Monday, August 18, 2008

Tips for Writing SF, Fantasy or Paranormal Romance

We've had some great theme weeks lately, haven't we? I forget which Star-Crossed lady came up with this theme, but kudos! This one is particularly dear to my heart since I will inevitably pause to read any blog, web page or email that even purports to be somewhat instructional about my favorite genres :D For my part, I'll keep my tips mostly aimed at the science fiction portion.

We have to remember that above all else we're writing romance. That means that we must have a minimum of two protagonists whose goals, or methods in reaching those goals, are in conflict.

Uh, wait a minute. A minimum of two protagonists? Well, yeah, we are talking about SF&F. Who's to say that some planet in a distant galaxy doesn't require three or more individuals to successfully procreate? Granted that idea is more in line with straight SF but, with the advent of some forms of erotica, there have been a number of successfully done stories with three human partners. I generally start with a guy and a gal. At this point, I don't name them or give them any physical characteristics because I'll want to incorporate whatever 'world' they come from into their makeup.

Once I have my embryonic protagonists in place, I have to start building the world they live in because their environment will influence everything to do with their character, their background, their present, and, most importantly, their goals.

The first thing I have to decide is where will the story take place: Is this planet Earth? If yes, then I can use established continents, vegetation and weather. If not, then I must develop enough of the physical world to 'ground' me as I write their story.

The next thing I'll want to look at is the culture these protags come from. Again, if the planet is Earth, I can use one or more of the rich cultures we have for my characters. If not, then I must develop a cultural backdrop, at the very least, for them. And when I say develop a culture, I mean exactly that. I give thought to that world's political and sociological history, to the principle religions, the currency, technology, environmental issues, current leaders, what they do for entertainment. Sigh, the list goes on and on. I might not use a tenth of that but it'll be there if I need it to guide my character's actions.

At this point, I have enough information at hand to begin giving my characters their background. It won't be a final product but it will give me enough of a start that I can see where I'll need to do more research or planning or both. And it will give me the clues I need to understand how their goals will be in conflict. I'll decide on their names, their current occupation, hobbies if any, likes and dislikes, etc.

One thing to keep in mind is that the main characters, even if they're native to another planet, will have to have intrinsically human emotions and motivations or the reader may not have sympathy for them. This doesn't mean they have to be human, but they must have those qualities that humans can admire/understand. Therefore if I want my story hero to be not human, he must still be brave, honest (in his fashion) and devoted to the heroine even if she IS human. We don't worry overmuch about possible offspring -- because we write romance, we have to show that these two are capable of loving and worthy of being loved.

Assuming I've got my main characters almost completely realized, I'll probably write a chapter to introduce them, see how they play together. I may or may not keep that chapter but it will cause me to go back and fill in holes that I discover in their background or history.

At this point, I can start visualizing the plot...which for me means I decide how I'm going to resolve their conflict and end the book but I have to plan it out with the facts that I've developed in the characters themselves and the world they come from.

To me, that's the true beauty of writing.

-- Lynda

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Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Lynda, thanks for the insights. Sometimes I have a plot, the heroine and the hero -- then figure out their world. Kinda backwards, huh?

Lynda K. Scott said...

Backwards? Nah, not if it works :D It's better than not ever finding a plot, true? (And I've seen a few of those, lol)