Home » Writing » National Novel Writing Month » Getting to the Future Without the Past

Getting to the Future Without the Past

One day, sixteen hours until NaNo gets going, and people are starting to feel the pressure.  Or, I believe they are, because the comments are beginning to come fast and furious, asking things like, “What are you going to do?” or, “Do you have names for your characters?”  It’s all fun and games until you actually have to start writing, is that it?

Some people are jumping about with ideas that are coming from nowhere.  A few of these ideas are dealing with something often called “Future History”, and involve a lot of “what ifs?” that can’t be answered easily.  In particular, some of the ideas deal with things happening three thousand or more years down the line, which means you’re going to have to do some major research, and head scratching, if you want to come up with an idea that doesn’t suck sour air.

But that doesn’t stop some people.  That doesn’t stop them from taking what we have “now”, and saying something like, “Hey, what if everyone started dropping bombs on everyone?”  (Place pinkie in corner of mouth.)  “But–three thousand years from now!”  Oh, yeah:  that’s going to work.  Just take what we have now and dress everyone like an extra from “Logan’s Run”.  I mean, that’s how it’s done, right?

Wrong.

To put it bluntly, creating future history is a bitch.  I’ve done a bit with another set of stories, and I’m dreaming up one now. And while I can say that I’ve done a bit of homework so that my worlds seem realistic, I can’t say with any certainty that they’d hold up as anything but fantasy.  But I’ve at least given my world some thought, and I’ve tried to make it fit into the realm of possible.

Far too many people, however, begin pulling ideas out of their asses, and putting a different outfit on a well-worn idea won’t make it look any different.  If it’s a bad or ill-conceived idea at the start, it’s going to be a bad one in the end, and no amount of editing short of a rewrite is going to fix your story.

There is nothing wrong with this–if this is what you want to write.  Hey, some people enjoy writing things that don’t make sense.  And this is not to say that I’m completely correct.  One can take historical stories like The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, and use that for inspiration for your future world.  The Project Rho site has a very good write-up on the development of future history, and this is something one should read again and again if you’re going to try setting your space opera off in the future.

But if you have no intention of learning anything, and feel you can keep America pretty much as if after several millennia have passed, you’ll probably have your women flying about in bra brassiere space suits, too.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, other than you’ll end up looking like a complete idiot–and people like me will come along and tell you what a doof you appear.

To put it bluntly, science fiction fans are hell.  After Larry Niven’s novel Ringworld was published, engineering students from MIT wrote papers about how his fictional creation was unstable.  Not impossible, mind you:  from an engineering standpoint, the Ringworld was nothing more than a self-supporting suspension bridge, a modified version of a Dyson Ring, which had been discussed in some circles before.  But there was instability inherent in the structure  and it was this instability that led Niven to use this as a major plot point in the sequel, The Ringworld Engineers.  Had this point not been addressed eventually, Niven–who has had a great deal of experience creating future history–would have come off looking like some hack from the 1930’s.

Creating any kind of future or alternate history involves some work.  Maybe you can get away with some basic ideas in a first story, and then expand upon those ideas in later stories.  But even then, you better have your chops down pretty pat, and be ready to defend your position, or you’ll get walked upon with heavy boots.  And not being able to defend your position does not mean running away, then asking other people the same questions, certain that they know as little as you about creating a new world, so they’ll tell you things like, “Oh, America wouldn’t attack first–it’s their policy never to start a first strike”–and you never feel a sense of shame believing this comment, because you believe that in three thousand years not one freakin’ think about the county’s first-strike policies will evar change . . .

Good luck with that story.  I’m certain your hard drive will keep it warm for years to come.

5 thoughts on “Getting to the Future Without the Past

  1. Yeah, still having trouble with a future history and past for the Nineteen Galaxies! Lol, oh well, not gonna be touching on it too much during November! Although I’ve got to come up with product placement in my novel… lol.

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