I wrote the following guest blog, which appeared on the web site of fellow sci-fi writer Cathryn Isakson …
The ‘rules’ of modern-world sci-fi: A guest blog by Russ Colchamiro
Today I have a guest blog by US science fiction author, Russ Colchamiro. Russ’s first novel is titled Finders Keepers. Here Russ explains how he blended the elements of this hybrid genre story: science fiction, humour, mystery and ‘cosmic lunacy’.
The ‘Rules’ of Modern-World Sci-Fi
by Russ Colchamiro
Mixing science fiction/fantasy elements with the modern world is a dance indeed. It was for me.
My first novel, Finders Keepers, is loosely based on backpacking trips I took through Europe and New Zealand, set against a quest for a jar that contains the Universe’s DNA.
You know … a quiet family drama!
My goal was to write a multi-layered novel that felt epic in scale, yet was simultaneously intimate, while remaining fun and funny throughout. But not long into the writing process, I realized that I had a big issue to reconcile:
How do I combine the ‘cosmic lunacy’, as I like to call it, with the everyday world that you and I know, and invite the reader to accept that this total environment is plausible?
One key element pulled the threads together.
During the early days of my first draft, I belonged to a writer’s group, as many of us do. I received all manner of feedback, but one comment stuck with me from a writer named Brad:
You need to establish the ‘rules’.
At the time, I wasn’t quite sure what Brad meant. To be honest, deep in my gut I suspected he was right. But I wasn’t yet in a confident enough place to acknowledge and accept this confrontation with a key, structural misstep in my storytelling.
During those earlier drafts, I started the action by introducing the hero of Finders Keepers — Jason Medley, a 24-year-old waiter from the NY suburbs — seeing him in the day-to-day of his humdrum life. My reasoning, as far as I was concerned, was quite sound: introduce Jason at his lowest point so that we get to see him during all the phases of his journey — from bummer to reluctant participant to hero.
Now, I really did want to establish the sci-fi tone right away — you gotta give the readers some idea of what you’re up to early on — so I started Finders Keepers with a two-paragraph prologue that hinted at the science fiction theme. This way it wouldn’t be a shock when it finally appeared.
But I saved the more complex ‘cosmic lunacy’/sci-fi elements until a bit later, as a big ‘twist’. Even though I don’t write mystery novels, per se, I like to include mystery elements. Reveal, pull back and conceal, reveal some more. My intention was to get the reader to say, ‘Whoa! Cool!’ when the sci-fi parts really kicked in.
Seemed pretty good to me. It made sense. Only, it didn’t quite work.
Finders Keepers is loosely based on backpacking trips through Europe and New Zealand, set against a quest for a jar that contains the Universe’s DNA.
The problem was that, by the time I unveiled the ‘cosmic’ portion of the story, the readers weren’t really sure what kind of book they were reading. I simply out-thought myself.
What I finally came to embrace was that it’s easier to start big — FATE OF THE UNIVERSE IS AT STAKE! — and then go small — lonely waiter dude whimpers about having no girlfriend — then to go the other way.
After many drafts, I finally gave in and established the ‘rules’ of the world I created with the very first sentence. And in the Finders Keepers world, there’s a jar that contains the Universe’s DNA, lost on modern-day Earth somewhere, and unless it’s recovered in time, the Milky Way Galaxy might go bye-bye.
Once I made this structural alteration, the narrative fell into place.
In the published version of Finders Keepers, the entire 1,457-word prologue is now ‘cosmic’. And then throughout the novel, I slip back and forth between the two major settings:
- The down-and-dirty details of Jason and his New Zealand buddy Theo Barnes backpacking through Europe — train schedules, hangovers, achy backs, languages they don’t understand, food they can’t identify, girls they want to sleep with.
- A host of cosmic characters that are in charge of building the Universe’s infrastructure, and are after the DNA jar. Which, of course, Jason and Theo are somehow mixed up with.
The lesson I ultimately learned was this: as long as I show the readers what they’re in for — up front, right away — they pretty much all say, ‘Okay, this is the world I’m in. Universe jar. Check. Let’s roll’.
From the very first sentence, there’s simply no doubt that Finders Keepers is meant to be a fun, sci-fi romp that brings a smile to your face. Establishing the ‘rules’ brought it all together.
Russ Colchamiro is the author of the humorous science fiction novel Finders Keepers, published by 3 Finger Prints (www.richkoslowski.com). He is now finishing his second novel, Crossline. He lives in Queens, NY, with his wife Liz, his twin babies Nate and Abby, and their gregarious dog Simon.
You can follow Russ on Facebook and on Twitter (@findkeepnovel).
Click here to visit Russ’s website.
To read the Finders Keepers prologue, establishing the ‘rules,’ click here.
And to watch a video interview of Russ at the 2010 NY Comic-Con, where he launched Finders Keepers, click here.