Monday, January 10, 2011

Day 1 - Science Fiction and You

Our First Day is focused on introductions, distributing the syllabus, a general course overview, and writing exercises to put us in the right frame of mind for Writing The Human.  I cannot, however, promise the absence of bloodthirsty velociraptors from the classroom setting.

Writing the Human in Science Fiction
This course is meant to provide a bit of a strange experience.  As a writer in speculative fiction - a genre inhabited by aliens, ghosts, dragons, time travelers, and more - you'll now be asked to write about ordinary, everyday people.  Never mind that your ordinary people may be living on Mars or plunging headlong into the atmosphere of an alien planet.  The goal here is to craft interesting and believable characters facing conflicts to which your readers can relate.
Writing Exercise (5 min): Pick a story that you are either currently working on or have always wanted to write.  Think about the main character.  As quickly as you can, write about what the character wants and needs out of life.  Then jot down all the forces (both internal and external) preventing this.

Details, Details, Details: Making Your Science Fiction Real
The key to a good story is suspension of disbelief.  You want the reader to accept the factual unreality of your fiction as a possible reality for the imagination.  Ideally, your work should exert a magnetic face-sucking attraction upon the eyes of your readers.

The groundwork for this effect comes in the details.  Sharp, specific details will convince the reader that the story is realistic and hence plausible.  Too much detail, however, can bore the reader.  The trick is to find the right balance - use details that relate directly to the story and its characters.

Group Exercise: Blade Runner - From the short clip of Deckard meeting Rachel, what do we know about the society of this movie?  What do we know about the three speakers?  Which ones are comfortably wealthy?  Who's the working stiff?  How is the environmental ecology of this place?  Most importantly, how do we know these things?  Which details clue us in to this reality?  Be specific.

Our First Week: Memory
The focus of this week is learning to control the information that reaches the reader.  Our main tool for this lies in the memories of our protagonists.
Group Discussion: Blade Runner - What can artificial humans teach us about the basic plight of human existence?
Week Two: Consciousness
What does it mean to think and be alive?  What does it mean to seek vengeance and real estate?  Is sentience alone enough to demand the right to live?  Your "midterm" assignment for this week is a 3-5pp story to workshop in small groups.

Week Three: Narrative
Here we use Memory and our new perspectives on Consciousness to write more complex stories.  OUr characters have goals, they have regrets, and they have some serious issues with robotic alien zombies.  Naturally, you'll write a brand new 5-10pp story for the second small-group workshop.

Throughout the Course: A Focus On the Key Components of Writing
To maximize the benefits of this course, we'll focus on several essential techniques for quality writing, among which are Specificity of Detail, Active Voice, and Fostering a Clean Prose Style.  We'll floss the pesky adverbs out from between our nouns and verbs while using appropriate Dialogue Tags and Other Forms of Speech Attribution.  (Unfortunately, the blog will sometimes be a bit wordy.  So please don't take these missives on writing as fitting examples of a suitable prose style for your fiction.  Trust me on this - you'll need shorter, tighter sentences than you'll find here.)
Writing Exercise: Rewrite the following sentence in one of three different ways, keeping the same facts but shifting the tone to be either (1) humorous, (2) tense as though your nephew is about to be eaten by a velociraptore, or (3) any random tone of your choice.  You may use as many or as few sentences as needed.  You may add additional facts and dialogue, but no facts may be changed or removed.
The robot's demands were simple: it required immediate world peace, the unconditional release of the President's pet chihuahua, and a replacement for the burnt-out thermodyne coupler.

Tonight's Homework (due on the website by 5pm)
Write a one-page description of an event from childhood and submit it on the website.  It doesn't need to be your own experience - or even a true experience - but focus in the exact details of what happened.  And it's perfectly all right to submit more than one page - for every writer the more you write, the better.

Naturally, Feel Free to Contact Me In Case of Questions or Concerns About the Course.

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