A Beginner’s Tale #1


At time of writing, my Book Summaries page indicates that I am working on two books at once.

But it’s much worse than that. Grab a coffee, pull up a chair and listen to the salutary tale of a beginner…

In late 2011, I had sold my consultancy and was looking forward to a retirement of creativity – writing and acting. I began to sketch-out my rough ideas for a science-fiction novel. It soon became obvious that I had enough material for three or four books and that my characters were spontaneously developing interactions and motives I had never dreamed of. A bout of illness and two house removals later (don’t ask) and I had 150 A4 pages of what I thought to be a good start.

Then it became complicated. Bear with me – it also might be entertaining and informative.

As my stories explore humanity in the far future, recovering from a star-spanning disaster, the scene needs to be set and the universe defined, in order that the events are coherent, the technology is consistent and the culture is credible. I know, imagine a SF writer wanting a fleshed-out, credible environment as a stage for his characters to perform on!

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Like all world-builders, I had so much to say that the world-description was taking over from the story. How could I convey the long history and the richness of this exciting new culture without it becoming a textbook?

I remembered the admonition, “show, don’t tell”, and allowed my characters to make throwaway references to “the quarantined Homeworld”, “the First Exodus”, “the Automek Wars” and others to react to these references. In context, these remarks and responses were mostly sufficient to reference a key historical event.

I carefully avoided the old trap of, “Bob, you know that we fled from the Homeworld because of…”.

This future culture was so richly-defined, there was so much to cover – are there aliens? where is artificial intelligence? what was the disaster? what caused the disaster? what about religion? where does Earth figure? OK, I told myself, I can handle all that in natural, conversational asides.

hBeyond that lay matters not so easily dismissed – longevity, FTL travel, energy harvesters, biogems… Suddenly, I found myself staring into the Chthonic, Undead face of that horror of the SF genre, that page-spanning, life-sapping exposition known as… the infodump!

Page after page of technical information and explanation lay spread before me, an obstacle I must overcome before I could advance. Clearly, I had a limited range of choices. I could proceed with a cardboard-thin future and lose all self-respect or I could clog up the works with backstory and infodump or…

Was there another way?

(… to be continued)

12 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Tale #1

  1. Yes, my latest shorter peice is suffering from the…infodump. Thought I would turn my hand at a sci-fi Horror set on a world being Terraformed, Alas the Terraforming details have gotten away from me. 🙂 Now I sort of wish I have left the research and just written the basic story first. It’s about choosing only the details necessary for the story to progress and throwing the rest aside for another time I suppose. Especially If your book does spill into a new adventure, some of the finer details an backstories may enrich the the next in the series perhaps?


      1. Yes, I like that approach – much less overwhelming than “this is how one must write” hehe.
        Hope you get out from under soon – I’m in Indiana where they tell me winters are bad – this is my 2nd winter and so far, it’s a piece of cake, lol. We’ve only had one “real” snow this year so far and it was only about 3 inches in this part of the State (Lafayette).


      2. We’ve had a run of mild winters for years in Luxembourg (in that little triangle between France, Germany and Belgium). But recently we’ve seen more snowman weather. I love looking at it, and writing from home, I don’t have to go out in the stuff!

        I hope you saw my follow-on to #1… it’s a series of posts about a series of novels 🙂


  2. Pingback: A Beginner’s Tale #2 | Andy McKell

  3. Pingback: Time To Get Moving? | Andy McKell

  4. I am new to your blog site:) I just read a little of it already find it interesting. I have only done short stories so far in fiction and self help with an internal fictional story. I have an outline when I start and try to stick to it since I don’t want to stray into side stories. I always end up with a few extra pages, but at least its not a few extra chapters. lol.


  5. Pingback: A Beginner’s Tale #3 | Andy McKell

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