A fiction writer dissects the world with a scalpel and a set of thick rubber gloves. She slices her patients open, digs around their minds, and then decides whether to patch them up or let them bleed out on the operating table. Her process of discovery forces her to ask questions. Who is this person? How did he get here? What makes him tick? How would he react if accused of a crime he didn’t commit?
A science fiction writer performs the same surgery on her characters, only she asks an additional question that the fiction writer does not, a question that always begins with “What if…” As the science fiction writer wields her scalpel, she ruminates on intangibles. Ideas form questions that delve into worlds beyond those that the fiction writer chooses to explore. What if this patient discovers that his world is an alternate reality? What if he learns that his wife is a robot? What if he becomes the first human to set foot on a new, habitable planet?
Writers tinker with the human condition, binding readers to characters and environments in ways that shape their imaginations. In order for the reader to make that connection, though, the writer must continually question each decision that she makes. The questions the writer asks, and the answers that the characters and their world give back, will make or break the story. That’s why the questions and their answers are so critical.
I write all kinds of fiction, but primarily adventure-oriented science fiction centered on time travel (emphasis on “adventure” since, lacking a degree in astrophysics, writing hard science fiction is extremely difficult). The additional questions I have to answer are things like: How does time travel work? What happens if I travel back in time and kill my grandfather? How do I purchase a flux capacitor?
Fortunately, science fiction readers tend to like to go along for the ride (except for some of those astrophysicists-you know who you are), even if the answer to every question isn’t perfect. But, the writer’s task, particularly the science fiction writer’s task, is to suspend the reader’s disbelief. How does a writer do that? She asks herself questions, over and over, until she finds the answers that are as close to perfect as she can get. It’s a process of discovery. It’s the same process of discovery that the reader will go through, only it’s up to the writer to blaze a trail, leaving a clear path for the reader to follow.
Each step the reader takes is built upon a question and an answer. For writers, the questions become essential, because they allow us to explore the vast, uncharted wilderness prior to cutting a narrow pathway of answers for the reader to follow. The more questions we ask ourselves, the better the answers become. It’s a process of trial and error until the perfect path has been uncovered.
So what now? Well… Imagine. Dream. Ask questions. What if, after reading this, you decide to become a writer? The possibilities are endless.
Short stories. Comic books. Even screenplays. J Sherer utilizes a number of channels to focus his imagination into action-oriented, fast-paced storytelling. It doesn’t always come out great, but when it does it gets published online or in science fiction anthologies like Infinite Space, Infinite God I and II. J Sherer also writes Timeslingers, a time travel adventure series that is available online (for free!) and will soon be an ebook. Follow him on Twitter (@Timeslingers) or become a fan at facebook.com/Timeslingers.