February 7, 2010

WRITING ADVICE: Jack McDevitt 10: Demonstrate How Much We Know In The Infodump

I started reading SF when I was 12 (1969) and grew up AFTER the Golden Age of science fiction and in the middle of the New Wave.

Now that both have long-since passed away and I’m still here, I’ve been writing what I’ve always loved to read: space opera. There. I’ve done it. I’ve confessed! I love David Brin’s UPLIFT universe and Lois McMaster Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN books and I reread them regularly.

By the same token, I’ve long loved Clement, Clarke, Asimov, Reynolds, Kress and Vinge who are all noteworthy hard science fiction authors. As well, I’ve enjoyed the DUNE books of Frank Herbert since I read them the first time in the mid-1970s. He created something new to me – a complex interweaving of SF opera, hard SF and soft/social/psychological SF that drew readers in and never left them alone after that.

Every one of these writers – and McDevitt should be numbered among them, too! – learned how to communicate the nuts-and-bolts of their imaginary worlds without letting the science overwhelm the fiction. No one could claim that DUNE is light on science, yet the most memorable part of the books are the characters. He managed to introduce thopters, still-suits, worms, Guild pilots, spice, seiches and Holtzman shields without resorting to The Infodump – which is, by McDevitt’s definition: “go[ing] into chapter and verse explaining how…________ function and why they do what they do…[with] bogus explanations about wormholes or some other unintelligible method.”

I recently wrote a two separate short stories – neither of which I’ve sold – that elicited the comment from an editor or first reader that “he apparently has put a lot of work into this world. He knows it well and it shows…” But I think I’ve sacrificed story for detail. I DID manage to sell one of the stories (http://www.dkamagazine.com/item.php?sub_id=2090 ) and I haven’t given up.

I’m working on letting the story overtake the background, and I may be approaching the point where I can do that automatically. I recently wrote a short story set in a shared world. It required a HUGE amount of research in order to show that the world in which the story took place was “real”. The submission window closes soon and after that, they’ll have a decision. So I’ll let you know. Until then, I leave you with this from McDevitt: “The purpose of fiction [is to] create an illusion of reality, to place the reader within the experience, to have her live through it with the characters.”

1 comment:

slxpluvs said...

Re: McDevitt quote.

I thought the purpose of fiction was to resist relative motion. There is static fiction, like day dreams, which happens when one is at rest.* And there is kinetic fiction, which occurs when two objects are rubbing against each other. An example of kinetic fiction would be a pen going across paper.

It is important to note that in the aforementioned example of pen on paper there may be a triboelectric effect, or build up of static electricity. Because of this potential hazard, it is important not to put pen to paper when there are hazardous gases present. So, if you're full of something that gives off hazardous gas, stop writing. It's for the safety of everyone
around you.

Finally, lubrication provides respite from the force of fiction. Some people believe alcohols are an effective lubricant. Writing while lubricated by alcohol isn't recommended because alcohols give off fumes that may ignite due to the triboelectric effect.

Good luck increasing your science fiction to the point that you're hot, hot, hot! -Michael

*No work happens in a static fiction environment.