Snowbanks are great!!
OR the writing challenges of tackling the sci fi 'epic' story!!
So this week, as a bit of a precursor to announcing our writing and drawing and marketing classes, today LIFEDEATH creator John Stanisci offers a little glimpse into how he tackled breaking the plot for a sci fi epic like LIFEDEATH!!
So, sci fi. High concept. Writing the ‘EPIC’.
Anyone who has ever dreamt, daydreamed, fantasized (or whatever it is you do to let your fertile mind wander into the creative ether), and who has attempted to create a sci fi story, has wanted to do the ‘EPIC'. I certainly did.
I’ve LOVED sci fi since I was a wee lad, as they say. Sure, all the usual suspects like Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Logan’s Run, and more. But the great novelists whose work I loved like Robert Heinlein, Greg Bear, Orson Scott Card. They all fired my imagination and I always felt , someday, I would tackle my own sci fi “EPIC”.
So, here’s the dual challenge you HAVE to solve to do the sci fi epic: First, You have to have what is known as the HIGH CONCEPT, y’know, the sci fi ‘hook’, the ‘here’s the one line on what this is about that will (hopefully) blow your mind and make you want to read my book’!
Second, and more importantly, your HIGH CONCEPT story HAS to be told through the eyes of one very fallible human being. Ok, it can be more than just one. The point is: You MUST bring the whole HIGH CONCEPT down to be told through the eyes of one (or more) easy to relate to character (s).
There. That’s it. You now know EVERYTHING there is to know about writing sci fi. Go forth and produce GEMS that I will be dying to read!
Ok, ok. Maybe there’s a little more to it. But, not really.
LIFEDEATH has a ‘HIGH CONCEPT”: In the future, mankind discovers that the afterlife is an ancient computer program designed to upload our consciousness when we die. In the year 2211, that program is crashing.
Ok, that’s the premise/concept. Now, through whose eyes do I tell this very big story?
Well, there are two main characters. We talked about Dr. Meredith Ross in a previous newsletter. She’s a meta psychatrial scientist from Earth whose father committed suicide in order to prove his theories about the afterlife. Now, as an adult, she has ‘picked up the mantle’ for her Dad, and spends her life trying to prove his theories were correct. Really, she’s searching to find her Dad. Pretty simple, and relatable.
The other main character is Deke Renner. Deke is a Martian soldier who (over the course of the first LIFEDEATH graphic novel) learns that he is not a human at all. He was placed amongst humanity, to incarnate over and over, to be a ‘safeguard’ of sorts, preventing the afterlife consciousness from evolving and helping mankind evolve into Gods themselves. Whew. That’s a mouthful just writing that!
I’ll admit, the Deke storyline is a tough one to write sometimes. And there has been more than one occasion where I’ve run into ALL kinds of road blocks and obstacles as a writer trying to figure out what his story is and how the hell to write it.
But, here’s the writing lesson for today: I have found, EVERY TIME, that I have ever run into a problem breaking a plot ( I call it driving into a snow bank), that the problem usually turns into the greatest of solutions. Here’s what I mean.
Usually, when I’m writing, and I get stuck on a problem (which is more often than I care to publicly admit), I start reading. I start throwing myself into any kind of research I can find. Now, OF COURSE, research is ALWAYS a good thing to do. As a writer, you should be very well read on whatever subject you’re writing about. But, sometimes…well, sometimes I’ll be working on a story and I’ll come across some books (on line, or at a bookstore) and…the book itself doesn’t necessarily have anything to do directly with the subject matter I’m writing about, but…SOMETHING about it strikes me, SOMETHING makes me take a look, and makes me curious. So, of course, I have to get the book and MANY TIMES…the book turns out to be a complete waste of time because it really did not have anything to do with the subject I was writing about.
But once in a while, I stumble into a cave of treasures, and I make an unexpected discovery about my story, or one of my characters, that I never expected. Such was the case for writing the Deke storyline.
I had been reading books about the afterlife and the actual scientific studies of past life regression therapy and so forth. But I stumbled onto all kinds of research about repeating patterns in all known religions since the beginning of recorded time. Similar mythologies that went across all the burgeoning religions of the ancient world, from the Egyptians, to the Greeks, and more. It was really fascinating. The common thread amongst all these ancient myths was the notion of what I call the “Godman”: a god/child born of virgin birth who dies to save all mankind. Have you heard this one before?
I thought, yknow, we’ve seen this kind of story before, the story of ‘THE ONE’, that kind of thing. But not exactly like this. Not told through the scope of ancient human mythology, encompassing the earliest ancient mysteries of mankind, all to be unraveled in the pages of LIFEDEATH. And, I thought, what a great concept/conflict for my main character. He discovers he’s a God and he has to ‘die’ to enter the afterlife program and shut it down from the inside, before it completely crashes and every uploaded human soul is lost forever. And, of course, Deke doesn’t want any part of this. He simply wants to be a man.
And he will meet up with Dr. Ross, who will have to invent a ‘new’ afterlife in order to save all those untold human souls.
There’s my high concept and there’s my human dramas. For me, I’m off to the races!! I hope this gave some of you food for thought.
Thanks for following!!!
SOON: how I learned to letter my own comic pages over the Christmas holiday!!!