My friend author/editor Michelle L. Levigne is back to give advice on writing speculative fiction. Michelle has written books in almost every genre but her favorites are science fiction and fantasy. She writes about the fandom method of worldbuilding as a way for budding speculative fiction writers to learn the rules of the genre. Take it away , Michelle!
There is nothing new under the sun — no matter what world you’re talking about.
Our Lord is the Creator, but face it, gang, no matter how much effort we put into makin our brain children appear to be totally new, unique, fresh … writers are RE-creators. We take what we see around us and reweave, slap some paint on, cut a few new holes, patch holes, add material, whatever. Bottom line: we’re recycling.
When it comes to the adventures of the starship Defender (shameless self-promotion of my book in print this month, FRIENDLY FIRE), I freely confess it’s all recycled material. To be specific: my worldbuilding is firmly based in fandom.
This is the AA part of the meeting:
Hi, My name is Michelle. And I am a recovering Trekker …
Many moons ago, I wanted to get my MA in filmmaking, focused on writing. (With a theater/English degree I could either continue my education or go work in a fast food restaurant until someone bought my Great American Science Fiction Novel.) I went to California to live with my aunt and apply to film school. I had a connection there with a fellow fan of the TV show The Phoenix. She invited me to her Star Trek club, the USS Defiance. One of the watershed moments of my life: More crazy people like me, who lived in their imaginations. They had stories in the monthly newsletter and a yearly fanzine. I hooked up with people who were constantly talking stories and it was glory.
Writing for fandom is an incredibly useful, strength-building and skin-thickening exercise. You’re playing in someone else’s playground, and other fans will NOT let you get away with breaking the rules. They will let you know when your characters are being Too Stupid To Live and when you’ve violated the laws of that particular universe.
The important point here is that the foundations, the boundaries, the research and worldbuilding had already been done. I could concentrate on the characters, the dialog, the plot — learning to simply put stories together, with the scenery, the costumes, the props already provided by someone else. Like learning theater in summer camp, rather than starting your own theater from the ground up.
Fandom provides the answers to questions writers need to learn to ask in their own, original stories: WHY can’t the characters act that way? HOW are they going to get from A to B? WHAT happens if they do C instead of D? And when you violate the understood, unspoken rules of that story world, other fans let you know. They explain, with varying levels of kindness, why what you want the characters to do, or to have happen, won’t work.
Get slapped with, “Nuh uh, that would never happen,” often enough, you learn to think and figure out the rules for yourself. You learn consistency. You learn to come up with logical reasons WHY a character would violate his behavior patterns, how rules CAN be violated. Finding the guidelines, the foundation, is trained into you. You know to ask the plot-crucial questions before you start writing and to have the props, the scenery, the costumes, the special effects ready and on the set, to be used when needed. To paraphrase Chekov (Anton, not Pavel), if you want a gun to fire in Act III, it had better be on the table in Act I.
Fandom writing is like theatrical rehearsals. Actors learn their lines, then block the action on the stage someone else built, then rehearse with props, costumes and makeup provided by someone else. When you switch from fandom writing to writing your own stories, you transform from actor or crew to director/producer/set designer — and you know what to do because you’ve been watching others do it and following their rules.
As Kirk said to Saavik, “We learn by doing.”
Captain Genys Arroyan has a problem with her shiny new command — the dregs of the universe are laughing.
While the Defender is in spacedock, getting upgrades, Genys has to deal with mind-hunters and farting fur balls, merchants-of-insanity and diplomatic intrigue. Her Chief of Talents is hiding from forced matrimony and her new crewmembers aren’t too happy to be transferred to the Nanny Ship.
Then she finds out that the insectoid Hivers have a taste for the brains of the children of her crew. Falling through a Chute to another galaxy might turn out to be a good thing, even if dangerous.
A rescue mission turns into a battle to save a race of miniature dragons from genocide. They might just be sentient — but more important, dracs could turn out to be the defensive weapon the Alliance needs against the Hiver threat. Genys and her crew could end up breaking dozens of regulations in the quest to save dracs and maybe the Human race. Just how much trouble could teleporting, fire-breathing creatures with the personalities of four-year-olds cause on board a military vessel?
The misfit luck of the AFV Defender might finally be running out.
Michelle has 40+ fan stories in various SF and fantasy universes. She has a bunch of useless degrees in theater, English, film/communication, and writing. Even worse, she has over 100 books and novellas with multiple small presses, in SF and fantasy, YA, suspense, women’s fiction, and romance. Her training includes the Institute for Children’s Literature; proofreading at an advertising agency; and working at a community newspaper. She is a tea snob and freelance edits for a living, but only enough to give her time to write. Her crimes against the literary world include co-owning Mt. Zion Ridge Press and Ye Olde Dragon Books. Be afraid … be very afraid.
How about a science fiction prompt to kick off your week? What’s the story for this photo? I chose this one because it is clearly a science fiction setting with the spaceship, but there’s also a castle in the background. I like the contrast, and that ignited my imagination. Here’s my story:
The rust bucket hit the planet with all the grace an ancient space shuttle.
“If our mission is so important,” I flipped switches to cut the steam billowing from a burst tube, “why didn’t the Government give us a decent ship?”
Haney stared at me. “You’re trying to make sense of the Government?”
“Sorry,” I said through clenched teeth. “Don’t know what came over me.” I stared out the window, past the iron formations to a castle straight out of a fairy tale. “This is a wasted trip. Senator Allus quit and came to the backend of the galaxy to build that thing and live by himself. He’s not going to help the Government, no matter what the crisis is.”
Haney lowered his eyebrows. “Do you know there’s a crisis?”
“No. But why else would the Government send us to get somebody who’s made it pretty clear he wants nothing to do with anybody?”
“Good question.” His voice was quiet as he gazed at the spires rising against the purple clouds of methane.
A photo prompt for the speculative fiction writers out there. How would you write this scene in show don’t tell?
I slipped my hand into Jakon’s as we strolled along the highest catwalk in the city park.
“It’s beautiful.” I sqeezed his hand.
A big grin lit up his long face. “I knew you’d like it here.”
This close to the dome, we could see the sun sending its beams through the clouds. The devastated land was too far below us to see clearly. The perfectly controlled air temperature blew gently over us, stirring Jakon’s wavy red hair.
“We’ll have to get back soon.” I sighed.
A loud hum made me look up. My jaw swung loose.
Sailing against the clouds was some kind of vehicle. I’d seen pictures like it in history posts.
Jakon gawked. “Nothing can live outside the dome.”
“Maybe it’s a government or military vehicle.”
“But everybody travels underground to visit the other domes.”
The flying vehicle turned, heading straight for us.