Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Writing Wednesday: Hard Science Fiction vs. Fantasy

I was having a conversation with a friend about my book, “Invasive Thoughts” and he asked me, “How much time did you spend researching all this?”

It wasn’t something I had really thought about, but I did actually spend quite a bit of time on research, a few hours a week. If you add all that up over the course of writing the book it comes out to over 100 hours or a college class.

There are two reasons I did this.

First, I like to research and learn stuff. If I weren’t looking up stuff for the book, I’d be looking stuff up because I found it interesting.

Second, I feel it makes for a more effective story if the basis for the horror is grounded in the real physical world so that as the reader is drawn into the story they wonder, could this already be happening?

It is something I like to do and I figure if I get scared researching the topics and I can effectively convey that it makes for a good book.

At the other end of the literary spectrum is fantasy. I’ve tried to write a two fantasy tales, one was a Vampire story, the other about a 20-foot tall Kitten terrorizing a kingdom. I never finished either because I’m horrible at writing fantasy.

I get too caught up in the details, like I had one of my characters mention about the Kitten, “The weak nuclear forces must be stronger in this dimension for the kitten to still process it’s flexibility.” Unfortunately, that got me thinking of the nuclear interactions within my little world and I started trying to map out a new theoretical physical model for my universe and describe it in under 500 words in an entertaining way. Needless to say that was a week of my life I will never get back.

Just because I can’t write fantasy doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate “good” fantasy tales. A good fantasy tale has the elements of hard science fiction but instead of using real science the author “makes their own”. This can work well if the author has thought out what the strengths and limitations of each element they add to their world.

Some where in the middle of these two genres is the world of Speculative Fiction, or the Space Opera. Star Wars and Star Trek are the best know examples of these.

In the Star Trek universe they often need to cheat on the physics, but when they do they give their cheats real limitations, like the transporter only has limited range and can’t be used at warp. The laying out exact limits on their cheats makes them more real, and that’s why Star Trek geeks (like me) get so furious when they break their own rules.

For me, writing a fantasy tale is harder than a hard science fiction as you don’t have the strengths and limitations of an element mapped out and the author has to figure it out on their own, or else the reader will get pissed off if a magic sword can do something in chapter 2 but can’t in chapter 10. Or if Yoda can sense the Dark Side of the Force anywhere in the galaxy, but not if Sidious has set-up an office next door to the Jedi headquarters and put up a plaque saying, “Sith Lord and Company, LLC”.

I do admire fantasy writers who can manage to make a self-consistent world, that follows it’s own rules and stays true to those rules. It’s just not something I can do.

Darrell B Nelson


Stephanie Barr said...

Oh, you know I'm on the same page as you on this one. Both on loving research and keeping your facts (even fantasy "facts") consistent.

I actually go to a great deal of effort to keep my rules consistent in each of my fantasy realms.

Project Savior said...

I just get way to bogged down in the details if I try writing fantasy. When I read a fantasy tale, I'm not that concerned about how if you have a 20 foot kitten the change in weak nuclear forces would make every other molecule bond stronger and it would be harder for civilization to develop, I just get into the world.
When I write I can't get myself to ignore it, even though I know no one reading it, (even me) would care.