August 25, 2013

WRITING ADVICE: Julie Czerneda’s Writing Workshop! #2 -- The Idea

In 2005, whilst perusing the shelves at the Hennepin County Public Library, I stumbled across CHANGING VISION by Julie Czerneda (say it: chur-nay-dah), an author I'd never heard of, and was intrigued by the aliens on the cover by artist Luis Royo. It didn’t matter that the book was the second in a series, the cover entranced me and so I read. The book was spectacular, I read others, and fell entirely in love with another series of hers called SPECIES IMPERATIVE for its fascinating aliens and superior characterization. A teacher deeply at heart, Julie Czerneda shares ideas and methodology wherever she goes. On her website, she shares ideas for writers. I want to share what kind of impact her ideas have had on my own writing.  They are used with the author’s permission.

“...instructions for activities...the perfect way to practice talking about writing...Email, text, posts, chat are writing about writing. Talking to someone is another beast altogether...if you have a chance to do them with...writers...give them a try. Email me if you have any questions.”

The What if ...? Scenario

“Read through a popular science article. Based on the ideas presented in the article, decide on a question you could pursue in a science fiction story. Consider the following extrapolation of this science into the future.”

I did this and my short story, “Peanut Butter and Jellyfish”  appeared on the ezine, CAST OF WONDERS in December of 2011. This is how it worked for me.

I am a science geek, actually. When I write SF, I make sure the science is as accurate as possible. I had created a world in which a kind of mobile plant – a plantimal – that had descended from a euglena-kind of organism was both the dominant life form on the world Wheet as well as competition for Humanity. Human and WheetAh are at war and in the timeframe of my novel, near the end of the war, we are the horrifying alien invaders.

While reading various science sites, I stumbled across four bits of information:

1) “Top Scientific Breakthroughs of 2009” #6, “Jellyfish stir the oceans”
2) “Jellyfish May Help Keep Planet Cool”
3) “Jellyfish Are the Dark Energy of the Oceans”
4) “How jellyfish may be stirring the ocean”

Another goal I had was to write intelligent science fiction for young adults. I confess my dream would be to become the New Robert A. Heinlein of Middle Grade/Young Adult/New Adult I have quite a bit of experience working with them.

At any rate, applying Czerneda’s advice, I wanted to show the WheetAh/Human conflict from an adolescent point of view.

 Since none of them could be soldiers and I’m saving the point of view of young college students for another WheetAh/Human story called “Small Battles”, I hit on a variation of the Romeo & Juliet (or Peace Child, for a religious reference point closer to the idea) meme of putting youthful representatives of warring factions together in hopes of fostering understanding that might lead to peace.

I had setting, motivation, and character – last of all I needed conflict. What would drive the story; drive the characters to not only clash, but that would lead to a resolution that would bring all involved together?

That was where the ideas above came suddenly into play. A simple afternoon of skimming through science news led me to the jellyfish research. What if I put my characters on the high seas and the WheetAh kids-on-Earth were taken with their Human counterparts, to a research experience together? What if the science not only turned out to be true but also had implications that might help the WheetAh home world? What if the kids brought the ideas back and Humans turned out to be able to help the WheetAh?

Other characters – Khalid, Antoine, and the rest – grew out of the initial idea in order to fulfill particular plot necessities. But without the science and its extension into the future – the “What if…? scenario”, this story would not only never have sold, it never would have been born.

Thanks, Ms. Czerneda.

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