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Presentation for Local Authors and You -- November 2016

Writing about the future

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright November 2016


This is a half hour presentation for the Local Authors and You meeting that took place on November 5th, 2016 at 12:30.


Writing about the future


One of the exciting ways to create new ideas for stories is to take a science or technology concept and think about its ramifications -- as in, think about how it changes how we live. If ramifications are at the heart of your story, it will come out with interesting and unique twists. These twists will be exciting to both you, the writer, and readers who like visions of something new in their science fiction -- these will not be franchise reboots!

Some examples

Here are some examples:

Avatar Cruise Ships

I found the movie Avatar inspiring. (except for the story -- that was so, so familiar) The movie inspired me to think of more ways to use the avatar concept. One that I came up with, and put in my book Child Champs, was having avatars populate a cruise ship. Customers can leave their bodies at home and inhabit an avatar on a cruise ship. The benefits of this are:

o quick entry and exit from the experience

o easy to change the body's capabilities -- want to experience some fancy techniques on a diving board, no problem

o easy to change from one look to another, and the fun of experimenting with the changes

o there don't need to be any people on the ship -- none at all -- which means the cost of this experience can be low

All-in-all a neatly different socializing experience, and one that can be fun to write about.

Cyber Muses

Today's computers entertain and educate people. One extension of this can be computers designed specifically to inspire a person to do great things. This is taking the truism "Behind every great man there's a good woman." and replacing the woman with a custom-designed computer entity -- what I am now calling a cyber muse.

There can be many kinds of inspirations, so there can be many kinds of cyber muse designs. Cyber muses can bring all sorts of differences to how people live, and interesting stories about those differences. I write about these in my Visions of 2050 book.

Driverless cars as taxis

The driverless car is coming shortly. But will it be treated the same way current cars are? Not likely. If you don't have to learn to drive a car, and learn how to park it, and maintain it... why pay much attention to it? If you are not paying attention to it, not beaming with pride and saying, "I own that one!", then the driverless car will instead be treated like a taxi -- call it, ride in it, forget about it as it drives away. The role of the car in our lives will change dramatically.

While the ramifications of this are wide ranging, one cute one that has already happened is that Fast and Furious-style movies are the cowboy western movies of today. They occupy the same cultural niche. Those westerns of the 1940's and 50's (the Roy Rogers and Gene Autry ones) celebrated a man and his horse, the Fast and Furious movies celebrate a man and his car.

Another one is that personally owned cars will not disappear. They will endure and they will on the whole be much fancier than the average currently owned car. But they will be like horses are today: a form of personal expression, not a tool for getting day-to-day work accomplished.

The foundations for fresh ideas

The important foundation for fresh ideas is a wide range of knowledge and experience. When you have these your brain will put together interesting patterns, and these become the insights that lead to ramifications.

Here is an example based on personal experience.

I was a tourist on a day trip in Korea. I visited a tourist attraction that was off the beaten path. I went into the souvenir shop and got a can of Coke. It was on a shelf, not in a cooler of any sort. I noticed that the cans of Coke on the shelf were all upside down. I thought, "How strange." I bought mine and left, and I now had an interesting tale about Coke cans to tell when I got home.

When you experience something like this... Congratulations! You have won half the battle for discovering ramifications. You have discovered something strange in a culture. The other half is discovering why this strange custom is being done?

In my case, I won the second half of the battle by asking around: At the time I was working as an English teacher in Korea, and after I observed this pattern I asked my class about it. It turned out this was done widely, and done for a practical reason: this kept the top of the can from getting covered with dust -- it kept it clean.

The moral: a culture's strange customs are often done for practical reasons, but those reasons will take some research to discover. But when you do, you have discovered the ramification of an interesting practice.

Learning history as well as science helps. History helps identify patterns. And as an added benefit, these historical patterns can provide the large framework within which your story happens.

One thing to watch out for as you learn: become aware of urban legends and editorial opinions being presented as facts. These legends and opinions reflect from-the-heart thinking -- these are things that the tellers of these tales really want to be true. But these are not harsh reality, they are not correctly describing what really happens. It is fine to learn them, they help in understanding human thinking, but keep this kind of learning in a separate category from your hard science and hard history learning.


The key skill in writing about the future in terms of ramifications is thinking about how a neat new invention will be used. Think first about how the inventor intended for it to be used -- its commodity use, as I call it. Then keep thinking... think about how other people besides the inventor will use it -- what I call the surprise uses. Think about both these surprises uses and how they will change what people take for granted.

The surprise uses and changing what people will take for granted are the heart of what will make for interesting stories about new inventions and new discoveries. These will make your stories about the future distinctive and intersting in a Gold Age Science Fiction way.


Further readings

Here are some more technofiction essays in which I talk about various science and science fiction topics. If you find these interesting, I have them collected in my book Science and Insight for Science Fiction Writing.



--The End--

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