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Planetary devastation

January 23, 2013

One of the problems with challenges to writing the harder varieties of SF is the expectation among the readership that you know what the hell you’re talking about–even if what you’re describing does not (as yet) exist. Mind you, sometimes what looks reasonable when written turns out, in fact, to be laughably wrong when Science Marches On and your crazed scribbling can be compared to reality. That’s not the point, though. I mean, no one holds it against Heinlein that his spaceships had faster than light capabilities, but the characters used slide rules, right? You don’t have to be correct in your speculation, so much as you have to extrapolate reasonably, yet expansively.

So I wrote about 1400 words last night. I skipped ahead a bit to a scene I’ve been thinking about for some time, since it’s coming soon and I was tired of not writing it. In the scene, one of the sentient starships that are characters in the novel recalls a Very Bad Thing that ends up destroying a planet and one of the four ships. The tricky bit is that the planet is destroyed by a specific physical phenomenon, so I can’t just go all Death Star on it–I need to describe the brief, nasty process by which it becomes an ex-planet (and destroys the nearby ship).

Research time! Tidal forces, Alcubierre drives, exotic matter, Casimir effect, negative mass…the last forty words took as long as the previous thousand. I can hear the heads shaking out there–“Jeff, you silly, you don’t do that on the first draft. You say ‘the planet blew up’ and you keep the flow going.”

Yeah, not so much for me. Leaving a scene in the vague hand-waving stage irks me to the point where I feel obligated to FIX it before proceeding. For one thing, if I don’t, there’s always the chance I’ll miss a plot hole that blows the entire project up (much like the planet) twenty chapters later. The devil does indeed lurk in the details when it comes to plot, and the mental outline I have of the novel does not dip to the level of what a planet looks like when it’s ripped apart in one way as opposed to another.

Fortunately, I don’t often have a problem with momentum. The trick to getting back into the flow after encountering any obstacle in writing is to, you know, write. What helps me is to let ideas percolate in my head for some time before I start writing. I might do a scene or two to determine if I like writing in a particular register, if it’s outside my comfort zone, but other than that, I like letting the ideas simmer for months, even years. They tell me when they’re ready to rumble, and if I get diverted or distracted or have to change the cat litter or something, the germ of what comes next is always there, waiting.

Chatting up co-operative friends about notions you’re toying with can also be useful, both to solidify them and to find out if anyone else on the planet would be remotely interested in reading about them. Pick your targets with care, though: prattling about black holes with someone who doesn’t read SF will not yield the desired results for anyone concerned.

I’ll be back at it tonight. Now that I have this scene out of my system, I can go back and write up to it, kind of like orienteering with story elements.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 24, 2013 11:03 am

    Cool. You can add planetary devastation to the reasons you are on a watch list. 😉

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