Monday, June 11, 2012

Old Movies and modern science fiction

Watching old movies again? Do you like to go back and laugh at the science of old science fiction films?

Whether you're watching James Bond getting the radiation washed off him with brooms, or Captain Kirk chatting up a lady with 80s-style hair, the films only get better with time. But what can we learn about our own writing from dated movies?

Some things stand the test of time. Others (yes, even science) do not. What we know as a society changes more quickly than new books can be written. So, while getting the science correct is important, it's even more important to focus on getting the universals right.

We don't watch the classics for their science (except to laugh at it, but that doesn't really count, now does it?) We watch because we can connect with the characters, because we get swept away in the story. The true science of science fiction is how to make your reader fall in love with your characters.

Let's admit, sometimes it's better to just not explain the numbers. You can ask Hollywood for an example: If going into detail on how the phasers work slows the story down, just skip it. You can always add it to fan materials later. Besides, by the time there are real phasers (set to stun, please!), your phaser-science is likely to have been debunked.

Yes, there are times when the "how" becomes necessary. Don't skimp when it's needed. But like description of any kind, too much in the wrong place can grind a story to halt. So before saying your manuscript is polished, do a quick read-through. Is there any place where your characters are getting bogged down with the hows? If so, ask yourself if how something functions is essential to the storyline. Sometimes it may be. But if it's not, it's time to trim the section and slip it into the "cut scenes - bonus material for dedicated fans" box.

Focus on the plot, the characters, and the character interactions instead - that's a science that will never become outdated.


  1. Okay, that was just what I needed. Painfully so. I'm in the middle of a second draft and I'm facing the problem of the Howlin' Hows. Eck. But I think I'll go around it by your suggestion: focus on the characters and their relationships and everything will turn out.

    Sigh. Thanks.

    1. Yep, I've been there too. I just try to tell myself, when I'm published and growing my fan base, I can post the "Howlin' Hows" (love that name for it, btw!) on my website as bonus material. There are people who really enjoy reading the hows, so I can make it available to those who are interested without interrupting the flow of the story. One of the many reasons to love the web...

      Good luck on your second draft! :)