Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Inspiration for SF writing

Good science fiction draws inspiration from real-world what-ifs. The greatest science fiction writers were real-life science buffs and some even world-class science thinkers. Movements in science fiction tend to follow the cultural dreams and visions of the future that exist in any given period. In the mid-twentieth century we were focused on space exploration, and back on the planet, we envisioned flying cars and massive multi-level cities and, of course, robots (actually robots date way back to the early twentieth century, even a little in the nineteenth). In the dawn of the nuclear age, there were brilliant forms of post-apocalyptic science fiction. There has been great medical/biotech writing in the millenial period as bird flus and epidemics became newsworthy. And of course, the technology boom has brought us back down to earth (literally) for science fiction based on technology, networking, nanotechnology.
Let's face it. We're pretty obsessed these days with the Internet and the capabilities of global social networking. But what is next? Here are a few ideas from reality. Expand them out. Either negatively or positively, try to envision what the future could look like. Good science fiction writes the world and its rules first before jumping into the story of the novel. So what will Earth look like in 20, 50, 100 years based on these current innovations/ideas:

1. Amazon hopes that drones could be used for product delivery. How would you sign for your package? Would the drone have access to your house? Where would the drone leave your items? If it's a Staples desk, will the drone put it together for you? What would the black market be like for drones that were shot out of the sky? Would we ever leave our houses again? Maybe even merge this with 3-D printing, and you can have anything you want at any time, delivered to your home.  No warehouses, no stores. What would society do with all that commercial real estate?

1.a. I'm tacking this on as 1a. It can be its own thought experiment, or you could merge it with the one above. The U.S. Postal Service is in dire straights. It's a quasi-governmental institution with a long history of important service. But if it is insolvent, and the government won't subsidize it any more, what is to become of it? What if Amazon were to agree to 'acquire' it? Crazy idea, but still, what if?

2. Terms & Conditions. No one reads these documents. We just immediately agree to them without thinking about the consequences. Recently a woman posted a negative review about an online retailer who screwed up her order. She was surprised to receive a $3,500 penalty imposed on her, because the terms and conditions of using their website included an agreement not to disparage them. What else could be lurking in those contracts that no one reads? This is definitely a thought that could lead to humorously scary science fiction ideas, but it could also be amazingly scary.

Well, I'll try to come up with some other ones, but there's enough to think about for now. Draw out how we got there, what the world is like in your future, and then and only then, start thinking about a character to live in that world. Enjoy.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Weird Situations

Quick writing prompt for you. Pick one of these and come up with the characters, the dialogue, and delve into their reasons for being in the situation...

For me I can't understand the kinds of people who stand outside windows in Times Square for the morning shows; the tourists who should up at the Today Show holding signs about birthdays or obscure little Midwestern cities; anniversaries and marriage proposals. There's a lot of behaviors like these I don't understand, like sleeping overnight online for something like Black Friday or giveaways; or worse, people who call in to radio shows for prizes.

Pick one of these:
1. Two people are camped out overnight for something that will happen in the morning (concert tickets or giveaway or store opening, etc), one is the first in line, one is the second in line. But each is there for a very different reason. Who are each of these people; why are they in line -- both what is the thing that will happen in the morning, and why is each of them there for it? Remember, make them very different reasons. Come up with the whole story, then write about what happens between the two of them.

2. This one is more dialogue, maybe even dialogue only.  Someone calls into a radio station. What is the reason for calling?  Sometimes there are giveaways (cash, concert tickets, etc); maybe it's just trivia; or maybe it's a morning show with a dilemma/discussion asking for people who want to share their opinions, or maybe it's an advice show. Or maybe this is someone who called in without an impetus. Write the dialogue between the caller and the DJ.  Keep in mind all the details: why the caller is calling or why the DJ put out a request for callers.  And it's probably important to think about what time of day it is. What happens -- which did each person expect or want out of the call, and how did the outcome differ and surprise the parties?

Enjoy. As always if you enjoyed this, please comment. If you write something you like or would like feedback on, email me at

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Writing Prompt --- Fix it

Nothing was ever more stressful with my father than when something was broken that he was trying to fix.  The screaming, the frustration.  Have you ever tried to fix something with someone else when neither of you knows how to do it?  Makes for a great dilemma, doesn't it?

Write a scene between two people while they try to fix something or get something to work.

Who are the two people? What is their relationship to each other?
What is the thing that is broken?  What would it accomplish if it were working properly?
Which of the two people will benefit from the fixed thing, or will it be both of them?
Does one of them get more stressed than the other? Does one know how to fix it, but the other won't listen? Do they need help but don't have it available?
How do they treat each other in the middle of the stress?
Does it get fixed? Has their relationship changed in any way from this?  Don't be cliche.
Are you going to go for comedy or serious?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Writing Prompt for a Two Person Scene

Take this wherever you want. Don't be stereotypical or obvious. Be creative about setting, who these people are, what their relationship is to one another, the reasons they find themselves where they are, where they need to get to or what they need to accomplish.  Write this as a short story or maybe even as a short scripted scene.  Maybe it would make a great one-minute screenplay or stage dialogue. Whatever you do with this, I think it's a great prompt.  Are you ready?  OK, here you go.  Just take this statement and build a complete setting and situation around it.  I'm not going to give you too much to go on, but there is real opportunity for conflict from this very short description.  Get your pens out, and write a scene with this as your only starting block:

He is drunk, but she is not.

Immediate questions to ask yourself:
Who are these two, what is their relationship to each other (if you say husband/wife, you're being lazy)
Where are they? Where are they coming from? Where are they going?
What day of the week is it? What time of day? Are they inside or outside? What's the weather?
Why is he drunk -- where did he get drunk?  Why isn't she?
Is she helping him, or is she trying to get away from him?
Is he being irresponsible by being drunk, or is she being a stick in the mud?
What does she think of the fact that he is drunk? What does he think of the fact that she isn't?
Does anyone else enter this scene during the action, or is it just the two of them from beginning to end?
So, are you going to be comical or serious with this?


Saturday, January 12, 2013

More Writing Advice

I love quotes about writing.  This page has TWENTY of them!  From everyone from Dorothy Parker to Stephen King...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Most Brilliant Writing Tip Ever

I can't even expound on this. It's just the perfect singular writing tip I've ever read. Of course it would come from the incomparable Neil Gaiman. Are you ready for it? It's the only rule of writing there is.

"There are no rules. Do whatever you have to do to get the end of the thing you’re writing."
      --- Neil Gaiman

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Insight on Getting Published

I know you thought it was going to be my truly inspired insight on getting published, but I thought I'd post this link to a great article by Jane Friedman on how long you should keep trying to get published by a traditional publisher.

She comments on a lot of details, including what you're trying to get published and whether it is commerically viable on a national level or if it's regional or niche.  And to me, the most important question of all: what your goals are.