Thursday Writing Prompt No. 42

The space shuttle Enterprise, on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

Finally, it’s time for me to present Thursday Writing Prompt No. 42, which is the answer to life, the universe, and everything! If you aren’t familiar with the phrase, it comes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. So for this week’s prompt, I’m going to offer you a science-fiction scenario to write about.

As a genre, science fiction offers you a wide open field to write about. Wikipedia describes it as being an “imaginary … but more or less plausible” form of fiction. This contrasts with fantasy, in which almost anything goes, with the exception that your world must remain internal consistency.

Science fiction has had various fads during the past century, all of which more or less mirror the things that are important to society at the time. We have the alien invasions, such as H. G. Wells’s 1898 War of the Worlds that was serialized for radio by Orson Welles in 1938 — on the eve of World War II. While these aliens came from Mars and were bent on destroying Earthlings, those same Earthlings had just gotten through World War I and were about to enter another horrendous period of history.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there were plenty of films that dealt with radioactivity and its effects on man and animals. Giant insects roamed the deserts and cities, crushing cars and ruining picnics. The 1970s saw movies such as Soylent Green, which treated the subject of overpopulation. Today, we have movies and books about global warming, habitat destruction, and all sorts of apocalyptic happenings.

So, here’s your Thursday Writing Prompt: pick a subject from the news that’s a hot topic, and write a synopsis for a science fiction story that deals with the topic. Your job is to explore the idea and possible storyline, not to actually write it — yet. Save that for another day. Think about why the topic is important and ask all kinds of “what if” questions. The important thing for you to do is to really drill down for specifics, and not take a topic at face value. For instance, global warming (a hot topic if there ever was one) is widely touted as being potentially disastrous. But the Earth’s climate has been hotter before — and what was it like for creatures then? You might actually have to read some science to tackle this, but so much the better. Just don’t get hung up on the fact and lose sight of the potential story, which should be about people and how they deal with and adapt to a changing environment. Remember, the environment and technology change all the time, and we cope.

Your job as a storyteller is to show the reader how your characters will react and adapt to their environment and deal with each other in the process. Don’t get too political and start preaching from a soapbox, although how people deal with things does involve politics. But handle it carefully: a storyteller should show, not tell — and when any kind of politics is involved, you need to show, not yell.

Have fun with this one, and try to find a science topic that you’re not familiar with because that will make it easier for you to ask questions. We tend to make assumptions about things we think we know and that leads to sloppy writing. Two sites you might want to review are ScienceNews and Phys.Org.