Thursday, October 27, 2011

Worldbuilding: zero gravity

I workshopped Course Corrections at Viable Paradise and since I got back I've been working on a serious revision of the first draft. Insert all the usual advice about putting a manuscript aside for months before revising here -- it's all true. Do it.

As a departure from my fantasy world-building posts, here's a science fiction world-building post.

Zero gravity. Science fiction tends to avoid it. It's counter-intuitive and awkward. But if you're willing to try to tackle it, I recommend Packing for Mars by Mary Roach as a fascinating place to start your research. I've enjoyed all her books, in fact. For fiction, Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. I should've read more of those, but that goes without saying. Head over to YouTube and look for footage of astronauts in zero gee.

Here are some things that came up in the course of writing 140k or so in low-to-zero gravity...

Real zero gravity toilet
They're a massive engineering challenge, in real life. But as far as stories go, unless the toilet is a problem you don't have to explain it to the reader.

In current reality, showering does not work in zero gee. Personally, I have great faith in human ingenuity and trust that we will figure something out. My characters do a fair amount of personal cleaning with wet wipes, though.

Holy crap, cooking. This was the single most challenging thing, for me. Because if people are going to live their whole lives in space, they're going to need to grow food and cook it out there. Currently, all astronaut food is prepared on Earth and shipped up as packaged meals, so no help there. I started thinking about centrifugal boiling. Centrifugal frying? Radiative ovens verses convection? At several points I just wanted to throw up my hands and microwave everything. But who would want to live on nothing but frozen dinners? (and who's making the frozen dinners?)

Skip it, like the toilets? Maybe, maybe not -- see the next entry.

Sharing meals is deeply ingrained in the human psyche, and very important for a sense of community. People wonder why families who don't eat together feel alienated from each other? Different rant, sorry. But since the characters are going to be eating together, it's inevitable that there's going to be a scene set during a meal or while preparing for a meal.

On a practical level, it seems to me that food needs to either self-adhere to something easy to eat it from (whether a bowl or a skewer) or it needs to be sufficiently self-contained (such as a burrito) or just plain bite-sized (see all those videos of astronauts throwing food at each other). Alternately, food that's fluid enough to drink -- broth, yogurt, milkshakes -- from a squeeze container should work too.

Also consider: forks or chopsticks? Chopsticks won that argument, in my head at least.  

Turned out to be the least of my worries, actually. I figure you just need good leverage and stamina... :D Hint: search on free porn video sites for underwater sex. It's someplace to start.

Feeling brave enough to write in zero gravity?

Zero gravity, part two

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

10 Rules of Writing Meme

This meme is going around my fellow Viable Paradise grads' pages. This is a light-hearted take on it. If you're reading this, consider yourself tagged.

If this isn't a happy photo, you may be in the wrong line of work
1. Do your homework
The best homework is the stuff you assign yourself. 

2. Curiosity killed the cat
Admit it, everything is interesting for at least ten minutes. Curiosity is a writer's main weapon.
3. Satisfaction brought him back
Humans are amazingly complex. The universe is expanding. There will always be more to learn and more to imagine.

4. Embrace your inner freak
Trying to hide it is a lot of work. Your people are out there -- out here, I should say. Come find us.

5. - 7. Edit, edit, edit
Only God gets it right the first time, as Stephen King said. This is both a warning and a comfort.

8. Cannibalize
Mine your own slush pile and make it work this time.

9. Hide Easter eggs
If anyone ever catches the reference to one of my favorite fantasy series in my science fiction, it'll be fantastic.

10. Face down the darkness
When you look at the void, the void looks back. This is true. I send my characters to face my inner demons for me, so maybe I'm a coward... but it does keep reminding me that demons can be vanquished.

All right, maybe I got a little serious toward the end. Writing can be serious business. It can also be a hell of a rush. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lessons from Viable Paradise

Less is more. Until, of course, the point where your reader does not have enough to go on.

I tend to be heavy on the choreography in my writing -- every look, every tilt of the head, everything my characters pick up, put down, every nervous twitch, I tend to write it all down. And I'll admit that no, I probably don't need it all.

At VP, I got feedback from a real editor -- sat there and watched her cross out a phrase here and a sentence there, condensing actions into more succinct images. I could hear the screws creaking as the narrative tightened up. She didn't cut it all, because it's not all superfluous. My science fiction tends to come out in an objective voice and I do need enough body language -- in tandem with the dialogue -- to give the reader a hint of what the characters are thinking.

But I don't need to bog the reader down with every little pinky gesture and twitch of the mouth. I need to figure out what the giveaway is, in someone's mental state. The averted eyes? Picking at their nails? That's what the reader needs to see. Use the words you save on choreography for interesting descriptions or world-building.

When is less too little? How much is too much? There aren't any hard and fast answers, of course, only opinions. I wish there were solid answers, sometimes. But in general, I suspect that writers can get by on a bit less than they think they can.

What do you think?

Monday, October 17, 2011


Viable Paradise is an overwhelming workshop for many reasons.

A writer's toolbox is complicated and intimidating. VP is a chance to learn about some of the subtler tools and practice with them. So you come home with something like this:

(whereas it all still fit in the box before VP) and you sit down at your writing desk and try to figure out what to do now.

Other attendees are already posting more lyrical (than I'm capable of) thoughts on what VP taught them -- I will just reiterate the power of being told You are not wasting your time by someone wearing the trappings of authority. My writing needs work. I know that and more importantly, I know that with some effort I can fix the problems. Good stories can be created by mere mortals like you and me. You don't have to be born a Mozart-sized genius.  

I'm excited to start playing with my tools, honestly.

I may be off schedule for a while, but it's not like anyone will notice, right? I'm still debating whether to try writing Part II of Piglet for NaNoWriMo... let's see what happens as I get these revisions to Course Corrections rolling and what happens at the ninja dojo chat on Thursday.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Looks heavenly to me...
I will be taking  a working vacation next week -- I am off to the Viable Paradise writing workshop to have my brain melted down and re-forged.

At least that's what the past attendees make it sound like. It also sounds something like going back to college just for Finals Week.

VP is an invitation-only workshop and the vindication of receiving that invitation has been echoing through me since July. 2011 has been a year of big changes, so far, bigger than anything since... urf, never mind. It's been far too long since my world's been shaken up.

So, no posts next week and I hope to be home on or about the 16th of October. See you then!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...