Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Going Off-Grid (part 2)

Google owns the internet. Does it really? In a sense, that statement does have some truth to it if you pull back the curtain a little to see what is going on behind the scenes. Just about everything you do online is tracked and archived, analyzed by programs and then shared. When I say shared, I mean that in addition to the giant that is Google, your information is also available to other companies and researchers that want to know your habits. How long did you stay on that webpage? What part of the webpage did you linger on? What did you click, where did you scroll, and what did you type? Of course, many realize that this is the price of using the internet, and many don't even care—what is privacy, anymore? It is being eroded as a concept, something that is viewed an archaic notion that only our set-in-their-ways elders are being stubborn about. My own daughter thinks my precautions are over the top, and maybe they are. I don't know about you, though, but I don't like the idea that Google is constantly trying to know more about me than it should.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Going Off-Grid (part 1)

Have you ever thought about it? Living off the grid usually refers to surviving without any dependence on society, the government, or the public, without relying on infrastructure and money. However, I'm referring to going off-grid in a technological sense. With powerful presences like Google, Amazon, and Facebook monitoring us and integrating themselves into more and more aspects of our lives, we really have only two options: fight back or resign to it. Acceptance is what most of us have tacitly done, and it's understandable—everything has been happening over many years, slowly building. It may still seem innocuous, and perhaps it still is in some ways, but unless these monopolizing giants are stopped and broken up by the government (and I'm referring to government in a non-partisan sense, because both sides have utilized these technologies to their benefit), we may be acquiescing to a soft tyranny. This week, I'm going to talk about some things these companies are doing and some simple ways we can resist...at least a little.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Writing Intriguing Sci-fi Premises (part 5)

It always helps to expose yourself to other stories, and you'll find them in good books, TV series, movies, and even story-driven video games. When you come across a story you like, ask yourself why you liked it, and analyze it to see if you can discern what it was that intrigued you. You can learn a lot about story construction just by studying how others do it. Of course, you should never copy someone else's ideas, but by exposing yourself to their ideas, it will set your own creative imagination in motion and you'll devise your own plots. There's sometimes a fine line between being too derivative and being inspired, so you'll have to find that measure for yourself, but if you focus on the concept and not the specifics, you may find yourself generating an intriguing idea for a story. “The 100” inspired me to think again about taking human responses to an extreme because the situation calls for it. The leaders of an overpopulated space station have to make “cuts” and decide who has to die in order for others to live, so they become merciless and exacting with their laws, punishing the disobedient with death. It works because it's believable there are people who would do that in a dire situation like that. What kind of situation can you put your characters into, and what will they do?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Writing Intriguing Sci-fi Premises (part 4)

Start writing your setting with based on something basic, and then ask yourself, “What if this instead?” Even a seemingly small change in a detail can have huge rippling effects upon the story, so if you remember that your setting can be the antagonist that drives everyone, all you have left to do is consider the array of character reactions. One easy thing to remember is the old, “fight or flight” response. This encompasses most of the possible reactions, when things are distilled down to the simplest elements. Consider personalities and how even two brothers who grew up in the same environment might have entirely different responses to a situation. Add agenda and motivation on top of the basic fight or flight response, and you'll have an even deeper layer to work with when developing your characters. Also consider whether the character is more emotionally driven or logically driven. Apply either of these to the fight or flight, fuel it all with personal motivation, and you have the ingredients for an exciting story recipe.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Writing Intriguing Sci-fi Premises (part 3)

Does your setting have to be as seemingly unique as the overcrowded space station setting in “The 100?” No, but you'll find that it can always help to try to put a unique twist on a setting to set it apart from others of its kind. For instance, the setting I proposed yesterday involving a small world occupied by a powerful foe that imposes their ideology—that setting is based on events in the history of several nations. You can always start from a place of familiarity and it often helps to do so, because it will be something people will more readily identify with. It's more difficult for an audience to try to relate to something totally obscure, so keep some familiar themes present. The next step is to take that familiar setting and add something different. What if the oppressed world needed to hide a devastating secret from the occupying foe? Or what if the people of the oppressed world—painted to be the victims at first—turned out to be preparing to conquer and oppress other worlds, and their plans were foiled by the occupying force? There are a number of possible twists on expectations that can turn the initial premise into a pressure cooker to catalyze the reactions of your characters.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Writing Intriguing Sci-fi Premises (part 2)

When writing out your ideas for an interesting story, I think it's important to consider your setting as a possible antagonist. People react differently to situations, and that's where the meat of your story is going to be found—your characters' reactions—but you'll need a catalyst for their reactions. The setting of The 100--a crowded, over-populated space station with thin resources available—is a perfect antagonist that will drive people to extremes, both in their response to the antagonist and in their response to each other. Not everyone is going to respond to a problem the same way, and often the response to a problem can become an even bigger problem itself. Try some writing exercises: write out a few ideas for different settings that could become a driving force for your characters. For instance, imagine a small world occupied by a powerful foe that imposes their ideology and seeks to eradicate the former culture entirely. Or imagine characters sailing on a boat in the middle of the ocean when it loses all power and is adrift in the sea for weeks on end. The setting can be an entire world or something as small as a tiny boat; it doesn't matter. What your characters do to deal with the problems imposed by the setting is where the real intrigue will be found.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Writing Intriguing Sci-fi Premises (part 1)

This weekend my wife and I decided to try a new TV series we found on Netflix called “The 100.” (small spoilers...) The premise intrigued us both, especially once we got into the first episode. Earth was devastated by nuclear war, and some fled to a giant orbiting space station. Years later, the teenage delinquents that were in prison on this station are sent down to earth to determine if it is liveable again. The thing that I found really interesting, though, was the situation on the space station. The population was too large and the ruling officials knew that the only way they could survive was to reduce the population, hence sending the 100 teenagers down to the surface. Even that only bought them 1 more month. What was really intriguing, though, was the excessively legalistic standards that had developed on the station: even the slightest infraction was punished severely, quickly landing teenagers in jail while adults were “floated” from the airlock into space. I hadn't bought into the premise at the beginning when the mother wanted her teenage daughter to be among those sent down to earth, but when it soon became clear that the tyrannical society that existed on the space station was likely to end lives over law-breaking just to buy more time for everyone else, it was easy to understand why a mother would want her child to get out of there, even if it meant heading down to a dangerous unknown on a radiation-soaked earth. All this got me thinking about the method of writing an intriguing premise for sci-fi stories...