“Do you create an entire universe for your characters to live in and how much of that do you use in the actual story?”
- This is a question often posed, most recently by Mirjam Maclean of the LinkedIn Group: Science Fiction readers, writers, collectors, and artists.
In my case…I began writing a human-based “far-future” novel (which is rapidly becoming a series/trilogy…). I found that I needed to establish many things for a coherent, credible culture, and I hate extended backstory infodumps (the SF bugbear) and multiple flashbacks. There are ways to introduce material into the story and into conversation – BUT NOT, “As you know, Planetary President, we are a monogamous, matriarchal culture based upon Buddhist beliefs…”
We also need to avoid the Star Trek problem of projecting current technology into the future and finding that the exciting communicators are already old-hat by the time the public reads the work. It is a disaster to have a far-future character trying to develop a device that every reader already has in their pocket.
I chose to maintain the current time-keeping standards (hours, days, years) irrespective of the various rotational/orbital situations on the many colonised planets, to avoid confusion:-
- no need to explain/convert every time unit used by every colony
- it helps maintain story momentum if every character is on the same “clock-page” – this enables smooth transition to parallel action when changing scenes across the galaxy
Also our evolution leads us to function best in a “24 hour day”. I can do this as I have a central, authoritarian colonial power that enforces it – and I see no radical revolutionary movement eager to overthrow a working system (why “island” countries can still drive on the left) and based upon biological rhythms.
But I still found infodumps and exposition popping-up, so I identified a key point in the development of this culture and am writing a “prequel” before releasing the main work. This allows me to slip information in over an extended period. What leads up to that key turning-point is “leaked” in the “prequel” and how the culture developed after that in the main work.
As a support strategy, I am writing a series of standalone short stories, whose backgrounds explore specific features of issues that I find fascinating and crucial, but which the reader might class as infodumping (where are the robots, the aliens, the ipods…? what happened to old mother Earth?).
That’s my response – what’s yours?