OK today James Bradley author of Clade and others hosted a course on Speculative Fiction at Writing NSW today. Excellent course. Below are notes and exercises we went rhoguh on the day - please note I used Day 1 - Babelism as the base for this course.
Story a day - Speculative futures course.
Types: Utopia, Dystopia, post-apocalypse, slow apocalypse. (Listed a heap of books here in my notebook.)
Following are some exercises that will form/aide in the build out of the preceding story, or help inform others.
——- Description of the world ——- First Exercise
Post EMP - Electromagnetic Pulse where all electronics, electrical devices have been destroyed as part of a war, parallel outbreak of both an invasion and a civil war fighting on three fronts. This is one a generation post the war, the weather patterns have changed and the world is healing itself (think the effect the volcanoes can have on the climate) what if the whole of America stopped consuming electricity.
A lot of infrastructure still exists, but does not function, nature is slowly taking over, growing between the cracks, creeping unhindered over the dormant human creations.
Due to ‘The three battles’ invaders contained, civil war is divided between the left (socialists known as the aliens or illegals by the right) and right (puritan’s known as the Troll’s by the left).
The Troll’s have resurrected old vehicles and have formed militia to hunt out the aliens, for all sorts of reasons - e.g. pillage their farms, capture slaves etc.
The Aliens live in hiding, either resigned to the way of the world, or seeking to exit the world they live in as they know of other (or imagine) utopian nations where the rule of law, is different.
Question who detonated the EMP’s? Was it the invader, the puritans or the socialists.
——- World Building ——-
Think of 3 ways Jake could be threatened or constrained by the world:
- the rule of survival in tribes, not alone.
- Extremism of Troll’s and socialists responses
- Pulling against the constraint, knows of someone who would want the device as they have worked out how to get it all going again.
- Constrained in that the socialists do not want anything to do with technology - i.e. can not reach across the divide.
- Constrained physically by the ‘wilding’ of the world, i.e. jaguar, bear populations growing and other predators increasing.
- Constrained by the sentiment of do no good, live for the betterment of all. I.e. constrained by the subjective lesson of the past - e.g. no man can be a leader, the matriarchal state of his society. I.e. he is a male and carries the punishment for the Patriarch’s mistakes in the past.
Idea is ask questions of your world eg.
Where does food come from?
Do they have power, how?
Is there a government, where does it fit into the situation?
What is the currency? Is there a currency?
Are there social stigma?
Is there/what is the ongoing threat?
How’s is that managed.
How is information moved around?
What are people most afraid?
The idea of Strangeness & Wonder?
visualisation of the Star Wars ships.
Vines over a civilisation?
Recognisable landmarks (linking to worlds)
One def of sci-fi is to literalise metaphors
Try Literalising the following statements:
Literally police women’s bodies (think handmaid's tale)
Think ‘The Eyes’
For Babelism - the leading story above - ‘Take his (Trump’s) Twitter Account away.’
Writing - Controlling the release of information, dolling it out the way you want.
Could play with language and terms e.g. Russell Hoban, Riddley walker
Have rules, do not tell them all, imply some. Remember the reader should lean into the story and tell their part.
Place is incredibly powerful and assists in all of this. One sentiment expressed is the idea of the world/place as a character int the story.
Other things that matter in worlds:
Think of all the sense e.g. sound and smell.
Objects, things, elements
Example books in the world of the short story as compared to the tablet.
Phone’s - anecdote - what is the first thing people look for in a crisis batteries for their phones.
Solar panels - is that some thing that works, are they scarce? Do they have a place in the story?
Book ‘underground railroad’ Pulitzer Prize - have a read
Ben Winters - ‘The last policeman’ ‘zone one’
——- Exercise Two ——
Get at this idea of strangeness or wonder about the world…. (using Babelism) take a place, event, process or something in the world and describe it.
Jake watched as his friend walked back into camp. He’d been out out scouting as he had expected. Covered in brown and dull green leather he could see how it would be hard to spot him out in the forest.
‘Jake. Saw you and your dad come back in today.’
‘At the drop, it sounds like you found something interesting to trade.’
‘Wait, you where close enough to hear our conversation.’
‘Yeah, you near walked into me. Your dad saw me, that’s why he ended your questioning; so what was it you were talking about?’
Jake, having promised his father was stuck. He couldn’t help but think that the thing, the tablet he had found would be of value in someway. He knew it was electronic, so obviously of no use in that sense, like he couldn’t start it or anything.
‘So you heard him say, not anyone we’d want to trade with. Who do you think that would be?’
‘Not a clue, maybe if you tell me what we are talking about I could help out.’
Torn, Jake’s mind spun. Should he tell him, make an excuse to get away. He could still feel the cold smoothness of the tablet on his fingers, there was little, if anything he could remember felt like that, polished leather maybe, although that would absorb, or capture heat, the tablet didn’t.
** Read paper only in June - only use tech for work, or writing. No YouTube, Flipboard, browsing etc. Can it be a Novel a week.
Process of discovery - e.g. Jake has to learn about the rules int he world,
Process of disenchantment - in learning how the world really is, what and how do they respond to this.
—— I deal of mapping a story by connection & Disconnect e.g.
Invitation to the ball - connection
Can’t go - disconnection
Fairy godmother - connection
Meets prince - connection
Runs away - connection
Sister shoe - disconnection
Prince finds her - connection
Alternative the the traditional story curve -> desire with obstacles creating tensions.
Interesting short stories finished on disconnection - James’s theory (facilitator)
Where as novels finish on connections.
——- Exercise ——-
Write one of two things,
Someone arriving somewhere, to talk about world building
Show your character in their normal life
‘Jake, up lad, we are out and about today.’
Rolling over, Jake swung his legs of his bed, his feet landing on the cold hard soil of his room. Light filtering in through the gaps in the sticks that formed his wall more so than any through the window that was covered by a cloth living the life of an illusion of stopping the light.
Pulling on his cloth buttonless shirt over his head, he stood, balancing on one foot to slide into his bleachers, first his left foot then his right. Shoving his bone handled shiv into the scabbard in the middle of his back.
Drawing the curtain aside he stepped into the main area of the hut, there sitting at the table were his mother and father. They had already set the table. Brown clay bowls, filled with gruel,the steam wafting up to the ceiling.
‘Where are we going today father?’’
‘Did you sort all of those materials we scavenged the other day?’
‘Yes father.’ Jake responded simply, waiting with anticipation as to where they were going.
‘Good then, so it’s decided. We are going to go the traders. I reckon we have enough there to pick-up some food fro the tribe, as well as a bleacher.’
‘Arthur, honey, didn’t you just get a bleacher the other day?’ Gillian asked.
Jakes mother Gillian wore a long straight dress, tied with a sash around her was. Unlike other clan leaders, predominantly male; Gillian’s attire was practical, for as a leader of her tribe she worked just as hard if not harder than all others.
‘I’ve filled it.’
‘Why don’t you reset one of your existing bleachers, you’ve got so many.’
‘Gillian, my jobs to capture knowledge not erase it.’
‘Jake darling, can you please make sure we get all the necessities before your father gets his bleacher.
Write the scraps, the little bits about you world, you may or may not use it, either way it helps you build out and understanding of the world your character exists in.
Why talk about climate change here in dystopian novels? The world, the environment is a big part of a story, be it post apocalyptic cause by humans either fast or slow.
Making fiction out of this is a challenge - maybe there are parallel stories here.
Climate change & the environment - why don’t we write about it, talk about it, paint draw it, why is it not in our art.
Do we note talk about it because:
It’s to hard to imagine, to conceive?
Is it why we can’t imagine the future because of it.
Is it like the holocaust camps, by not speaking of the evil…. think no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.
We are all implicit in it.
Huge complicated, boundless.
Self interest and ego in denial.
Forces to deny it, political, etc….
Slow, gradual and hard to see.
Can be challenged as a flight of fantasy..
‘Won’t happen here.’
Side bar - the EMP, apocalypse in ‘Babelism’ the base story for this course was an attack on the political force where the climate benefits. I.e. can Babelism transition from dystopia to utopia. Maybe that’s the journey.
Because of the war, loss of electrical generation etc and the environment recovery, as well as the rumour of a socialist land, maybe longer-term they get there. The utopian world could introduce the idea of ‘constrained’ technology, only stuff in their place.
So the sorts of tactics in use to try and deal with environment in these stories:
science fiction is a really good way, it can give you a language and realm to discuss this.
Mosaic’s and discontinuous stories - i.e. following characters over a long period of times - David Mitchell bone clocks, James .. Clay.
Set over time - e.g. a house of 200 years, talking about the people who live there and how things change over that time, all the way through to the end of life and the house being reclaimed by the environment.
Interesting idea that the simpler worlds - e.g. Mongolia people/culture living much simpler lives seen in the current world as the poor and in a dystopian world the rich.
—— Final idea in brief ——
Elon’s Musk is raffling of a ticket to get off earth in the case of a calamity. Opening up to everyone at a $1,000 dollars for a ticket using the money generated to build the a ship that can take ten people at a time. Then another and another.
Part way through there is a calamity - if it’s a fast calamity (think nuclear war) the story would go one way, a slow burning calamity (think asteroid) another - tension, what's the benefit of money in this situation. Glacial calamity (Climate change) the dilemma is to when to launch.