximum number of upvotes. This means that the overall atmosphere is “click, look, skim, repeat”. Sufferers of Internet A.D.D. will rarely take the time required to critique or even comment meaningfully on a new fictional piece. The exceptions are pleasant, yet exceedingly rare.

Reddit can be useful as a means of gauging the average person’s kneejerk opinion of your work within a chosen niche. If you’re looking for feedback that goes beyond “I took a quick look and got the gist”, other avenues are necessary for eliciting worthwhile review and comment. In fact, I’m presently creating one such avenue based the experiences with Reddit and other social media platforms; there will be much more to say and show about that in the near future.