zaelle: Kiwis are descended from T-Rex (Default)
[personal profile] zaelle
Crossposted from Tumblr, because it's fun and I would love a discussion, but I'm not a Tumblr celebrity :P

Tl:dr - I’m trying to write a sci-fi short story for the first time and I was looking for tips/thinking about what makes a) a story memorable and b) sci-fi as a genre memorable. Answer: Both define and question what being human means (even in the strangest or most extreme environments).

Do you agree? What are your thoughts?

Though I’ve read several sci-fi works (and loved them), I’m attempting to write in this genre for the first time. I’m hoping to have something around 7000 words ready to submit to an anthology in May…fingers crossed if I manage to do that, my experience will be more straightforward and better than the last time I tried to submit a short story.

I have a basic skeleton of an idea in my head, but when it comes to Sci-Fi, I’m awfully influenced by the stories that I love - Star Trek, Hyperion, Dune, The Left Hand of Darkness, Imperial Radch…and I’d like to not completely copy them (I know art is imitation but yeah…).

Originally I was going to ask for tips, but what I want to do is begin a discussion instead on:

a) What makes a story memorable; and
b) What makes sci-fi as a genre memorable.

I think answering those questions will provide enough tips, and that way whoever is in my boat now/in the future can also benefit :P

What makes a story memorable?

Like most one-liner questions, it’s pretty subjective isn’t it? Here’s the top 5 list for me:

1) It pushes us towards self-knowledge
2) It makes us further analyze the world and society we live in
3) It gave me hope when I needed it (even if the story is not the happiest one)
4) It helped me better understand people and the world I live in
5) It doesn’t hesitate to pose difficult questions about our society

What makes sci-fi as a genre memorable?

A bit of an explanation before I go into this list, I’m highly influenced by Ursula K Le Guin when I think of what the genre does. She summarizes it better than I ever could:

“Science fiction is often described, and even defined, as extrapolative. the science fiction writer is supposed to take a trend or phenomenon of the here-and-now, purify and intensify it for dramatic effect, and extend it into the future.” (read the full thing here)

With that definition in mind, I’ll go into the top 5 list for sci-fi:

1) It makes me think of what the future will look like
2) It makes me think of my legacy
3) It makes me hopeful - usually when I look at sci-fi, I look for what I hope my descendants will be able to see and experience
4) It is familiar - because no matter how futuristic or alien we try to imagine things, these are ultimately still human stories, and the characters act in very familiar ways (even in the farthest reaches of space)
5) It makes me want to explore what’s beyond

I do feel that technology and space call out to us because it’s humanity wrapped up in one nice bow - the innovation that our species have always used to invent and adapt to surroundings that we likely had no business thriving in, and the drive to explore and discover (to push the boundaries of what can and cannot be done).

Okay, this is too long, tl:dr summary up top.

Date: 2016-03-09 08:34 pm (UTC)
tuulentupa: Fairy on a butterfly (Default)
From: [personal profile] tuulentupa
I think your answer in the beginning is pretty excellent! A memorable story... for me I think it's very strongly about the characters, getting really into their heads and living their lives, so to say (though I remember some books I've liked with a bit weaker character development but a really intriguing setting/society...) But I think I'll have to think more about that, if I have anything to add to your lists. A couple of quick thoughts that came to my mind for now:

One great thing about scifi is how you can take a problem of the real world and, kind of... give it a twist, examine it in a completely new setting. I think that comprises your points 2 & 4 (and maybe 1 too) of what makes any story memorable. Scifi is a really good tool to explore those points, even if it seemingly takes place worlds away from our Earth.
Another thing is the use of aliens. Facing something completely different, fearing that which you don't understand, the "otherness"... some of my favorite scifi books deal with humans meeting other species and having to deal with them (and also, with the ability of humans to adapt to all kinds of conditions.) That's a pretty blatant* way to explore what it means to be a human, I guess...

*not sure if that's the word I'm chasing after. In fact, it's late and I'm tired and it's getting more and more difficult to express myself in English right now so I think I'll shut up and go to bed.

Date: 2016-04-12 09:11 pm (UTC)
tuulentupa: Fairy on a butterfly (Default)
From: [personal profile] tuulentupa
Uh, I just kind of disappeared from this discussion, didn't I.... >_> has it really been a month? I kept on thinking I should write my reply some day but somehow "didn't have time" or whatever, and then... I forgot.

reading sci-fi as a teen (and fantasy as well), where I was taken on these journeys into the outer reaches of the imagined galaxy, really influenced my personal politics as an adult.

This is a bit of an off-tangent, but... when I was young, I used to make up these fanficcy stories in my mind (I didn't even know about fanfiction back then) where I often took part myself, as a somewhat Mary-Sueish character (all things considered, I think this is pretty normal...) One setting I was fond of came from a fantasy book where there was a war going on and a lot of refugees had come to the elven capital and were having a hard time because the elves really didn't want them there. And then I came to the place, started helping them and marched to speak with the elven king and made them see that hey, you really need to help these people even though they are different from you, they are the victims here! I was reminded of this old head-fantasy of mine when I was thinking of the current situation with the Syrian refugees... it's just the same. Just the same. Only, where is the elven king I can go to talk with to make it all alright? *sigh*

I think you're right there, the otherness in scifi (and in fantasy too - yes, I agree here as well, these two genres are funnily similar in some points) really is all just about what it is to be human. Though sometimes it feels like even the alien, the other, still just reflects some aspect of humanity. I wonder if it would be possible for a human to write something that would be truly alien, as it is always a human mind that comes up with these supposedly alien concepts.

We share this planet with some pretty crazy and gnarly things that already challenges our perception of what life is, and yet won't be satisfied until we find it out there.

True enough! Who knows what kind of "aliens" dwell in the bottoms of our oceans...

I just recently read Dune, btw, much because of this discussion. I had not read it before, somehow. I have to admit I did not enjoy it that much as a story (characters and narrative were where my problems lay) - but the world-building just took my breath away. It's amazing. Easy to see why it has such a status in the genre. And I have a feeling that the world-building alone made it a "memorable book" to me.

Date: 2016-03-09 09:06 pm (UTC)
eccentric_hat: (Default)
From: [personal profile] eccentric_hat
It's an interesting question! I blow hot and cold on sci fi, myself, especially space-flavored sci fi, largely because I'm not actually very excited about space. The notion of moving there after Earth is uninhabitable, which some people seem to take as a comfort, is appalling to me.

What I do like is when genre fiction, whether that's sci fi or fantasy, speculates about a different kind of consciousness. Even if it's a human consciousness in a radically different cultural context.

I don't read anywhere near as much fantasy as I used to, but when I go back to it, what I find particularly pleasing about it is the opportunity to make character, culture, environment, history, virtues, and all sorts of other quasi-abstract things into concrete actors in the story (e.g. "you can't do this kind of magic because you're too angry"). There's something really satisfying to me about a story where the inner and outer worlds sync up like that. Science fiction is more about bringing character to bear on strange circumstances, which in a way is more realistic, I suppose.


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