KRISTINE KATHRYN RUSCH
Kristine Kathryn Rusch has won the Asimov's Readers Choice Award ten times, the AnLab Award twice, the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Choice Award twice, and several other readers awards. She's a bestselling writer worldwide for her science fiction. Her award-winning mystery novels, written as Kris Nelscott, are currently in development in Hollywood. She writes goofy romance as well, as Kristine Grayson. Last year, she published six science fiction novels in her Retrieval Artist Universe, and three YA novels as Grayson. This year, she's writing just as much, but publishing less only because WMG Publishing will do a major promotion on her next Nelscott mystery novel, A Gym of Her Own, in early 2017. She's finishing a Diving Universe novel now. She's also returned to editing, with the award-winning Fiction River. She also partnered with Baen Books to showcase the tremendous women who wrote science fiction in the 20th century, in the upcoming volume, Women of Futures Past. Her novella, "Inhuman Garbage," (fist published in Asimov's) will appear in three year's best collections in 2016.
Science Fiction Brains
By Kristine Kathryn Rusch
In 2014, I taught a weeklong writing workshop on science fiction. Whenever I teach, I learn as well. I learned a lot about science fiction—mostly because of the questions the students asked.
These students weren’t beginners. They were all published writers. But they didn’t think like science fiction writers.
How do science fiction writers think? Everyone knows that we think in “what-if”s. What if this goes on? What if dogs could talk? What if aliens landed beside the White House?
But those are big concepts, and what science fiction writers are truly good at is thinking small. I know, I know, that’s the opposite of what everyone believes that science fiction writers think about.
We might imagine what would happen if dogs could talk, but if we write a global story about talking dogs, then we might as well write an essay. The best way to write about talking dogs is to feature one dog and one dog-person. Or figure out who would hurt the most in that situation, the dog or the person? Or someone else entirely?
Science fiction writers need to know everything about their world, down to the detail.
I’ll be honest: when I started to write, I tried to do the whole story bible thing. Most of you have heard about it. It’s a trick borrowed from Hollywood. Everything—from the relationships to the lay of the land—is mapped out ahead of time. Back when I started writing for Hollywood, all of that stuff arrived at my house in a three-ring binder, photocopied so badly that sometimes you couldn’t even read it.
Now, of course, most shows put their bible in ebook format, and encrypt the dang thing.
Me, I gave up doing story bibles after my first major fantasy novel. Reading story bibles makes my eyes cross. Why would I write one?
Instead, I started writing short stories to figure out how my world works. Sometimes the short story comes first. And sometimes the novel comes first. And sometimes, they both arrive together.
Take Diving into the Wreck. That’s the title of my award-winning novella and my first Diving universe novel. As I wrote the novella, I knew I had a huge universe. There were ancient wrecks and spaceships and all of it had been around long enough for a woman who called herself Boss to lead tourists on wreck-dives. So wrecked spaceships had become tourist attractions.
I built the world, and then built it again, and built it again. Every time I work on a new Diving universe novel, I write new novellas, because that world is so vast, I need to explore each nook and cranny.
Because my brain is not orderly, the novellas arrive out of order. I didn’t figure out until December where The Spires of Denon, the April/May 2009 cover story, fit in the Diving universe. And I might not be able to write that novel for another year or two.
In 2014, I also finished a huge project—six Retrieval Artist novels. WMG Publishing published them in 2015, one per month from January to June. My award-winning novella, “Inhuman Garbage,” is part of that series.
Right now, I’m finishing the next Diving Universe book. I then turn to the next Boss novel. You see, I was starting a novella to explain part of the universe to myself and it turned into a novel without Boss. That’s how my brain works, I guess.
I’m also writing the next short story—because I can’t stop my SF brain from asking “What if.” I have two dozen sticky notes on my desk, all with What-if ideas on them.
I hope to get to them Real Soon Now.
How did I learn to think like a science fiction writer? I have no idea. I’ve always done it, though. (And when I was a kid, those extrapolations that burst from my mouth got me a lot of weird looks.) I like thinking about what-ifs.
Maybe that’s the SF writer dilemma—what came first? The what-if or the SF attitude?
I honestly don’t know.
I do know that thinking like an SF writer can be taught. After the 2014 class, the students all came up with wonderful SF stories. All of those stories might have a large what-if concept behind them, but each of the stories had a very human story at the center.
And that’s really what SF is all about. Even when aliens tromp through the pages. SF always explores the human condition—and begins with . . . what if . . .
Check out more of Kristine’s work and invaluable observations at her site: http://www.kristinekathrynrusch.com/