Monday 30 December 2013

Ruling the Universe

One of the things that really annoys me about modern science fiction — and I mean on the screen, as well as in books — is the constant reliance on trite clich├ęs. So, in developing the Armada Wars universe, I have taken the time to set down ground rules that will prevent me from falling into the same traps.

In this blog post, we'll take a look at some of the principles that help shape the worlds, situations, technology, and people in the books. Read on to discover some of the rules of the universe!

Story is not Plot!

So many shows, films and books fall into this hole, despite being penned by career writers. The plot and the story are not the same thing! To my mind, they work as follows:
  • The story is the series of events in the world which are occurring completely independently of the characters' actions and wishes.
  • The plot is the account of how the characters respond to the challenges which are thrown up by the story.
When plot and story are mixed up, what you are saying is "well that's just how it happened, and the reader/viewer will just have to accept it". What ought to happen is that the character is faced with a story event, which they respond to characteristically, in a way that advances the plot.

The "Chosen One" is a Tension-Killer

If one of your protagonists is touted from the word go as being "the Chosen One", where is the tension going to come from? Where is the suspense? We all know that they won't die, unless they choose to sacrifice themselves right at the end, in some allegedly meaningful way, as they fulfil their tediously prophesied destiny (*cough* Neo).

For me, a character becomes compelling when I learn about their thoughts, their feelings, why they are the way they are, and how they interact with their friends, enemies, and the world at large. I find it very difficult to accept that a character is important enough to care about and root for, just because someone declares them to be the messiah. Especially if that someone is a crazy mystical hermit who can't give a straight answer to anything.

People are Rubbish Fighters

Films are worse for this, but even in books people seem to have the superhuman ability to fight each other with mutually choreographed panache, apparently without taxing their cardiovascular limits or obeying forces such as gravity. All of a sudden, when a fight starts, everyone is a Kung Fu legend... and they can fly!

Real fights usually come down to numbers, strength, and aggression. They end up on the floor more often than not, where grappling skills count much more than a mean right hook.

Time Travel is Never Trivial

When you can simply push a button to undo anything you - or an enemy - messed up, then there is no longer any real sense of jeopardy that a plot can hold on to. You have ultimate power, and all you need do is work out how to apply it.

Time travel is not ruled impossible in the Armada Wars universe (never say never, right?), but at the same time there is no known example of the technology in existence during the current story arc. And I have no plans for it to appear in the other four arcs that are scheduled.

An ad hoc Plot is Always Obvious

There is nothing so tedious as a story that develops over time, in which the events are being made up to crowbar previous events and statements into new plot developments. Especially when there are other previous events or statements which are contradicted as a result.

Armada Wars will not go along that route. Not only is the entire story of the current arc already planned out, but so are the past events which have led up to it. The life events and relationships of the characters — everything that led them to where they are now — has been designed. Even the historical events that their parents lived through is a matter of record.

Those are some of the rules. There are others, but they are generally less interesting to readers. I'd be interested in hearing thoughts on them, as well as examples of other rules that contemporary science fiction desperately needs to adopt!

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