Hello and welcome to Writer’s Corner, a series where I try to figure out how to write a novel (hopefully a good one). This series will focus on the brainstorming and writing that goes into making a novel. This is me figuring things out as I go and writing it down, both for the sake of the you, dear reader, and myself. So without further ado, let’s dive into this!
Starting a novel is a difficult process. Before you can get anything onto a page, you have to have an idea. This can be a snippet of dialogue, a setting, a character; anything will do. In my case, I have a love of Science Fiction, and one thing that always grabbed my attention was the idea of a Colony Ship. I think that Colony Ships are a very underutilized setting in Science Fiction, and have a lot of different story possibilities. There’s a bunch of different ideas regarding colony ships, from generational ships with entire generations living aboard the ship to sleeper ships with cryogenically frozen people flung into the future. Colony Ships also act as a kind of “ship in a bottle”: it’s very easy to justify the ship being cut off from the rest humanity, so there’s rich possibilities for all sorts of different cultures and people springing up aboard a ship traveling in the depths of space. So let’s have our story be set aboard a colony ship sent to a distant planet.
Now that the setting is chosen, what sort of story should I tell? Any number of different stories could be told, so it’s just a matter of choosing. Romance and Science Fiction are uncommonly paired up, but there’s a lot of possibilities. I’m a fan of romances, but I’ve never been a fan of the way a lot of stories do their romances. Mostly it boils down to the fact that a lot of romances are really bad at setting up obstacles for the romance that don’t involve the characters acting like idiots. There’s a tension in writing romance: a strong story needs conflict to drive it forward, but a sign of a good relationship is a lack of conflict.
So I want to write a romance (or love story, kissy novel, whatever you want to call it) but I want avoid the classic pitfalls of “someone acts like an idiot for no good reason” and “why aren’t these two people together already?” so I have a few things I need to do:
- Establish a conflict that doesn’t rely on characters acting like idiots
- Have a romance that flows naturally, but also has enough conflict to make it interesting (without breaking #1)
- Have most of it be grounded in reality: establish logical (if not rational) motivations and actions for each character while also giving them character growth and development.
- Have this all happen within the confines of a Colony Ship
- Have characters who have a logical reason for being on the colony ship in the first place AND who also have enough chemistry to make the romance believable.
It’s going to be tricky, but I think I can manage it. This might seem constraining, but part of the fun is figuring out ways of doing what you want within the limits set by yourself.
At the end of this brainstorming session I have a story idea: a science fiction romance set aboard a colony ship traveling to a distant world. The logical next set would be to hammer out the major details of the setting, as that will drastically affect what my story is going to be like. Because colony ships are an established trope within Sci-Fi, let’s look at some of the common ways in which they are done, along with some possible ways we can do a romance in each:
- The Generation Ship: A ship designed to be lived in for multiple generations. Depending on how far into the journey it is, it could be filled with people traveling to a planet they will never reach, or a people who have never known anything other than the ship itself. Possible romantic conflicts are: social (society doesn’t approve of their romance. A unique society forms around the ship.) External (the ship is falling apart! People are tired of traveling! Aliens!) Or personal (how does daily life work on a spaceship and how does that affect life and love?)
- The Sleeper Ship: People in suspended animation (via cryogenic freezing, advanced technology, etc) travel to a distant planet. In addition to whatever romantic conlfict there is, a required inciting incident involves our protagonists waking up too early. Otherwise, what’s the point of being set on a sleeper ship in the first place? Romantic conflicts include loneliness, isolation, external conflicts (see #1), “trapped in a box with you” problems, possible insanity, and a myriad of social disorders that can happen when isolated for long periods. Desperation can also be a conflict, as well as questioning social rules. There’s a lot of flexibility in this one, and I like it a lot.
- The Cruise Liner: The colony ship is fast enough that it can reach it’s destination within a human lifetime. The inciting incident can involve external conflicts like a rebellion, arriving at the wrong planet (or no planet at all), or other unexpected happenings. The romantic conflict is wide open; a little too wide open for my tastes. There’s a lot of stories to be had with this kind of ship, but there’s something about it that makes me think it’s a little too “standard Sci-Fi.” There’s nothing that grabs me about this kind of ship because there’s nothing that I can use to really focus on the relationship.
In this case, I think I’m going with The Sleeper Ship. There’s a lot of possibilities with this one, and by it’s very nature it focuses on the “ship in a bottle” nature of a colony ship. Nothing says “I’m alone in the middle of space” like having almost nobody around. The intimate setting will allow for intimacy with the characters, and there’s rich opportunities for twists and turns that spring up logically from the setting itself. I’m going to use the standard “the protagonists wake up too early” inciting incident, but think of a few twists.
With all that being said, let’s take stock of what I’ve got so far. It’s a Science Fiction Romance set aboard a Sleeper Ship, where our protagonists wake up too early for some reason. They are light years from home, with seemingly no chance of going back to sleep. They are stuck there, alone, aboard a ghost ship. So now I’m left with a few questions:
- The characters. The most important part of a romance.
- How am I going to get them from being alone to being together? How the heck does one even write a romance to begin with?
- What’s the ship like? What is daily life like aboard a colony ship? What’s the important details?
- What’s the romantic conflict?
And how am I going to answer these questions? By looking at how other stories answered them, of course! Come back next time for my examination of how other stories used these same ideas, and what ideas I can steal from them.