Category: Writing Posts
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51EnhDj6GbL. SY300 I love a story with really interesting ideas. People will tell you that an interesting idea doesn't make for a good story--for a good story you need real characters that you care about. You need to watch these characters face challenges and grow (or shrink). They'll tell you that the story can't be good unless you have an emotional attachment to the people in the story. I agree with all that (mostly), but it's irrelevant if the idea at the beginning is no good.

I was a little kid when I was first disappointed in the idea behind a story. The book was called Andy Buckram's Tin Men. In this book, there's a kid who builds helper robots. He makes these robots from tin cans, pulleys, rope, and a tractor battery (if I'm remembering correctly). I was young enough that the story was read to me (so before I was thirteen, ha!), but I distinctly remember being disappointed. You can't make a robot from ropes and pulleys and tin cans. All the science behind how to make this robot was just hand-waved away. I wanted a decent explanation, but I didn't get one. Instead, the author strikes the automatons with lightning, and they become sentient. WTF?

When I got older, I read tons of really great science fiction, with tons of really great science behind every word. As engineers were striving to send people to the moon (and before), writers were taking all that hard work and extrapolating. They cast their imaginations out into space and took the best plots from Earth out into the void. The universe that Asimov imagines contains astounding detail and it's logical and complete. There are no pulleys and ropes there. It's perfect. And then you have Philip K. Dick who wonders about the moral and social dilemmas the new technology will bring. He explores all the dark corners that electric light can't probe. But somehow in all that hard-science sci-fi, I miss some of the whimsy of the stupid Tin Men.

Hitchhiker's Guide was a wonderful revelation to read. Adams threw out all the science and just made up funny stuff. The Infinite Improbability Drive is a great example. How can you travel faster than light? 

[the machine] must have finite improbability. So all I have to do in order to make one is to work out how exactly improbable it is, feed that figure into the finite improbability generator, give it a fresh cup of really hot tea... and turn it on!

For my own stuff, I always have to know how everything works. I may not explain every tiny detail to the reader, because I can't figure out how to do it without being incredibly boring, but I have to know. The problem is, without expalining every detail, how do I convince you that's thought out? In my latest book, Extinct,

***Spoiler Alert*** I don't reveal too much, but if you hate spoilers and haven't read Extinct, don't read any more ***Spoiler Alert***


In my latest book, Extinct, I take great pains to show you the intelligence of my characters. When they have an expertise, you know it, and they explain their thought process. So you might not get every minute detail of logic behind the way my universe works, but I hope that you've got plenty of reason to trust that they do.

In a new book I'm working on, one of the characters begins working with computers in the late seventies. He's a guy who knows how to fix stereos, so someone brings him a cassette deck they're trying to use to load programs onto their computer. Before the Intersweb, DVDs, CDs, or floppies, we loaded programs with cassettes, uphill both ways, in the snow (5 miles). Anyway, the guy fixes the cassette player and I explain that. I don't know why. I was probably just trying to fill my quota of words for the day--perhaps I'll cut it.

So, the story is more important than the technology, but bad technology will always kill the story. That's my opinion. It will probably change.