A Serious Look at How to Come Up w/Awesome Sci-Fi Ideas

The most helpful post of the month so far:

10 Tips for Generating Killer Science Fiction Story Ideas – by Charlie Jane Anders

Science fiction is the literature of big ideas — so coming up with an amazing story idea often feels like the biggest stumbling block in the way of your dreams of authorship. Unfortunately, most of us can’t just have Robert A. Heinlein mail us $100 and a couple dozen brilliant ideas. So what do you do?

The trick is not just to come up with a great idea, but a great idea that lives in your mind and leads to characters and situations that inspire you. So here are 10 pretty decent ways to generate your own amazing story ideas.

And it really is true that ideas are dime a dozen in science fiction. Take the idea of “first contact with an alien race.” There are a million possible variations of that idea alone: They come to us. We go to them. They’re super-advanced. They’re not using anything we’d recognize as technology. They communicate using only colors. They think emoticons are our language, and all the other stuff is just punctuation. They’re giant. They’re tiny. They’re invading. They’re well-intentioned, but troublesome. And so on.

The hard part is finding an idea that sticks in your head and starts to grow weird angles and curves. In a sense, it’s not about finding a good idea — so much as finding a good idea for you, personally. So here are some tips, that may or may not be helpful:

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The really good stuff is at the link above. We want you to experience it in its full glory on its original site. You know, the way God (and Charlie Jane) intended.

Peggy Bechko: Trying Too Hard


Writing is a tough business and we’re always trying to put our best foot forward, to give our best, to produce our best work, but there is such a thing as trying too hard.

You know it. I know it.

There are few things less impressive than someone trying to be impressive.

Humor is a victim as well. How many times have you seen or read someone trying to be funny and it fell flat? Few things are less funny than someone trying to be funny.

As writers we need to watch out for things like using tailing tags to get readers to see the humor. You know, things like “he quipped,” or “he joked” or “he said with his usual wry sense of humor,” or some other hint that we’re trying to be funny. It may work on rare occasion when you toss the line off in a script along with the hot-potato to the actor who has to pull the humor off.
But, realistically if your dialog is funny you don’t need to point that out to your readers, be they enjoying your novel or reading your script. And if it isn’t as funny as you’d hoped you sure don’t need to draw attention to what didn’t work out as you’d planned. So look for places in your story where you know you were trying to be funny and change it until it actually is funny. Same for impressive mentioned above though impressive is a whole ‘nother animal.

And there are many facets of “trying too hard”. Isn’t just trying to be funny or impressive. Sometimes it’s just showing off; using all sorts of cute and helpful little tags to your dialog.

Writers sometimes get obsessed with their thesaurus and just can’t help coming up with one word after another in preference to simply saying he ‘said’. Tags like gasped, chortled, grunted, hissed, barked, screeched, harangued. I mean come on, people, you’re writers, don’t irritate your readers. You can do better. They know you have a word processor with a thesaurus attached, dictionary too. Just keep it fresh, keep it simple and tell your story. I mean if you’re truthful, when you’re reading, doesn’t all that stuff irritate you? One, well-placed tag such as above can add to the story – a gushing torrent of them doesn’t.

It’s a hard concept to handle sometimes, but you and I, as writers, don’t really want people admiring our writing, our cleverness, the adept way we handle the English language. Nope, instead we want to hook the reader, grab ‘em by the eyeballs and not turn lose. We want the reader to not be able to put the book down or in the case of submitting a script we want it tight and fresh enough for it to be moved along in the pipeline of selling the script.

And to accomplish that, we don’t want to trip our readers up. We don’t want them to pause to admire our writing or roll their eyes in exasperation. You’re not giving your readers history lessons or explaining the flora and fauna of northern California. They’re not prepping for a spelling bee or grabbing (at least we hope not) a dictionary to broaden their vocabulary.
Anything that jars your reader is bad.

Period.

And, as you build toward climax of your story, the pace will steadily increase. Most definitely not the place you want to throw up and roadblocks or potholes.

Keep it simple stupid isn’t a bad philosophy in this context. Your readers are looking for a story that’s entertaining, believable and somehow moves them. They want to be so engaged in the story, so transported to the world you’ve created that they take no notice at all of how you wrote it, how you used words to draw them in and shape that world.

So reread your book or script. Look for distractions, for jarring or colorful to the point of ridiculous language. Use fewer devices, not more.

I think we’re back to keep it simple stupid.

Now write.

Not Feeling Motivated? Try These Mind Hacking Tricks

…And we don’t mean visualizing that the rent is due! (Although we know for a fact that works.)

How to Give Yourself a Quick Motivational Boost – by Ali Luke

Take a Break

Sometimes, your motivation wanes because you’ve been working too hard for too long. Take a break.

Even a few minutes away from your computer can help you unwind. This is also a great way to recover a sense of perspective, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand.

Go for a Walk

One of the best ways to take a break is to go for a walk.

Even a five-minute walk helps. You’ll get your body moving and your blood pumping, and you’ll return to your work feeling re-energized.

Write a Task List

Sometimes, your motivation might take a nosedive because you’ve got so much on your plate, you don’t know where to begin.

Write a task list for the rest of the day. Get everything out of your head and onto paper. It’ll only take a few minutes—and everything will look much more manageable.

Race Against the Clock

Struggling with a tedious task? Challenge yourself to work faster.

Aim to clear your inbox in just 30 minutes. Push yourself to sort that huge stack of files in under an hour. Set a timer, and try to beat it.

Talk to a Friend

Friends are a great source of support. A quick chat online or on the phone can give you a genuine motivation boost.

If you’re struggling with your diet or exercise plan, call a friend and tell them. If you’re having doubts about your freelance design work, talk to other designers. Remind yourself of the value of what you’re doing.

Drink a Glass of Water

Are you drinking enough water?

Mild dehydration makes it hard to stay focused—so if your concentration levels are dipping, grab a tall glass of water.

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The water drinking thing really – and surprisingly – worked for us, but there also are 4 more approaches after the click that seem just as good.

Shooting Video So It Doesn’t Cost an Arm & a Leg

At a time when peer production is amount the best possible routes to TV and film making success, how can you let a little thing like not having a top video camera stand in your way? You don’t have to, and here’s why:

Shoot Great Video Using Just Your Phone’s Camera – by Alan Henry

If you want to shoot good-looking video you don’t always need expensive gear. The folks at Wistia were tired of hearing people underestimate the power of the cameras we carry around with us, so they put together a great tutorial on how to shoot high-quality video using just your phone’s camera.

Wistia, a company that specializes in video hosting, did roll out some pretty serious lighting for the video, but the moral of the story is that positioning, lighting and light control, and the right apps for your mobile device can make all the difference when you’re going for quality. There’s no reason to consider a camera on a smartphone “not a real camera” for most people:

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Did You Know that Everybody You Meet in the TV Biz is Going to Hate You?

‘Cuz we’re all rivals, don’tcha see? And any piece of the pie you get is that much taken out of ours. But you need friends to help you if you’re ever going to make it, so read on and find out what to do:

How to Win Over Someone Who Doesn’t Like You – by Dorie Clark (Forbes.Com)

Does your co-worker scowl every time you walk by? Is that guy in your networking group consistently aloof? Sometimes, for no clear reason, someone may decide they dislike you—and if you want a more comfortable work environment, it’s up to you to change the dynamic. So what can you do to disarm a cranky colleague?

In a recent podcast interview, renowned social psychologist Robert Cialdini offered two counterintuitive suggestions:

Give Honest Compliments

It may not be easy, especially if the person has been distancing themselves from you for a while. But if you’re objective, they probably have some qualities you admire. If you take a positive action and compliment them, it may well break the ice and make them re-evaluate their perceptions of you.

Ask for Their Advice

Cialdini notes this strategy—which involves asking for their professional advice, book suggestions, etc.—comes from Founding Father Ben Franklin, a master of politics and relationship building. “Now you’ve engaged the rule of commitment and consistency,” says Cialdini, in which they look at their actions (giving you advice or a book) and draw a conclusion from it (they must actually like you), a surprisingly common phenomenon in psychology. “And suddenly,” says Cialdini, “you have the basis of an interaction, because now when you return it, you can return it with a book you think he or she might like.”

Cialdini’s advice makes you vulnerable, to a certain extent; you’re explicitly making a point of deferring to someone who may not like you. But if you’re ever going to change the relationship, you have to be willing to take that chance.

How have you repaired frosty relationships, or turned around someone who didn’t like you?

So we’ve been staring at that last sentence above for almost an hour now and find ourselves stumped. Can’t come up with one single time we’ve ever succeeded in getting someone who didn’t like us to become a friend – although the times the opposite has happened are too numerous to count.

We’re doomed. Doomed, we say! Don’t let this happen to you.