Written by Edgar Scott
It is not enough to be believable, you must be relatable. The audience has to be able to look at your made-up world, characters who don’t exist, and think to themselves, “I understand that. That’s happened to me,” or, “that’s happening now.”
This is my best advice on how you can take your ideas and make them relatable. But first, I want to give you a simple exercise, a game we can all play, to amuse you.
Without using the name of any color,
In fifty words or less, describe a color you have never seen before.
Don’t worry if you find this difficult, the attempt is what’s important.
The point of this exercise is that it’s impossible to describe something you haven’t seen without using references to things we already know. No matter what we do, we must use words and concepts we understand; this is the problem we face when writing Sci-Fi and Fantasy Fiction, finding the words which allow our audience to relate an unknown to a known.
Learning is a process of relating an unknown to a known.
Unfortunately, if your audience is going to see all the cool creatures, places, and awesome new technology that you have dreamed up, you are going to have to educate them. They need to build a bridge from what they know to what you see. If you are speaking unknown words, you will lose them. But here’s the problem, you don’t want to sound like you are writing a textbook.
First, you are going to have to educate yourself. Get some of those ideas out of your head and onto paper; if they are not clear to you, you have no hope of making them clear to anyone else.
What you are looking for here is all the things in your story which are different from the world that we live in. I use a whiteboard for this, I write down all the things that could be different, don’t judge, the important thing is to get it on the board.
After I’ve made my list, I take some time to describe the ideas that seem most significant, in the best detail that I can; I don’t have to be perfect or even correct, I simply want to know how these things are different.
This is exploratory writing. As you write, subtleties will reveal themselves, connections become evident. You will learn things about your world that you did not know but may be very important to your story.
As an example, I knew in my novel, “418: I am a Teapot” I would have the immersive internet. At its simplest it’s a chip in your head. But where does the chip go? How does it get implanted? Who gets the chip? Can you get rid of it? How would you interface with it? Would you ever come offline? One of the most important things that came to light when I did this brainstorming was if you never came off-line, how would you pay for being on the internet all the time? And why would someone want to do this to you?
Because of your brainstorming and exploratory writing, when you do commence the actual story, your writing will be smoother and more coherent.
The Implicit Readers Contract
When a reader picks up a book they are entering into a contract with the author. They are willing to suspend their disbelief in order to enter the world that you have created. If you are writing Sci-Fi, your audience needs plausible explanations to help them relate fiction to the real world. In Fantasy the audience is willing to accept more assumptions with less explanation. But if you are writing Fantasy, you still must stick to the rules you have made, lack of consistency will lose your readers.
And there we have it. Sci-Fi and Fantasy require rules. These rules make our fictional world different from our current day world. Your contract is to follow the rules you have set out. The audience may not know the rules explicitly —it would be boring if you laid out the differences plainly— but they will know if you break them.
I always make a spreadsheet to support any longer work that I am going to do. The first tab that I create is an overview tab that has a list of all my chapters, number, order, what they should contain, how long they are, when were they completed. I find spreadsheets allow me to edit, add and remove as needed. But I have other tabs in my workbook where I keep track of names, places, things and interesting factoids and rules. As I write I keep this spreadsheet opened, I update the spreadsheet as I work through the chapters of my novel, using it as a guide.
Making Rules: Simple rules Scale!
Another good way to lose your readers is to make a bunch of arbitrary rules that defy explanation. You want your rules to be simple, because as you write complexity will find you.
To illustrate, in my novel I have the following general rules:
- Everyone is isolated.
- Staff —the newly created unpaid working class— are viewed as less than human.
- You cannot find freedom unless you help someone else.
- This world has little to no mercy.
Nowhere in the novel do I state these rules explicitly. However, they guide all the other more specific rules that follow. 418 and his “manager” Brian must overcome these general rules in order to gain their freedom. My rules have become guides to generating the structure of my novel.
Other guidelines follow from these general rules:
- Only the very rich drive cars.
- Staff may not see their medical records.
- You can be foreclosed upon, which forces you to join the staff class.
- There is no upward mobility from the staff class.
- Staff are referred to as “it”, without gender, because it’s dehumanizing.
- Staff labor is a “perfectly competitive” market; everyone makes no economic profit and survival wages are paid.
- We keep Staff out of sight when not working, we don’t want to see the poor.
These guidelines add punch to my story, but are not the primary rules.
Now we write
Writing any compelling story, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, or not, is about writing about your audience. Your character should be very much like your audience, they want to hear a story about themselves or people they know. Because they’ve accepted the readers contract, they are willing to let you bend the rules and describe themselves in your made-up world. They want to see how life would be if…
Writing is joyful, let yourself go where your imagination takes you, but remember your rules, write a simple story within those lines and you will be surprised at where the story takes you.
The Imagination Challenge Revisited
Let’s go back to the challenge: describe a color you have never seen without using any direct color names. I’ll give you mine. Remember, yours should be different, and no-one is correct, this was meant to be fun.
It leaps off children having fun at play, spilling into the air. It is the heart of the sprout that pokes through the old corn snow of winter. Warm, vibrant, the color of rebirth buzzing with energy bright, plasma thin and fleeting, I give you the color: renew.
I’d love to read your color creations and I hope this gets you writing fiction that you love.
Find more from Edgar Scott:
My website and blog are at: edgarscottwrites.com
Author Interview on TTR: https://thetableread.co.uk/author-interview-edgar-scott-418-i-am-a-teapot/
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/418-Am-Teapot-Edgar-Scott/dp/0981819710/ Please note, resellers will buy a copy from me and mark it up to sell to you, buy a new copy for $12.99, it will be cheaper and faster. Or buy the e-book for $4.18. This book is also available on most other major book seller sites like Barnes and Noble, Google, Kobo, pretty much anywhere.
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