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The Write Life: Sci-Fi February

Near the end of the month, I attended a virtual workshop with the Orange County Library called Putting the Sci in Sci-Fi, led by author and scientist Premee Mohamed. The workshop was an in-depth exploration of moving from sci-fi inspiration to story, but one of the things that stuck with me was something Premee said about what makes a science fiction story:

If the science fiction element can be removed without changing the story, the story isn’t science fiction.

Premee gave a story example to explain what she meant: the story premise is a couple splitting up. In the scene, the woman drinks from her cyber cup. If the only mention of the cyber cup is that it holds her coffee, there’s nothing science fiction about the story. You can remove the cup and the story is just about a couple splitting up. But if the woman is leaving because her cyber cup recorded the details of her partner’s affair, suddenly the cyber cup is integral to the premise and plot—now it’s science fiction.

That’s probably obvious to most readers of science fiction, but I think it’s an important element to interrogate whenever we’re writing. What makes your story science fiction? What makes your story fantasy? What makes it steampunk? What makes it romance? Is your story matching the expectations of the genre?

In one of my MFA workshops, a fellow student asked of my steampunk story if I was being limited by the constraints of the genre. Six years later and I’m still a little stymied by that question because I feel like it’s missing the point of genre conventions.

Two shelves of books divided by science fiction and steampunkGenres exist primarily as organizational and marketing tools and are one way for readers to find stories they’ll like and for stories to find an audience. (If you like this story about a robot, here’s where to find more stories about robots.) If the main task of a sci-fi story is to ensure the sci-fi element is integral to the plot, I wouldn’t call that a constraint, but it is a necessary element of the story.

All stories tend to share universal elements—plot, character, setting, theme—and they’re written using words, sentences, and punctuation. But once stories are separated by genre, unique elements are introduced, such as magic, robots, time travel, romance as the driving plot, monsters, a mystery—and those elements are what define the genre. Meeting those genre expectations means a story can be classified and marketed, and more easily find readers, which means that identifying the genre elements and making sure they’re integral to the story is essential to the writing process.

For many writers, you probably don’t need to make this genre check, but if something feels off in your fiction, it might be a good place to start your search.

 

 

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The Write Life: NaNoing November

Any way I slice it, November is NaNoWriMo. This year I elected to save myself a little frustration, aggravation, and sanity, and decided to not write 50,000 words. 2020 has been enough of a mess without struggling to slap words on a page while feeling the stress of an arbitrary deadline (plus needing to fulfill my duties as a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for Orlando, FL). Ultimately, I think this was the right decision, and it freed me up to enjoy more of the events I organized during the month. And the one I want to talk about is the biggest event I worked on: Write Around (Virtual) Disney World.

We’ve been running an in-person Write Around Disney World since 2013. We meet in a central location on Disney property and then use free Disney transportation to travel (by all means available) to various non-ticketed locations to write. Our path typically takes us to hotel lobbies and cafeterias, where tourists wonder why there are suddenly so many people sitting around with laptops and furrowed brows.

When the pandemic looked like it would keep our region at home this year, I began planning how to turn our biggest writing event into a virtual experience.

With the help of my friend, KL Cripe, we created a virtual traveling write-in hosted on three of our NaNOrlando social media platforms—Discord, Twitter, and Facebook. Since a virtual experience removed the need for a Disney ticket, we also took the opportunity to move our writing stops inside the Disney parks, visiting three inspiring locations in Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios (yes, we picked Galaxy’s Edge), and Magic Kingdom.

Each location included a welcome, description of the location, how the location could inspire a writer, and time in which to write. We posted pictures from previous years (or from independent visits, in the case of our special in-park locations) and links to ambience sounds or music to help writers feel like they were actually there. We also included transportation between each stop because traveling by boat, bus, and monorail is just part of the appeal of Write Around Disney World.

In the past we’ve escorted up to 70 writers at our in-person write-in, which was about the same turn out for our virtual event. And not everyone was from Orlando. We had writers joining us from California, Arizona, Wisconsin, Georgia, Virginia, Ohio, Vermont, and even Canada! I’m so glad we were able to successfully execute this event virtually. Every year we have writers who can’t join us, often because of transportation or mobility issues, and I’m excited to prove that we can bring this unique writing experience to everyone, despite the limitations that exist in the real world.

2020 has been an absolute mess, but I feel like it’s been a year to teach us about accessibility and I hope more event organizers are learning the same lesson I am—with a little creativity, we can shift our events so that anyone is able to participate.

If you want to check out Write Around (Virtual) Disney World, I recommend visiting our Twitter threads, organized by location:

 

 

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