Welcome to our ongoing series of tips on how to write Science Fiction. I’m not sure that I have anything of any merit to teach you, but I am arrogant enough to try. I’m not a professional writer. Anything I say here should be taken as the braying of a jackass, and not as authoritative advice. I’m just saying what’s worked for me.
Feel free to ask questions or make comments below. If something requires expansion or explanation, or just rambling wise-ass comments, I’ll be happy to do it.
LESSON # 6: Let’s talk about Structure
Lets talk about structure a little bit today. Ordinarily I tend to talk about more conceptual things - the difference between “Ideas” and “Stories,” listening to your intuition, that sort of thing, but this will be a bit more nuts-and-bolts.
What is the best way to *tell* your story? There’s no solid answer for that. There are a number of structures one can use, and the best way to get your tale across can depend on what kind of tale you want to tell. It also largely depends on your temperament, and what, if any, emotional impact you’re trying to get across in the telling.
Most of us, when we start writing, tend to use the straight-ahead linear narrative: “Billy got up in the morning, ate breakfast, got dressed, went to school, threw up on the teacher, came home, got cleaned up, went to the bed, blah blah blah.” There’s nothing wrong with that, in that it’s the way real life works - from A to B to C. Time is, after all, a progression from the dinosaurs on down through history to president Obama. (who will presumably take us back to the time of the dinosaurs, and then we all start over again.) It’s naturalistic. Aristotle would approve.
Of course Aristotle was a hack, so let’s ignore him: the linear narrative is entirely acceptable, and I use it myself quite a bit. However, most of us tend to be a bit long winded when we start writing - I’m guilty of that, too - and this, coupled with a simple A-to-B story tends to bore your audience. So: Rule one: when you use this technique, cut out as much of the transitional material as possible. This makes it brisker, and more interesting. For instance, the example above: can be trimmed down to “Billy threw up on the teacher, then went home.” That’s half as long, and twice as interesting. It frees up a lot of time and energy for other elements of the story. It’s brisk, not ponderous.
What’s that you say? You’re a 19th century Russian author in prison and can’t limit yourself? don’t get too worried about this: be as longwinded as you like, but bear in mind that half of what you write will be chopped out in the editing, so don’t get too attached to it.
When going into a story, it’s best to have a beginning, middle and end in mind. A surprising number of us don’t do this. We start randomly, ramble along for a while, and then - bang - it’s over. There’s no middle and “The Beginning” is merely where we started typing, not where the story actually begins. This is unacceptable. People are reading your stuff, and you owe them an actual story for their time, not just a bunch of stuff that happens, and then doesn’t happen.
For my purposes, it’s best to have three specific scenes in mind when telling a story: the one you start out with, the game-changer in the middle, and the one you finish on. That way you start and end solidly, and you have something memorable en rout. You may want to write these three scenes independently before you put ‘em together in a story. Then the act of *writing* the story is merely a transition between these three bits. That’s not how I do it generally, but other writers do, and it works well for them.
A story needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order. You can tell the story in reverse, beginning with the conclusion and working your way back to the start. This is a simple device, but tricky because your story stops being about the conclusion. Rather, it becomes a kind of detective story in which your readers are discovering the events that led to that conclusion. In these stories, the inceptive event