Saturday, December 24, 2011

Why You Should Take A Query Letter Seriously

Once you’ve found some agents or publishing houses that you think would be interested in your novel, you can use your synopsis to write an engaging query letter. I’d recommend writing one great query letter you save as the template but read about each agent’s specifications and adjusting to each agent before sending out the letters. This article gives a good template and awesome examples on how to write the standard query letter and why it’s foolish to “try something new” when writing query letters. This next blog post is by Nathan Bransford, a man who was a literary agent for a number of years as well as having had a child’s book published so he knows the business. He also gives a lot of resources on agents and practical ideas for taking a lot of stress out of the process. Here is a great blog post by Nathan on what to know about your rights as an author before sign anything. (Sorry, this doesn’t quite go here, but it is something you should know if an agent gets back to you about your novel.) Query Shark is an interesting blog where you can send in a query letter to be critiqued in public or can read other letters be honestly critiqued by an actual agent.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Is a Literary Agent Right for You?

Now that you’ve written your synopsis, you need to decide if you want an agent or not. There are a number of pros and cons for choosing an agent or not. The agent is a good thing because knowing the publishing business and who would likely buy what is their business, it’s how they get paid so they are usually good at it. There are also a number of large publishing houses that will no longer take submissions by authors that aren’t represented by literary agents. However, there are a number of dishonest agents who will sign you to a deal that will be much more beneficial to them than the author or that agree to represent a book for a fee but never plan to send that book to publishers. There are a lot of horror stories about agents but literary agents are often very good helps and can open a lot of doors unrepresented authors can’t touch.

Once you’ve decided you want an agent, you need to research which agents will most likely enjoy your book (genre, previous books…) Each agent wants specific things and possibly different formats. If you’ve decided that you don’t want an agent, you have to do the same research on publishing companies.

As an unpublished author, I can’t give you proven advice on how to pick an agent but I found a number of sites that can give proven advice and help finding good literary agents for science fiction writers.

As an ex-agent, Nathan Bransford has an interesting perspective on the publishing community and what literary agents are looking for in a query letter and a book.

Chuck Sambuchino’s blog is a guide to literary agents and their blogs or articles with a focus on new agents with less on their plates who are more open to new writers than some of the ones in the business that already have a lot of clients to keep up with.

SFWA is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website and an excellent resource for and science fiction or fantasy writer. This is an article on the pros and cons of literary agents as well as how to choose a good one that will actually do the work needed to make your novel a success.

WEBook is a writing community and this article is a list of a few agents looking for science fiction and fantasy writers.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why a Synopsis?

Once your story is perfect, or at least awesome, you need to write a synopsis of your book. More than a summary, your synopsis is the entire story in a few pages. (I originally read that a page in the synopsis for every twenty-five pages in your book. Although that is a good way to narrow down the plot points, the two articles I like about writing a synopsis recommend fewer pages so the reader doesn’t get bored. Remember that publishers, editors, and agents read hundreds of letters and synopsis a month and yours needs to be just right to get a second look.) It needs to grab the readers attention and enthrall them in just a few pages. That’s tough and here are two articles (here and here) to help you figure out how to make your synopsis exactly what publishers are looking for.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

How To Prepare To Publish Your Novel

You’ve written your novel and you think it’s ready for the publisher. Now what?

You could just print off a lot of copies, put the full novel in envelopes, and send them to publishing houses, hoping the publishers will love the novel as much as you do. However, if you do it that way, every single one of your copies will be thrown in the trash unopened. As with any business, there is the proper way to do things and the sloppy way to do things. Sending the full novel straight to publishers is the sloppy way The proper way to do things is in small bits. First you make sure your story is perfect, which includes letting others read and critique it. (One great site for hopeful authors to be read by other writers who know about technique and style, and tone that publishers will look for is

One thing to remember before you start sending out letters is that publishers and agents often ask for a few sample chapters before they agree to publish your novel or represent you. With that in mind, be sure that your first three chapters are great, even if you continue to tweak the later chapters.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Writing Techniques

As much fun as it is to sit down and write your story, to just let the words flow and watch your story come to life before your eyes, you need to remember that isn’t all it takes to get a story published. You need to remember to craft your writing and think about using the best wording every time you write. At the beginning it’s okay to write and then focus on technique and craft in the revisions. Soon you’ll be so used to thinking about craft and technique that you’ll be wording things naturally while you write your first draft. That will make it much simpler when it comes time for the revisions.

Although there are a lot of techniques involved in writing well, here are a few we covered.

Point of View
Writer's Voice
Use Your Vocabulary
Cut Your Project into Manageable Parts
Avoid Rambling
Know the Details
How to Create a Setting
How to Create a Character
A Tip for Making Realistic Characters
A Final Thought on Characters
Plan Your Writing
Stop Thinking and Write Your Story!

Time to Revise Your story

Are You Writing a Report or a Story?
Avoid Cliches
Think About How You Tell Your Story
Watch the Grammar
Imagine the Movie
Be Careful with Technical Terms
Watch the Details

Friday, October 14, 2011

Time To Watch The Details

You’ve gone through your story and edited it some and taken out the scenes you decided were no longer needed. Now you need to sit down and go through your story with a highlighter. Read the story slowly, preferably out loud if you aren’t disturbing anyone, and don’t just read what you think you wrote. Read only what you actually wrote and make sure all your character and story points are still valid. Often my view of my character, especially details and background, changes throughout the book. Maybe I thought she had a cousin early in the book only to decide later in the writing process that her parent was an only child. Readers will notice those things and editors are paid to notice those differing details. If you wrote a story over a few months or years, you may have very different backgrounds to your characters that will confuse editors and lose you a deal on what could otherwise be a very well written story with excellent characters, at least at the end of the book. Details can make or break a story and reading through your story in a short period of time such as a week or weekend will allow you to keep all those details in your head and allow you to notice differences.
As you’re reading your story look for clichés or dialogues that go on too long. Early in the writing process it is easy to write a cliché or explain everything at once so things are on paper quickly. During the following revisions is when you need to notice those things and rewrite or remove such things.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Time To Revise Your Story

Now that you’ve written your first draft and edited it some, let’s talk about revising your story for the second or third draft.
This is where you go through your story and make sure everything is needed and in the right place. Now that you know where your characters will end up at the end of your story, you can go back and debate with yourself if that scene in the kitchen really needs to be set in the kitchen, or would it be better after the next two scenes and set on the porch. Now you can go back and remove scenes that don’t support the story or plot and figure out where you need to add more scenes to foreshadow or hint at how the story will end. Did you put scenes in the beginning of the book that no longer make sense with the ending you wound up writing instead of the one you thought you’d write? Now is the time to take those scenes out. Start first with the scenes needed, then we can edit the information in the scenes you decide to keep.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Watch The Technical Speaking In Dialogue

How often have you watched those technical shows so popular on television these days? I’m talking about medical shows like House M.D and Gray’s Anatomy or crime shows like the CSIs and Law and Order series. As you watch those types of shows, you’ll hear them say a lot of technical things, such as scientific things, but eventually they will convert the conversation to simple terms for the laymen who didn’t get degrees in what the characters did. As you write your stories, you need to be careful about how much technical garble you put in them. You should have done a lot of research to write your story accurately and you may have learned a lot of the technical phases the professionals use. Although you may understand what your characters are saying to each other, your reader may not and they may get lost in the garble. If they get too distracted from the flow of the story and upset about not understanding the conversation, they will but the story down and find another story they can understand without a textbook next to them.
A good rule of thumb in creating dialogue for your characters is to keep it simple while still being true to the character. The balance needed for that is a delicate one and it may help to have a beta reader who has no problem telling you when you confuse them with too much phraseology and need to rewrite a scene to clarify things.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cinematic Views In Writing

Something I read recently was advice to “write from different cinematic views”. I was looking for some similar articles online but all I found was references to a looked-down-upon way of writing fiction that focused on external and internal dialogue rather than description.

Not quite what I was looking for, so I went back to the website I found the tidbit on and the description was “Turn your notebook into a camera.” I like that idea because how often when you write do you see a scene in your head as you go? I often think like that as I write a conversation between characters or have a character walking down a path somewhere. I never thought about moving the camera in my head around the room though.

Let’s say you’re writing a scene about a husband and wife making dinner together and talking about the upcoming visitors for supper or the weekend. You wrote the scene looking at them in your head from the front. How different would the scene look on to your writer if you moved the camera to the left side of the room? Would the reflection of the couple in the window above the sink change the image much, or at least the effect given the reader? Would the effect change if the reader were looking in the window or through the door to the dinning room? Would the story be better by having the conversation take place or summarized by the couple’s kids waiting in the living room? These are all good things to think about when you edit your current work of fiction and viewing possible changes in your head as if it were a movie is a good way to decide if the changes really do improve your story.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Writer's Enemy

As a writer, I believe the hardest thing about writing well is doing so inside the rules of grammar. Here are some online resources to help you learn the rules of grammar and punctuation.

A Guide to Grammar and Writing

A page full of grammar downloads and PDFs

A great grammar book now online: The Elements of Style

Once you know the rules, it is much easier to write well and know how to ignore the rules to get the effect you want on your readers.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Pacing Reviews

Something I’ve recently learned about when looking into the craft and techniques good writers use is that you can control the pace and mood of the reader as they go through your story by alternating lengths of sentences and paragraphs. As I just discovered the new technique, I don’t think it smart for me to try and explain it to you in a helpful way. However, I believe this to be an important technique to learn so I am going to give you links to other people who do understand this technique and can explain it to you better than I can.

K. M. Weiland’s video blog on pacing based off of chapters definitely gives me something to think about when revising my stories. For those of you who prefer reading to listening, the UTube video is also transcribed below the video box.

She wrote an excellent blog post about 5 ways to pace a story that I recommend every writer trying to capture the attention of others read. Those are some great ways to vary pacing and thoughts to remember as you edit.

Aimed more at those who want to create suspense, Heidi M. Thomas does a great job of explaining how to speed up a book. However, she gets into the basics of pacing and those of you that want to slow your story down can merely reverse her ideas

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Watch How You Tell Things

One of the hardest things to do as a writer is to balance the action with description. When I write a story, I tend to write down all the description at once. I remember reading the Babysitter’s Club books years ago and getting annoyed after the first few books because the writer always did the same thing. Whenever the Club had their first meeting in the book, the writer always spent a whole chapter describing every person at the meeting. The idea was that if the reader hadn’t read ever book in the series until that book, it wasn’t hard to meet the characters. To those that had read most or every book in the series, it was plain annoying. I quickly got in the habit of reading the first page or so of conversation and flipping through the chapter to the rest of the conversation, effectively skipping all the family and personal data of the characters I already knew. Now that I’m reading books for older people, I’m noticing a much more effective way of describing people and their backgrounds, which is in little pieces. It’s expected that when a character is introduced the writer will give a description and maybe an biographical paragraph if the point of view character knows the information. Saying the guy is tall, brown haired, and has a gorgeous smile but the character knows he’s hiding a black heart behind that smile as she used to date him often works better than having all their past history fly through her mind at the sight of him on the way to her important meeting. Although seeing him again may serve to distract her at the meeting, a long description of the past may slow down the pace for the reader.

Depending on the effect you want to create, a better way to introduce character may be more subtle like giving a brief physical description and the point of view character doesn’t realize for a few pages that his sister’s friend has lovely green eyes up close rather than the plain brown eyes he assumed because of her hair color or the friend’s dimples don’t make it into the book until he actually smiles.

As you write your story, I want you to keep in mind the different effects you can use in description and introduction of characters and settings. Think about how you want your readers to view this new place or person and what mood you have going in your story or scene. Once you know those things, you can decide how you want to craft the description to create the desired affect.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What's So Troublesome About Cliches?

As you go through and revise your rough draft or your tenth draft or any other draft you do, remember to watch out for clichés. Wikipedia describes clichés as: “an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, rendering it a stereotype, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel… A cliché is often a vivid depiction of an abstraction that relies upon analogy or exaggeration for effect, often drawn from everyday experience. Used sparingly, they may succeed. However, cliché in writing or speech is generally considered a mark of inexperience or unoriginality.” Although readers may skim over clichés in their reading, an editor or other writers will notice. Being labeled unoriginal in the writing community is laughable and until you can learn to minimize the use of clichés, or better yet: avoid them, you won’t be taken seriously as a writer and aren’t likely to get anything published.
Here is a very thorough article on clichés to involve clichés in expressions, plots, characters, and a self test on clichés. Another place to look for information on clichés is a list of clichés in alphabetical order on the

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Is It A Story Or A Report?

When you pick up a newspaper or read a news article online, you may get a lot of details and facts, but you don’t feel as if you were standing right there. News reports are designed to give a lot of information in a small amount of space; they don’t have a number of pages to write about how the scene affects all five senses or to describe the setting in thrilling detail. They can’t make the scene come alive as story writers need to be able to. People read newspapers in order to get facts about current events. People read stories hoping to be somewhere else, someone else for a little while. They don’t merely want the facts of what happened and how, readers want to feel it and sense the action or tension in the room.

The difference is in the details: how they’re incorporated in the scene and how they’re worded. Wording and timing are a writer’s best tools. Use them correctly and you may have an award-winning story. Don’t use them enough or correctly and you may not even have a good report to let others read. Which would you prefer to have at the end of your project?

Thursday, September 22, 2011


There is just one more thing I want to comment on before talking about editing your story, and that is foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is where you put hints of future events or the climax earlier in the story. Readers then anticipate the event and it adds suspense. Here are some general ideas on how to foreshadow in a story and here is a page on foreshadowing used in Star Wars.
Earlier I wrote about writing from a basic plan for your story. Foreshadowing only works well when you know how your story will end or what your next scene will be. For that reason it is probably best to save foreshadowing for the revision period of your story but if you have a plan of your story and plot, adding foreshadowing can be a lot of fun as you write.
Here is an article that explains foreshadowing and flashbacks rather well.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

All You Need To Write Your Story!

Are you planning to write that story that’s been in your head that you know will be a bestseller if you could just figure out how to write it? Well, I’ve given some pointers on creating a setting and about specific settings in science fiction writing. I’ve talked about knowing your characters and even given you a profile to use to get to know each of your characters. In my last post I wrote about having at least a basic plan of what you’re writing. You’ve done all those things, correct? Well, what are you waiting for? Sit down at your computer or notebook and start writing! Stop procrastinating and get your rough draft done. Don’t worry about writing the perfect story in your first attempt. Books go through a lot of drafts before even getting to the publisher, who usually asks for at least one more draft because the author was too close to the story to notice things. The rough draft is where you put your idea on paper and the editing process is where you adjust wording, cut paragraphs or scenes that don’t add to the story, and generally polish your story until it shines. However, before you can edit your story, you need to write it. Now, stop procrastinating!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Work From A Plan

So you want to write a novel or short story? Where do you start? I’ve already talked about creating settings and characters, so let’s assume you already know your setting and all your characters as well as you know yourself. Now you’re ready to sit down in front of your computer or notebook and start writing. Before you start, though, you should think about your plot and story. If you’re like me, you decided to write a story based on a character or a scene that’s been stuck in your head. You may even write a story because you want other people to experience a setting in your mind or you want to prove a part of society foolish, like in Animal Farm which was a political commentary. Whatever your reason for writing your story, you need at least a basic idea of your plot and story.

Many writers say you should have your story and plot completely outlined before starting stories. Other writers talk about how their characters “talk” to the writers and the story ends up differently than the writer thought it would. To be honest, my way of writing has always been to just sit down and write, making it up as I write it down. That has yet to provide a story I’m happy to let others read so I’m starting to plan out a story and plot. It’s hard to write an organized story when you don’t know where you want the novel or short story to go. As much fun as it can be to just go for a walk one day and not have a destination in mind, you get places faster by knowing where you’re heading. If you want a story about a lady rediscovering her confidence after a divorce or a man who finds the strength inside himself to leave a job he hates, you need at least a basic idea of plot points needed to get the character where they need to be. Not only does a basic plan help avoid major writer’s block in your rough draft, it also helps you keep the story focused on the transition your character makes so your reader doesn’t get confused or bogged down by long and pointless scenes you shouldn’t have spent so much time on. No matter what your style of writing fiction is having a basic plan of where you want your story to end is beneficial.

Monday, September 12, 2011

More On Characters

Since I've been talking about characters and character development these last few posts, I thought I'd finish up by posting some great articles I recently found on characters.

This is an interesting article about seven basic types of characters that may give you a different way to think about the characters you create.

While I'm talking about a different way of looking at characters, I thought this article quite useful. It's an intriguing look at character development combined with story and setting. The writer wrote about generalities on how to write an unforgetttable book with unforgettable characters using small details that had me itching for my pen in order to write my forgotten stories.

Although the writer of the previous article spent little time on specific details, this article can give you some ideas to help breathe life into your characters while this article is an excellent reminder of how important body language is in real life and therefore in fiction.

This is a useful article to keep in mind when creating your characters and here is my character profile if you still need help interviewing your characters. Feel free to add to it or ignore parts that don't apply to your particular character.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How To Make Realistic Characters

I think Dr. Hinze said it best in the opening lines in his article on creating characters: “In 1757, in Poor Richard's Almanac, the wise and astute Benjamin Franklin wrote: "Little strokes fell great oaks." Important message to writers in that saying, because it is through incorporating little strokes (details) that writers create and develop unforgettable characters. Little strokes turn stick-characters into real people.”

Little details make fully developed characters seem real to the readers, whether it’s body language hinting at emotions or mannerisms reminding the readers about habits the character has.

Another place to remember to put details is in schedules. Whether you’re dealing with a regular day schedule for a human, an daily schedule for an alien, or a nighttime schedule for those that live at night, remember everyone has needs that need to be fulfilled. Everyone needs to eat, sleep, and remove wastes somehow or they start getting weak or sick. Even if your character is running for its life and living on adrenaline, the body can only go so long without nutrients and rest. The effects of not getting needs fulfilled can add tension to a story or scene.

However, too many details can slow a reader down and bore the reader enough to put the book away. It’s a good thing that there are many ways to show a reader your characters are real. Instead of having a scene where the character on the run steals a pie on a shelf below a window, you can mention that the character feels guilty about stealing someone’s dessert later but rationalizes that they won’t miss it with the rest of the meal the family had planned. For characters that are sitting down to a family meal while debating if they should take a job in another state, you can write in dialogue around bites of dinner. For detectives in the middle of a case, you can have them glance at their clock and debate getting lunch or having a mid-afternoon snack at the convenience store. You can have dialogue wrapped around a subtle nighttime routine before bed for some characters or let others decide to sleep after their late morning meeting or college final.

Finding that perfect balance between too many details and an unrealistic character is hard but important as many readers and critiques as well as editors will notice those things. Just remember that while plot and story may be what intrigue the readers, little details are what keep them absorbed in the book.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Character Profile

Character profiles are, in my opinion, necessary in any story. Developed at least in part at the beginning, a profile should grow as the story continues. Add items that come up during the story, such as family members or old flames or an old memory told of a vacation. Doing that will help you keep the details straight as the story progresses or if the story becomes a series and you need character details years after writing the first story. You may not put everything in this profile in your story, especially in the case of profiles of side characters such as a mentor or a roommate, but every character in your story should have a profile so you can keep straight everyone as you write.




Position in story: Is this the main character, a love interest, a sibling, a friend, or an enemy? There are many other positions a character can play in a story, such as a rival-turned-grudging-ally or mentor. What part will this character fit?

How do people view this character?: Do most people see her as the quiet one in the corner or the vibrant girl no one can control? Is he the sociopath people think is awesome or is he the gentle man everyone thinks is a freak? You don’t have to go in depth here, that is what the rest of this post is for, but it may be helpful to put down how others in your story stereotype this character.

Ethnicity: Ethnicity is a major part of character as it can dictate limits to how your character can look. It can also dictate things like language spoken or known, temperament, and influence choices such as education, career, hobbies, and where they live.

Appearance: Although you don’t need to be precice in all the questions, you should have a general idea
Skin color:
Hair color:
Eye color:
Distinguishing marks: Such as scars or moles or birthmarks

Culture: Although culture and ethnicity seem the same, culture has more influence on choices made, even if ethnicity can narrow the choices some.

What religion is your character?: Like ethnicity and culture, religion can have a huge effect on a person’s life and choices.

Style: Does your character prefer to dress up to go out or wear jeans and a tee shirt? Maybe your character prefers to stay in and wears lounge wear if it needs to leave its house. Although influenced by culture, style shows a lot about the character’s personality or the image your character wants to project.
What jewelry does your character prefer? Is there a favorite piece they usually wear?

Major places this character has lived: Along with helping to define the culture a person has been in contact with, where your character lived can influence what memories they have of years past.
Memorable places visited:

People who influenced this character in the past and currently: This can include family, friends, rivals who made your character work harder and get better, random acquaintances who had a strong influence, teachers, old lovers, children in your character’s life, or anyone else that may come up in a story. Here is one place you may not need to fill in at the beginning, but be sure to fill in anyone who may come up in the story as you write it. That way you won’t confuse people in later chapters or books.

How was your character’s childhood?: Were they well loved and spoiled or neglected and raised themselves? Did a relative die that effected them when they were young or did they have pets? Were they picked on at school, ignored or popular? What secrets does your character have? What memories do they have or stories of the past that they tell in the story?

Education: Where did your character go to school and what for?

Occupation: What does your character do for money or spend much of their time doing?

Hobbies/interests: What does your character do to relax and forget about the world or wish they had studied more in school?

Mannerisms: Mannerisms are an excellent way to show personality or past experiences. They could be anything from how a person shows emotion to addictions to posture to things they may be conscious about such as smoking when annoyed or chewing on their lip as they think.
Now that you have a good ideas about what formed your character you can explain your character’s personality and what its self image is.

Where will your character be at the end of your book or series? It’s always good to have a destination in mind as your story progresses. Although the destination may change as your character develops throughout your story, it should still be reflected in your character profile.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How Do You Create A Setting?

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about creating a setting recently, and although I believe it to be a very important part of writing an engaging story, I will only write one more piece of advice (for now). That is to know the details of your setting. If possible, visit your setting when your characters would, such as lunch at that corner diner or a stroll through the park at five in the afternoon. Notice the smells around you, the noises coming from every direction, the vendor on the street or the waitress at the counter with the funky red and black hair. Feel the humidity and notice where to take cover if it started to rain. Things like that make the story come alive to your readers.
If you can’t go to the place, such as the quarters your character has on ship, an alien ceremonial hall, or the classroom of a fictional school somewhere, draw it out. Draw out the room dimensions, where the furniture is, what is on all the shelves, what color are the walls and decorations, what plants or decorations are on the floor and walls, what pattern is on the floor and ceiling, and any smells or tastes. If you’re in an outdoor setting, try drawing a panorama of what could be seen or write a few pages of what is along the path the characters are walking. You may not use everything you think up for your setting, but the point is to make the scene come alive for your reader. How can you make the readers believe they’re somewhere else if you don’t know everything about where they are? As the writer, your job is to show your reader where they are with words in a way that they can see it in their mind. If you can’t see it, how can you describe it?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why Should Sci-Fi Writers Know The Details?

If you’re writing a science fiction book, you may think that since you’re talking about future science, you don’t need to worry about making modern science fit the science in your story. However, people tend to read science fiction stories because they love science and the possibilities for the future. They often enjoy studying science and often know how much of the science theories for the future work. Your publisher may ask to see your references to be sure yours is accurate. Publishers know that if your facts aren’t correct, they will be barraged by letters from readers complaining about inaccurate science or false facts. Therefore having accurate science is smart to have before you even start writing. Why not do the research as you go? Doing research while you write may work well for small details like what date something happened on or how far away something is, but for big items such as your star ship or your character’s job, you want to do as much research as you need to be able to do that job or understand the science yourself. If you don’t understand the item or procedure you have in your story, how can you make it come to life for your readers? Where should you look for your information? The internet is a good place to get a general overview on the item or procedure but you never know how accurate your information is. If you can find a site online put up by an authority on the subject, such as an accurate blog by a leading expert in the field, you may be able to use that as your main reference. You may be able to find books for e-book readers that were created in paperback and got converted, such as the Kindle Store which converts many of its newest books into e-books. E-books typically cost less than regular books but for research books it may be easier to find small facts you didn’t bookmark or highlight in a book you can flip through rather than waiting for pages to load. However, the notes and bookmarking ability of e-readers can be helpful. Also, many older books, such as the epic classics have been put on the internet, and you may find older reference books on things like culture and religion that don’t change too much with time. For those who can’t find the in depth information you need online, libraries or museum archives or magazines should give you information you need. Subject matter experts, such as professors or people who actually work in the field you’re researching, are probably the best bet as they can explain things they are passionate about in ways that your characters may react to them. Although face to face interviews are best for keeping the character traits and interviewing in real time, email interviews or interviews over chat may work for getting the information you need. What are some resources you use when planning your books?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Avoid Pointless Rambling

Something to remember when doing any type of writing is that a few words can say a lot. Why waste a whole page trying to explain something when a single paragraph or comment in conversation can tell the reader all they need to know about an obscure part of the plot or object the characters will use? The a few words phrased correctly can have much more impact.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Got A Big Project Planned?

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever gotten is to break large projects into a number of smaller projects. I know, I know, you've heard it so many times, but how often do you remember it when that big project lomes ahead of you? I always seem to forget this stategy whenever I have a huge project planned. I keep putting off the large project because it's just so HUGE. I wonder what I was thinking when I decided to do the project, then I remember this advice and relax. I make up a long list of tiny projects and get started on the huge project one check mark at a time. It's also amazing to be able to look at all those check marks on my list and know I'm getting to the end of the project. If you still don't want to do the small steps, try adding an incentive such as a movie or eating a favorite meal. Whatever your incentive, be sure that it doesn't interfere with your work. Stick to your schedule and don't try to get your reward before you've done the work or you won't feel like doing the work later.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Use Your Vocabulary

One of the pieces of advice given the most to writers is to expand your vocabulary. That is good advice as writing depends on being able to use each and every word to its best. But do you really need to expand your vocabulary? Most of us already have a large vocabulary, developed merely from reading the works of other writers. My suggestion is that not only do you learn new words whenever possible, but also use the words you already know to more fully communicate your ideas to your reader.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Action or Plot

Many people watch action movies and notice that many of those movies seem to have little or no plot. To those of you who wonder if an action book can also have a good plot (which in a book you need but having no plot in a movie can be forgiven), here is an article for you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Finding Your Writer's Voice

One thing I have yet to manage is to find my "voice", how to make my writing uniquely mine and enthrall readers. It's a journey every writer goes on, or needs to go on, before getting published. For those of you who have yet to find your voice, here are some ideas for how to discover your writer's voice.
Finding Your Voice
Creative Tips For Finding Your Voice

For those of you who already know your writer's voice but can't seem to get the query letter to sound right, here's an article on how to put your voice in your query letter to attract the reader.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Six Simple Tips

Although the writer of this article didn't format the writing correct to be published, resulting in non-English characters in the sentences, the tips are good for every writer to remember:
Get rid of excess words.
Don't use words as fillers.
Avoid being redundant.
Be wary of multiple conjunctions.
Use active voice.
choose words carefully.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Point of View

I've always known, as part of my original story idea, which point of view I'd write my next story in but reading the article by Robert J. Sawyer, an acclaimed author of many science fiction books, I realized that I really should give the point of view I write from more thought. I've often been reminded how hard it is to stay to one point of view by my reviewers as well as stories I've read and it really can be confusing when authors switch points of view a lot, even when the writers make it obvious by writing who the reader is now viewing the story from. Robert J. Sawyer does an excellent job of explaining the term of "limited third party" and showing how to use it correctly in a story.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Writer Resources

I recently realized that writing a story good enough to get published isn't just about writing an amazing setting, realistic characters, and an amazing plot. A good story has a lot of "crafting", or careful wording to draw the readers in and keep them fully involved in your story, and other writing factors such as point of view and speed of the story.
Although I will be putting links to specific articles, as well as my opinions on them, here are some good places to look for writing ideas.

Craftingfiction is a very good website for fiction writers and freelancers although it tends to focus more on craft than specific genres, such as science fiction.

Writinghood is a blog for writers of any version. Whether you write online, fiction, or nonfiction, you're sure to find something just for you on this site.

Although the site is aimed at getting you to buy one of their many classes, it does have some good articles such as a questionnaire to fill out to help create your character.

Another site designed to sell, this one aims to have you subscribe to a magazine called "The Writer" and has some excellent articles.

A New Direction For A Little While

My apologies but due to increased work hours and extra time needed for school I don't have as much time to devote to this blog. However, instead of merely stopping the blog for a month as I did last time, I realized there are a number of good writing blogs and good sites that have excellent articles for writers. For the next few weeks I will be providing links to articles on the craft of writing, something I have no real experience with as I just recently discovered there is a "craft," as they call it, to fiction writing. I hope you enjoy these links and that they are helpful to you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How's Your Movie Showing In Your Readers Mind?

Think back on the book you last read. Where was it set? Can you picture it in your head still? Was the author good at creating that movie in your head while you read or was it slightly choppy reading as they put too much description or too little in and the flow of your mental movie just wasn’t right?
One of the hardest parts of creating a setting isn’t deciding what that setting will be, but in weaving it so seamlessly into the story that the readers don’t realize how easily it draws them in and puts them in the story. Whether you’re working with a real place, a hidden world connected to real Earth, or your own setting all together, using all five senses to transport your reader into a world they may never have seen or imagined before is vital to a readers enjoyment of the story.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Writing For The Five Senses

What is the best way to get your reader into your story? The answer is to transport your reader into your story. It sounds complicated but is really quite simple, at least in theory. The term many teachers use is “show, don’t tell.” Basically that means that you need to create a movie in the readers head or make them feel as if they are actually inside the character’s head, hearing, seeing, feeling, and smelling what is happening around the character. Include all five senses, as well as the mental and emotional reactions of your characters when describing what is happening in your story and your readers won’t even notice that they know the setting as well as the character. They can imagine the wind shifting softly through their hair and the smell of the honeysuckle not far off tainted slightly by the manure from the neighbor’s free range cattle talking to each other faintly in the pasture a few hundred yards off instead of merely reading a conversation between mother and son about school grades that are slipping. Readers pick up a book to escape from their world so you need to be able to put them squarely in another world for as long as they read that book. Do it subtly by using all five senses and good description and it will carry your reader through many hours of reading enjoyment.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What To Remember When Creating Your Fictional Setting

Creating your own world as a setting for your story has its own pros and cons. Although no one can say you got the setting wrong or it didn’t match their opinion of the place they had lived, creating a world means not only creating the planet and its resources but also creating its history and that of any races or countries on the planet. Almost everyone will agree that J. R. R. Tolkien was most likely the best at creating a setting, just look at the in-depth histories he created in Middle Earth and the languages he created for his books, but think also about the creators of Star Trek and the Star Wars movies. Since this blog is written by a sci-fi writer, let’s think about how much thought can go into creating a sci-fi series. If any of you have looked into role-playing in the Star Trek universe you already know of the hundreds of planets and species with set backgrounds there are. Feuds are all planned out and explained by a history of wars. (Think of the Romulans and Vulcans or the Klingons and their family feuds over honor.) In order to create a believable world for your story, you have to know the history, not only of your characters but also of your setting and those around the main characters. Why are the natives unwilling to feed the crashed main characters? Was there a war? Did aliens once come and enslave a large population of the ancestors of the natives? Are the natives hiding a deep secret like an expensive mineral or an important hostage? Is one of your characters carrying a special cultural artifact that will convince the natives to be nice to the nice to the travelers?
So many questions, but the important thing is how you answer each one to create the unique history of each setting and race you create. One last thing to remember is that as soon as two groups meet, history begins. How they meet can be significant as can who they first met. Also, some groups have more history together. For example, in the real world, England and America has a longer history than England and people from Mars will have (if we ever meet them). Longer history can be good and bad. If you’re dealing with a new relationship between races you have fewer prejudices but possibly more assumptions whereas dealing with a long relationship between species can have people fighting to prove they aren’t as bad as the people before them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Setting Your Story Partially In The Real World

Something many writers do is that they set their stories in pocket worlds set inside the real world. For instance, J. K. Rowling set the wizarding world in England in a way that we (as “muggles”) can’t see the world the characters live in but it could still believably exist. Many writers tend to create fictional towns in a given spot on the map so they have the history of the region is set, the weather is already set by the real world, and the typical jobs of the town (whether it’s farming, technology, factory, or other things) are decided by what is typical of the area. If you decide to go this route, remember to use the nearby towns as a guide. Having a town built of stone when the nearby towns are built of brick or wood as there’s no quarry around would make you a laughingstock to many readers or merely unbelievable so people won’t buy your book in that area.
Another thing to remember is that things that happen in your “pocket world” often affect the “real world” outside. J. K. Rowling realized that and made a comment when there was a lot of news in her wizarding world that the “muggles” noticed the increased owl sightings during the day and had a newspaper article on it. Anything major, such as an comet landing in your town or a town battle destroying the town, would bring notice from the outside world (such as the National Guard arriving or scientists showing up to take over). That can either be used as a part of your book, such as your characters hiding from the government, or you should have an explanation for why the government doesn’t know, such as news reports on something distracting the government or satellites.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Settings In The Real World

Now that you have in mind where your story will be set, you need to think about that setting as your character sees it and how they will show it to your reader. One huge thing to remember if you choose to set your story in a real place where people actually live now a day is that readers can tell if you get things wrong. Some readers will notice if you say the third house on the street is blue when really it’s yellow or if your character thinks a town is sweet and peaceful when really the town is dingy and filled with gang wars. If you decide to put your story in a real place, you probably want to take an extended vacation there or, preferably, have lived there for a time to understand the mode and habits of the area. (Putting a Georgia accent on a group of people all living in Florida could cause you to lose readers as well.) If your readers find too many discrepancies between the real world they live in and the “real world” your characters live in without there being some explanation, the reading won’t be as smooth and they may merely put the book down and never read it again so be careful how accurate your setting is to the real world.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is Your Setting The Best For Your Story?

When you decide to start a story, the setting is usually decided by the plot points, the characters, or where you live as you write the story. Sometimes stories could easily be set in Texas in the summertime as Maryland in the summertime or California in winter without changing the story. The question is, would they have been the same? Would Gone With The Wind have been as effective if it had been written in Missouri during the Civil War or in France during their Revolution as it was set in Georgia and Atlanta during the Civil War? Would Grapes Of Wrath have been as good set in New York? Think about your characters, where would you likely find them, where would they probably have been raised to get their personality or chosen to go when they were old enough to chose? Is there a city that lends itself best to your story?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why Is the Setting Important?

For the past few months this blog has been about creating a thorough setting for your fictional story, knowing the history, having accurate science, and having an accurate surrounding in space(a space station or a space ship). So why have I spent so much time on creating a setting? When I read a book, I do so to escape my real world for a little while. Maybe I just want to fill a few boring hours or maybe my day has been crazy and I just want to relax by being someone else for a little while. Whatever the reason I pick up a book, I don’t want to be sitting in my comfy chair in my familiar room, I want to be in another place living someone else’s dramatic life or having an adventure somewhere outside my window. I assume most readers want a total escape from their world and their lives when they pick up a book. To get that escape there needs to be good characters doing interesting things, a goal that the reader wants to see out to the end, and a setting that holds the reader deep enough in the story to remind them that what they’re reading about isn’t part of their everyday life. If a story doesn’t have those three necessary parts of a book, as well as being written well enough to flow smoothly, the reader will put down the book in annoyance and go find another book to read.
That is why I think that the setting in a book deserves at least as much attention as creating the character within the book. You need to develop a setting well enough to explain it subtly with writing that makes the reader feel as if they are right there with the character in the book. Such writing can be hard to do but if you manage to find the perfect medium between over-informing the reader and not putting the reader in the setting at all, you’ll be halfway to creating a story the publishers will buy and readers will search for.

Monday, June 6, 2011

15 Things To Think About When You Create A Fictional Space Station

The purpose of your fictional space station influences a lot about the structure and ability of the station.
Engineering systems are needed to keep the station active all day and all night.
Defenses are important when it comes to protecting the station and the ships docked with it.
The command center keeps the station operating at the highest level possible without confusion.
Docks keep the ships moving supplies and people flowing on and off the station in an orderly fashion.
Utilities keep the residents in sanitary conditions.
Medical keeps everyone healthy and heals those that are sick or injured.
Everyone needs sleeping quarters, whether they’re a family or single, humanoid or alien needing a different atmosphere.
Schooling is important to children and adults trying to advance faster in their job.
Currency is a necessary evil in this universe and you should know what your station uses.
Where the residents get their basic supplies is important so they don’t run out.
How they get specialty items and what vendors you let on your station can depend on the culture on station.
What restaurants and bars are on station can depend on the type of station you have.
How people relax on your fictional space station can really affect the moral on the station.
Casinos can be a one stop shop for relaxation.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

How Is Gambling Viewed On Your Space Station?

Another way to relax that almost always makes its way where people are is gambling. If it’s not legal, than there is probably an underground game somewhere on station, whether they play for actual money or not. If it is legal than you can bet there is at least a set game with a regular buy in. More likely than not, if gambling is legal there will be a casino of some sort. It may be an underground one the station security pretends to ignore while quietly monitoring the seedy group of people through hidden cameras there or it may be like Quark’s in Star Trek: Deep Space 9 which was the center of social life on the station. Quark’s was the only bar, restaurant, and entertainment complex on station, according to the series writers, and everyone stopped in at one time during the day or night. Security also kept a close eye on the goings on in the casino to keep order and see what scam artists the casino brought in that week. As unlikely as it is that the station would only have one restaurant, bar, and entertainment area, the creators were smart enough to know that they needed at least one area and most of the episodes included Quark’s in one way or another. It may have been a drink at the bar and a conversation with Quark, who not surprisingly was the station gossip and confidant, or it may have been a conversation between friends over dinner or even an episode based in the holodeck. Whatever the story line was, you’d have troubles finding an episode set on station that didn’t involve Quark’s and people enjoying some time off. It just goes to show how important a good relaxation spot is to a story.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

How Do Your Characters Relax?

We’ve talked about the workings of the station, where your residents get their basic supplies, their special supplies, and where they eat. But how do they relax after a long day at work? After all: all work and no play make people very dull and unhappy. People relax differently, some merely need a good book and comfortable place to read. Other people need activity and it would be smart to have some sort of sports complex. In a previous series I wrote about how to put sports for all ages on a space ship which may give you some ideas on how to integrate sports and physical activity into your designs for your station. Some people prefer to relax by putting in a good movie and sitting down with a good snack while others prefer to sit with friends and chat or drink alcohol. Everyone is different and what they may want one day may not be how they want to relax the next night.
The many Star Trek series created what they called a “holodeck” which could be used for anything from sports games to training programs to fantasy rooms of any type. It was a great way for the crew to relax as well as group bonding sessions. It also had it’s bad side, as do all inventions: people could become so addicted to the fantasy of having everything exactly as they wanted it that they no longer wanted to deal with reality.
However you decide to allow your crew and residents to relax, remember to allow your characters in your story to relax as well.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What Food Can Be Found On Your Space Station?

We’ve spoken of what currency your fictional station uses, how your crew gets their basic supplies, and of the need to have specialized vendors on station for things like cultural crafts, clothes, and fresh food. Now let’s talk about where your residents eat. You could have kitchens set up so everyone could cook their own meals or have replicators provide food on request but there will still be those who want the convenience and pleasure of having others prepare and bring their food while they talk with friends or finish work. If you decide to have no replicator on station it would probably be smartest to at least have a cafeteria your workers could eat at during working hours or at any hour on the clock as a station will have to be worked all day and all night. It makes for a quick meal while on the clock. The faster the meal, the more work that gets done, and the more work that gets done during normal working hours means less overtime the company needs to pay. That means that if the company that owns the station puts in a cafeteria, whether the crew pays for the food or if it’s free for the workers, the company wins in the long run. If the station is run by a military, especially if the military is based on the United States military, the crew will be provided a place to eat or given a stipend on each paycheck to buy food.
But where will the rest of the residents eat, the ones that don’t work directly for the company or military that runs the station? Think of it this way: a space station is very similar to a city or town here on Earth. Have you ever been in a town, no matter how small, that didn’t at least have a café, bar, and or full restaurant? I’ve never been in a town that didn’t have at least a family friendly establishment and a bar with in twenty minutes of it. True, there may only be one in the town, but there is usually at least one place that provides food to those not in the mood to cook that meal or who want somewhere to go to celebrate. You may decide to create what is called a “dry” station where alcohol isn’t sold or is banned, but on a station of at least the thousand or more people needed to keep the station running, you can bet that someone would realize there is an opportunity for income and set up a restaurant or café. How many establishments would depend on what type of station you want to create. A tourist stop could have a lot of restaurants providing a lot of different types of food. (Think of tourist places like Disney World, which provides food themed to fit the amusement park.) However, an oasis for crew members traveling the stars would be more likely to have a bar that provides food than a family restaurant with a child’s menu.
You should also take into account the nearby planets. Their cultural or favorite food is more likely to be on the station than the distant food from Earth. If the station is run mostly by humans, though, then you may find a few favored Earth meals sold on station.
There are a lot of factors that would affect what food is sold what food is sold on your station and how it’s sold but you are likely to need the information at least once in your story. How many stories have you read with at least one scene involving food, whether it’s preparing a meal, cleaning up afterwards, or a waiter interrupting a conversation while delivering food? Food is such an intricate part of a human’s life that it’s hard to not include food in a realistic story.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

How Does Your Station Get Its One-Of-A-Kind Items?

Last time we discussed how the residents on your fictional station would get the basics, now we’ll discuss how they get their special things such as cultural decorations, souvenirs, and special clothes. True, you could always have them design and program the perfect product into the replicator but the true pleasure of cultural or expensive things is that they were handmade or made the traditional way. Things such as rugs or pottery are often bought more for the time put into the product and the story behind it than for the look of the product itself. Even now, in such an industrialized culture on Earth, stores are created where their specialty is selling handmade products from a specific area or culture somewhere else in the world. Having stores like that, even just vendors on the main hallway, would be very likely in the future with people traveling light years from their home or their parents’ cultures.
Other types of vendors you’d likely find on a space station would be fresh food from a local planet (everyone gets fed up with replicators that never quite create the perfect taste of real food) and tailors. Tailors and seamstresses can make the one size fits all outfits and uniforms sold at the basic stores to truly fit and show off a person’s figure. People go to tailors and seamstresses now a days to have the perfect outfit created just for them and to know that they’ve reached the point in their income where they can afford the expense. As mass produced clothes take up almost all the shelves in stores these days, tailors, seamstresses, and the truly expensive personal designers still make a healthy living and I doubt that need to be special and feel rich will ever go away.

Friday, May 27, 2011

How Does Your Station Get Supplies?

Now that you’ve decided on the currency used on your fictional space station, you need to decide how your people get their supplies. Is everything through mail order or by traveling ships that stop at the station, sell things, and move on to the next station or by a store on station that gets refilled every day or every week? As far as “supplies” I mean things like soaps and the basic clothes or snacks, things you might go to Target or Walmart for, not so much the special things like daily meals, fancy clothes, or decorations. We’ll cover those in later posts but for now I want you to think about where the basics for your people comes from. Is it one store or many stores selling different things. How often does the store or stores get restocked and what happens if that store isn’t restocked on time?
Instead of stores you could have replicators. Replicators are what the creators of the various Star Trek series decided on to explain where supplies comes from on ships and stations. Basically the idea is that the station holds a huge amount of raw supplies, such as huge squares of metal with a lot of molecules in the smallest space possible. Someone asks the replicator for something, let’s say a cup of tea, and the replicator takes a piece of the metal square, seperates it down to it’s molecules, sends the molecules (atoms) through the wires to the activated replicator, and reassembles the molecules from the metal into the desired cup of tea. It changes the metal at the atoms, changing the number of protons, electrons, and neutrons of the metal into the correct number, so it really is a cup of tea when it comes out. Then when the person is done with the tea, they put the cup back on the replicator and the cup is broken down, sent through the system and reassembled as the metal square for storage. Everything on station could work like that which in theory would mean no waste sent off station and never needing new metal pieces. However, since a space station is by design a temporary space port for most people, what goes out of the replicator may not go back into the system to get recycled. A snack may have been gotten for a ride on a ship that has no replicator or visitors may leave before the food had a chance to re-enter the replicator system. With that in mind you may want to decide how often your raw supplies get replaced and if there are any limitations such as if molecules can only be arranged and rearranged so many times.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What Currency Is On Your Station?

I mentioned in a previous post that most stations seem to rent out their quarters( but I still haven’t talked about currency on a space station. We have a saying on Earth that “money makes the world go ‘round”. Not much of anything gets done on Earth without compensation for the job, whether it is in the form of money, brownie points aimed at a higher goal, or favors now being owed. It’s up to you to decide what form of currency is used. I know that in an episode of Star Trek: Next Generation it’s mentioned that the Federation no longer has a use for money, and although a society that doesn’t use money is possible it would need some sort of resource management to be sure everyone got what they needed on time. In the next Star Trek series, Deep Space 9, the Ferengi used latinum and the Federation used credits. In the television show Babylon 5 they used cards like modern debit cards that paid in “credits” as well. The term “credits” is a good way of using one currency to cover any local currencies that may be on station but isn’t very imaginative. On the plus side, people who travel a lot often refer to the local currency by one term, whether everything is spoken of as “dollars”, “pesos”, or merely “dubbers”, it’s all the same to many people. On that idea calling the local currency all “credits” or something similar would make sense, no matter what the locals call it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What Schooling is on Your Fictional Space Station?

Along with knowing what quarters your station has, you should by now know what type of people, or demographic, your station has. If you have children as permanent residents of the station, or at least there a few months out of the year, you should probably think about how they are getting educated. There are many ways to educate a group of children, whether in a classroom with all ages in there and the older children reading at their pace while the teacher focuses on teaching the younger children to read and write or by each ability group being taught together or even independent study. How you teach the children on the station can come up in your story a number of ways, whether it’s crossing a group of children on a field trip or walking your character’s child to school every day, so it’s a good idea to know this before you start writing. The more you know about your setting before you start writing, the more consistent your story will be.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What Living Quarters Are On Your Fictional Space Station?

One of the biggest things people worry about when they travel or move to a new place is where they’ll stay when they get there. Creating a fictional space station is no different: possibly one of the most important facts that will come out in your story is the living quarters your characters live in. Do they live in a small single person quarters or share a slightly bigger space with a roommate or two? Do they share a bedroom with their siblings or do children get separate rooms from siblings and parents? Do they live in a room similar to military barracks or are their quarters closer to a penthouse?
How does the station distribute quarters? Is it similar to a hotel where the station gets paid by the day or is it more like an apartment building where rent can come by the month? Does your station even collect rent on the quarters or is it a first come, first served mentality. Does your station house permanent residents or merely have crew come and go every few years? Many stations, such as Star Trek Deep Space 9 and Babylon 5 in their television series, have quarters set aside for the crewmembers stationed there for a few years and rent out the other quarters to guests or merchants as they pass through.
Another question to ask is how your station deals with other species. Taking the previously mentioned television series DS9 only seems to have species that breathe air similar to Earth atmosphere and the individual rooms have the ability to change their own air if desired. Babylon 5 has areas in a section called the alien sector that have different atmospheres for different aliens and humans have to wear gas masks to enter the sector. Those are two ways to deal with the question of what air other species may breathe. However you decide to adapt to your aliens or have them adapt to humans, remember to be consistent. There are readers that will pick up on things such as that a low oxygen environment doesn’t affect a character it should affect or that a character isn’t wearing a mask when it should be.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What Medical Care Does Your Space Station Have?

Now that I’ve gone through the technical areas of a fictional space station, let’s talk about the areas that deal with intelligent life, starting with medical facilities on station. Your station remains in one place and as such would most likely have more of a hospital feel to it than that of the local family doctor who can only deal with so much. Most station medical areas in books and movies can do anything from the full laboratory work up needed to diagnose a patient to the basic steps needed to heal the patient as well as dealing with anyone from newborn infant or pregnant mother to an elderly person dying of old age from any species. Often they have separate wards for different species that need special environments to survive or heal as well as at least one manually adaptable room for treating new species with the atmosphere found on the ship the alien arrived on.
I’d say that a space station is similar to a town or city now a days. As you journey across the country you pass through fields and woodland, small towns, bigger towns, and cities of all sizes. The sizes change, but every county has a hospital and every city tends to have a few hospitals and a number of clinics. An interesting thing about the city hospitals is that most of them are renowned for specific things. The Mayo Clinic a hospital systemis world renowned for its unique treatments on rare diseases while other hospitals can focus on children or research on conditions effecting specific organs that could change the future of science and medicine. Many hospitals these days also cater to cosmetic surgeries, such as reconstructing a face or merely shrinking a nose for vanity’s sake, and there are even pet hospitals in many cities now. Modern medicine can do many things and most hospitals in large cities can accommodate anything or can quickly get the patient to the correct hospital. It may be beneficial to at least decide what the limits of your medical facilities are before you write a lot of scenes in the medical wards.
Another thing to consider is that every doctor has his or her specialty whether it’s dealing with children, a specific alien species, or prefers diseases to dealing with broken limbs. Knowing the doctor’s specialty and their reason for learning that specialty can do a lot towards creating the character for story purposes if the doctor isn’t a major character in your story. (A scene where an animal doctor is forced to heal a human or alien could be a fun scene to read and write. I know I can think of many other examples where a doctor’s training doesn’t prepare him or her for an emergency could create an interesting scene with nervous tension or near panic.)
One final thought on medicine on a space station comes from the Babylon 5 television series. It was set on a space station that had its main doctor have a specialty in zenobiology, or the study of non-human life. I would guess that zenobiology would be a common focus or hobby of many doctors that would choose to work on a space station instead of a possibly better paying job planet-side somewhere.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Space Station Utilities

When you think about paying your utility bill, that generally means paying for the electricity you used, the water pumped into your house, the sewage system, and trash removal . How do those work on your station? I discussed electricity ideas earlier in the engineering post but what about the other utilities?
In the many Star Trek series they had a replicator system that turned the trash and sewage back into usable items by breaking the trash and sewage down into atoms and storing the atoms until they were reformed into clean items requested at a replicator. With the major push for recycling going on in the world now, such an invention could happen. Somehow every form of waste could be recycled into usable products on your station or you could set up your station to automatically separate the recyclables from the burnables and sewage. While the recyclables are recycled or sent elsewhere to be reused, the burnables are burned or melted down, the bad smoke purified and the ashes kept with the sewage to be sent by cargo ship somewhere else.
As for the water on ship, that would likely need to get purified and reused or created somehow. A simple way to do that would be to turn the dirty water into steam, purify the steam, and turn it back into usable water, maybe add some vitamins to the drinking water system.
Another set of systems that fit under the term “utilities” on a space ship is what I referred to as the communications department on a ship. The department is in charge of making sure everyone has every ability possible to talk to anyone off station and anyone on station and you probably want to think of at least a basic explanation of how before continuing to create your station. Do your people communicate by video over the network, by a communication device on them somewhere(Star Trek phone like device that as well as a button on their breast that caught their voice and transmitted it wirelessly while Babylon 5 had a similar device on the back of their hands for station personnel), by a halogram of some sort, or by another method.
No matter how you decide your utilities work on your station, figure out how the people on station would get help if something breaks. No matter where you are or what century your story is set in, things can always break. You may be in a state-of-the-art station newly built and tested to perfection, but there are always unexpected glitches in the system, whether too much hair or trash in the pipes backs up the sewage system every once in a while or a virus has the replicators only creating discolored food or one type of food. Such glitches would seem disasterous to civilians and a help desk should be manned all day, everyday to calm them down until the problem can be dealt with.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What Dock System Does Your Fictional Space Station Have?

If you watch science fiction movies or television series, you may have noticed two different docking systems shown. On Star Trek: Deep Space 9 the space ship docks on the outside of the ship. It connects its door to a door on the station that extends and creates an air tight seal. That enables people to leave the ship through a hallway pressurized safely so that they don’t die from leaving the ship in space. On the television show Babylon 5 and the five movies that spun off it, the docks were quite different. In that show the ships entered the station, turned their navigation over to the station and the station parking the ship in a pressurized cargo hold that people could safely walk through. Both ideas have their pros and cons but let’s think about the internal dock theory first. The show depicted a number of problems from the pilots panicking and trying to navigate their ships in the tight areas, usually causing massive accidents that shut down those parts of the docks for days or weeks to the long hours of preventative maintenance and preservation the dock workers had to put in to keep the corrosion from space at a workable level. No other place on station, other than the hull, has so much contact with space and the changing pressures between space and livable. As a result the systems would need constant maintenance to remain operational. Star Trek: Deep Space 9 seemed to show no problems with the system other than the clumsy driver every once in a while that parked the ship wrong and screwed up that docking mechanism. However, that system left a limited number of docks, although large ships could dock straight to the station while large ships had to wait outside Babylon 5 and their crew and cargo where shuttled in by station shuttles. Also, the Babylon 5 method offered more protection to the docked ship. If Deep Space 9 was attacked, all the ships docked with it would be sitting ducks for enemy fire, although the station has a force field that encircles the ships in the station’s defense capabilities. (Is there a ship too big for that field to protect? Just a thought that never seems to be discussed on Deep Space 9 that you may want to answer before your station is attacked if you have this type of docks.)
Another type of dock system is a modern one where ships attach themselves to buoys or a certain place in the water and the people are ferried in to land in smaller boats. The practice is called “anchoring out” and happens when big boats want to pull into a harbor with waters too shallow to support the large ship.
No matter what type of docking system you decide to go with for your space station, the schedule will usually be hard to keep up, depending on your station type and location. If your station is a military outpost or a research center of some sort it may not get much traffic other than the yearly supply ship that brings new workers and fresh research material, you may not need a schedule or much in the way of docking either. If your station is a trade center for a few systems, as most stations are, you will need a schedule saying what docks are open, what docks aren’t, when they’ll be open, and when the expected ships will arrive as well as plans for if unexpected ships arrive out of schedule. It is a harbor workers worst nightmare to be in charge of that schedule and it takes a number of operators in a tower to direct and enforce the schedule at airports. Space pilots hate to wait their turn and always want to jump the line or convince people that their business is more important than those around them. Space ships can come at all hours since in space the clock on station is the only time around. The docks need to be scheduled to be at least partly open all day long which means more schedules and more complaints. Oh well, what’s a boss to do but listen to complaints at assigned jobs?

Monday, May 9, 2011

What Type of Command Center Does Your Station Have?

Just as every computer has its headquarters (a server), so every space station has its command center and command crew. It doesn’t matter if the station is civilian, military, or run by some variation or combination. Every station is run by a set of people (I called them department heads in my ship creation series) that are in charge of different areas of the station. Although it would be possible for those people to run the station as a board, it would be difficult to get them all to work together without someone above them making sure station politics doesn’t break down and people refuse to work together. Just as every city has its mayor, every station has its captain, the person overall in charge of the station. That person doesn’t need to be called the captain, he or she may not even have a title. They may be nothing more than a Secretary of Utilities or the manager of a company hired to run the station but he or she has a place to sit and monitor schedules, power plant readouts, personal problems of the crew, complaints about service, make advancement decisions, damage reports, and possibly plan the schedules of dignitaries or important people visiting the station. This person in charge of maintaining the station has many jobs, but one he or she probably delegates as it is one of the hardest jobs on station is maintaining the docks and keeping them on schedule.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

What Antennas and Defenses Does Your Fictional Space Station Need?

I mentioned earlier that modern ships need antennas to send and receive messages from all over the world. On space ships it could be difficult to have antennas outside the ship as ships need to be able to move fast through space. Space stations don’t have that problem. Space stations are, by definition, stationary. For that reason we can have bigger antennas and clearer messages from distant planets while ships will need to find other ways to send and receive messages.
Since space stations are unable or very slow to move, they need to be protected. I mentioned ways of protecting planets in an earlier post and those are all good ways to protect a space station as well. Satellites a certain distance away from the station can create a defense grid or warn of an incoming attack. Huge weapon systems on the space station can cause massive damage to incoming invaders. A fighter wing of small ships can keep the enemy far enough away from the space station that it doesn’t get injured from the battle or buy time to activate the weapons on the station or satellites. During times of war a rotating battle group of ships could protect critical space stations. Half of the ships are docked at the space station for repairs and relaxation while the other half is on patrol around the station.
Space stations can have much of the same components as space ships, but they also have many unique needs which we have to keep in mind as we create our fictional space stations. As space stations are often strategically important locations for opposing governments, it’s best to provide heavy protection against losing control of the station.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What Engineering Needs Does Your Station Need?

I’ve already spoken about the engineering needs on a ship but let’s talk about the engineering needs on a space station. Space stations don’t need engines, as by definition they are stationed in one place, but they still need electricity and a lot of it. There are many ways to create electricity and with a space station you have more space to create a larger power plant than a ship that needs to pass quickly through space can handle. You may choose to have small power plants nearby entertainment rooms that need more electricity than most rooms, such as Star Trek’s “halodecks” or casinos in space. Even movie theaters in space would need more power than a typical room on the space station. Something else you may want to keep in mind when deciding the engineering needs of a space station is how useful a backup power supply is. If power goes out on a space station and there is no backup, it would be a disaster. Most tools in the future will run on electricity of some kind. Batteries may work for a while but only for so long. Also, things like life support and food would quickly get used up on a station of over a thousand people with no new air and most stations hold more than a thousand people as the skeleton crew to run the space station. It would probably be best to have a separate power plant that runs the vital systems separate from a system that can be overtaxed by commercial needs and possibly blow quite often, depending on what ship is in port and how much people try to squeeze from the system to make a little more money.
One last note on the engineering needs of a space station: although stations may not use engines, many seem to need thrusters at times to maintain orbit around the planet they often orbit. Thrusters are much easier to supply and maintain so you may want to think about where they are located to get the best and fastest movement in an emergency.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What is the Purpose of Your Fictional Station?

What your fictional space station is used for dictates how it looks, to an extent, as well as what rooms are needed.
If your station is a hospital it probably has the typical hospital colors, depending on your species, and you’ll have to decide how typical hospital wings are worked into your design. Does your station look like a building with different squares coming off the center diagnostic area or are the sick children merely put on different floors than the dying adults or pregnant mothers? A hospital would likely have less of a need to have a huge Operations Department but the Administration Department may be the second biggest Department below the Medical Department on your station. If your station is a trade hub it may have a huge diplomatic area or business area with a few hotel variations but a small group of people caring for and running the weapons while a large department runs the docks, keeping ships on schedule and paying their dues. If your station is an amusement park in space, you are going to need a lot more electricity and hotel areas than if your station was merely a port to stop in to repair broken parts before continuing on to the next port. Each type of station would play a part in how it looks and how big it is as well. A child’s amusement park may look like a cartoon character’s head while an adult’s amusement park may look like another part of a person’s anatomy, depending on the species, and the repair port may not look too pretty but have cranes sticking out of the station at every angle.
As you decide the purpose of your fictional space station remember to keep in mind the effect it will have on everything else onboard, such as the look of the station from space and engineering needs.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Thoughts on Creating a Space Station

We’ve spoken of the various rooms and programs you need to think of in creating your fictional space ship as well as speaking earlier about creating a new planet and society. Now let’s look at the last major challenge for a science fiction writer to create: the space station. Generally a space station is bigger than a space ship but it still needs the same rooms as a space ship, at least for the basics. Even if your story is based around a single space ship and its crew, remember that every ship needs to pull into a port sometime, even if only to repair or refuel. In a reality based story your crew would likely pull into a port somewhere at least once every two years, probably closer to twice a year at least, unless they are in a hostile area or repair and refuel on planets. If you are writing the story of a single ship, then you may think that these next few posts aren’t worth your time and maybe they aren’t. Depending on the type of station your fictional ship pulls into, you may not want to think about a number of the coming posts, but it may be smart to plot out the ideas in the coming posts for your story before continuing. You never know what room your characters may walk into.
There are many different types of space stations and you need to decide which one you’re going to write about. Is your fictional station merely a repair hub with a single restaurant and a lounge to offer crews passing through or is it a full out pleasure port with little desire to repair or refuel ships? Is it a military center on the outskirts of civilization designed to bring order on the borders that is well known for the rowdy nightlife designed for crews far from home or is it the political center of an empire where everyone is well dressed and on their best behavior? Is it a trade hub with an established community including children and kept nice and tidy or is it little more than a hole-in-the-wall station known as the last step of the careers of anyone sent to take control of the rundown meeting place? Is your station a child’s dream, like a future Disney World, or is an adult’s dream, no children allowed, or somewhere in between? I decision is yours and will depend on what your story calls for but there is one more idea I’d like to suggest: the government facility. Governments often put their secret projects in a deserted area in space where people are less likely to stumble upon them than on limited planet space the government may have. These stations are often prisons or research facilities for anything from disease studies to weapon studies to scientific research on nearby space phenomenon to vaults of research started but deemed too dangerous or unethical to continue. Imagine the fun you could have if a ship in need of emergency repairs pulls into an off limits station, either by accident or on purpose. Those in control of the station would need to imprison the crew or convince them that the station was really just a rundown station with nothing of interest, nothing at all to keep the crew there any longer than necessary. Of course, the station really could be the major hospital station it pretends to be instead of the medical research laboratory it really is doing illegal research on unwilling patients.