A writer who talks about writing doesn’t deserve to have written in the first place. Fittingly, I did that below. It is an example of how little I know about the craft, really. So does using really, really.
It was for a class analyzing science as a mode of cultural transmission. I wrote science fiction for the assignment, in addition to offering what I considered a helpful guide in doing such work. Like most guides, it doesn’t work particularly well when immersed in a different scenario – for example, out of my mind and into yours. But here it is – the meaning of my life, or maybe just a course. During undergraduate, the two mixed daily.
If you’re reading this, you can hear my voice in your head. It is your voice, sure, but it is my voice too. Together it is raspy and high and deep and baritone and it echoes against your brain and rings in your ears without sound for no other reason besides a bunch of scribbles that you recognize.
It’s magic, or more truthfully, science fiction at work.
Maybe you never recognized this telepathic bond between you and I before. I don’t blame you. I didn’t always. Most of the class I was just blabbing on about one thing or another, and you may have just nodded along or fallen asleep or wondered what you would eat for lunch. I hope you ate something nice. Chicken noodle soup is always a good choice. Of course, this is my voice saying that, not yours. But I hope you’ll consider it one day. Who knows – maybe we’ll both like it.
If not, that’s okay. I am offering this as an apology for invading your head and manipulating you into maybe one day buying chicken noodle soup. It is a short what-you-should-do to write science fiction. The first thing is sit down and write. The second is write some more. And the third is read above and below when the first two fail – perhaps especially the bit about chicken noodle soup. Yum.
The Meaning of Life, and other Lessons for Writing Science Fiction Short Stories
1) Sit down and write.
2) Write some more.
3) Read above and below when the first two fail.
4) Consider the purpose of your writing. If it is to joke, then joke. If it is to analyze the effects of cosmic satellite debris, then analyze. Don’t mix the two up, unless of course, cosmic satellite debris is sidesplitting stuff.
5) Ground your piece. Space, and the worlds in it, are awfully big. Most of the time, we don’t even know our neighbours’ last names. So when writing, build a central thesis that can help you determine your way. It provides physical rules, if you want them; rules to break if you don’t. Situating your work in something real can be the sun to your narrative solar system, so to speak.
6) Be committed. This isn’t homework. This is you and a love story between papers. Make it romantic. Burn through the piece with the fumbling elegance of a prepubescent teen. That is, start as near to the end as possible because this might turn into a premature mess if you don’t. Let’s not waste time here. Your, and your reader’s, attention span is only so long, which I guess can also be said of a prepubescent teen.
7) Learn, learn, learn again in that order. The saying write what you know suggests laziness. Don’t listen to the hogwash. Instead, soak in as much as you can. Read nonfiction. Read fiction. Read everything, including the theories on everything. And if in the end you want to write about quantum mechanics because it just about explains all that needs to be explained, then do so, but ensure to be versed about the subject to avoid uncertainty later on.
8) Swim. You’ll not only need to read how to do the doggy-paddle, but you’ll need to practice it. Jump into the water, experiment, and flail until you fail. Then try again. This type of complete immersion in the subject informs your writing, your imagination, and tells you where the gooey gaps of creative wiggle room is. For example: in between the empty space of an electron and a neutron, or the emptier space between the neutron and itself, or maybe even in the scientist who discovered that most matter is really quite spacious and who felt quite empty and alone and so altogether incomplete, as though he finally understood why in between the spaces inside him, those gnawing, hungry vacuums, something appeared amiss, something that maybe should’ve been there but wasn’t and so he decided to spend his life trying to find it – whatever it was and wasn’t – in science, but after toiling and analyzing instead found that Universe is so sparsely populated that no matter if you fill it like a subway in the morning, nothing will be whole, including the scientist, Clyde Cowan, who discovered the neutrino in 1959 and with it, the realization of how empty things – all things – really are.
9) Enjoy misery. Your characters are part of you. In a way, you love them because they reflect deep instances of your thoughts. But don’t let those feelings get in the way of the pain you need to inflict on them. Ensure that something is taken away from them, that they lose themselves, that the line at Taco Bell is long – whatever. Bad things need to happen to them so you can see what happens to them when it does. Kill them if you must. Everybody knows nothing hacks up a character like a murder, besides perhaps an ax.
10) Find your own way. Whatever you create, remember just that: you have created it. Anyone else doesn’t know as much as you do on it. You’re the expert. You’re the Leonardo Da Vinci of the stuff you made. And it looks so good that even the Mona Lisa would take a look.