Writing a Science Fiction Novel

As I hope you know, I’m in the process of writing my C.A.T. novel. There is an interesting story why I ended up writing this novel the way I did, which I hope will act as a useful tip to other budding novelists.

I was writing a straightforward space adventure novel. Nothing out of the ordinary or special as measured by science fiction standards. One of the four main characters was doing all the expected things he needed to do and nothing more, no character, no internal conflict because of the situation he found himself in and no behavioural tick that would make him do even a little something unusual to add to the story. So in order to give him some colour, I gave him a robo-cat. It was literally a walk-on and walk-off part.

A few chapters later, I found another use for the that robo-cat. I thought good. It moved the plot on very nicely.

Within a few more chapters that damned robo-cat was appearing in nearly every chapter. Worse, I had friends, who read and commented on my drafts, that they wanted to know more about the robo-cat. So I had to have a discussion with it. It could have its own story if it left my novel alone.

What kind of story could I give it? Well, the obvious one was how it came into existence. That story was Agents of Repair, which was published in Issue 29 of the Jupiter Magazine (the issue was entitled Thyone, which is the 29th moon of the planet Jupiter). I went back to my novel.

Then I realised I had a gap in my knowledge about the robo-cat. How did it come from where I had left it in Agents of Repair to hook up with my character? Well, I couldn’t write that into my novel as I had started the novel with them already together. So I ended up writing about how they got together. This story was to form my portfolio for my application to do an MA Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, for which I was accepted. During that course, I subbed the story to TWB Press and it was accepted for a stand-alone e-publication, simply entitled C.A.T.

Good, I thought, I now had the background to carry on my novel. At this point I got distracted from the novel on my Creative Writing course to start a completely different novel, which as it turns out follows a similar development arc to this novel (more about that novel in another post).

But I couldn’t leave C.A.T alone. Two sequel e-publications followed, Neptune’s Angel and Guard Cat. In the process of all this, though I had not realised it at the time, I was enriching background world of this novel.

Finally the resistance to C.A.T. taking over the novel was futile. I changed him (notice C.A.T. has gone from it to him by this stage) to be the main point of view protagonist and did an overarching story arc for him to follow. But at least I had the background world-building fixed.

I started the novel further back in time than my original draft because there was an unexplained event in one of the main characters. That turned into the chapter called Space Blind. It was of a length that could be sent into the Writers of the Future short story (word limit 17,000 words), so I did. I had also worked out that a good way to keep me on schedule with writing the C.A.T.-novel was to send new chapters in to the competition on regular basis. I knew it would help me through what I call the doldrums part of writing the first draft. This is the 50% to 75% section where you’ve done most of the creative world-building, characterisation and plot development, and you know you have still got a long way to go to reach the end of the novel. Once over this doldrum part you are so close to the finish, you get really excited about finishing it, which carries you through to the end.

To my utter surprise and delight, the Writers of the Future gave me an honourable mention for Space Blind. It was a remarkable achievement because one fault from a short story point of view was there were a loose ends in it, which would be dealt with in subsequent chapters, and count against it in the judging. So I grinned, framed the certificate and continued writing the novel.

The next two main chapters followed the story arc of the original novel, with the second story Eternal Vigilance also gaining an Honourable Mention. I settled down to write the middle third of the novel, hoping that my plan would get me through the doldrums.

Then something weird happened in chapter 4, Dust in his Eyes. I found myself coming up with more background world building, admittedly in the details rather than the big picture. But they were important to the story line. It was only a detail here and another there. But I found the character of C.A.T. developing as a result. Guess what? Another Honourable Mention. I thought I had to be doing something right.

The inventiveness got worse in chapter 5, Hope Mosaic (which also received an Honourable Mention), and even crazier in chapter 6, Instinct of Logic. By this stage, C.A.T. had taken on a life of his own, and it felt like he was dictating the novel. He was now actually helping to change the space-scape with his story. I kept on thinking, I can’t put that into this novel and yep, it went in.

I have now reached chapter 7, entitled Unknown Unknowns. As nine chapters are planned, this is the 66% to 77% section. Finish this chapter and I would be truly out of the doldrum part. So far, it’s absolutely zinging with new-scape. I finish writing my current section, go off do other normal human things and then come back with a new thing to include in the story.

So what lessons can we learn from this experience:

  1. The ‘wisdom’ of saying that most of the creative development part of novel writing is over by the time you reach the halfway mark is total rubbish for science fiction.
  2. In the original version novel I had instinctively chosen my point of view character as the one who was learning about the world. Whilst useful in itself from a world-building view, it is very likely not the best option for bringing out the best in the novel. By all means write the earlier version until the point you are happy about the world-building, but be prepared to start the novel again from the point of view of the most interesting character in the novel. (This also happened in my MA Creative Writing novel.)
  3. Find ways of sticking to a reasonable timetable for writing a novel. I did this by insisting I had to put my chapters into the Writers of the Future contest. Other methods may work for other people. I suspect in the case of the more professional writers, contract deadlines act as a wonderful focus. But for those of us starting out on our novel writing careers, having something to help us keep up the momentum is not only useful, but almost a must.

Once I’ve found succinct summarised phrases for the above, I’ll put them in a separate post. But for now, the fuller explanation will, I hope, help other budding novelists. If there is only one conclusion you want to take away from this post its:

The process of writing science fiction novels is different from writing other types of novels.

The simple character of C.A.T. in the prequel stories has long since developed. But if you want to read about it / him in those early days, click on the images below to take you to Amazon UK.

 

catcover

neptunesangelcoverlarge

Guard Cat Full Detail

Advertisements

C.A.T. and cryo-volcanism!

This arrived earlier this week….

slide1

This is for chapter 5 of my C.A.T. novel – yes I know, a chapter is not a short story – which makes this award all the more worthy.

C.A.T. novel progress is shown below:

slide1

As you see, I’m over two-thirds of the way through. Yay!

It’s well-known that between the halfway and three-quarters mark is the most dispiriting part of the novel to write. It’s the section where most of the creativity that goes into the novel has been done and it’s still a long way from the end. If only I get through to the completion of the current chapter, then I’ll be over ‘the doldrums’ part of writing this novel. Of course there’s the polishing and editing to come. However, each time you go through a novel to improve it, it becomes quicker and therefore the tedium has less chance to set in.

For those that don’t know what this novel is about, you can find the prequels at the links to the Amazon below:

Oh and here’s a link to the video Terry at TWB Press kindly put together for me:

As you know C.A.T.’s adventures take place in and around Neptune, much farther out in the Solar System than Earth. It’s more than just icy cold out there. one the things they have to deal with is cryo-volcanism – volcanoes that spew liquid ice instead of hot lava.

They’ve recently discovered an ice volcano on the dwarf planet, Ceres, which is in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. It’s not as far out as Neptune. But the scientists are learning what makes and breaks these volcanoes. They have been looking at a mechanism called viscous relaxation that not only destroys some types of cryo-volcanoes, but also craters, over long time periods.

Here’s the link to the article.

Below is NASA’s picture of Ceres’ cryo-volcano, named Ahuna Mons (don’t ask me where they get these names from!)

ikvd4u6nqocte2hquepl

And yes, of course, there is cryo-volcanism in the C.A.T. novel, big time! Before you ask, sorry, you’ll have to wait for the novel to be published, if it ever gets published.

Explorations: Through the Wormhole – coming soon

A date has been set for the publication of Explorations: Through the Wormhole anthology – September 3rd. Oh the excitement…

1200x628-ThroughTheWormhole-FbookBannerSample-3

I have got hold of ARC and it’s looking good. There’s some exciting stories in there… but then I’m biased, aren’t I?

PS If anyone wants to to do a review, ping me an e-mail and we’ll take things from there. (Yes, the catch is you have to know my e-mail address, so I know who you are… I’m obviously picking up some of C.A.T.’s bad habits – talking of which, earlier this month I reached the half way mark with the first full draft of C.A.T.’s novel!)

The Science keeps rolling in… Time for Science Fiction…

With one thing and another it has been a very sad time. Perhaps the saddest news is that I found one of my cats, ‘Rufus the Poofus’ dead in my garden just outside the backdoor under the decking. He died suddenly and up until that point he had been a very healthy active cat.

Rufus’s antics had provided some of the inspirations for C.A.T. – though I have yet to include the twitching of the upright tail as he walks out of the room gesture in one of my stories. If you want to buy the C.A.T. story, or just read the first part – go here.

Clearly I haven’t had the heart to be up to much. I have managed to keep an eye on the science, which continues to gather pace…

There’s been an article about super-DNA that protects people from hereditary diseases. Unfortunately because the evaluation was done from anonymous donors, further work with the people concerned cannot be done – they are trying to track them down, but whether they succeed remains to be seen. See here for more details. In one way, this should not come as a surprise. If bad DNA can produce horrible hereditary diseases, why not have good DNA that can prevent them? Sometimes postulating the opposite can be the basis for a good science fiction story.

Then there’s the recent announcement that a billionaire wants to invest in the development of wafersats to go to our nearest star, Alpha Centauri. These wafersats will be propelled by laser from close to Earth. See here for details. This has engineering challenges, and may not succeed. But there are other projects including  we should not forget the rival project the Icarus project with its Firefly spacecraft. See here for details. Either of these could find out more about Alpha Centauri and whether there are any habitable planets there. Again this could be an interesting area to explore through science fiction asking the crucial what ifs.

Further news on Planet IX – more evidence has been found that it could exist. A seventh Kuiper Belt object also shows signs of having been perturbed by the a mysterious gravitational tug out there – which could be Planet IX. They are actively looking for it. And they have put together soem ideas on what it would look like… See here for details. Picture below from the article, just to whet your appetites.

 

_89137557_89137556

But given the recent results from the New Horizons about Pluto, this diagram might be rather too conventional in its make-up. Yes, it’s all too possible, but given the highly eccentric orbit Planet IX should be taken I would expect expect some strange cyclic effects to change the composition in ways that we have not yet thought about. Again another area for the science fiction exploration.

There are so many opportunities for good stories here for science fiction… go write…

Innovative and Fresh Science Fiction Writing?

Like all science fiction writers, I have ended up with bunches of stories linked to a single universe. It’s only natural. Once you’ve built a universe, it’s easier to write stories about that universe. So I put together a graphic of how my published (black titles) and some of the mature unpublished stories (orange titles) hang together. There are a few stories that don’t belong to any universe – kind of oddballs in their own way – which have been placed outside of the boxes. Whilst these are nice stories, I don’t see any of their ideas being carried forward into something else.

Slide1

Note that whilst the orange horizontal lines represent time, they are not drawn to a uniform scale, not is there any correlation in time between the three boxes on the right hand side. 

I’ve mentioned three of these universes before – the near future, the Neptune Universe and the Uranus Universe. Each of the latter two is concentrates on thrashing out the consequences of a fundamental science premise.

[Hint: If you want to know what the premise for the Neptune Universe is, go and read Agents of Repair. I’m not going to discuss the premise for the Uranus Universe, because even though the first chapter of A Void Dance is published, the premise is not explained until later in the book.]

But whilst I’ve not been looking another universe has been slowly and insidiously sneaking into my subconscious. I’ve called it the Angel Universe, though the angels are none of the standard definitions that you would find in the Oxford English Dictionary. It gives me the deja vu feeling. The premises of both the Neptune And Uranus universes snuck up on me too.

Each universe takes its time to grow and be fleshed out, and it really can’t be rushed. Let’s take the Neptune Universe as an example. I was busy writing, in many respects, a standard space opera novel. I needed to liven up a certain at that time dull character, so I gave him a robo-cat. The robo-cat was supposed to be a walk-on-walk-off part and that was it. Then I found in a later scene I had a use for that robo-cat. Then again in another scene. That darned robo-cat was taking over my novel. So I came to an agreement with it. It could have its own story, provided it left my novel alone. That’s when Agents of Repair was written. So I went back to my novel thinking I could get on with it, but I didn’t feel comfortable with it. It was kind of humdrum and boring, and besides that robo-cat had quite a few questions hanging over it. So I wrote a second background story, which turned into C.A.T. This time the robo-cat became a really interesting character. So interesting that it took over my novel. I threw most of the old novel away and started afresh. For very good storyline reasons it is divided into none major stories. I’ve completed the first three to a good first draft standard, with the first two getting an Honourable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest.

The same thing is happening with the Uranus Universe. I wrote the novel from the viewpoint of someone learning about their environment. She was definitely not the most interesting character. Far from it. There was another character in that novel who was far more complex. The scenes he appeared in were only really glimpses of his outwardly nature, even though I had in my mind backfilled his history.

Yep! You’ve guessed it. I started re-writing the novel from his point of view. Only this time there was another problem to overcome. His character is complex, moulded by the environment he has lived in and twisted by the experiences he has undergone. So I took time out, not to write about his history or explain him, but to write about a completely different character who for good storyline reasons needed to learn to understand people like him. Enter stage right Torvinne. Her story will end up being a novella in due course.

So enter a new idea and a new universe. I’ve called the Angels Universe for a very obscure reason. The background idea year and it’s busy gaining description and character. But yes, I’m going to have to do some exploratory writing about that universe. Hopefully along the way I dream up some interesting characters and conflicts that need resolving.

It occurs to me that if I’m taking this long to come up with a universe that’s ready to be written about, how do the more professional science fiction writers do it?

Well, the answer is that they mostly don’t. How many science fiction writers do you know that have series of novels published about the same universe? Quite a few, if not the majority.

There comes a point when the professional author is being pressured to produce a novel and is forced to rely heavily on the universe they’ve built before to get that manuscript out of the door. They don’t have time to develop more universes. And here is me, sitting with three of them in various stages of development. (I’m not counting the Near Future one here as the stories I write for this are based on interested science / technology extrapolations.) 🙂 🙂 🙂

This does beg the question of how many top notch authors are there in science fiction today who feel tired and aren’t able to produce?

Well, Elizabeth Hand over on Charles Stross’s blog, has admitted she needed a break from writing. I say good for her for standing up, being honest and being counted. It’ll result in much better novels coming from her in the longer term.

But in its own way it does beg a lot of questions about how science fiction writers are being treated by the publishing industry.

Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy writing my novels in peace and quiet while I can.

 

And the science keeps on rolling in…

Well, the avalanche of new science just keeps on rolling in…

First off is the news that they’ve run the first test to get nuclear fusion working at Max Planck Institute in Germany. See here for details. This is still at the experimental stages, bit so far so good. Of course there are other hot fusion experiments being done and prepared around the world. It’s now a case of who gets there fast enough to corner the market in the technology. But the bottom line is that the use of fossil fuels will be consigned to history within this century.

Then there’s those bright spots on the dwarf planet, Ceres.The scientists say they are due to salts. Most likely salt is the magnesium sulphate.

 
ceres-blue_wide-56ee783d632a492a02827fb9cd377ae11f67ed53-s800-c85

Not sure what the implications are of this (except this will disappoint those who were hoping it was an indication that aliens exist).

NASA has put together a visualisation of the space weather that New Horizons had to pass through to get to Pluto. By all accounts it was a stormy ride. See here for details.

The Japanese probe, Akatsuki, has finally made into orbit around the planet, Venus. (Which given other circumstances, is rather appropriate timing, but more about that in a future post.) See here for details.

And finally for this post, comes that news that Tesla’s boss, Elon Musk, along with Linkedin co-founder Reid Hoffman and Paypal Co-founder Peter Thiel, are creating OpenAI, a nonprofit organisation devoted to “[advancing] digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.” Of particular interest is the idea that AI should be used to save the world from advanced AI. See here for details. 

Does this last item sound familiar? If not let me give you a clue:

neptunesangelcoverlarge

 

As you know from my previous post, I’m working on the C.A.T. novel. (C.A.T.’s still purring about the Honourable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest for his 5th C.A.T. story by the way…). And yes, the theme of AI protecting humans from AI is going to developed further in that novel, but it is not the major theme, though if does have significant consequences in the novel… Hey… maybe I ought to… well I’ll leave your imaginations to finish the sentence.

 

A couple of news items

I’m absolutely delighted that I have got an Honourable Mention in the 4th quarter of the 2014/15 Writers of the Future contest. It’s for my 5th C.A.T. story – Eternal Vigilance.

This is the 2nd Honourable mention, the first being for my 4th C.A.T. story – Space Blind. What this does mean is that the first two major chapters of my C.A.T. novel have received this award! Yes I did say chapters, with their all their lose ends a-dangling, and not the full allowable length so that the imaginative scope was limited. So well pleased.

Over at SFF Chronicles, Kraxon e-magazine is holding a vote for the favourite story of the year. My short story – Flame of Desire – is eligible. You have to be a member of SFF Chronicles to be able to vote. See here for details. Even if you’re not a member, go and read the stories – they’re all something rather special. Enjoy!