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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Splattering Guts for Fun & Profit

Part 3: Backstory and Prequel Disease

White Rabbit writes:
>Next, consider the economics...

This is really an interesting point. I must admit that I always wanted to know how resources (i.e. funds) were allocated in the world of Star Trek, especially when they claim to be beyond capitalism. Maybe that's why I loved the Ferengi so much!

Still, are you really suggesting to write about how star ships are really funded? Like..., write about what happens in a budget committee...a future budget committee? I think you could run some risks there as a writer. For instance, too much of that could get boring.... very much like modern day budget committees. Not to mention that the editor would get out a red pen and cross it out, and then fill in the margin with..."replace with Ferrell alien sex cooking class matting ritual." Not that the committee's fiscal review wasn't good. It's just that the mating ritual is where the money is.

Don't get me wrong. I would ---LOVE--- to see SF writing that takes reality into account. It just seems that reality doesn't get rewarded much these days.
No, don't write about the budget meeting. But definitely, think about it, so that later on you understand why in the big fight scene Admiral Heroic can't suddenly be leading a fleet of a thousand brand-new state-of-the-art starcruisers into the Epic Battle—or if he can, then you have some idea of what the society that produced those starcruisers had to sacrifice in order to do so.

As a writer you are under no obligation to put everything you research or think about on-stage. In fact, some of the worst fiction I've read has been written by writers who clearly knew their subject, researched it thoroughly, thought about it a lot, and then put every last thought they had on the page, in hopes that their readers would appreciate how much effort they'd put into their homework.

Do your research. Think it through. Work out the parameters. But then put all of that into the backstory: the common history your characters share and have no reason to discuss in detail, but only use as common touchstones and reveal in passing.
They clinked mugs in a toast. The akavit sloshed onto Remmel's prosthetic hand. Blorkmann winced, and started looking around for something to wipe up the mess. "Sorry."

Remmel shrugged. "Don't worry, it's waterproof." He set his mug down and ran the hand through it's range-of-motion diagnostic. "Finest kind. A gift from her majesty; I received it at the Battle of Denev."

Blorkmann stopped short. "You were at Denev?"

Remmel nodded. "Aye. And a glorious clusterflop it was."
Does the reader need to know anything more about the Battle of Denev, the war that led up to it, the astropolitical strategy behind it, or the machinations of her majesty's courtiers and advisors? Not if the story is about Remmel and what he does with his hand.

But you as the writer need to have given some thought to this, just so you can keep it all straight and understand your characters' situations, motivations, and options.

The worst form of "showing everything you've been thinking" is the prequel. Readers are bright. If you give them a rough form for the backstory and a few juicy details, they'll fill in the rest from their own imaginations, and odds are they'll think of things you never even dreamed of. If you later develop a desire to go back and write another story or novel that fills in all the blanks, resist the urge. There's very little chance your efforts will improve on the semi-story that's been floating around in the back of your reader's imagination for the last few years.

Prequels always suck. Don't write them.

...to be continued...
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